Introduction

 

 

Dear devotees,

 

The Bhakti Vrksa program material is intended to facilitate your application of the Bhakti Vrksa principles very systematically. It is simple and easy to follow. After 9 years of experience in conducting the Bhakti Vrksha program successfully in Mathuradesh, in the Middle East, we have designed these modules.

To give you an idea about the congregation of Mathuradesh, most of the devotees are of Indian, Bangladeshi origin and are expatriates. They are here only to work for their livelihood, and their jobs are renewed every two years. So it is a highly changing population, as almost everyone is not a permanent resident of the country. Many devotees who have been trained in this system here have left and started it in other places.

 

We would also like to share with you that these modules have been implemented in many countries all over the world as well, and have brought about outstanding results.

In Bangladesh, where they are following these modules, it has led to a rapid growth of Bhakti Vrksha with many devotees able to conduct them successfully.

In Toronto, in Winnipeg, in Johannesburg in a few other Middle East countries, also a few cities in India, they have proved successful in generating the enthusiasm and desire for progress in the members while systematically training them in the philosophy, practice, and preaching the Krsna conscious principles, as well as in interacting with people, very effectively and very quickly. We have also included the experiences of some of these preachers in the book.

 

We will be discussing some additional points of consideration for the cultivation of the people; also common difficulties and doubts that preachers normally encounter.

 

 

We will be dividing the entire course into modules according to the level of progress a group grows through. At the end of each module, there will be some questions for you, which will help you gauge which level your group is at. The topics for discussion in the different modules have been designed according to the knowledge required for the members to commit themselves to the next higher level.

 

The levels are determined by the commitments they make in Krsna consciousness. The siksha program developed by the Congregational Development ministry ISKCON, assigns different commitments for different levels of Siksha. For example, one who is regularly attending an ISKCON program at least once a week and is chanting one mala of japa will be acknowledged as a “Shraddhavan.” The acknowledgement is in the form of a certificate which could be issued by the local ISKCON authorities. This could be awarded to the participants either at a public gathering at the local ISKCON temple or during the special programs like the “Vyuha” programs held for the Bhakti Vrksha groups. The siksha application forms as well as a sample siksha certificate are available at the back of this book.

 

We have allotted 8 weeks for people to commit to the level of “Shraddhavan”, the next 8 weeks for people to move to “Krsna sevak” (Chanting 4 rounds of japa, accepting Lord Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, no meat eating, offering some regular service and starting to read Srila Prabhupada’s books), and the next 8 weeks for people to move to “Krsna sadhak” (chanting 8 rounds of japa, following the 4 regulative principles, offering bhoga to pictures, establishing an altar at home, and generally accepting the process of Sadhana -bhakti), the next 12 weeks to move to the level of Srila Prabhupada Asraya( Chanting 16 rounds of japa, following regulative principles, showing a strong conviction in Krsna consciousness like attending/ performing Mangala Arathi,  studying the scriptures seriously, etc.) and the last 12 weeks of the modules are for the people to move up to “Guru Asraya”( accepting a living Guru in ISKCON ).

 

At the end of every module we have assigned the succeeding week for presenting a seminar to motivate the participants to commit themselves to the next siksha level. We have included the seminar material in the texts. These are very inter-active sessions and have proved very effective in enlightening and inspiring the members to move to the next level.

 

One important point to note is that the focus of the “Vrinda” or the regular weekly program of the Bhakti Vrksha is to instill faith in Krishna in the members and give them the basic understanding of Krishna conscious philosophy in order that they can be engaged in pure devotional service. The emphasis is thus on the practical application of Krishna consciousness and the development of bhakti or devotion.

 

The spiritual edification sessions are geared towards understanding the goal of Krishna consciousness and to engage oneself in realizing that goal, which necessitates a lot of participation from the members. For learning shastra in a more systematic way, we have advised that the members attend a study group on another day of the week. We have also described the format of the study group. We have recommended that this be done by the fourth month of starting the Vrinda. In actual practise, members become very enthusiastic even before the fourth month to attend the study classes! Truly, Bhakti is the source of jnana and Vairagya.

