Seventy devotees attended the official inauguration of Instituto De Estudios Bhaktivedanta—or “Institute of Bhaktivedanta Studies”—in New Vraja Mandala, Spain, on April 8th.
Although it’s not the first Spanish-language educational program in ISKCON, the Institute is thought to be the first fully residential, structured Institute for spiritual studies offered exclusively to the Spanish-speaking world.
Attendees at the inauguration, including residents of the New Vraja Mandala farm community as well as teachers and students of the new school, congregated in the yard between the Institute and the temple at 10:00am for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The date—the appearance day of erudite Vaishnava saint Ramanujacharya—seemed apt as yajna expert Savya-Srestha Dasa presided over the ceremony. Meanwhile, devotees headed by Spanish GBC Hridaya Chaitanya Dasa, RGB regional secretary for Spain Veda Vyasa Dasa, and the Institute’s principal Yadunandana Swami performed kirtana while a murti form of Srila Prabhupada looked on.
Next, the group headed up to the eighty-square-meter main classroom on the first floor, where speeches were given by Hridaya Chaitanya, Veda Vyasa, Yadunandana Swami, and New Vraja Mandala temple president Murari Dasa. A fire yajna and a delicious lunch-time feast followed.
“After the feast, we took a fifty-minute break, and then all the teachers and staff met with the international group of eighteen students, from Costa Rica, Argentina, Peru, and different parts of Spain,” says Yadunandana Swami. “We got to know each other, discussed expectations for the course, and then we went straight into classes, which will run for six months from April to the end of September.”
Beginners to ISKCON’s standardized system of spiritual education will take the Bhakti Sastri study course, which, as outlined by ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada, comprises of the sacred texts Bhagavad-gita, the first part of Nectar of Devotion, Nectar of Instruction, and Sri Isopanisad.
Students who have already done the Bhakti-Sastri course at one of ISKCON’s English language educational institutions can take the next level, Bhakti-Vaibhava, which will run simultaneously and consists of the first six cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam. At Instituto De Estudios Bhaktivedanta, students will study the first three in 2011, and the next three in 2012.
Meanwhile, for members of the general public, the Institute will also be offering a two-month introductory course on Krishna consciousness—the type previously dubbed by ISKCON as a “Bhakta program”—during the summer months of July and August.
“It’s perfect for students at nearby universities to get a foundation in Krishna consciousness during their summer break,” says Yadunandana Swami. “We’ve also devised a different version of the course for people who have to drive the hour and fifteen minutes from the Spanish capital of Madrid, wherein they can take one lesson per week from April until July.”
A series of stand-alone courses will also be offered every two weekends, open to both devotees and members of the general public. There are classes on Pranayama and Meditation, cooking, comparative religions, organic farming and self-sufficiency, and Hatha yoga.
Others may be interested in Vastu Shastra, Vedic Astrology, or Ayurvedic medicine. There’s a course entitled Tirtha-Yatra: Immersion in the Culture and Rituals of Hinduism, and another, with Bhaktivedanta Manor cow protection head Shyamasundar Dasa, entitled Violence-free Milk. In Srila Prabhupada: My Experiences with a Sadhu, Dhananjaya Dasa, an ISKCON pioneer in Europe in the 1960s, will share stories of his direct contact with Prabhupada. And in The Music and Wisdom of Srimad Bhagavatam, Yadunandana Swami will speak on the scripture while guitar virtuoso Atmarama Dasa will sing devotional tunes.
All the classes will be exclusively in Spanish and will be offered in Instituto De Estudios Bhaktivedanta’s own building, next to the New Vraja Mandala temple.
The building includes one large classroom on the first floor, an office, another room used for staff meetings or as a second classroom, and ashram living facilities for both men and women on the top floor. In the temple next door, there is a library carrying Srila Prabhupada’s books in Spanish and many other languages.
Classes will be taught by a highly knowledgeable and skilled team of both Spanish and South American devotees, including Yadunandana Swami, Vaishnava Scholar and Bhaktivedanta College faculty member Hanumatpresaka Swami, Srila Prabhupada disciple Vedavyasa Dasa, and Bhaktivedanta College alumni Aksara Dasa and Bhaktin Susana. Veteran book distributor Radhika Nagara Dasa, who has taught the Mayapur Institute for Higher Education and Training’s (MIHET) Bhakti-Vaibhava course, has also joined the team.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like this for the Spanish-speaking world since we started Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh, Belgium in 2002,” says Yadunandana Swami, who still serves as principal of that school as well. “After all, Spanish is the second most natively-spoken language in the world, with 329 million native speakers.”
As well as fulfilling the spiritual education needs of Spanish-speaking devotees and friends of Krishna all over the world, the school will also give purpose to New Vraja Mandala, which is home to very few devotees, despite being the biggest ISKCON farm community in Europe at 300 hectares.
“According to Srila Prabhupada’s explanation in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, to develop a good community there must be cow protection, and there must be brahminical culture,” says Yadunandana Swami. “New Vraja Mandala already has a small, but very nice cow protection program, yet the need for spiritual education has been very much felt—and our Institute will fill that need. And if it’s successful, this model of increasing the contribution of otherwise quiet ISKCON farms by establishing them as educational centers could be replicated around the world.”
Yadunandana Swami intends to run the current “pilot” roster of courses for the next three years, and then, once the Institute has found its footing, explore the possibility of expanding to add more courses.
“We could offer winter courses, Vedic science courses, and courses accredited by some University, such as a Bachelor’s Degree in Vaishnava Studies, or even degrees in education or business with a strong spiritual element,” he says. “But at the moment, we are starting with the basis. And the basis is Srila Prabhupada’s books.”
Ultimately, Yadunandana Swami’s dream is of a major learning Institute, attended by people from all over the Spanish-speaking world who want to become spiritually educated and to get accredited degrees. The Institute would also be a place where devotees could get a solid training in Krishna consciousness, before going on to open centers in Spanish or Latin American cities.
“I would really like to see Krishna consciousness being spread through systematic education,” he says. “Because that is the model people nowadays are accustomed to. Of course, there is also education during the temple functions. But people like to sit in a classroom environment, have discussions with other like-minded students, and get a degree—which, if it can be used professionally, is even better.”
He quotes a letter Srila Prabhupada wrote to Rupanuga in 1972:
“Now I want that we shall concentrate on making our devotees Krishna conscious and ourselves becoming Krishna conscious, and not be so much concerned with expanding ourselves widely but without any spiritual content. Just like boiling the milk, it becomes thicker and sweeter. Now do like that, boil the milk.”
“So our aim is to train our members and help them to study our philosophy thoroughly, and in so doing, perpetuate Srila Prabhupada’s legacy to the Spanish-speaking world,” says Yadunandana Swami.
He grins. “Time to start boiling the milk.”