A series of video blogs, or “vlogs,” featuring ISKCON guru Sivarama Swami giving a Krishna conscious perspective on current issues, have racked up over 20 million views on Facebook. Devotees behind the project see it as a way forward for outreach in the Hare Krishna Movement.
Radha Damodara Das, an engineering student who works for Apple, had the idea when he began looking for new ways to help his spiritual master reach large quantities of people.
“Two years ago I was inspired by other innovative devotees in the dynamic community I belong to, Bhaktivedanta Manor,” he says. “I saw the powerful effect that their short online videos, particularly on Facebook and Youtube, had in conveying a message to their audience. I wanted to do something similar with my guru.”
A few months later, Sivarama Swami visited England. While he was there, one devotee involved with the London Mayor’s Diwali festival in Trafalgar Square requested Radha Damodara to help record a 1-minute video of the Swami sharing a Diwali message. The message was broadcast on multiple 300 inch screens to thousands of people during the event. After seeing the finished video, Sivarama Swami agreed to participate in Radha Damodara’s vlog proposal.
Sivarama Swami and the London-based Vlog team
Their first vlog was posted on Facebook in January 2017, upon the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. Sivarama Swami took the opportunity to remind people that the basis of leadership is personal qualification, and that leadership means leading people towards the real purpose of life.
“Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita that the leaders must also be saints,” he said. “So when you find a leader who’s also a saint, follow him. That’s the right person to vote for.”
The video promptly amassed 70,000 views. More punchy 2 to 3-minute videos that followed tackled topics like guns and the culture of violence, racism, veganism, how to control the mind and life after death. One recent video, in which Sivarama Swami laments that modern yoga has lost its soul and directs people to the true purpose of yoga, singlehandedly received 6.4 million views.
“This is an outreach project, so our vlogs are aimed at new people,” says Radha Damodara. “Topics reﬂect what they would be interested in such as secular news, global trends, lifestyle, health, etc. Sivarama Swami told me, ‘If the public have questions about life, about science and religion, about politics and the news, then they should know the Hare Krishnas have the answers and come to us!’ So that’s what these vlogs are - answers for the people woven with Vaishnava philosophy.”
Vlog recording in progress
When videos are released, Sivarama Swami’s Facebook page is often inundated with over 100 messages a day. Many are people espousing gratitude for how the Swami has transformed the way they see things and helped them in their personal lives. Others are invitations to visit different countries around the world or speak at corporate events and universities.
Watching the vlogs has also drawn people to attend retreats at both Bhaktivedanta Manor and New Vraja Dhama, Sivarama Swami’s base in Hungary, where they meet devotees, learn more about the philosophy and experience kirtan and prasadam.
Much of this success is down to Sivarama Swami’s expertise. “Maharaja has the ability to articulate very intricate points and deliver them in a very personal way to his audience,” says Radha Damodara. “Sometimes viewers express that they feel Maharaja is talking directly to them, though he may be reaching out to over a million people.”
However Radha Damodara hopes others take Sivarama Swami’s example and use online tools in a similar way. “I believe it is crucial that ISKCON invests in its online presence,” he says. “Firstly, it’s practically free! But more importantly, it’s where the people are. I really hope to see more devotees take up the online mission!”
Sivarama Swami’s vlog project, meanwhile, continues to grow, with numerous offshoots expanding from it. Vlogs are now translated in Hungarian and published on a dedicated Hungarian Facebook page. They are being received so well that one vlog was seen by 10% of the country.
It takes a team of some twenty-five devotees to produce and edit videos, respond to emails and messages, keep a database of new people to connect with, and manage the project’s Facebook pages in English and Hungarian, as well as its Instagram, Twitter, two Youtube channels, and new outreach website.
There are also events to organize in the UK, Hungary, and India, and a webshop selling Srila Prabhupada’s books and other items.
As for the future, “Our dream is Prabhupada’s dream,” Radha Damodara says. “To see as many souls as possible take up the life of Bhakti and make their way back to Godhead.”
He adds: “We are sure this online instrument can prove to be a sustainable and replicable model in spreading the Krishna consciousness movement throughout the world. In a year so much has been achieved, and it’s exciting to see how the project will evolve and what opportunities it will bring!”facebook ] [ sivarama-swami ] [ video ] [ vlog ]