Vaisnava Education And Training

Akhandadhi Dasa

The need for training

Training is a key element in the activities of the Krsna consciousness movement.� There is, however, little doubt that we have a long way to go in perfecting our training process.� Srila Prabhupada has given us a clear understanding that Krsna consciousness develops in definite, gradual stages.� What we lack is a precise framework for training devotees in the development of Krsna consciousness on a personal level, and the acquisition of the necessary skills to preach our philosophy under all� circumstances.

Recently, a high-level member of the Mormon church commented that we are the envy of other religious organisations because of the enthusiasm, determination and dedication of our members.� However, he couldn't understand why we didn't invest in the training of our devotees?

Training is taking place, but it doesn't cover all aspects of a devotee's life. I speak, of course, from the perspective of my experience in the UK. This yatra is one of the oldest in ISKCON, and has experienced many problems in development and growth over the years.� We inaugurated the Bhakta Programme in 1976, together with various methodical recruiting techniques.� Even today, the UK yatra attracts more new devotees than any other in the Western world. Congregationally,� there is far greater interest than we can currently cope with, and we are faced with training issues which make us desperately aware of our deficiencies.

Radhadesh Communications Seminar 1992

It was with these considerations in mind that I presented some ideas that I hoped to implement at Bhaktivedanta Manor, at the Radhadesh Communications Seminar in June 1992. At that time, that's all I had - just a few ideas; I wasn't even sure we were able to implement them. But I was glad to have the opportunity to speak about an issue which I considered of the utmost importance for the future of� ISKCON worldwide. I could clearly see that in other organisations, good training processes can make up for deficiencies in manpower, organisation and resources - three things which we often cite as obstacles to our performance.

In the Radhadesh presentation, I principally focused on the training we offer to temple devotees; although I made it clear that I fully accept that training is also important for devotees outside the temples, it was, at that time, beyond the scope of my presentaton.� I suggested the following objectives were both acccepted and desirable:

  • We want as many full-time devotees as possible
  • We want our present devotees to be confident about recruiting
  • We want intelligent, dynamic men and women to join our movement
  • We want them to be as equipped as possible in understanding all aspects of devotional service
  • We want to capitalise on the experience and learning devotees receive while serving in the temples
  • We want ISKCON to have the benefit of the maturity, experience and excellence of its older devotees in all services and in leadership
  • We want devotees to practise Krsna consciousness throughout their whole life and go back to Godhead

I was certain that in the UK we were not adequately achieving these objectives. Lack of a comprehensive training training programme was the major issue, and a very lively discussion followed this presentation.

Questions, questions, questions

The first thing that became obvious to everyone present was that there are a lot of unanswered questions. The issues surrounding the concept of training within ISKCON are somewhat deep and complicated, and questions must be tackled and answered before developments in training programmes can be achieved.� The following were identified as the most crucial at this time:

  1. How far is it possible to train a person in devotional practice or attitude?� Can you train someone� to be a devotee or can you merely train someone to do the activities of a devotee?
  2. Can our standard devotional programme provide all the training input that our devotees require in devotional practice and attitude, or would they benefit from being augmented from specific classes, seminars, istagoshtis etc.?
  3. We say that simply by following Krsna consciousness, the qualities of a devotee will develop automatically.� Does this militate against training programmes to develop devotional qualities, or is training part of following Krsna consciousness?
  4. Considering that relationships with devotees are crucial for satisfaction within the ashram, what guidance, training or other help can we offer devotees in this regard, particularly for those who may have been emotionally scarred from experiences in material life?
  5. Is it correct� to assume that because we are under such pressure from lack of staff and money that we can't afford the time and expense required to train devotees, even in their specific services?
  6. Do we train according to the needs of ISKCON or to the needs and nature of the devotee?� Does the tension between doing the needful versus engagement according to propensity blind us from seeing something very obvious about the way forward in training?
  7. We are a preaching movement, yet surveys in America have identified the 'unfriendly' attitude of the devotees.� At times, preaching efforts are less effective because of poor communication and presentation skills.�� Further, we have a mood of rejection of material culture and association yet in many circumstances we need to be fluent and aware enough to reach people, particularly in specialist areas such as science, education, interfaith and so on.� How do we combine the disdain of association of non-devotees with a need for compassion and commitment to saving them and the association that brings in a preaching context?
  8. How do we train devotees in the temple in the possibility of lifelong brahmacarya while also providing a balanced attitude towards other ashrams? How do we equip individuals for successful transition to the grhastha ashram?�
    Our Society needs to develop a clear understanding of the identity and responsibilities of the grhastha ashram.� Training brahmacaris to understand the social role and personal responsibilities of grhastha life would then be much easier. Our present training and engagement of brahmacaris and householders is tainted by the unique attitude that brahmacaris are our financial assets and householders our liabilities.� Every other religious community regards householders as their financial base and the training of brahmacaris as an investment.
  9. Is it ISKCON's responsibility to offer occupational training for those entering household life? Would it help such devotees to gain such training?� How does ISKCON balance encouragement of continued preaching engagement with the occupational and financial needs of those whom the temple once maintained but now does not?

