On October 1972, at the Rādhā-Dāmodara Temple in Vrindaban, India, Śrīla Prabhupāda nicely emphasized on the importance of sādhana – the conscientious practice of the regulative principles of devotional service – in his exchanges with his disciples.
It was about 5:30 in the morning and Śrīla Prabhupāda called me into his sitting room wanting to know why Syamasundara and Pradyumna were still sleeping. “I don’t know,” I replied. Śrīla Prabhupāda told me to bring them to his room. When we returned, he told us we must conquer over sleep.
“Rising early and taking a cold shower is not austerity, but just common sense and good hygiene,”Śrīla Prabhupāda said. Then, revealing a wonderful truth, His Divine Grace told us, “By chanting 16 rounds, following the regulative principles, rising early, reducing one’s eating and sleeping, one gets spiritual energy. If one follows these guidelines for 12 years, all he speaks will be perfect!”
– From Śrīla Prabhupāda Uvāca1 by Śrutakirti dāsa
Sadhana, unlike monotonous actions, is filled with variety and flavor. The Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, a philosophical treatise by Śrīla Rupa Gosvami, explains sixty-four items of devotional service in detail. Out of these sixty-four, ISKCON’s Morning program itself includes about 50 of these items, such as hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, praying, serving, associating with devotees, chanting the holy name of the Lord, hearing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, residing at Mathurā and worshiping the Deity with faith and veneration. (for a brief summary of all sixty-four items, see Caitanya Caritamrta Madhya 22.114-129).
The sixty-four items of devotional service include all the activities of the body, mind and senses. Thus the sixty-four items engage one in devotional service in all respects.
Furthermore, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī presented a very tall order for executing unalloyed devotional service; one that requires a person to be freed from all material contamination, furtive desires and mundane association.
śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
(Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu 1.1.11)
As sadhakas (practitioners of devotional service), it may appear difficult to practice this formidable objective, nevertheless, we conscientiously try for it because only by attaining such a pure state of being, can one favorably develop love for Kṛṣṇa which is the result of pure devotional service.
“Now this sādhana-bhakti, or practice of devotional service, can also be divided into two parts. The first part is called regulative principles: one has to follow these different regulative principles by the order of the spiritual master or on the strength of authoritative scriptures, and there can be no question of refusal. That is called vaidhī, or regulated. One has to do it without any argument.”
– Excerpt from The Nectar of Devotion – Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu,
Chapter 2: First Stages of Devotion
In his purport to the Caitanya Caritamrta Adi 13.39, Srila Prabhupada gives the link between the highest goal of existence; pure love of Godhead (prema-bhakti) with that of practicing devotional service (sadhana-bhakti).
“These feelings develop in time when a person seriously engages in devotional service. The highest stage is called prema-bhakti, but this stage is attained by executing sadhana-bhakti. One should not try to elevate himself artificially to the stage of prema-bhakti without seriously following the regulative principles of sādhana-bhakti. Prema-bhakti is the stage of relishing, whereas sādhana-bhakti is the stage of improving in devotional service. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu taught this cult of devotional service in full detail by practical application in His own life. It is said, therefore, āpani ācari’ bhakti śikhāimu sabāre. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is Kṛṣṇa Himself, and in the role of a kṛṣṇa-bhakta, a devotee of Kṛṣṇa, He instructed the entire world how one can execute devotional service and thus go back home, back to Godhead, in due course of time.”
Sadhana purifies us of our bad intentions while we approach the Lord and His energies. Sadhana is a constant endeavor to remember Lord Krishna. Sadhana is a message to the Lord that we are atlast ready to accept His mercy. Sadhana is the way of expressing our readiness and eagerness to accept Lord’s mercy and repent for our negligence towards Him.
