The Scriptures on ‘Svadhyaya’:

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.

anudvega-karaṁ vākyaṁ
satyaṁ priya-hitaṁ ca yat
svādhyāyābhyasanaṁ caiva
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.

Srila Prabhupada on ‘Svadhyaya’:

“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.

Svadhyaya at Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha:
The following are the elements of Svadhyaya at Bhaktivednata Vidyapitha –

  • Sravanam (Courses, Seminars)
  • Mananam (Exams)
  • Pathanam (Sloka recitation)
  • Kirtanam (Presentations)
  • Niridhyasan (Assignments).

Srimad Bhagavatam & Sri Caitanya Caritamrita

Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, translated and commented by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder Acharya of International Society for Krishna Consciousness, are the main books that are taught at Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha over a period of 2 years.

On an average, one chapter of SrimadBhagavatam or Sri Caitanya Caritamrita is covered in a class of 2 hr 30 min duration (10.15 am to 1.00 pm), for 5 days in a week (4 days in a week during the 2nd year of the course). These classes cover the flow of the chapter, connections between verses, important lessons from Srila Prabhupada’s Purports and principles for personal application that the teacher might want to highlight. After the completion of the class, the students are given a list of questions (which include few verses for memorization) from the chapter covered, for the next day’s exam. The students are expected to study the chapter and prepare for the exam during the post lunch session, which is dedicated for study.

Special Seminars:

Once in every 2 months, special seminars are arranged for the students of both batches (combined).
These seminars are held for 1 or 2 days depending on the scope of the topic.
Some of the seminars are as follows:

  • The contribution of Acharyas to our understanding of Scriptures
  • Damodarastakam (during Kartika)
  • Art of Chanting
  • Celebrating others’ Success
  • Lessons from Ramayana (before Sri Ramanavami)
  • Glories of Dham (before yatras)
  • Lives of VaisnavaAcharyas
  • Activities of Govardhan Eco Village
  • Art of following Authority
  • Vaishnava Bhajans

Closed Book Exams

Duration: 30 minutes. Conducted every day before the class (9.30 am to 10.00 am), on the individual chapter(s) covered in the previous day’s class. These exams are to ensure the student’s personal study immediately after the completion of a chapter. The exams are meant for a revision and meditation for the students and NOT for inducing a competitive spirit or passionate academic study within them.

Example questions from Canto 8, Chapter 1 –

  • What are the 6 elements of a manavantra? Write the names of 6 manus & Lord’s incarnations in their respective manvantaras. (10 marks)
  • Give the relative conditions of Gajendra & crocodile in the water. What lesson does Srila Prabhupda’s purports give us? Quote 8.2.30 (15 marks)

Open Book Exams

Conducted once in a week or two, mostly on the chapters covered during the week(s).
Unlike closed book exams that involve ‘memorization’ of flow/ contents of a chapter, open book questions test the ‘understanding’ of the student. Classes are not conducted on the days when open book exams are held.
Personal application, Practical application, Preaching application are some of the themes based on which open book questions are set.
Example open book questions from Canto 4 –

  • Identify the conflicting roles of Sati & derive principles for personal application for a sadhaka, from her behavior? (300 words)
  • “Dhruvamaharaj went back home, back to Godhead in spite of performing devotional service with material motives.” Explain the possible usage of this example in preaching to new-comers? (500 words)

Exam results

The ‘batch average’ of marks obtained by all the students is displayed everyday. It is the responsibility of every student to keep that number as high as possible. In other words, students should help and inspire each other in studying the scriptures and give up any competitive spirit.

The students recite a list of selected important verses from the Srimad Bhagavatam canto being taught, daily for 15 minutes (10.00 am to 10.15 am).
While the slokas are being recited by the students, one student would perform the arati for Srimad Bhagavatam.
Thus they are imbued with proper consciousness to absorb in the Bhagavatham class for next 3 hours. Students are advised to make best use of this facility to develop familiarity with the Sanskrit verses.

The students are expected to give four 30-minute presentations from the first 6 cantos as a part of Bhakti-vaibhava requirements. Topics would be provided beforehand.

Example presentation topics from Canto 4 of Srimad Bhagavatam –

  • Most common desires of great devotees (Parallels between prayers of Dhruva, Prithu & Pracetas)
  • Forgiveness (with examples of Prithu – Indra, Siva – Daksa, Dhruva – Suruci)
  • Dangers of Vaishnav aparadha (Lessons from mistakes committed by Daksa, Suruci, Indra, Vena etc)

Guidelines for Presentation

Depending on the topic, the presentation may have few or many or all of the following “Contents” – Srimad Bhagavatam Text, Srila Prabhupada statements, Sanskrit Verses and Principles for Personal applications (P), Lessons (L), Examples (E), Analogies (A), Sastric connections (S). (The PLEAS Formula)
At least 60% of the presentation should be based on Srimad Bhagavatam Text and Srila Prabhupada’s purports of the canto on which presentation is made.
The presentations will be evaluated by a Jury panel & fellow students.
There will be a question & answer session for 5 minutes after the presentation.
Students are expected to submit a 1 or 2 page overview document of their presentation along with the PPT.

Evaluation Procedure

The presentations are evaluated by a jury panel (of faculty members) based on the CPU Formula.

  • Content [40%] → The ability and effectiveness in utilizing the “Contents” for presentation
  • Presentation[30%] →
    • Connecting Srila Prabhupada’s statements effectively
    • Quoting ‘relevant’ verses, explaining with appropriate analogies & examples
    • Maintaining a natural flow – no sudden jumps in making statements
    • Relevance of the quoted PLEAS to the topic.
    • Confidence, Body language, grammar etc
  • Understanding of the subject[30%] →
    • Understanding of the context of pastime/ event.
    • Understanding of the philosophical aspects of topic.
    • Clarity of thought.
    • Ability to answer questions.

After the completion of every canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, the students are given assignments, which they need to execute in groups of 2 to 3 students (Refer “Study groups”).
The group makes a document / PPT on the topic assigned to them and makes a 10 minutes presentation on the same.
Example assignments from Canto 1 of Srimad Bhagavatam –

  • Lessons from the character of ‘Parikshit Maharaja’
  • Glories of ‘Sravanam’ from Canto 1
  • ‘Separation’ from the Lord (with examples of Bhumi, Yudhistira, Arjuna, Narada etc.)

Help the students go deep into one specific topic/ theme in a canto, &
Provide good reference materials (documents/ PPTs) for devotees in general.