Looking for the answers Although I went to Radhadesh with some ideas which I hoped might be employed at Bhaktivedanta Manor, I was anxious that it may well be beyond us. I was also unsure as to what the attitudes of the devotees present would be to what I had to present to them, and was subsequently very grateful to them for their sympathetic hearing of the ideas I presented. The enthusiasm and commitment to the principle of training expressed by these devotees led to the establishment of a European Working Party on Vaishnava Education and Training. Devotees with experience and expertise in the fields of recruitment, training and management were drawn into the party from different parts of� the Continent. The purpose was to formulate practical programmes for training devotees.� It was my great privilege to be invited to chair this Working Party. Needless to say, I returned from Radhadesh full of great hope and optimism for the work ahead.

The work begins   The following devotees have contributed to the Working Party so far:
H. H. Bhaktivaibhava Swami - Germany
H. H. Sacinandana Swami - Germany������������
H. G. Jnana Dasa -� UK
H. G. Purnacandra Dasa -� UK
H. G. Rasamandala Dasa -� UK�������������������
H. G. Bhagavat Asraya Dasa -� UK���������������
H. G. Ajita Dasa - Sweden������������� ��������������������
H. G. Navadvipa Dasa - Croatia
H. G. Guruttama Dasa - Latvia
H. G. Saunaka Rsi Dasa - Head of ISKCON Communications in Europe

The Working Party have met in plenary sessions for three full weeks over the last year.� Great excitement has been generated within the group, there having been an ongoing consensus on all aspects of training discussed.

The Working Party has no mandate from ISKCON authorities or any kind of official role.� It is simply a team of individuals anxious to prepare proposals that ISKCON temples might like to take advantage of. Nothing is cast in stone and indeed, the structure of the training programmes and the details of courses are arranged in such a way as to allow complete flexibility for local circunstances.

Overview of the Working Party discussions

1. Introductory Courses

It is proposed that there should be a solid induction programme starting before devotees join the temples:

a) Preliminary Course. A ten topic course in the basic principles needed for a preliminary understanding of� the process of Krsna consciousness and the structure and purpose of ISKCON.� It is envisaged that this course could be undertaken on a part-time basis over a period of one month by individuals living outside who are interested in joining a temple for formal training.

b) Foundation Course.� A one year course, divided into semesters, and consisting of five modules. The first three months will be an enhanced version of the current Introductory or Bhakta Programme. The modules proposed are:

Religion and Culture���
Devotional Practice

It is envisaged that this course will be full-time, where students will be carefully prepared for life within the ashram.� During this period, on a part-time basis, they will experience a range of activities such as book distribution, temple service and so on.� At the end of the year they will have a good understanding of all the aspects of the Movement.

2. Personalised Monitoring

In addition to course tutors, it is proposed that in the first year of training,each student should be under the care of a monitor. The monitor's primary function will be to make sure that the students are enrolled in the courses appropriate for them. Each new devotee should be assigned a senior male or female devotee to watch over them during this first year. 3. Ongoing Training and Education

From the beginning of the second year the training will become more specialised in terms of service, but asrama training and development of devotional practices will continue.�

a) In-service training:� Many companies operate a 'sit by Nellie' process, where trainees are assigned to an experienced employee in the hope that by simply by watching this person in action the trainee will acquire the necessary skills to do the same job. In ISKCON, we have a more primitive system called 'sit where Nellie used to be' or 'sit where Nellie would sit', and do the job.

Enhanced training procedures in various services will put a lot of pressure on our existing department heads but the full weight won't lie with them because they would engage others, from inside or outside of their departments, to take part in the training programmes as far as possible.� Further, we conceive that a number of our smaller centres that wouldn't be able to offer training across the board might become 'centres of excellence' for specific aspects such as book distribution, Food for Life, cooking, etc.�

b) Sastra.� Study for the Bhakti Sastri Diploma will begin here. Rasamandala Dasa of ISKCON Educational Services in the UK is in collaboration with Bhurijana Dasa from the VIHE to formulate a Bhakti Sastri Course.

c) Vocational training.� Many service engagements involve skills which are transferable outside of the movement, e.g. cooking, computing, sales, gardening, accounts, etc. A number of UK devotees trained for their current outside career within the brahmacari ashram and doing service within ISKCON. Indeed, they continue to serve ISKCON on a voluntary basis because of that training.

