for ISKCON News on May 28, 2010
Participants in the summer course at Bhaktivedanta Ashram in the Bhakti Center, New York City.
About ten applicants will participate in a summer course at Bhaktivedanta Ashram in the Bhakti Center, New York City this July 5th to September 1st that will immerse them fully in ashram life.
An average day during the course—which is designed to give male devotees the now rare training and experience of life in a well-established, functioning ashram—will begin at 4:00am with a traditional temple morning program, followed by special classes highlighting the foundational principles of Krishna conscious philosophy and practice.
“Each day will have a blend of classes and practical application under the guidance of experienced brahmachari renunciants,” says course co-ordinator Vasudeva Dasa. “There will be regular workshops on chanting japa, puja or worship, and playing musical instruments. Attendees will also learn the basics of cooking, book distribution, harinam sankirtana or public chanting, and various study methods for systematic personal study of Srila Prabhupada’s books.”
Originally from Amsterdam, Vasudeva spent several years managing ISKCON centers in his native Holland before joining Bhaktivedanta Ashram in 2008 when he realized that he needed a more supportive environment for his life as a brahmachari (celibate monk).
Located on the fifth and sixth floors of the Bhakti Center building, Bhaktivedanta Ashram was founded in 1998 by Bhakti Center president Yajna Purusha Dasa and is based on the foundational principles of Radhanatha Swami’s famous ashram in Chowpatty, Mumbai, albeit adapted to the Western World: strict devotional practice with a special focus on japa, humble service, Krishna conscious outreach and loving Vaishnava relationships.
“I’ve noticed that in many ISKCON temples the brahmachari ashrama is seen as a cheap workforce, while the need of the individual is often not given much importance,” Vasudeva says. “Bhaktivedanta Ashram, however, emphasizes personal relationships amongst the devotees and aims to create an atmosphere of love, trust and dedication. In such an atmosphere, where devotees are cared for and nurtured as people, Bhakti—or love of God—manifests much more than when such care is not present.”
At Bhaktivedanta Ashram, a system has the 14 residents meet regularly outside of their service schedule to ask after each other’s welfare, reveal their minds, and talk about what’s going on with them, with senior devotees always ready to listen to and counsel junior students.
This approach will also be applied in the Ashram’s summer course. “The unique feature of this program is personal mentoring from mature and seasoned brahmacaris, who have been serving in this ashram for the last ten years or more and have tremendous experience in all aspects of brahmacari life in Krishna consciousness,” says Vasudeva. “There will also be a lot of personal attention given to each individual to see how they can be engaged nicely according to their nature.”
And there certainly won’t be a lack of activity. The Bhakti Center’s mission is to introduce Bhakti Yoga to the people of New York City in an accessible and attractive way through culture, education, art, and sanctified vegetarian food, and it’s a busy place: Regular cooking courses and Bhagavad-gita study courses are offered to the public, while the building’s first floor will soon be converted into a yoga studio where expert devotee yoga teachers will hold classes. Every month, a twelve-hour kirtan is held with kirtan group Gaura Vani and As Kindred Spirits. And then of course there’s the Center’s temple, where Radha-Murlidhara are worshipped with devotion.
Despite being in New York City, the Bhakti Center is also conducive to spirituality and mediation—located on the Lower East Side, it’s just around the corner from 26 2nd Ave, where Srila Prabhupada founded the first Hare Krishna temple in the Western World. And it’s five minutes from Tompkins Square park, where the ISKCON founder held his first kirtans, drawing young Americans to the Holy Name.
Participants of Bhaktivedanta Ashram’s summer course will live simply, sleeping on a mat on the floor and keeping their possessions in an Ashram locker—the most coveted real estate in New York City, jokes senior resident Radha Vallabha Dasa. But they’ll have everything they need.
“Living in an ashram, whether it’s for 2 months, 2 years, or the rest of your life, is highly beneficial,” says Vasudeva. “It lays a very strong foundation for your personal practice in Krishna consciousness, and an understanding of its philosophy and culture that stays with you throughout your life.”
Course applicants must have a recommendation from a senior devotee. “But most of all,” says Vasudeva, “We are looking for people who are sane, honest, willing to learn, serious about Krishna consciousness, and not afraid of a challenge.”
To apply for Bhaktivedanta Ashram’s summer course, please contact Rasanath Dasa at firstname.lastname@example.org / 212-253-6182, or Vasudeva Dasa at email@example.com / 212-253-6182.