The word of Scriptures & Acharyas

sarvopādhi-vinirmuktaṁ
tat-paratvena nirmalam
hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-
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
kintu prodyan-nikhila-paramānanda-pūrnāmṛtābdher
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
sevā vaikuṇṭha-vartmasu
yatropagīyate nityaṁ
deva-devo janārdanaḥ

“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.

śuśrūṣoḥ śraddadhānasya
vāsudeva-kathā-ruciḥ
syān mahat-sevayā viprāḥ
puṇya-tīrtha-niṣevaṇāt

“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.

Seva at BVVP

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.

Projects

Purpose

  • 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.
  • To acquire 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.

Guidelines
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.
Example Projects
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)
Logistics
Group: The students would execute the projects in groups depending on the nature & expense of their projects.
Time
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.
Guide
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.
Number
Each student is expected to do 2 projects, each for a duration 5-6 months during the 2nd year of Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha course.
Review
One or two project review meetings are conducted to evaluate the progress and suggest any betterment.
Presentation
Individual groups are expected to make a 30 – 45 minutes presentation on their projects after the completion of the project.

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