By Krsna Namacarya dasa and Karuna Dharini dasi
After only a few months of the Bhakti House Program, we have seen the devotee population at the temple start to become integrated with young people. It is an innovative way of introducing Krishna Consciousness to the youth of America. The whole setup is different from a traditional Hare Krishna temple. In fact the guests are invited to a simple house next to the temple. Typically the program comprises of Kirtan, Yoga, discussion on philosophy and prasadam, all coated and presented in a western manner thus gaining the appreciation of guests and new comers.
Some important guidelines: Lots of friendly, warm, on-going relationships with devotees who genuinely care about the new contacts’ spiritual progress. No mention of the regulative principles until the person is well-acquainted with devotees and Krishna Conscious philosophy. No esoteric ISKCON terminology which may be useful among devotees in general but would cloud or confuse relationships with persons who are new to Krsna Consciousness. It is best to select young devotee preachers who are already naturally stepping forward in their lives to encourage young people gently toward Krishna for this program.
Bhakti House guests are usually students. It is advised that young people should preach to young people. Contact with senior devotees can and should of course come later but to begin with the purpose of the Bhakti House is to allow for the natural vitality and pleasure young people find in relationships with one another as a stepping stone to bring them further into the society of devotees. Thursday nights are best because that is the night they finish college for the week, whereas Fridays and Saturday nights they reserve for their regular
social activity. This has been seen as effective in New Zealand (Krishna Fest), San Diego (Krishna Lounge) and LA’s Bhakti House.
The emphasis is musical, melodic bhajan and kirtan with some variety of instruments, (but avoiding musicians who just want to jam), an informal interactive discussion session with the theme based on contemporary issues that concern young people, more kirtan and dance, some hatha yoga demonstration and activity, followed by a first class gourmet vegetarian dinner which should be vegan to pacify the very hungry new hoards of vegan diet seekers among modern youth.
Keep in mind this is not a compromise course of action but a wide bridge which lays open for kids to cross toward Krishna, kids who might otherwise never visit us. It is a net to surround the yoga, vegan, and social revolution seekers. San Diego temple has a wonderful new age counter culture newspaper call “16 Rounds” which addresses these issues and also serves to advertise the Thursday evening Bhakti events in SD as well as LA. Already, after only several months of the Bhakti House Program, we have seen our new devotee population at the temple start to swell. After years of a terrible drought this is a very delightful fresh look at the temple programs. Thai is the life of the devotee to help others to understand how they can benefit from Srila Prabhupada’s amazing cultural revolution.
In order to invite people to become interested in the Bhakti House we have created a special “dinner card,” which only gives the details of the Bhakti House, as though it were a separate entity from the temple, the Sunday Feast, etc. The card is exclusively given to young people who show some genuine interest in spiritual subject matters. A rule was made that the card should not be distributed to anyone outside the ages of fifteen to twenty-five years old, and the card goes out mostly at colleges. This invitation to the Bhakti House has a new-age, spiritual, non-specific look to it. It has pictures of candles on it, for instance, or it could have a picture of young people dining on prasadam together and just enjoying the atmosphere of the Bhakti House. It describes an evening of transcendental beats, soul talk, “You’re more spiritual than you think,” and “Open discussions on the modern day issues that effect our lives, from a spiritual perspective.” A nature scene on the card or a photo of young people enjoying kirtan is good, but no overt Hare Krishna language, symbols or pictures.
Colorful flyers and posters of the same nature are posted and distributed in our Govinda’s Buffet restaurant or on Harinama, advertizing the Bhakti House, but again, it is age specific and also please note that mostly these invitations are made by,’Young people preaching to young people. When you were young would you have joined a club run by sixty year olds?” That is a direct quote from Badari Narayana, GBC for southern California. No young man or woman will generally join a club that is run by people who are all thirty years older than they are. Faith at that age is very much based on what one’s peers are establishing as the norms for their future.
The name and e-mail of a young person who is an expert preacher is on the invitation card. Those young persons who are making the invitations are also collecting the e-mails addresses and phone numbers of person who are particularly interested, and making personal friendship with those persons. Also they are always available at the Bhakti House program on Thursday night. The selection of which night of the week is important. In America all students have classes or do homework Sunday through Wednesday nights. Friday and Saturday night they have partying opportunities. Thursday night is generally more open to them for something alternative.
The 16 Rounds newspaper is distributed at thirty locations from newspaper rack in the San Diego area. It is published by Maha Tattva dasa, who manages and maintains the Krishna Lounge program at San Deigo temple. This tabloid size newspaper has a bright controversial photo on the front regarding some hot topic, i.e., Global Warming, Occupy Wallstreet, Terrorism, etc., and it is filled with controversial or political articles with covert spiritual solutions offered in them and no overt Hare Krishna philosophy. The recent issue which featured Occupy Wallstreet on the cover emptied its news racks in record time. There are also a few articles regarding health and well being, vegetarianism, Ayur-veda, etc.
Placed in the most prominent locations, the back and the opening page, are full length photos of young happy people dancing, playing mrdanga, eating prasadam or chatting with other young people in an evening party atmosphere, and all the details for inviting them to the Krishna Lounge in San Diego or the Bhakti House in LA. This 16 Rounds newspaper has also been an opportunity for many young Hare Krishna devotees to speak out on issues that very much concern them about today’s world and where it’s going, from a Krishna conscious perspective.
The very profound movement of youth to join the Hare Krishna movement in the 60’s and 70’s in America had less to do with spirituality than it did with wanting to change the status quo and social establishment. At present, the world looks similarly very unsatisfactory to the young generation. The present day atmosphere of doubt and mistrust in American financial enterprises, educators, food manufacturing, carbon emissions, and even football, is actually a very painful, confusing situation for the innocent youth here.
Things in America have changed. Kids who are college age right now are the ones who grew up seeing the Twin Towers collapse in the morning
on television as they walked out of the house to go off to school. Youth from middle class families do not consider themselves as likely to attain the same financial status as their elders. They have taken to public transportation and bicycling without hope of owning the nice little car their parents had at the same age. On top of that they don’t know if they want a car, because the prospect of a warming planet is a fear in them deeper than we older people realize.
Many youth in America are experiencing heavy psychological illnesses, depression, etc., because mothers are not at home for them, they are in the work force as much as the fathers. That’s if the family is together. There is a 60% divorce rate. One out of every three homeless persons in America is under 18 years old! One out of every four students in America drops out of high school before he graduates! Unemployment among youth and people in their twenties is higher than it has been in fifty years. Youth is always a time of transition, confusion, adjustment to adulthood, but the conditions are especially difficult for them now.
Srila Prabhupada understood this principle of preaching to youth very clearly. He called them the blossoms of our country.
Our hearts are melting with compassion for the LA youth but we are assured of success to be able to help them; we have Srila Prabhupada’s formula for saving the poor souls of this age with his simple pure program of intense kirtans and prasadam and genuine personal friendship. We also have New Dwaraka’s stalwart devotees, beloved disciples of Srila Prabhupada, who financially support and co-ordinate the intense programs at a safe distance.