Why did you decide to do this online project?
One of Srila Prabhupada’s desires was that devotees would systematically study his books. To fulfill his desire, Bhakti Sastri courses were developed and are now taught worldwide. Here in Radhadesh we’ve been teaching the course for almost ten years. But some devotees find themselves unable to spend a few months here attending the course, so we received inquiries about taking and teaching it online. To better serve the Vaishnava community, we developed a one-year online course. Devotees can take it from anywhere, provided they have an Internet connection and some time to study each week.
Is there a need for another Bhakti Shastri course? Already there are courses in Mayapur and Vrindavan, and correspondence courses are offered.
Yes. We need many such programs to facilitate the devotees’ spiritual progress. There is a difference between a correspondence course and a course that uses an online platform. By the way, it took us about a year to put all the materials together and to train teachers how to efficiently use the online platform.
Is it possible to study Bhakti Shastras online?
Well, the running of this project will tell. If I didn’t believe it was possible, I wouldn’t have started it.
What was the greatest challenge?
For me, the most challenging aspect in developing the course was finding ways to create an atmosphere that allows for a tangible connection between the students and teachers, like an actual sanga. I consider sanga to be essential for a deep study of sastra, and it has to be there in a virtual reality. None of us had worked with Moodle, our online platform, so far. So familiarizing ourselves with all the possibilities it offers took a lot of time. As for Dinadayal Prabhu, who was responsible for doing all the layout and solving the technical issues, I’m sure that he faced different challenges in creating the course.
What are your expectations from this program?
I hope that Srila Prabhupada and the Vaishnavas will be pleased by our efforts to systematically teach in this exciting, new format. I hope that this will help the devotees gain a deep understanding of and appreciation for Srila Prabhupada’s books. I also expect a lot of feedback on how to improve the program.
Can someone study Bhakti Shastri online without fulfilling the VTE prerequisites, which are following the four regulative principles and sending in letters of recommendation?
Yes, anyone can take the course. However, the official VTE Bhakti Shastri diploma will be awarded only to students committed to following the rules and requirements. Those students unable to will get a Bhaktivedanta College certificate for completing the program, and in the future they’ll have an opportunity to receive a VTE diploma.
Who are the teachers? Did they teach before?
Mainly our teachers are devotees who now teach at Bhaktivedanta College: Yadunandana Swami, Dinadayal, Mangala Candrika, Bhaktavasa Govinda and me. All of us have been teaching the residential Bhakti Shastri courses for several years. Raghupati has taught a Bhakti Shastri course online (nationwide) for the Mayapur Institute in the UK.
Do you plan to do more courses in the future?
For now we will offer one complete Bhakti Shastri course every year. We are planning to offer other courses that are currently taught at the College online.
Sudevi Dasi (Nectar of Devotion and Bhakti Sastri website Administrator) first read Srila Prabhupada’s books during her Indology studies in Berlin, in 2000. In 2003 she took the Bhakti Shastri course in Vrindavana, and from 2004 through 2007 she earned a Bachelor of Theology degree at Bhaktivedanta College, Radhadesh. She now teaches Bhakti Shastri and academic courses at Bhaktivedanta College, oversees the ladies’ ashram, and is finishing her work for a Master’s degree in Religious Studies from Lampeter University. She likes to study and teach Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy, especially with reference to Srila Prabhupada’s books.