Being a guru in Iskcon: a spiritual leadership seminar
By Tattvavit Dasa
Anuttama Prabhu, ISKCON’s Director of Communications and a member of the GBC’s Guru Services Committee, and Hanuman Prabhu, a GBC Deputy from Spain and the BBT Director for South America, facilitated a four-day seminar on spiritual leadership in mid-October in Mumbai. Sessions were held six hours a day and were being taught for the second time; last February, the pilot course was launched in Ujjain.
Six initiating gurus took part, along with eight mature devotees who now act as instructing gurus, some of whom may become initiating gurus. Had the course included only initiating gurus, perhaps it would have differed, but it was open to these other devotees as well.
Two attendees, Bhakti Caitanya Swami and Prahladananda Swami, are members of the Guru Services committee, which envisioned the course in February 2006. In May 2007, a steering committee met in Washington, D.C. Later, a smaller team prepared the seminar material.
Also present in Mumbai were Sivarama Swami, Bhakti Vijnana Goswami, and Guru Prasada Swami (GBC Members and initiating gurus). Six devotees from India attended: Siddhartha Prabhu, Mahaman Prabhu, and Bhaktivinoda Prabhu (disciples of Srila Prabhupada), Suradas Prabhu (based for many years in Mumbai), Sarvaisvarya Prabhu (a sannyasa candidate and regional secretary), and Vedanta Caitanya Prabhu (a temple administrator). Two devotees from America attended: Vaisesika Prabhu, a famous book distributor, and Ekalavya Prabhu, who now serves in Nagpur. Kaunteya Prabhu, from Italy, a new member of the GBC, also attended.
Once everyone got used to everyone else’s accent, much interaction took place. The educational approach in the seminar was to value the dialogue between scriptural truths and individual perceptions. Although a limited number of scriptural texts were discussed in depth, the highly participatory learning methods drew out the individuals’ viewpoints on many topics: the guru’s role and identity, the guru’s relationship with ISKCON, cooperation with ISKCON managers, guru/disciple relationships, disciples’ expectations, brahminical leadership skills, life management, spiritual health, peer support, and establishing a healthy sanga of gurus (eventually a retreat will also be organized as an additional part of the seminar, where special topics will be more deeply explored). One aim of the seminar was that participants collaboratively produce guidelines for gurus in these ten areas. The other aim was for the students to write action points for their own personal benefit.
Someone may wonder how it is that gurus attend training seminars. The question was answered this way: Learning from one another is a strength, not a weakness, and wanting to always learn and improve in devotional service is the sign of Vaishnava humility.
Given the nature of ISKCON, a multi-guru institution, the gurus’ effectiveness depends on fidelity to Srila Prabhupada, allegiance to ISKCON, brahminical leadership, cooperation and unity, spiritual strength, scriptural knowledge and realization, an exemplary and balanced lifestyle, concern for everyone’s welfare, reflection and self-awareness, social responsibility and accountability, empowerment of followers, and peer association and support. The course stressed these ten principles and values.
At the end of the seminar, Sivarama Swami expressed thanks for the hard work that had gone into preparing it. Future generations of gurus will be better able to serve Srila Prabhupada’s mission thanks to programs like this, he said.
Prahladananda Swami thanked Anuttama and his wife, Rukmini, for donating the funds for the seminar’s development. Anuttama thanked Hanuman for spending hours on refining the resource material after the pilot seminar was taught.
Bhaktivinoda Prabhu expressed an appreciation that seminars like this one are the proper use of Hare Krishna Land at Juhu Beach, because Srila Prabhupada instructed that people should stay comfortably here to learn about India’s spiritual culture.
Finally, Suradas Prabhu appreciated the way Anuttama and Hanuman humbly and lucidly expressed themselves, always smiling, and he compared the strong facilitation team to two lions.
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