March 21 marked the first anniversary of Vanipedia, the multifaceted and ambitious web-based encyclopedia dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
“Vani” is a Sanskrit term which refers to words; instructions; messages; teachings. Operating from the popular and powerful Wiki platform, Vanipedia’s goal is to compile the complete range of Srila Prabhupada’s archived teachings from all angles of vision and make them freely accessible via internet.
The Vanipedia project contains seven components. At present, two of the seven are up and running: Vanisource, which contains the full text of all of Prabhupada’s books, letters, conversations and lectures, and Vaniquotes, the comprehensive mapping and compilation of Prabhupada’s teachings.
Project activity is currently focusing on Vaniquotes. Here, quotes from Srila Prabhupada are extracted, catalogued, presented and linked back to Vanisource. Organized in categories thematically, lexically, by scriptural reference and via reference to scriptural personalities, Vaniquotes places the quotes into wiki pages which in turn link to the categories for ease of identification and research.
Since its official launch on Gaura Purnima of 2008, Vaniquotes content has grown substantially. As of March 21, 2008, the site contained 875 categories, 4,702 pages and 15,386 quotes. One year later, it tallies at 4,780 categories, 10,601 pages and 57,637 quotes. Pages have more than doubled, quotes have nearly quadrupled, and categories have increased by nearly 5½ times. And the pages themselves are filling more and more, with 6,350 now complete and 4,251 in process. The goal: 100,000 completed pages containing between one and two million quotes.
“This is a great result, but when looking back on the year I consider the greatest achievement of all is how the devotees have come forward to offer seva and to bless me with their inspired association,” says Visnu Murti Dasa, the founder, visionary and director behind Vanipedia.
The project is based on a decentralized, collaborative model of participation by volunteers from around the globe who contribute via internet from their homes. This “Vaniseva” is the heart of Vanipedia. Vanipedia’s vision is to gather participation from the broadest possible base of contributors, to bring together any and all persons desiring to penetrate and propagate Srila Prabhupada’s teachings in a collegial, service-oriented atmosphere.
One example of this working model comes from Singapore. The first volunteer, Archana Dasi, stepped forward to serve as a compiler in September 2008. Inspired by her personal experience, and enthusiastic to share that experience, she has gone on to bring 14 more compilers from Singapore to join the project in the last six months.
Vanipedia’s organizers look forward to the continued development of such regional teams from around the world. In addition to the group from Singapore, contributors from India, Europe, Australasia, North America and South America are actively involved with Vanipedia, and the first participant from China has started training in Vaniseva.
At this stage, Vanipedia is being developed in English. The larger vision is that it be developed it in other languages as well.
“Opportunity for participation in Vanipedia is wide open,” says Labangalatika Dasi, who joined the project in December 2008. Originally looking to spend two or three hours a week on Vanipedia, she now serves full time as a compiler, editor and tutor for Vaniquotes.
“Compiling is the entry point,” she explains. “Vaniquotes invites you to study Prabhupada’s works in a focused and disciplined way, serve his mission and maintain good devotional association, all at the same time. For my part, it offered an efficient way to do what I really wanted and needed to do.”
“There’s amazing depth and breadth to this experience,” Labangalatika continues. “It’s missionary, it’s exploratory, it’s devotional. As compilers, we approach the texts with a determination which requires us to understand what we’re reading and present it faithfully for others to understand easily and clearly. In the process, we associate intimately with Prabhupada and the Krishna-conscious philosophy. We grow on two levels: inwardly through the thoughtfulness, introspection and self-cultivation that follow our absorption in the teachings, and outwardly through our propagating spiritual education and culture.”
“And it’s not that you have to be an especially saintly or scholarly type of person to do this, either,” she adds. “That’s the beauty of Vaniseva. All we are doing is re-presenting. Prabhupada is the power.”
Although there is plenty of technical expertise at work behind the scenes, Vaniseva doesn’t require technical savvy. “It doesn’t take a lot to get started compiling,” says Labangalatika. “All you need is a good internet connection, a bit of time to give, and the desire to do it.”
