College: Why did you start this seminar?
Suresvara: I was teaching and coordinating a Bhaktivaibhava course at the Mayapur Institute in 2010, and I was surprised to hear that so many students felt distant from our founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada. Whenever I’d tell an anecdote about Prabhupada to illustrate or apply a philosophical point, some students would say how fortunate I’d been to have lived in his time, as though the devotees now were less fortunate to associate with him through his everlasting vani. I’d cite references from Srila Prabhupada that vani (his words) is more important than vapu (his bodily association), but I could see in their eyes that they didn’t believe it at heart. “This isn’t right,” I thought. “Prabhupada may be my initiating spiritual master, but he’s everyone in ISKCON’s founder-acarya. I need to develop a seminar to promote and deepen that understanding.” I’d heard about the GBC’s standing committee to promote Prabhupada’s preeminence in ISKCON, so I got in touch with its chairman, who encouraged me to develop a seminar.
College: Can you give us an overview of the seminar?
Suresvara: The title is “Srila Prabhupada, Our Founder-Acarya.” It celebrates Srila Prabhupada’s preeminent position and his foundational relationship with every follower. Every one of his followers has a unique relationship with him. The seminar comprises eleven lessons that progress through three stages: sambandha (deepening our knowledge of Prabhupada’s relationship with us as the founder-acarya), abhidheya (acting in that relationship by identifying and improving our main contribution to his mission) and prayojana (deepening our love for him).
College: Do only a few participants have a good understanding of his position?
Suresvara: That depends on how they have or haven’t been educated. Although Prabhupada’s movement is primarily educational, for many years, education was neglected, and this resulted in distancing him from many of his followers. Roughly since Prabhupada’s Centennial, though, education has improved, with devotees of all generations now eager to deepen their connection to Prabhupada through authentic, dynamic service to his mission.
College: What is the main transformation in your students’ understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s position?
Suresvara: I’m still developing the seminar, and I know that the best transformations are yet to come. Older devotees often tell me how much this seminar is needed, and after participating in it, they feel more hopeful about ISKCON’s future. Younger devotees mainly come away with the revelation that deepening their relationship with our founder-acarya is the key to deepening their relationships with all his followers, including their initiating and instructing spiritual masters, and ultimately with Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
College: What’s the main realisation you had after teaching the seminar at Bhaktivedanta College?
Suresvara: I realized that the greatest challenge I face in developing this seminar is letting Srila Prabhupada enter deeper into my heart so that the students can do the same. And that as we do that, the seminar’s potential to help his mission increases.
College: What are you going to do in the future?
Suresvara: Based on the generous feedback I received from the students here, I’ll add experiential exercises to the seminar, which should be ready for the presentation before Gaura-purnima in Sridham Mayapur. If Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is pleased with this humble attempt to glorify our founder-acarya in practical ways, perhaps I will be invited to travel and give the seminar in other countries.