After three academic years of intensive yet gratifying study of Vaishnava texts — which included analysis, research, and listening to lecturers who travel worldwide and teach various aspects of Caitanya Vaishnavism — the third-year students of Bhaktivedanta College were regretfully relieved to complete their course work.
Bhaktivedanta College celebrated its eighth graduation ceremony on June 16th, and seven students received a Bachelor of Theology degree. The degree is accredited through the University of Wales Lampeter and is acknowledged everywhere.
Some students will return to their countries, some will continue their education, and others will begin looking for work or a career. All will develop their spiritual lives based on their experiences in Radhadesh.
Ananga Gopika Dasi
Her name was Anna when she arrived at the college from Russia, and now her spiritual name is Ananga Gopika. She is sweet and gentle, a humble and resourceful devotee liked by all. At first, Ananga was unsettled. She had never lived in the countryside nor only with devotees, and it took time to adjust. Now she almost cannot bear leaving her peaceful life at Radhadesh behind, but she plans to continue her studies elsewhere.
Ananga Gopika said, “My time at the college has been one of the best in my life, though during the first year I sometimes tried to quit. I am happy that I stayed. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, ‘Sometimes what appears like poison in the beginning becomes nectar in the end.’ My years at the college have made a new devotee out of me. This is largely because of the association I was blessed to have, both within the community and with visiting teachers. It would have been impossible to meet as many wonderful devotees if I had not come here. Nor would I have been able to receive a well-rounded education that included academic, vocational, and devotional modules.”
After graduation, she may continue to study languages, possibly Sanskrit, because she likes grammar.
She recommends Bhaktivedanta College because “it is a good opportunity to grow in interaction. The interactions with students and teachers made me so much better. Also, we had many breakthrough experiences at japa retreats and during the public speaking we did in our courses and preaching programs. And it’s fun to learn theology. It’s so cool! While we deal with the passing clouds, we don’t lose our focus on Krishna, who is called Vrindavan Chandra, the moon of Vrindavan.”
She offered us a quote from Radhanath Swami: “We must live our life moment by moment with integrity, simplicity, and honesty.”
Gopinatha has the energy of a friendly bullet. He has enthusiasm to help others and make them feel comfortable at any time. He is a gurukuli from Mayapur and Vrindavan and has a playful mood in his singing and outlook. He is hard-working and a fun member of the community. He is expecting to work somewhere in Europe.
His favorite part of the college was his association with the senior devotees determined to care for Srila Prabhupada and his mission. He said, “This is the perfect environment in which to train someone for Krishna consciousness. Even though there are ups and downs in life, seeing the senior devotees’ faith and service attitude dramatically changes a person.”
He recommends the college “because philosophy is the biggest part of our life. It gives us jnana, or knowledge, which is the basis of our faith. The college combines Krishna consciousness and wonderful teachers, who are not just experienced in jnana, but also have their own realizations, or vijnana. This could be compared to a big water container in a desert.”
Gopinatha quoted Srila Prabhupada, who said, “Krishna consciousness is so simple that you may miss it.”
Krshangi-lila is naturally gifted. She is often the mastermind behind the awesome and splendid Radhadesh festivals. Her beautiful singing is like that of a Gandarvi, or celestial singer. Afer graduation, she will remain in Radhadesh and continue to make it magical. Her favorite part of the college was the good Vaishnava association.
She said, “This was an amazing opportunity to receive knowledge from expert and qualified devotee-scholars. They broadened my worldview and deepened my knowledge. Hearing from them was like diving into a yet unknown world. As a course continued day after day, the secrets of this unknown world were revealed to us, and at the end we knew the secret of how to open precious treasure boxes full of gold. So, course after course, we collected more and more gold, and I really feel that I became quite rich.”
Her plans are “to live as Krishna guides me. I am still waiting for a specific answer from Him, but one thing is sure: I would like to serve Him better and better every day.”
She recommends the college “for the association of devotees, the knowledge, and the purification. Living and studying in Radhadesh offers many opportunities to dive deep into our philosophy, in theory and in practice. Amazing changes may take place in one’s own development, provided one is open for that. One must be ready to embrace the sweetness of the place and the austerities of the studies; in that combination, one can grow and bloom. In difficulties and struggles, either in studies or one’s personal life, Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha are always there to bring one back to the light and offer smiles that make the day bright.”
She quoted a verse for us from “Gopinathadevastaka,” by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura:
“On His mouth is a smile. In that smile is nectar.
In that nectar is a flute, and in the flute is an ocean of music.
Gopinatha plunges the gopis in the nectarean waves of that ocean.
Broad-chested Gopinatha is the goal of our lives.”
Although she is the youngest graduate, Santusha is a leader in her class. She is also a director, an artist, an actress, and she plays many instruments (with special interest in the flute). She is also a great student. Her family lives in the Radhadesh community, and their generous welcoming of students into their home has been a warming and appreciated gift for many. Her plans after graduation are still in the making, but her skills are undeniably going to be part of her future.
Her favorite aspect of the college was being able to take part in the morning programs in the temple. She found the courses very fulfilling, because the teachers had high standards in both their academic and devotional lives.
