Sri Sri Radha Gopinath Temple, over the last 30 years, has been fortunate to have many exemplary devotees, both in the community of families and the bramhacharis, who are fully dedicated to serving Srila Prabhupada’s glorious mission. Although developing the culture of reading and studying Srila Prabhupada’s books on a personal basis is always present and necessary, there grew a need to introduce a systematic training and study of Srila Prabhupada’s books, as envisioned by Srila Prabhupada. Over the years the following programs have been implemented.
Bhaktivedanta Academy for Culture and Education (BACE) was introduced in 2004 to conducts weekend programs for the visiting and temple devotees. They primarily conducted two main courses are Bhakti shastri and Bhakti Vaibhava.
Bhakti shastri course includes Bhagavad Gita As it is, Nectar of Devotion, Nectar of Instruction and Isopanishad taught over a span of one year. Then exams are conducted and those who qualify it with more than 65% marks are awarded the degree of Bhakti Shastri. Bhakti Sastri classes are conducted for the residential brahmacaris during their Brahmacari training (BT) program and for the non-residential devotees during weekends.
Bhakti Vaibhava course is systematic study of the first six Cantos of Srimad Bhagavatam. Those who have qualified Bhakti Shastri exam can participate in this course, which spans over a period of 2 years.
Recently, BACE has started providing online courses through www.bhakticourses.com
Vaishnava Training Academy (VTA)
ISKCON Chowpatty provides Vaishnava Training Academy (VTA) for working men who want to experience living in temple. This program spans over one year, which includes evening classes on basic philosophy during the weekdays. Some services are scheduled for the participants in the morning on weekdays, on Sundays and during the festivals.
Brahmachari Training (BT)
Devotees who aspire to join Brahmachari Ashram join Brahmachari Training (BT) academy, which also spans for one year. This requires them to take a sabbatical fromtheir professions for this full-time training. This training also has the elements of Sadhana, Seva, Svadhyaya, Sanga, and Sadachar. They have morning program for their devotional practices and Bhakti Shastri course is taught over the year. They participate in book distribution and assist in Deity services. Other major highlights are their annual pada-yatra to the countryside India, Book distribution marathon travel in December and an annual pilgrimage with Radhanath Swami and the congregation of ISKCON Chowpatty.
Seed for a new beginning…
It has been observed that these resident devotees who continue in the Brahmacari Ashram after their one-year BT program, find it difficult to study Srila Prabhupada books along with the often-intense service schedules and they require a dedicated time for studying them. Study of Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya Caritamrita requires a focused mindset and a supporting infrastructure.
Thus the management at ISKCON Chowpatty felt a need for a stronger program where devotees can full time study Srila Prabhupada’s books that are the foundation of our Krishna consciousness – the best preparation for tomorrow is hard work today. Success of future preaching opportunity will be met with the foundation laid today by studying Srila Prabhupada’s books.
A new chapter sprouts…
After a lot of contemplation and consideration, the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha, a full-time residential program, was started in 2012 for the new joined brahmacaris as a necessary participation before they accept more responsibility in the movement. The course is conducted at Govardhan Eco Village (GEV) which is an ISKCON Chowpatty project in Thane, Maharasthtra. GEV is spread over 70 acres and is nearly 100 kms from Mumbai. Being far from a typical city environment it facilitates the set up for studying Shastras.
Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha (BVVP)
The 2011-12 batch of brahmachari trainees entered as the first batch of the two-year Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha program at GEV. It has been an interesting journey so far. The first batch started with the study of Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya Caritamrita as major courses and an auxiliary course everyday five days a week with few hours of service on weekends. Auxiliary courses included topics like Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita, Nectar of Devotion, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Lives of Vaishnava Acharyas, Lessons from Ramayana and Mahabharata, amongst many others. This initial structure changed to Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya Caritamrita as the major courses four days a week and auxiliary course every Friday with two days for services; it was difficult for the students to focus on 2 subjects everyday.
This mix went through some more changes. Auxiliary course are now discontinued to lay more emphasis on Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya Caritamrita. Now, students study Srimad Bhagvatam/ Sri Caitanya Caritamrita five days a week and for two days they render services in different departments at GEV. Occasionally, they attend some special seminars or discourses. The program might evolve in future for anyone who aspires to study Srimad Bhagavatam and Caitanya Caritamrita systematically.