As indicated by our scriptures and as instructed by Srila Prabhupada, the students at Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha begin their day with a Krishna conscious morning schedule as mentioned below:
4.00 am: Reporting time
4.30 am – 5.10 am: Mangala arati
5.10 am – 7.15 am: Japa Period
7.15 am – 7.35 am: Darshan arati of Sri Sri Radha Vrindavan bihari & Guru puja of Srila Prabhupada
7.35 am – 8.00 am: Breakfast
8.00 am – 9.00 am: Temple Srimad Bhagavatam Class
Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha ensures a rigid attendance in the morning program by all the students. The daily attendance is taken up to the reporting time at 4.00 am – absentees and late comers are given the reward of writing the Hare Krishna maha mantra 54 times and submitting it to the attendance in charge on the same day.
Svadhyaya has always been a part of our society; differing only by the means it is delivered. Due to modern influences, learning has been limited to only schooling students, that too for only few subjects with a focus on language and logic alone. The end result unfortunately, is merely to choose a career for monetary reasons without focusing on developing other human qualities.
But Srila Prabhupada has said, “Then svādhyāya (Vedic study), and tapas (austerity), and ārjavam (gentleness or simplicity) are meant for the brahmacarya, or student life. Brahmacārīs should engage the mind in the study of Vedic literature for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge.This is called svādhyāya.
In the Bhagavad Gita 17.15, it is mentioned how svadhyaya is a type of austerity. While the entire world engages in mundane talk and discussion of politics, economy and sense pleasure, one who regularly studies Vedic literature is practicing the austerity of speech. And as mentioned earlier, austerity brings about purification.
satyaṁ priya-hitaṁ ca yat
vāṅ-mayaṁ tapa ucyate
“Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature.”
In the Seventh Canto of Srimad Bhagvatam, Yudhistira Maharaja asks Narada Muni about the qualities that a human should have to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Narada Muni then mentions thirty qualities and svadhyaya is one of those qualities.
Caitanya caritamrta Adi 12.49 states, that the ultimate purpose for education/study is only one thing;
paḍe kene loka—kṛṣṇa-bhakti jānibāre
se yadi nahila, tabe vidyāya ki kare
“The purpose of education is to understand Kṛṣṇa and His devotional service. If one does not do so, then education is false.”
It is also evident that one can know more about Srila Prabhupada and thus come closer to him by studying his books. The following citied references, show how is factual.
“By Śrīla Prabhupāda’s strong reaction to this one printed mistake, he was again stressing the great importance of his books. “Whatever I have wanted to say,” he explained, “I have said in my books. If I live, I will say something little more. If you want to know me, read my books.”
– (Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita Vol 6 page 52)
“These books are for you,” Prabhupāda said as he pointed to several of the books he had written. “Do not make it an export business. They only buy and sell to others. For themselves they have no use.” Prabhupāda imitated a devotee distributing his books, “Please take this book. It is very important.”
He then took the customer’s role: “Oh, it is important? What is it about?” Prabhupāda again switched roles. “I don’t know, it is for you!” We all laughed sheepishly. “My only criticism of the devotees is that they think my books are for distribution and not for reading.” …….
– ‘Prabhupāda’s Only Criticism of the Devotees’,
(My Glorious Master by Bhurijana dasa.)
“I am requesting all of my students to read my books very seriously everyday without fail. In this way, if your mind becomes absorbed at least one or two hours in transcendental subject matter of Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad Gita, and other, then very easily you will make your advancement in Krishna Consciousness”
– (Srila Prabhupada Letter to Bhargava, 13 june 1972)
Considering the above, the following activities contribute to svadhyaya at Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha.
The following are the elements of Svadhyaya at Bhaktivednata Vidyapitha – Sravanam (Courses, Seminars), Mananam (Exams), Pathanam (Sloka recitation), Kirtanam (Presentations), and Niridhyasan (Assignments).
The word of Scriptures & Acharyas
sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate
“‘Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects. One is freed from all material designations, and one’s senses are purified simply by being employed in the service of the Lord.”
(Bhakti rasamrta sindhu 1.1.12)
The practitioners of Krishna Consciousness are widely known with their propagation of chanting the Holy Names of God, specifically the Hare Krishna Maha-Mantra. This mantra, in effect, is actually a desperate call of love to the Supreme Lord to kindly engage us in His loving service, thus reliving us from the service of the external material energy, maya. In the following excerpt of a lecture, Srila Prabhupada very lucidly explains this mood of prayer and service.