“This project operates a lot on inspiration. Each of us has our own personal offering and connection with it, and the inspiration comes to us in an endless variety of ways.”
One volunteer, Sahadeva Dasa, offered to research and develop pages related specifically with the personalities portion of Vaniquotes. In addition to his contributing pages to Vaniquotes, he pursued an idea he had to utilize a mind map software for the project. Sahadeva is now perfecting a graphic presentation of the Bhagavatam family tree which will be available for viewing in Vaniquotes and linked to Vaniquotes pages on the respective personalities.
Radha Madan Gopal Dasa contributes to Vaniquotes as his schedule allows. “Through Vaniseva we get more hands-on with the authority of the scriptures and their practical application,” he says. “This seva is also very good for preachers because it reflects different moods and intricate issues which Prabhupada resolved from time to time in a very simple way.”
Sixty-four-year old Serene Ramasamy has experienced compiling in a very heartfelt way.
“When reading the letters by Srila Prabhupada to the devotees,” she relates, “I came to know the hardship he went through as a single man at the beginning, and I couldn’t stop admiring his courage and determination. We have the chance to learn a lot, not only about the scriptures and the material and spiritual worlds, but also about Prabhupada’s commitments. It is very impressive and inspiring. My only wish now is that, if I’m given the opportunity, I would like to work with Vanipedia until the last day of my life in this world. I’m sure all the Vanisisters and brothers will have the same feeling after reading about Srila Prabhupada.”
Vaniquotes, along with Vanisource, will provide the basis from which the rest of the Vanipedia project will be realized. Vanictionary will be a Sankrit-to-English and Bengali-to-English lexicon based on Srila Prabhupada’s definition and use of Sanskrit and Bengali words. Vanibooks will be thematic compendiums of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings similar to the books Siksamrta by Ajamila Dasa and Preaching is the Essence, Sri Namamrta, and Spiritual Master and the Disciple by Subhananda Dasa. Vaniversity will be the educational vehicle of the site aimed at levels ranging from children’s activities to college-level coursework. Vanimedia will present all of Srila Prabhupada‘s audio, video and photographic recordings, and Vanipedia, the centerpiece, will contain articles introducing readers to the various parts of the project.
The Vanipedia project is one of years in the making. The vision was seeded in 1987, when Visnu Murti started a thematic compilation of Srila Prabhupada’s letters from the 5-volume Letters from Srila Prabhupada. In subsequent years the vision grew through Visnu Murti’s service with the Bhaktivedanta Archives, publishing and distributing Prabhupada’s teachings to devotees. In 1995, Visnu Murti founded the non-profit Bhaktivedanta Library Services (BLS) based adjacent to ISKCON Radhadesh in Belgium. In 2006, Prabhupada Vani Research Academy was established as a department of BLS, and it is through this branch of the organization that Vanipedia is being developed.
“We are presently constructing additional office and living space at BLS for Vanipedia core participants as well as for other devotees who wish to visit Radhadesh for their own little Vaniseva retreats,” says Visnu Murti. “Our new facility will offer a great opportunity for devotees who want a profound experience studying Srila Prabhupada's books.”
Vanipedia currently has seven core team members who serve as facilitators, coordinators, and specialists in various aspects of the project. Service opportunities include beginning and advanced compiling, IT coordination and website promotion.
Visnu Murti looks to 2015 to have all seven Vani components running – specifically 4 October 2015, the fiftieth anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s arrival on Western shores.
As yet, Vanipedia is still in its beginning stages. As Visnu Murti puts it, “A baby of one year does not manifest much glory, but everyone knows that over time if the baby stays healthy, it will grow into a strong adult. Vanipedia is growing, and after one year he has a clean bill of health.”
To learn more about Vanipedia, start by visiting www.vanipedia.org. For information and access to Vaniquotes, go to www.vaniquotes.org. To inquire about service opportunities with Vanipedia, email email@example.com.
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