She said, “After college, I would like to continue studying Vaishnava theology. Our courses have been very broad. We learned about the world, about social theories, and about many religions. It is useful information, and studying here has deepened my faith. Studying and obtaining knowledge in ISKCON has given me an impetus to help it grow and prosper.
She recommends the college only to those “who have been involved in Krishna consciousness for at least a few years and have some grounding in the philosophy, because without that some students have been unable to maintain their faith, as the subject matters are sometimes quite shocking because of the depth we go into. It is hard to do the courses without some faith; it is more difficult to proceed. For ISKCON youth and devotees who are certain about their beliefs, however, the college actually broadens their perspective. It opens it up from ISKCON to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, to Vaishnavism in general, to Hinduism, to Eastern religions, and so on. It allows you to look at the world more realistically.
Santusha offered us this quote: “Living beings entangled in the complicated meshes of birth and death can be freed immediately by even unconsciously chanting the holy name of Krsna, which is feared by fear personified.” (Bhagavatam 1.1.14)
Jalasaya is a leader of those who surround her. She is wise and caring. And she is always ready to lend a hand to someone in need, whether in the kitchen, by babysitting and decorating, or you name it. She has a natural attraction to the Krsna, given the years she spent in Mayapur. Her relationship with the Deities and the holy name are apparent. After an extended visit home, she returned for her final year with lots of work to catch up on, and she pushed through with extreme dedication and finished her course work on time. Jalasaya will be returning to Mayapur, possibly beginning to teach English abroad.
She said that she “really loved the diversity of teachers from around the world, which allowed for fresh perspectives and wonderful association. The gorgeous Deities and community and the Radhadesh devotees were equally lovely and contribute to an obviously desired positive experience.”
She plans on studying more in the near future and thereby continuing on and coming to the end of the path she has begun.
Jalasaya recommends the college because “it taught me a lot, certainly aspects of academic and spiritual knowledge, but also in terms of my life experience. I can confidently and rightfully claim that I grew and matured as a devotee here, learning how to deal with whatever and whomever came my way. Such experiences are essential for an appropriate development of both mind and soul, and therefore a lot can be gained from it.”
Braja Biharini Dasi
Braja is a student in every sense of the word. She is studious, intelligent, well-versed, and ready to argue about any philosophy. She finished a Master’s degreee in philosophy before enrolling in Bhaktivedanta College. Bringing life and clever wit to any situation, she is fun to be around. She carries her spiritual wisdom wherever she goes and thus teaches all who are around her. She will continue her studies after graduating.
Her favorite parts of the college education were the kirtan week, the euphoric festivals, the late-night talks she had in the ashram, the far-out courses, and Krishna’s maha-burfie-prasadam.
She said, “I am planning to learn how to turn my life into a service.” She recommends the college because “one gets the chance to grow spiritually and intellectually.”
She offered us this quote from Sacinandana Swami: “Krsna is the master of all musicians. His specialty is to make everything and everyone move and dance in orbits in this world and beyond. Some recognize His song, but most do not.”
Gaura Hari is a soft-spoken devotee, one who does not often put himself in the spotlight. His mood is calm and focused. He enjoys speaking and hearing krishna-katha (topics about Krishna) and takes every opportunity to do so. His efforts in namahatta preaching (home programs) have included many of the students and community members of Radhadesh, besides the residents of the homes they visited. Gaura Hari will continue his studies.
He said, “My favorite part of the college study was my learning experiences. The college has provided the foundation for my life. For me, it lived up to its motto: “Preparation for a lifetime.” The best thing about the college is its location at Radhadesh. Without the care and affection of the Radhadesh devotees, I would have not completed my studies. I was able to share what I learned in the college with devotees and visitors in Radhadesh on numerous occasions. During my studies, I have been engaged in extra-curricular activities like travelling and preaching. I consider perfect my decision to come to the college and to live in the magnificent Radhadesh community.
My plans are to continue volunteering for the preaching project in Luxembourg. I had the privilege of starting the preaching in Luxembourg with the help of other devotees. We began a year and half ago. My attempts to preach in Luxembourg have been a great opportunity to contribute to Srila Prabhupada’s movement. I also intend to continue in my studies in Luxembourg, if possible.
“I have a simple message for students who aim to come to this college. If I had to summarize all that I learned in one word it would be “evaluation.” I learned to evaluate my understanding of philosophy, my dedication to the mood and mission of Srila Prabhupada, my faith in and surrender to Krishna, and so forth. I observed that, for many people, their belief in God is self-authenticating; thus, they do not seek lucid and thorough explanations in the scriptures. In religious groups, there is a common notion that you are not supposed to question or express doubts in the faith. Bhaktivedanta College, however, provides students an exceptional opportunity to do comparative studies of Krishna Consciousness with other religions and cultures. Personally, my college studies have strengthened my faith and conviction in our Chaitanya Vaishnava tradition.
He offered us this quote from Srila Prabhupada: “One’s greatness has to be estimated by one’s ability to tolerate provoking situations.”