“So the service mood is going on everywhere. But the highest perfection of service is when we learn to serve the Supreme Absolute Lord. That is called bhakti. And that bhakti execution of service to the Lord is ahaitukī. Just like we have got some little examples. This mother is serving the child not with any expectation. She loves to serve the child. She wants to see the child is in comfort, the child does not feel any discomfiture. That is her pleasure. There is no reason why she is loving. That is natural. Similarly, when we invoke our natural love for God, that is the highest perfection of religious principle. Ahaituky apratihatā. Apratihatā means it cannot be checked by any material condition. Just like we want to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa; this is service. This is the beginning of service, chanting the glories of the Lord, or praying the Lord, “Hare, O the energy of the Lord, Kṛṣṇa, O Lord, please engage me in Your service.” This is the prayer. Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare, repeatedly, “Please engage me. Please engage me.” But God can give you many things. Whatever you want, He is giving. Ye yathā māṁ prapadyante [Bg. 4.11]. He can give you even salvation, but very rarely He gives you the chance of serving Him.”
– Lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam 2.2.5,
December 2, 1968 in Los Angeles, USA.
On that note, one may wonder why service or serving is so ingrained in our daily lives. Why does it seem so inherent? The answer is that seva is actually the ultimate constitution of the living entity. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, illuminates our eternal identity as follows:
nāhaṁ vipro na ca nara-patir nāpi vaiśyo na śūdro
nāhaṁ varṇī na ca gṛha-patir no vanastho yatir vā
gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ
“‘I am not a brāhmaṇa, I am not a kṣatriya, I am not a vaiśya or a śūdra. Nor am I a brahmacārī, a householder, a vānaprastha or a sannyāsī. I identify Myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the maintainer of the gopīs. He is like an ocean of nectar, and He is the cause of universal transcendental bliss. He is always existing with brilliance.’”
(Caitanya caritamrta Madhya 13.80)
Therefore, the principle of service is an eternal and deep-rooted part our existence. Yet, it is noteworthy that service is not a cheap commodity; instead one must develop qualifications and become a recipient of mercy to be engaged in the service of the Lord or His pure devotees. Srimad Bhagavatam 3.7.20, describes the glory and rarity of such service to the pure devotees.
durāpā hy alpa-tapasaḥ
“Persons whose austerity is meager can hardly obtain the service of the pure devotees who are progressing on the path back to the kingdom of Godhead, the Vaikuṇṭhas. Pure devotees engage one hundred percent in glorifying the Supreme Lord, who is the Lord of the demigods and the controller of all living entities.”
In relation to the academia of Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha, service is much required as a means to get taste to hear or read Srimad Bhagavatam.
syān mahat-sevayā viprāḥ
“O twice-born sages, by serving those devotees who are completely freed from all vice, great service is done. By such service, one gains affinity for hearing the messages of Vāsudeva.”
Srila Prabhupada on ‘Seva’
In a conversation during an evening darshana, on August 6, 1976 in Tehran, Iran, Srila Prabhupada enlightens on how by engaging ourselves in seva, our senses become purified and spiirtualized;
“Prabhupāda: Physical senses are not absolute; it is the spiritual senses that act through the physical instrument and utilize it.
Ali: I feel man has already accepted his physical deficiency. I was just watching Olympic, and it seemed so pathetic, they were just trying to jump higher and higher, and they couldn’t do it.
Prabhupāda: No, the physical senses are to be spiritualized. You cannot appreciate God by physical senses. But when your physical senses are purified and it is spiritualized, then you can…
Ali: That’s exactly what I meant when I said that whatever we see…
Prabhupāda: Yes. That is process, how to… Just like iron rod, it is iron rod, but if you put into the process, that means if you put into the fire, a time will come the iron rod will be red hot and it is fire. Similarly, if you engage your physical senses only—(aside:) here is candle—when you engage your physical senses in the service of the Lord, then the physical quality of the senses will be diminished or gone, your spiritual sense activities will begin. This is practical.
