GM: Om ajnanah…
I am glad to see all of you for the Bhakti Vriksha seminar.
Bhakti Vriksha and Congregational Development, we started in 1996 at the Prabhupad Centennial – maybe a year or two ahead of that. At first we faced a lot of cultural difficulties – the culture in ISKCON did not recognize congregational devotees. But we saw that most of the devotees were technically in the congregation and Prabhupad had told me in 1970 that in the future most of the devotees would live in their house, sometimes they would come to the temple for festivals or Sunday feast. I didn’t know why he told me that, at that time, but now I see. The GBC made me the Minister for Congregational Development (now Kaunteya das is the Co-Minister).
Now the Namahatta is assisting for 30 years and Bhakti Vriksha which is a special kind of Namahatta for the cities, has been existing for 15 years. We also have small groups of other styles like counsellor groups. In the future we see that most of the devotees will continue to live in their homes and Bhakti Vriksha gives a good chance to do service. It brings Krishna consciousness to the devotees and makes it easy for them to participate. Also, the more responsible devotees, they can also take some responsibility as a servant leader or an intern of the Bhakti Vriksha group and this includes men, women, everybody. So it is a very great opportunity to empower the devotees.
We are very happy to see that now there are thousands of Bhakti Vrikshas, thousands of Namahattas. In fact, there is more Bhakti Vrikshas than any other kind of groups. So this is a very big advancement. Some leaders told, "Well, you do it and if it is successful, we will also do" , but now everybody is doing it – or at least most of the devotees! So in this way we are also very happy to see how the temples, they are extending their activities to the Bhakti Vrikshas. In some places where there is no temple or no possibility to build a temple, Bhakti Vriksha exist. So in this way it is a very , you can say, an adaptable system and the idea is people should regularly associate with devotees and they should also try to care for devotees. So the front-line of care is done by the Bhakti Vrikshas, Namahattas. In this way, devotees get a better a quality of life because they are able to get more attention, more training and they can associate with like-minded people. So this is a very great opportunity They are also able to share their own realizations. There is no other program which allows you to share to the whole group, your realizations. So these groups are like little families.
In Hyderabad, the president there, he was saying how now when he has a festival , his temple uses his Bhakti Vrikshas to take different responsibilities of the festival. He told that he cannot see how he could run the temple without them! So as a result the different temples in India, they decided to take it up.
So our Bhakti Vriksha system exists in Delhi, Bombay and Pune. In Pune they have the counselor groups for senior devotees and Bhakti Vriksha for the students. Somehow they realized all of the different systems – the idea is we would like to see every devotee engaged – we see the house devotees or the congregational devotees, they are also DEVOTEES! And before the culture was that they had to live in the temple to be considered a devotee. But in the time of Lord Caitanya there were no temples – there were just houses.
And, Lord Caitanya had all His associates – Srivas Thakur, Advaita – they were all pure devotees, they were all transcendental devotees. They were also grihasthas and they also did various programs in their house and had classes. Advaita Gosai’s classes were famous. So like this we see that our culture should be adjusted and it should include engaging everyone who chants Hare Krishna. So we have the Shiksha program where the different steps of devotional service from the Shraddhavaan to the Satsanga – rather the Krishna Sadhaka and Prabhupad Aashraya and Guru Aashraya. So this has formed as a very useful tool to train devotees, to take care of devotees. So like this we are trying to simultaneously take care of devotees while they are trained and also expanding the outreach.
So we are very grateful that Premapadmini and Vijay Venugopal, they are going all over the world and sharing their experiences. We are very much grateful that Angira Muni has established a Bhakti Vriksha in Moscow and also the surrounding areas and now they are also using Namahattas and Bhakti Vrikshas all over Russia and CIS. And also Kalasudha, she gave her presentation in Houston and it is being expanded because at first there was some resistance but now they appreciate. So we are very grateful that we have leaders like Caitanya Chandra Charan prabhu who are also utilizing this system in his preaching. Also in Muslim countries this is useful because it is basically invisible! They have some difficulties in some countries because officially they don’t like to recognize ISKCON. But we can do the Bhakti Vrikshas in the houses and in this way they can quietly expand.
Prabhupad was saying how – actually culturally - theologically there is a lot in similar between the Muslim theology and the Hare Krishna. If we listen or read the arrival address of 1965 in Kolkata – Prabhupad had visited Iran and so he said that he had some discussion with the Muslim priests or Mullahs or Imaams. He said that Allah Ho Abkar means Param Brahman. So like this he said many amazing things. So actually Muslims, Christians they can all take up but some countries, their government doesn’t allow. So the Bhakti Vriksha is a very useful tool to spread Krishna consciousness. Any way , i think you have discussed this topic inside out. So I just like to hope that your visit to Mayapur is successful to give you all a charge, a spiritual charge to spread the Bhakti Vriksha and spread Krishna consciousness. Thank you for participating! Hari bol!