Why did you decide to study through Bhaktivedanta College Online?
Please say a few words about yourself.
My name is Sriprada Dasi. I joined ISKCON in Croatia during my psychology studies in Rijeka. Soon after, I moved to Sweden to work in the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, but a few months later I moved to the Almvik Gards center, and I have remained in service to the Deities, Sri Sri Panca-tattva, since then—the winter of 1992. At the moment, I serve as the head pujari, and I have opportunities to serve not only the Deities but their devotees. My mother-in-law is a Protestant priest, and another relative is a Catholic priest. This has given my husband and I many opportunities to talk about religion and philosophy. I found some great inspiration and help with my studies through these dialogues.
Why did you decide to study through Bhaktivedanta College Online?
Several senior devotees I spoke with during the past few years pointed out that I may benefit from some study and intellectual engagement to balance my other services, including being a mother and a spouse. I have always been interested in learning and in discussions on spiritual subjects. I sometimes felt that I knew something by virtue of my experience in devotional service but lacked the words to express or explain myself in an organized way and back it up with good references. As a pujari and a person, I often found myself doing pastoral care without being certain that I am doing it right. I wanted to have more knowledge, to improve and to be of better service. When Krsna Ksetra Swami and Pranava Prabhu spoke about the online college at our summer festival, it sounded like the right course to take.
What is the most interesting aspect of this studying?
I appreciate the open atmosphere of learning and support. All the teachers are well-versed in the subjects and good at inspiring and supporting learning. There is always someone you can turn to. It is interesting to learn about other religions; it’s helpful in our approach to and understanding of our philosophy, and I learn how to formulate my thoughts and present my ideas to others. I found it very helpful that there is a demand and inspiration and some support in the process of learning how to think about, analyze and explain matters. Discovering the depths of Vaisnava philosophy, its background, and the variety of contexts is interesting and enriching.
Do you feel that an academic approach to the transcendental knowledge of Gaudiya-Vaishnavism is important?
Yes. The Gaudiya sampradaya comes through devotees who were themselves engaged in institutionalized education and scholarship. Most of the members of the panca-tattva were teachers who paid attention to the science and knowledge behind the highly devotional elements of bhakti. I see the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan as both academics and highly devotional persons, free from the nondevotional approach of an ordinary jnani. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, as well as Srila Prabhupada, all valued talking to intellectuals and presenting their knowledge in an organized manner. This, alongside their full devotion, in my understanding, empowered them to talk to people in all walks of life. Although this approach may not be needed by all devotees, it may be useful and helpful to those with such inclinations.
It is also important for ISKCON’s gain a rightful position and reputation in the academic world and the world at large. As we know, there are many other understandings and misunderstandings about the Vedic and Hindu cultures in the academic world and in the information it provides. Claiming the space and providing Vaisnava views among academics seems important, and it’s a service that Srila Prabhupada called for on several occasions.
How can academic knowledge help one’s personal development?
Devotees are inspired to, and people, in general, are advised to, live in the mode of goodness. It is said that thoughtfulness is in the mode of goodness. An academic approach provides you with structured thought and knowledge and supports the mode of goodness, which, in turn, is the basis for sustainable spiritual, personal development. The academic studies I’ve so far undertaken at the College have provided broad perspectives, and this has supported my personal growth. This school offers plenty of tools that support and inspire personal development.
How did that help you?
So far, it has helped me in several ways. I have gained further insight into, and understanding of some elements of Gaudiya-Vaisnava thought. I have also found a circle of supportive and knowledgeable Vaisnavas who provide valuable insights and help me understand and practically apply this knowledge. I have been inspired to think more and to become more aware of my spiritual development, my interactions with others, and my understanding of my spiritual path. As a bonus, I am also learning how to express myself, how to trust, and how to take responsibility and be more of a servant in daily life. My education has provided a feeling of larger freedom and enhanced peace on my spiritual path. As I occasionally work at different places, such as a local school, I discover that these studies have strengthened my identity and eased my interactions with the people I interact with.
How do you use the knowledge and experience you’ve gained at Bhaktivedanta College in your everyday life as a devotee, a mother, etc.?
My studies so far have become a part of my everyday life. I will occasionally refer to what I have learned in my conversations with others, and I sometimes share my learning and discuss it further in different circles, such as ladies groups, classes, Deity department meetings, or friendly conversations. In regular work, it often provides for interesting discussions with teachers and parents or people in general. It has helped me to become better at structuring and presenting things in my various services and at work, and to become more present in whatever I am doing. It has also made me more mindful in my relationships and inspired me to want to become more of a positive role model, particularly for my children.
What has changed in your life since you enrolled?
One of the biggest changes is that I have become more peaceful and balanced, feeling that I have a better grasp and understanding, and that it’s possible to express and share my thoughts with other devotees. It has provided a feeling of liberality in my relationships, but also a stronger desire to become a better devotee. The more I study, the more my conviction in and attachment to the service of Panca-tattva grows. So I have more knowledge but also increased gratitude.