We envisage offering training for two types of careers, one within ISKCON, the other for occupational services outside the Movement. There are basically three career paths devotees can follow within ISKCON itself, for which the following courses are proposed:

(i) Minister.� I personally feel very excited about this course, as it systematically trains devotees who have strong inclinations towards preaching and pastoral activities (including book distribution, nama hatta preaching, managing temples, etc). This course should enable devotees to preach to any audience under any circumstance, to minister to congregation and devotees and be fully equipped in the philosophy of Krsna consciousness and its application in all issues and to all complementary and conflicting ideologies.

We envisage that the course will involve no more than two study days a month, perhaps as a series of seminars. There will also be a high expectancy of involvement in a range of preaching activities. Sastra study for the Bhaktivaibhava, Bhaktivedanta and Bhaktisarvabhauma diplomas will begin during this stage of training.

(ii)� Pujari or priest. This course will be in two parts.� The first part would bring someone to the standard of a good pujari, capable of handling all aspects of deity worship within the temple. The second part will train individuals to become ISKCON priests, able to conduct ceremonies such as samskaras, festivals and yajnas.

(iii) ISKCON management.� This course will also be in two parts, the first training individuals to be proficient department heads within a temple, the second covering the necessary skills to become a temple president.

There are no firm plans as yet for training in careers external to ISKCON, but it is envisaged we will offer skills training which is both useful to ISKCON and transferable to outside employment, perhaps augmented by courses at outside institutes.

4.� Workbooks

As far as possible, all courses will be in the form of workbooks divided into a series of modules. The students will complete these through participation in various classes and seminars under the guidance of a course tutor. It will be extremely difficult to set up a chronologically consistent course and structure, but the workbook system will allow provision of classes on a more flexible basis.� The course tutor would be responsible for providing all the modules within a given time limit rather than being tied down to a specific schedule of classes. There will be no need for examinations or competition between students because each person will complete the workbook in his or her own time. It may be that devotees in one temple may wish to visit another temple to acquire a particular module. Flexibility, self-responsibility, and lack of competition, are the keys to this.� Apart from the shorter degrees, we are not looking for devotees to pass an examination and achieve a certain pass grade; rather, we want them to be properly aquainted with a whole range of topics.

Training the trainers It is clear that such a complex series of training programmes will require a large number of well-trained tutors.� Where are we to find such devotees and how will we train them?� To a large degree, I believe that the very capable devotees we already have within our temples can be enabled to perform the role of trainers by providing them with detailed course materials and workbooks.� If we then offer them courses in training others, we should be able to implement the initial stages of these programmes quite adequately.� By so doing, they become more established in our minds and will take root within our institution.� Over time, we can apply our intelligence and resources to improving the quality of teacher training.

Separate institutes Some devotees feel that independent institutions should be used to meet ISKCON's training needs. Whilst I accept that there are perhaps some specific types of courses which might benefit from being facilitated by an independent institute, I feel strongly that temples that carry out Deity worship and a range of other activities, must also be centres of learning.� If we are attracting devotees, accommodating them and engaging them in service, we must have training going on simultaneously.� General training for the devotees should not be something they go elsewhere for.� It should be the main function of the temple.

However, the VIHE and the VTE Communication seminars have proved very popular in allowing devotees to receive high level training in specific topics. I would not wish to undermine such endeavours, but if they are combined with good general training in the temples our devotees will have the best of all worlds.

The concept of an independent institute perhaps finds its best case in training the trainers, since that is something that will obviously be difficult to provide within the smaller temples. Vrindavan offers this resource for teachers and preachers, but perhaps each continent might have its own facility.� I would suggest it be annexed to a large temple.� Such a facility would benefit from the resources and programmes existing in the temple and certainly would be a reciprocal asset to it.

Benefits of a training programme

1.� Devotees will become more expert in their service, confident in their ashram and attentive to their� devotional practices.

2.� Devotees will be enlivened by a sense of achievement and progress.

3.� There is a strong possibility of attracting more highly qualified devotees who are impressed with what the movement has to offer them.

4.� Devotees will be able to make a smoother transition to the grhastha ashram, having been assisted in career training, which they may use either in service to the Society or as an eternal livelihood to support their families.� The more productive a householder can be for the Society the more likely we are to maintain or employ them.� The more grateful devotees are for the training ISKCON gives them, the more likely they are to support the Society even after leaving the brahmacari ashram.