The following essays discuss the school year 2002-2003.
End-of-the-Year Appreciation (June 2003) by Bhakta Daniel
To sum up my year at Bhaktivedanta College in one word, it was “transformational”—a process of change—and I grew into someone newer, fresher, and better. In a sense, transformation includes the essence of Krishna consciousness: changing the heart from a conditioned state to a naturally pure and vibrant one. In this respect, my year at Bhaktivedanta College has been ideal. Every experience in the College in some way transformed me.
All facility was provided by the College in every way possible. Additionally, the College gave me a strong foundation to go ahead in various arenas of life. Thanks to this facility and strong foundation, the process of transformation should have sufficient resources to continue functioning outside this environment.
I envision this College as a great initiative with immense potential to assist all devotees seeking transformation. I found every aspect of the College accentuated with great professionalism. The unmotivated and non-procedural care and devotion that the staff, teachers, and students radiated for one another has wonderfully complemented the professionalism, which on its own would be parched. If the College continues to progress in these ways, the College will be an essential, long-term investment in the lives of devotees, who are the most valuable asset of our society.
If devotees are transformed by being educated and nicely taken care of, they will shine like jewels. I see so many jewels around me about to leave Bhaktivedanta College. To me, it seems that such jewels—educated and cared-for devotees—will be the new and rising emblems of the future world, be it in their own small, spider-like way or in a bigger, revolutionary fashion. Either way, they will be exemplary personalities. I can’t help but reflect upon how fantastic a world composed of such jewels will be.
I am indebted to all the wonderful guides and teachers who blessed us at Bhaktivedanta College. They kindly shared their hearts and wisdom with us. They have all been models in their own unique ways. I also would like to thank the College leadership, trustees, and staff for making the College possible by their revolutionary desires and endeavours. Lastly, I must express my immensely colossal gratitude to all the students, who made the College a reality. Without their association, the transformation would not have begun.
The Practice of Studying at Bhaktivedanta College (June 2003) by Jaya Govinda Dasa
In a purport Srila Prabhupada comments on the term svadhyayabhyasanam thus: “There is a limitless stock of Vedic literature, and one should study this. This is called penance of speech.” Was my experience at Bhaktivedanta College a penance? Yes, it was. But what this means to me, let me unfold.
Penance is zealous, intense, and faithful dedication to duties in Krishna consciousness. It includes cleansing the heart by repentance, developing a genuine aversion to material life, and developing a higher taste for devotional service. My duties during the school year were studying and attending classes.
Guided by the teachers, I could apply my God-given intelligence to the subjects. They kindly presented subjects with competence and deep, personal realization. This facilitated my seeing my inner reality through eyes of knowledge. Each course challenged me, and I was forced to manage my life in the uncomfortable realm called the stretching zone. The term stretch became the epitome of my learning experiences, and I dare say, the maha-vakhya for gaining access to higher dimensions. This impacted my life physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Sometimes I over-stretched and reached the boundaries of panic and anxiety while trying to stay on track with my psycho-physical maintenance, the tight course schedule, inter-personal relationships, and sadhana.
One major element of my svadhyaya (literary: using intelligence to meditate on the self) was maybe self-analysis—looking into my heart to identify doubts or improper attitudes and tendencies. I paid close attention to these because character development (humility, forgiveness, and compassion) was one of my main expectations in attending the College. This was humbling and sometimes painful, but necessary and worth the attention. I learned a lot from that. I made many steps forward, inward, and toward knowing myself and my relationship with guru and Krishna, with the support of the devotees, my prabhus.
One result of such svadhyaya was gaining hope against hope. Despite my shortcomings, I am confident about my future. There are many needs and responsibilities and services in Srila Prabhupada’s mission. I see these as opportunities, as part of the on-going learning process I started at the College. I know I can count on the support of the College and my fellow students. I also feel strongly encouraged and supported by my spiritual master’s desire that I return to my prabhu-datta-desh and share with others what I learned at the College.
The education I received is a special gift: the gift of knowledge, skills, realizations, and genuine care and affection. I consider these gifts as powerful, useful tools that I am going to responsibly implement in my life, whatever I am, whatever function I may have, wherever I may be. They are matchless gifts, and they fulfilled another major expectation I had in learning ministerial skills.
Penance now includes looking to the future. This brings up mixed sentiments for me and my fellow students. I anticipate meeting my friends again in Italy after a year of separation. But these feelings are quite at odds with the feeling of separation from my newer, close friends in Radhadesh, especially the other students. At the College we developed considerable team spirit and loving and trusting relationships. Recently, I received a letter from one of our teachers, who confessed, “Honestly, based on my experience, I don’t know how all the students of the college will ever be able to part company. It was difficult for me after being there for only a week.” I do not know either, but the good association with like-minded devotees that I had here is the very special gift I never expected. And now is the time to honor it with more maturity, in separation.
So now it is necessary to clarify my expectations of myself and what others expect of me, and to plan future steps. We have reached the end of a beginning. It’s time to start a new chapter. Considering my experience at the College and the way I lived, I cannot help but think of Brahma’s experience in preparing to create. He did long penance for the universal benefit of all. So did I. I had confidence and happily accepted the process of studying at Bhaktivedanta College. Although my experience presented to me some minor and even major shortcomings, I now feel purified, content, prepared, and more empowered to contribute some progressive service in Krishna consciousness for the benefit of all. May all of you readers bless me so that I will not become a victim of pride.
An Eternal Student (June 2003) by Nrtya Kisori Dasi
Srila Prabhupada spent “a lifetime in preparation” before accomplishing his Guru Maharaja’s mission. I feel that I received a preparation for a lifetime in the College . . .
With the knowledge, skills, and values I obtained this year, I believe that I am equipped for many years of service in Srila Prabhupada’s mission, and, above all, for an on-going process of learning and improvement.
The systematic training and education I received, guided by most qualified and wonderful devotees (whom I felt highly honored to meet and learn from), was useful and beneficial. The learning process itself had value, what to speak of the contents.
What else may I hope for than to become an eternal student? It was a taste for learning and an openness to exploring unknown fields that were greatly enhanced throughout the year. Undoubtedly I will cherish these and carry them with me wherever I go.
Shall I be more specific? Well, in a previous appreciation, I already gave a description of the courses we had during our first trimester, so now I can tell a bit more about the rest:
The Interfaith course, by Yadunandana Prabhu, was exceptional. We took two field-trips to visit adherents of other religions.
We had a most wonderful time with Radhika Raman Prabhu in the Introductory Sanskrit course. His pronunciation is perfect (ours a little less), and he charmed our hearts with his shining expertise and good qualities. He surprised us at the end with a simple exam and manifested his generosity with the marks.
Sacinandana Swami guided us through two retreats (on the holy name and saranagati). The nectarean ocean is ever-increasing!
The Western Philosophy course is unforgettable: a detailed history of ideas from over two thousand years in less than two weeks. By the grace and professionalism of Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu and Jan Olof Prabhu we did it. Later came our turn to sum up this knowledge in an essay. (We wrote this essay and all others under the devoted, editorial guidance of Tattvavit Prabhu, to whom I am indebted.
A talented Vaisnava named Kartamasa Prabhu took us into Sociological theory, right into the juicy topics of our Krsna consciousness movement and lives. He expertly selected matching bhajans for each day’s topics and sang them with melodious sweetness. He assigned an enjoyable research project, letting us choose the topic according to our hearts’ desires.
Right from Oxford University came Krsna-ksetra Prabhu. His two courses, Vaisnava Theology and Comparative Religion, were a celebration to the heart and ear. Every day he brought a different surprise, a new challenge. He made us take a second look at things. He, too, let us select our essay topic.
The most expert of teachers, Rasamandala Prabhu, had a come-back with Teacher Training II. In his classes, you wonder: Is this theater? It’s like a captivating professional performance. With unlimited encouragement, he kept us engaged all the while, especially during our final presentations.
Another come-back, this one from America, was Anuttama Prabhu’s. This time he was accompanied by Hanuman Prabhu. This jolly couple showered us with mercy, but also with plenty of tools for Management and Leadership.
Next came an acarya of Ethics, Sesa Prabhu. You will not find a more befitting way of learning ethics. His exemplary character and gentle heart fascinated us. He left us with a short exam and strong feelings of separation.
Bhakti Vaibhava, taught throughout the year by Yadunandana Prabhu, remained our constant way of quenching our thirst, and his Bhakti-sastri Teacher Training Course proved useful.
Finally, Vraja-lila Prabhvi (along with our old friend and assistant teacher from the Counseling course, Kaunteya Prabhu) taught us to transcend conflicts. Mediation turned to be a hidden talent of many of the students, and many issues were solved.
In whatever way I can, I wish to remain connected to Bhaktivedanta College and the devotees involved. In my little way I will try to repay my debts, though I know that for such great fortunes, one remains indebted eternally.
A Ten-Month Festival (June 2003) by Vrindadevi Dasi
This school year was incredibly enlightening and enlivening. Like a rich feast, it turned out to be intense, and probably I will be digesting and applying what I gained for the rest of my life.
The academic courses and the essay writing broadened and deepened my knowledge. Many things got new names in my understanding: for instance, ISKCON, Gaudiya-Vaisnavism, and Veda. It helped me to look at ISKCON’s legacy in the broader context of Indian and Western philosophy, and from sociological and interfaith points of view. Taking different angles and critically evaluating Krishna consciousness, I came to own my identity as a child of ISKCON. Much of the world lacks the conclusive Krishna conscious philosophy, and this means that I have a lot to share with a wide range of audiences. During this training period I gained confidence, courage, and the tools to become more active and effective. One thing is for sure: I always want to remain a trainee.
Especially in the more skills-oriented courses, I began to explore my vocational options within ISKCON and society at large. To me, it seems only reasonable now that Krishna consciousness can and should be extended to all fields of academic, social, and personal life. This conclusion makes me so happy because I feel in tune with the vision and mission of my Guru Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada.
Now I will invest at least a year to help the College develop, and later I want to take more systematic education (especially in sastra, communications, and perhaps the arts) and eventually teach in ISKCON colleges worldwide. I have always had an inclination to teach and care for people. What is new to me is that I also want to be responsive to people’s needs, interests, and concerns. This is honest leadership. It is confronting and implies constant transformation of the false ego, e.g. the desire to be onstage, to look good, and to be useful or influential.
By my attending all the devotional programs, selfless dedication has become a very essential goal for me. I feel intrigued and alarmed at the same time. It gave me sleepless nights to contemplate the radiant devotion of our teachers. They are living bhagavatas, and I really want to follow them to implement the principles of the Bhagavatam in my own and others’ lives. Yet the gigantic need for purification of my heart made me hide away in fear many times. I felt honestly grateful, though, whenever I came into a heartening process or broke into tears, and so on. This was facilitated by the loving and trusting ethos of the students and the teachers, who all became a reliable source of spiritual, social, and emotional strength to me.
My conclusion is that Vaishnava relationships and personal Vaishnava training enables individual potentials to flourish. For the benefit of all restless and helpless souls, I pray that the Bhaktivedanta College project will eventually bring Srila Prabhupada’s “message of peace and good will” to society at large.