 The two parallel programs of the Vrinda and the study classes fortify the aspiring devotee’s faith and knowledge in Krishna consciousness in a very strong and deep way. We find that very soon members become enthusiastic to attend the weekly Sunday programs of the yatra as well. This helps them to associate with senior devotees and also integrate with the larger devotee community of the yatra. They get a chance to participate in the different services, festivals, samskaras and other programs very quickly.

 

If you were to substitute the spiritual edification sessions with a more study based material, there could be a compromise on their participation, enthusiasm and practical application of Krishna conscious principles.

 

The members will also be trained to preach effectively and also become Vrinda leaders themselves in 64 weeks. Those who do not make it to the minimum requirement for leading a group , which is Prabhupada Asraya, or are not ready to lead a group themselves can continue attending one of the groups that the parent group multiplies to. Each of these groups will be lead by one of the trained members, and the remaining members of the group could be assigned to attend these different groups and participate as a senior member, assisting the new Bhakti Vrksha leader and thus acting as interns.

In case these members are found to be too advanced to go through a Bhakti Vrksha again, they could just continue attending the study classes, and be gradually trained to lead a Bhakti Vrksha themselves. Or if after some time of attending the Bhakti Vrksha they feel confident of leading a group, they could be helped to do so.

 

 

If you are following the same pace as the material, you should be able to multiply the group within a year and 3 months, and train quite a few leaders.

 

 

This has been our experience at Mathuradesh, that by following these modules, we have been able to make the pace of progress of the members in different Vrindas more uniform. By following these modules, all of the Vrindas reported very good results; in fact even better results than what we have anticipated in the modules themselves.

There are some important points that you must bear in mind and must take special care about which will greatly enhance your preaching, and make it a very satisfying experience:

 

1) Please read the material a few days in advance. Be sure that you know the answers for the questions in the passage. If there are any doubts, you can clarify it with your senior. You can also read additional literature relevant to the topic under consideration. This will help you clarify their doubts, as well as make your summing up very interesting. Also kindly go through the instructions for every session given each week, even though they may be repetitive some times. As and when some change is required, it has been added, and so lest you miss them, kindly go through them every week.

 

2) Please do not explain the passage to them after it has been read out. Let them try to understand the passage by answering the questions themselves.

There are questions given at the end of each passage of the spiritual edification to enable them to cover all the important points in the passage. But if you would like to add or have your own questions, that should be all right.

Your role is to facilitate their discovery of the passage, by acknowledging and accepting or gently correcting their answers in an informal way; not as one would do in a class room. If you were to give a out all the answers yourself, or just lecture to them in advance about it, they will not apply their minds to understand it. Hence their learning will remain superficial. So please do keep all the explanation and extra points that you would like to share with them for the end of the session, when you will be summing up the discussion.

 

3) Please make sure that every body participates in the application questions, since it will not only aid everyone to apply the principles in their daily life, it will also give you a first hand knowledge of any obstacles that they may be facing and about their spiritual progress. It is the application session which enthuses the devotees to make real spiritual progress and not remain stagnant on a theoretical level.

 

4) The preaching session is also a very important part of the program. In the first few sessions you need only read out the passage on “Preaching is the essence” as it is mentioned in the material. Once they will be a little familiar with the mission and its purpose, there are instructions to start getting everyone involved in preaching through small steps, and in this way training them to be effective preachers and leaders themselves.

 

5) Please make sure that you speak to the members during the week informally some time. This will greatly encourage them.  You can also visit them in their homes. This helps tremendously, as you get a first hand and personal knowledge of them. So you can help them progress in their spiritual lives even better. Your suggestions will be more relevant and practical for them, thus building up their trust in your spiritual care.

