Despite the chilling cold and rainy weather of Nairobi, a large group of more than 250 devotees assembled at the Sri Sri Radha Banke Bihari Mandir to commemorate the ISKCON’s golden jubilee. Amongst them were Bhakti Narasimha Swami (South Africa), Akhandadhi Das (UK), ISKCON Nairobi Vice President Rukuma Das, Manasi Ganga Dasi, and 90 jubilant students who celebrated attaining a Certificate of Ethics and Morality after a year-long course on Vaishnava philosophy. The program is run by the Hare Krishna Training Center, part of ISKCON Nairobi.
The goal of the training center is to introduce students to the ageless wisdom of Vedic philosophy and practice of Krishna Consciousness. The center seeks to further A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada’s mission of reaching out to all people around the world. It also seeks to establish a large pool of devotees by targeting mostly young students from local universities who have an interest in understanding their purpose in life. By offering character building courses, students are not only introduced to the need to live an ethically astute and morally sound life as young adults, but are also introduced to the unwavering practice of Krishna-consciousness that is a much needed antidote against the vagaries of society in an increasingly volatile East African region struggling with poverty, Islamic fundamentalism, corruption, and ethnically motivated conflict and violence.
By rigorously engaging in a study of Prabhupada’s books, the students are introduced to the practice of devotional service and Krishna-consciousness while also pursuing their academic and material lives. The program has grown over time since its inception in 2012 when six students graduated, to 25 students in 2013, 60 students in 2014, 75 students in 2015, and eventually 90 students in 2016. In 2016, a total of 670 students attended classes. The exponential growth is partly due to the testimony from many students who have gone through the program and found it fulfilling and worthwhile.
According to Allan Mbugua, one of the students who have been attending the classes for more than a year, “God can do without man, but man cannot do without God”. He lauded the openness, directness, and practical approach of Krishna-consciousness in fostering one’s spirituality. Although most of them first came to the temple for the sumptuous prasadam that was being served after the classes, it was Prabhupada’s teachings on Vaishnava philosophy that have kept them keep coming to the center. “If you find someone who teaches you how to practice spirituality then that is the best friend”, he continued.
The inclusivity that is practiced by the Hare Krishnas is a critical ingredient in today’s society if peace and cohesion is to be attained. The course has rescued most of them from engaging in mundane material sense gratification such as intoxication.
Each year, the curriculum is built around one of Prabhupada’s books, and in 2016, The Journey of Self-Discovery provided an incisive and enriching spiritual sojourn for the students. Its sharp philosophical buildup coupled with Prabhupada’s critical but practical approach to addressing tough questions was essential for the students’ introspection of their morality and dharma.
The program is run by facilitators from the training center who are essentially second and third year resident students that have either resided in the ashram for some time before joining the Center or have excelled in the study of Prabhupada’s books. The center currently boasts ten qualified facilitators from amongst its students who have mastered some of Prabhupada’s books and paperbacks.
According to the program’s founders Govinda Prem Das and Gaurasakti Das the growth in student numbers is just a beginning. The main objective is to make the center rise to college level with the ability to offer training that leads to bachelors, masters, and PhD degrees.
At the moment, the Center will be offering a Bhakti Sadachar course for its resident students while the ethics and morality courses offered to external students living around will continue acting as a prerequisite for admission to the Training Centre. It will also be offering an informal Bhakti Sastri course to its more senior students in preparation for the course and exam elsewhere in one of ISKCON’s centers around the world as it is yet to receive ISKCON accredited teachers to conduct the program.[ education ] [ nairobi ]