Bhakti-vrksha, the tree of devotional service is the name for small groups of people meeting weekly for about 2 to 3 hours. . It is very interactive and helps the participants to discuss the Krishna conscious philosophy, develop close friendly relationships with devotees, and progress very happily in Krishna consciousness. It also trains them to become competent preachers themselves. It is based on the principles of the congregational preaching of the Nama Hatta devised by Srila Bhaktivinod Thakura himself.
It takes care of the social, psychological, intellectual and emotional needs of a devotee to firmly establish himself in his spiritual need of bhakti and his eternal service to Krishna. It is thus a holistic approach to training a devotee, laying a firm foundation in his devotional service which will keep growing unlimitedly throughout his entire life. Since proper understanding and faith is established in his heart through studying Srila Prabhupada’s instructions in a systematic way, where practical application of those principles are stressed, the devotee progresses undisturbed by various onslaughts of Kali, with a firm faith in the Krishna conscious process and instructions.
It consists of an ice-breaker or Satsanga session, kirtan, japa, spiritual edification or the discussion of some Krishna conscious topic, preaching session and prasadam.
In a gradual and systematic way, the members are helped to advance in Krishna consciousness. Members are given certificates to acknowledge each level of advancement.
The Lesson modules, which are ready made preaching plans, will help the leader/facilitator to conduct the program week after week. These are simple to follow and help in conducting the programs very well.
The study classes conducted for the members on a different day of the week after a few months of starting the group program will further ensure that the members are well versed in Srila Prabhupada’s books.
When the group has completed the modules in 64 weeks, normally they should be ready to “multiply”. This involves the trained and qualified members of the group to become leaders themselves. Those who are not ready to be leaders yet could be regrouped to attend these new leaders’ programs, and they can act as senior devotees assisting the leaders in preaching and taking care of the new members, while making further advancement themselves . When they make the required progress, they could be encouraged to lead new Bhakti Vrkshas themselves.
Mood and method of the Bhakti Vrksha:
Bhakti is the goal of the Bhakti Vrksha… and Bhakti involves applying practically the Krishna conscious principles… not a dry discussion of philosophy alone. Ideally, anyone who has firm faith in Srila Prabhupada and is practicing all the principles of chanting 16 rounds, following the 4 regulative principles and is observing Mangala Arathi, reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, observing Ekadasi, and has a basic understanding of the Krishna conscious philosophy can become a Bhakti Vrksha group leader.
One does not have to be a scholar to be able to answer all the questions. One can always refer back to the seniors or to Srila Prabhupada’s books. And get back to the members if one is not able to answer some difficult questions. The members will be made aware of the family of devotees in different levels of advancement who are there to back the leader. The Bhakti Vrksha leader’s main qualification is his sincerity in desiring the spiritual advancement of his members.
Building up relationships in a very close and personal way is most important, as it helps people to surrender to Krishna due to devotee association.
Developing service attitude and humility are the primary requirements of a successful Bhakti Vrksha leader who can convince his members to commit themselves more and more to Krishna consciousness.
Love and trust is built up if the leader acts as a facilitator and not as a controller. This will also lead to the empowerment of the members to quickly advance and preach.
The art of listening is required in the leader to encourage and facilitate a lively discussion in which every one takes part and benefits.
The goal is the spiritual advancement of everyone, including the leader. So by catering to the spiritual growth of others, the leader progresses quickly and wonderfully in Krishna consciousness by becoming more and more selfless. This gives him a higher taste and he enjoys the nectar of devotional service.
Regular meetings with other leaders as well as with the program coordinator is very essential to learn from one another’s successes, sort out problems , and co- operate together for the overall success of the Bhakti Vrksha program.
Advantages of conducting a Bhakti Vrksha
1) It is interactive, and so more interesting. Thus it helps people retain what they have learnt.
2) Fosters close and lasting spiritual relationships and family feeling with the other devotees.
3) Empowers everyone to be a preacher and a leader.
4) It has the potential to multiply quickly while ensuring good training of devotees.
5) Engages everyone in absorbing devotional service.
6) Leadership skills are learnt and developed by everyone.
7) Helps one to develop true Vaisnava qualities of tolerance, humility, efficiency, selflessness, etc…
8) It supports the 7 purposes of ISKCON as given by Srila Prabhupada and helps in achieving them. (We have dealt with this in greater detail in the next chapter.)
1) Conducting a Bhakti Vrksha is easy and simple if you follow the techniques.
2) The results both in terms of quality and quantity make it worthwhile to apply the Bhakti Vrksha System.
3) With experience you become more expert. You can discuss your problems with those who have learnt to conduct it successfully.
4) One can fulfill Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s desire and prediction of flooding the world with Krishna consciousness. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu has said that if even 1% of the population becomes devotees, the golden age will set in! Bhakti Vrksha has the potency to accomplish this.
5) The modules facilitate the application of Bhakti-vrksha as presented in the manual and will make it easy for all preachers, even those without any previous experience, to follow.