The Gurukula Project: from 1968 to 2010 and beyond
By the Gurukula Project Team*
12 June 2010
As far back as 1968, Srila Prabhupada was encouraging his disciples to open gurukulas to educate children in spiritual and academic matters. In various letters to his disciples, Prabhupada addressed philosophical as well as practical issues regarding the administration of such centers. As history goes, many of the leaders of these schools failed Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON. However, we argue that the Gurukula project remains ISKCON’s best hope for a respectable future. If we excel at educating our children in Krishna Consciousness, then they will become the exemplary leaders of society that Srila Prabhupada envisioned.
Before we continue, we must clarify that we will only argue in favor of day schools and not boarding schools; the latter have been at the center of ISKCON’s shameful past, but there is hope in day schools. We base our defense on a letter Srila Prabhupada wrote to Indira devi dasi in 1971 where he stated: “So far your son leaving you, his parents, at 5 years, that is not necessary. Especially our Krishna Conscious children; they are already living in an asrama. The children of our devotees may live with their parents perpetually because you are all living in the temple and already engaged in devotional service.” We acknowledge that there are some experiments with devotional day schools in the United States, but one can hardly argue that they are pleasing to Srila Prabhupada because they stray from his instructions. Nevertheless, one must recognize that these experiments are the result of the failures mentioned above.
They said Prabhupada made a house where everyone could live, yet the house needs some housekeeping. To redeem itself and gain back the trust of many devotees, ISKCON must have no tolerance toward child offenders and immediately report them to the local authorities. Even if the offenses took place years ago, one must denounce them without further delay. Harboring child offenders – under the pretext of being compassionate or not committing offenses – only creates more difficulties for the movement.
There are some who will argue that we should not expose the faults of others and quote Chanayaka Pandita in their defense. However, if common sense and human decency are not enough to compel one to report child offenders, we can take refuge in the words of the young brahmana in Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 5.90: “My dear Sir, You are very merciful and You know everything. Therefore, kindly be a witness in this case. A person who knows things as they are and still does not bear witness becomes involved in sinful activities.” Therefore, bear witness and be free from such horrible sinful activities.
For several years we have been writing school proposals and discussing with devotees different ideas on how to start and run schools that would please Srila Prabhupada. Devotees might show some interest at first, which soon dwindles. The word “gurukula” sounds foul to many, who prefer not to address the issue. They rather dovetail their financial and intellectual resources to other projects that might not be as risky. In the long run, however, all of us suffer for want of a fine education for our children.
The type of schools that we advocate are consistent with Srila Prabhupada’s vision and with the mission of the Bhaktivedanta Institute. Like Prabhupada said, “…our gurukula should be ideal.” While referring to the creation of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, Prabhupada wrote, “This party is our most important preaching arm with which we will be able to destroy the bogus speculation and cheating which goes under the banner of scientific advancement.” We envision schools that will create these ideal preachers: individuals of high character who are knowledgeable about spiritual life and conversant with modern scientific language.
We should consider Srila Prabhupada’s words carefully: “I am especially pleased that your Gurukula project is going forward nicely. I consider that this is one of our most important projects, because people in general are only suffering due to poor fund of knowledge.”
The Gurukula project is the greatest failure in ISKCON. To redeem itself, ISKCON must allocate human and financial resources to educational initiatives that are faithful to Srila Prabhupada’s vision, thus our children and society will benefit. We believe that caring for our children in this way will be even more beneficial for the future of the Society – and pleasing to Srila Prabhupada – than building new temples or installing more deities.
* The Gurukula Project Team exists to promote Srila Prabhupada’s teachings on gurukulas and to actually help establish such schools. We are NOT concerned with your initiation status, institutional affiliation or other similar issues. We simply want to collaborate with devotees who share three basic principles:
1) Love for Krishna and His holy name
2) Respect for Srila Prabhupada as especially empowered to preach the mission of Mahaprabhu
3) Make an honest effort to behave according to Vaisnava principles.
We want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts.