Kripamoya Dasa is one of the primary presenters for the seminar.
A new two-hour DVD from ISKCON Television (ITV) lets viewers in on highlights from the annual “Guru Seminar” held at Bhaktivedanta Manor, UK, wherein presenters Kripamoya Dasa, Srutidharma Dasa and Sitarama Dasa explain the process of selecting a guru in modern ISKCON.
ITV Director Nrsimhananda Dasa feels that the DVD will give prospective disciples around the world some understanding of the subject, while also encouraging them to take Bhaktivedanta Manor’s course or the still-under-development international equivalent.
Now in its seventh year, the seminar evolved naturally when its presenters, who had all worked with the UK’s large congregational community for many years, decided to establish a forum to answer the questions they were repeatedly asked about the guru-disciple relationship.
“We also try to incorporate into the course standard information that we feel that spiritual aspirants should know before they begin the process of selecting a guru,” says Kripamoya Dasa, who teaches the course to an audience of up to fifty devotees twice a year.
The full five-hour seminar is divided into four sections, the first of which explains what qualifications to look for in a spiritual master. A classic definition is given, as well as information on what to expect in a modern organization such as ISKCON.
The second section deals with the qualifications for a disciple, such as how to know if one is ready for initiation, and what it means to be initiated. It also covers the relationship between the guru and the disciple—for instance what is reasonable to expect, and what is not.
The third part of the course tackles some of the realities of purusing a spiritual path. Firstly, how to deal with spiritual weakness and slipping away from one’s vows as a disciple. And secondly, what happens when your guru’s spiritual life goes wrong?
“This is a topic that is relevant for any intelligent seeker joining ISKCON these days, and we don’t shy away from it—we bring it out into the open,” says Kripamoya. “We talk about the spiritual difficulties that we’ve had in ISKCON leadership over the past thirty years, and take a look at some possible causes as well as some possible solutions. We also discuss the boundaries of good philosophy and good spiritual leadership behavior.”
The fourth section of the course looks at the various stages involved in the process of searching for, analyzing and testing, choosing, developing a relationship with, and finally receiving initiation from an ISKCON guru. Throughout ISKCON, this involves recommendation of the prospective disciple by a local authority, although this process has been systematized more in the UK than in other countries.
“In ISKCON’s early days 99% of our movement’s members lived in residential communities known as temples—but today about 93% do not live in a temple and perhaps never will,” Kripamoya says. “So we’ve developed requirements that will help initiates sustain their spiritual life for a long period. For example, we don’t recommend devotees for initiation unless they are a member of a small group that meets regularly for support and encouragement. They also must have a senior mentor who takes responsibility for giving them regular advice and support. And they must attend the full morning program at the temple at least once a month. Since these days in ISKCON it’s more the local devotees than the guru who teach, train, support, encourage and guide anyway, these are very important—we don’t want to initiate someone into a situation that’s unsustainable.”
Kripamoya is looking forward to the development of an international version of his UK seminar, and also encourages others to set up such courses in their area. “It’s something very valuable that temples can offer, and the nominal fee paid by attendees—£10 GBP for us—goes as a donation towards the temple. So it’s a beneficial program for all.”
For more information about the Bhaktivedanta Manor’s Guru Seminar, including course dates, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.krishnatemple.com. To order ITV’s video, visit www.itvproductions.net.