 

6) While caring for them and making them grow, you yourself will grow by leaps and bounds. For example, you will be motivated to read Srila Prabhupada’s books, and follow the principles more carefully in order to set a good example. Besides, it gives you so much of devotional service to do while training you in the principles of humility, tolerance, service attitude etc. So do take up the Bhakti Vrksa preaching very seriously, since your own spiritual life is woven into it.

 

7) The ice- breakers mentioned in the Sat sanga session will help the people to open up and relate to the group, concentrate on what is happening during the program, and participate freely. There are also ice- breakers which foster their team – spirit. So after some sessions, when the group is likely to feel comfortable with one another and a good team spirit has also developed, we will move into discussing what they read during the week from Srila Prabhupada’s books and their realizations. So this will encourage them to read as well as promote understanding them personally. Though we have chosen the ice-breakers for you, you can have more choice from the The Book of ice-breakers compiled by HG Kaunteya das and published by the Congregational development ministry.

 

8) If there are any heated arguments with regard to the philosophy, or if somebody tries to disagree on some issue, it is better to discontinue the particular point and request them to discuss it separately with us. This way we can avoid wasting time and disturbing the minds of the new comers. If they deviate from Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, we can request them to keep to the text and later discuss their doubts/ opinions with us. This can be done very politely and gently, but firmly.

If there is some question we are not able to answer, we can tell them that we will come back with the answer the next week. We have to make sure that we find out the answer and let them know in the next meeting.

 

9) We have to set an example with your service mood, but at the same time we have to let them render services too, only then they will mature in their devotional service. If we give them services, so that it will benefit them spiritually, they will accept it with great eagerness. But if we think in terms of sharing our burden, they will begin to resent it.

 

10) Another aspect that we may encounter is that what to do if when we have progressed to heavier topics in the spiritual edification and we have a new visitor to our Bhakti Vrksa. How do we make him understand and participate?  So then, we must take a few minutes off and explain to him the basics in Krsna consciousness and an introduction to what is being discussed. Later we can assign some senior and steady member to give him association, and familiarize him/her with the sessions already covered by the group. You can also make sure that he is comfortable participating in the group. If there are a few members who have joined late in the group, say after 6 months, then it will be difficult for them to integrate in the spiritual edification session with the others. So we can have them sit separately and discuss the earlier spiritual edification sessions.

11) Every three months, it is important that we let the group members have a break from the routine and have a different program, which we call as the “Vyuha” program. A long Kirtan, a lecture by a senior devotee, an interactive session among the members with games, quiz, entertainment of music, drama, sharing realizations etc so that they are enthused . It is also a program to which new members will gladly attend as it is like an outreach program. It is also an opportunity for the members to have the association of senior devotees. This is very important for their progress. We have assigned the weeks periodically for such programs at regular intervals. We will also give you reminders for going on picnics together, for attending the yatra programs, etc.

 

12) Picnics and other informal gatherings like home programs to celebrate occasions like house- warming ceremonies, birthdays, inaugurating a new altar, etc, are very important in helping the members come close together. We have a separate chapter on games that could be played during picnics.

 

13) The importance of performing regular sadhana systematically is emphasized through a meeting and discussion on sadhana for the members. All devotees who have reached Srila Prabhupada Ashraya are also requested to enter their sadhana details on a chart every day and submit it every week to their leaders during the study classes. The study classes also set aside half an hour for training them in different devotional activities like learning slokas, Vaisnava songs, performing arathi, playing the karatalas, etc.

 

 

 

14) We have seminar materials on topics like chanting, Vaisnava etiquette, devotee marriages, importance of sadhana, etc which are included in the supplementary book  accompanying these modules. Leaders (could be sector leaders or other seniors in the hierarchy) are requested to conduct these seminars periodically for the members.

 

 

15) Please fill up the BV report form at the end of each lesson, every week immediately after the program. This is easy to do, and will help you and your seniors in the Bhakti Vrksa program to analyze the growth of your Bhakti Vrksa members. A sloppy approach will not yield the desired results, nor help you take proper measures to improve your preaching.