The schedule of Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha gives an intellectual engagement through the study of Srimad Bhagavatam. Additionally, there is physical engagement as well, where students assist in different departments at Govardhan Eco village to allow a holistic development for them.
The students assist the Govardhan Eco Village farm devotees in some specific departmental services (like Goshala, Agriculture and Nursery) for 2 days in a week [these sevas are assigned based on the students’ preference]
These services are not long-term responsibilities, but are meant to give the students a break from their week long study & an opportunity to engage in some physical activity.
Besides, some students take the responsibility of Vidyapitha-specific services namely Sound system arrangements, Stationery, daily Srimad Bhagavatam arati, recording lectures, making class notes etc.
To encourage and enable the students to think in the lines of practical application of the philosophy they have learnt in the Vidyapitha.
Successful execution of the projects produce good preaching / reference materials, and highlight the relevancy of Srila Prabhupada’s books in modern times.
To get a glimpse of individual or group research on scriptures to understand the intricacies of the philosophy, thus to delve deep into scriptures.
The students, who are used to study Srimad Bhagavatam from beginning to the end of a chapter or canto, would try to identify lessons and principles for personal and practical application on a particular theme from different cantos.
To present complex topics to audience in a simpler way.
To reconcile the spiritual significance of different preaching aspects/ projects which ISKCON is doing and will be doing.
To contemplate on establishing sastric references in services & happenings of day-to-day life. (Seeing the world using the ‘intelligence plane’ of scriptures)
To take deep shelter of scriptures, in resolving doubts of oneself and others.
Confidence and ability to defend our philosophy.
Skills to present and convey the message in a way appreciable by audience or readers of different levels.
A major part of the research should use Srila Prabhupada’s books – especially Srimad Bhagavatam, Caitanya Caritamrita and Bhagavad-Gita.
Whether small or big, the end product (Project report/ PPTs/ Video/ Audio/ Course/ Book / Software/ Apps or any other material) should be comprehensive and self-inclusive.
‘Copy-paste’ kind of work without proper understanding is not encouraged.
Sufficient scriptural quotations, facts & figures, rigorous logic & authoritative statements should be used.
The project should be neither too simple (like a mere open book test) nor so overloading that students need to work overtime for it.
Thematic Search Engine of Srimad Bhagavatam (Assign primary, secondary & tertiary tags to the verses of Bhagavatam based on the ‘theme’ of the verse; create an automated system – software/ website/ app, that generates relevant references for an input tag.)
Principles of Leadership & Administration from Srimad Bhagavatam (Identify Leadership principles from various sections of Bhagavatam & Srila Prabhupada purports; Categorize & systematically present them in comprehensive document/book)
Students begin their projects after the completion of 9 cantos of Srimad Bhagavatam. After the projects begin, 1 day (Friday) in a week is dedicated for the execution of the project. Towards the completion of a project, 10 days are exclusively given to complete the projects & reports.
Depending on the nature of the project, project guides are assigned to groups, who would critically analyze the work and give direction at various stages.
Each student is expected to do 2 projects, each for a duration 5-6 months during the 2nd year of Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha course.
One or two project review meetings are conducted to evaluate the progress and suggest any betterment.
Individual groups are expected to make a 30 – 45 minutes presentation on their projects after the completion of the project.
“So in the association of devotees, if we read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam regularly, then your, our, material contamination will be dissolved, and our spiritual consciousness will come out, and that will make our life successful.”
– Srila Prabhupada
The Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 22.131 describes how studying should be done in association of devotees, especially those with similar disposition.
āsvādo rasikaiḥ saha
sādhau saṅgaḥ svato vare
“‘One should taste the meaning of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in the association of pure devotees, and one should associate with the devotees who are more advanced than oneself and who are endowed with a similar type of affection for the Lord.”
In the purport to the above mentioned verse, Srila Prabhupada elucidates how one should not study with professional reciters or with one who is not in the disciplic succession or with who has no taste for bhakti-yoga.
In a lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada shares his desire for systematic classroom study of the scriptures. He quotes the above verse from Caitanya Caritamrta to clarify his point of the importance of devotee association.
“So bhāgavata means the complete knowledge. Bhāgavata, from bhagavān it is called bhāgavata. From bhagavat-śabda it is called bhāgavata. So in the association of bhāgavata, devotees, if we read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Sajātīya snigdhasya. Sajātīya means people thinking in the same way. So that means devotees who are interested in bhagavad-bhakti, to understand Bhagavān, they should read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in the association. We should have regular classes. Just like school and colleges, eight hour, six hour. Be engaged always in reading Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, discussing amongst yourself. Then you’ll make progress. Otherwise, if you take it as an official routine work… You should take as routine work, but with consciousness that “We have to learn something,” not simply attending the class, but to learn something. In this way make your life successful. Because after all, everything is being done, daiva-coditāt, impelled by the Supreme Person. The Supreme Person is behind everything. So in the association of devotees, if we read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam regularly, then your, our, material contamination will be dissolved, and our spiritual consciousness will come out, and that will make our life successful.
– Lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam 3.26.41,
January 16, 1975 in Bombay, India.
kathayantaś ca māṁ nityaṁ
tuṣyanti ca ramanti ca
“The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me.” (BG 10.9)
Classes & Study groups: As explained by the above verse of Bhagavad Gita, Krishna katha (pastimes of Lord Krishna) is best relished in the association of the devotees. At Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha, the students come together to hear Srimad Bhagavatam from an experienced teacher, and in their study sessions, they study in groups of 3-4 students.
Assignments & Presentation: The assignments that are given to the students after the completion of each canto of Srimad Bhagavatam are also executed by these study groups. This group execution of assignments helps to facilitate the student’s contemplation on sastric topics in the association of devotees. The groups also make a presentation of the assignments they execute. The students also give individual presentations periodically, which the teachers hear and comment upon. This ensures a strong association with devotees through the medium of hearing, studying, discussing and speaking Srimad Bhagavatam. As Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita 10.9, Get-Togethers:
Occasionally, sessions are organized where all of the students come together, play Krishna conscious games, such as quizzes, charades, spot–the-difference, etc., and even performing sankirtan (congregational chanting) together.
Get-together sessions are arranged for the students of both 1st and 2nd year batches once a month.
These sessions include games, quizzes, kirtans, bhajans & sharing experiences by the students/faculty.
Thus, they provide a refreshing experience for the students, and help to build healthy Vaishnava relationships among the students.
Therefore, the daily classes, sloka recitation sessions, study groups, assignments and presentations at Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha ensure a strong bonding among the students, creating a healthy vaishnava sanga.
śamo damas tapaḥ śaucaṁ
kṣāntir ārjavam eva ca
jñānaṁ vijñānam āstikyaṁ
“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness—these are the natural qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work.”
– (Bhagavad Gita 18.42)
Srila Prabhupada would always recommend that we have to select a brāhmaṇa by the symptoms of his life, not that because he is born of a brāhmaṇa family he remains a brāhmaṇa. No. He must continue the brahminical qualification as explained in the above mentioned verse. He will always address such people as sadācāra-sampanna-vaiṣṇava.
In a lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam on September 17, 1969 in London, Srila Prabhupada said that, “Sādhava means sadācāra, clean habits. A mahātmā cannot be implicated with those four principles of sinful life. That is the first test. No illicit sex life, no gambling, no meat-eating, and no intoxication. This is called sadācāra, clean habit. Anything beyond this: unclean habit. Here it is stated, sādhava. Sādhava means sadācāra, clean habit.”
At Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha, students are trained not to become scholars but sincere and civilized individuals. Thus by rising early in the morning, taking bath, attending maṅgala-ārātrika, and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, reading scriptures, Vedic literature, and then honoring prasādam with devotees, engaging in various services, sadacara is inculcated in the students. Sadacara is to be always engaged with some prescribed duty for Kṛṣṇa consciousness.