From the holy day of Janmastami – September 5th -- this year, devotees wishing to take initiation from an ISKCON guru will be required to first pass the ISKCON Disciples Course.
The course grew from the ISKCON Guru Seminar, created by the GBC Guru Services Committee in 2008 to educate those taking up the service of guru in how to be effective in caring for their disciples.
A course for disciples was a natural follow-up. It was developed in 2011 under the Guru Services Committee, the Mayapur Institute, and ISKCON Communications, with the input of senior devotees, diksa and siksa gurus, and educators from around the world.
The resulting course is based mostly upon Srila Prabhupada’s books and lectures, as well as the writings of the six Goswamis of Vrindavana.
“The intention of the course is not that that you only take it just before you get initiated,” says Laxmimoni Dasi, a longtime educator who helped develop the course. “As soon as someone decides they want to be a part of ISKCON, they’re encouraged to take it so that they can make intelligent choices right from the beginning.”
The course is also recommended for leaders, preachers, councilors and educators in ISKCON, so that they are familiar with the standardized education for new devotees coming to the society.
The Disciples Course is three and a-half days long and is highly interactive, including Powerpoint presentations, group work, and skits.
“It starts with a look at what the word guru and the concept of guru means,” says Laxmimoni. “And the idea that all gurus should tell you the same information – that the purpose of life is to go back to Godhead -- because they’re all following the same parampara line.”
The course puts a major focus on Srila Prabhupada’s preeminent (meaning surpassing all others) position as Founder Acharya of ISKCON.
It explains the diksa (initiating) and siksa (instructional) gurus, and discusses how important siksa gurus are in one’s life.
It talks about the relationship between one’s guru and other ISKCON authorities such as the GBC and local leaders, and also discusses gurus outside of ISKCON.
It then moves on to what to look for and what not to look for when selecting a diksa guru; and the right and wrong reasons for taking initiation.
An important part of the course is the discussion of initiation vows and their importance, as well as worshipping the guru through guru-puja and vyasa-puja, and service to the guru through vapu (personal service) and vani (serving the instructions of the guru).
The course also addresses guru-tyaga, or what to do if your spiritual master encounters spiritual difficulties or even needs to be rejected.
Finally the course discusses developing cooperative relationships in ISKCON’s multi-guru environment, addressing such issues as people canvassing for their guru or judging others based on their diksa guru.
The course ends with an exam, which was formerly essay-based, but has recently been modified so that it now comprises more multiple choice and fill in the blank questions, along with short essays. This has shortened the course by half a day and made it easier and more straightforward to both take and to grade.
The Disciples Course is currently being taught frequently by 85 teachers around the world, in English, Hindi, Bengali, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German.
Plans are underway to also make it available in Italian, Tamil, Telegu, Malalayam, Turkish, Odiyan (Orissa), and Nepali.
The course is taught at the Vrindavana and Mayapur festivals in India every year, and is being offered twice a year in Alachua, Florida by Laxmimoni.
Laxmimoni has also taught it in Chicago and New Jersey, and will be offering it at the ISKCON temples in Washington D.C. starting July 6th and in Toronto, Canada starting July 30th. There are plans to create an online calendar at iskconeducation.org/iskcon-disciples-course where teachers will post the dates and locations of their next course.
The course is usually taught from Saturday to Tuesday, with the last two days being re-offered the following weekend for those who are working and can’t attend during the week. Attendance ranges between 15 and 60 students per course.
The Disciples Course is also available online at Bhaktivedanta College’s website and ISKCON Desire Tree. Soon, the hope is that the exam for the course will also be available online for in-person students, who will be provided with a log-in code, through which they can access the exam and take it. Their teacher will also be able to access and grade the exam through the same system.
With 85 teachers already offering the course, the plan is for it to be taught in every region of the world, and eventually every temple.
“That way, if someone wants to take it, they just tell their temple president, and when there are enough people the temple president tells the teacher and a course is offered,” says Laxmimoni.
Despite the online availability, certain more far-flung regions will get a one-year extension if they’re not ready by September 5th.
So why is the Disciples Course so essential?
“Each devotee is responsible for choosing their guru, with whom they’ll have the most important relationship in their spiritual life,” says Laxmimoni. “So we want devotees to educate themselves so that they can make an intelligent choice. We also feel it’s important that they are aware of the weight of such a lifelong commitment before they get initiated.”
So far, devotees who have taken the ISKCON Disciples Course have been very pleased with the results.
“We’ve been hearing very excited, appreciative, and even life-changing realizations from devotees over and over again,” Laxmimoni says. “Many tell me after the course that they think every devotee in ISKCON, whether already initiated or not, should take it.”
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The Disciples Course is available online at Bhaktivedanta College here: http://bhaktivedantacollege.com/events/disciples-course/
And at ISKCON Desire Tree here: http://www.iskcondesiretree.com/profiles/blogs/iskcon-disciples-online-course.[ disciple ] [ disciple-course ] [ gbc ] [ guru ] [ initiation ]