for ISKCON News on Feb. 22, 2013
Bhakti Bhavan sign outside the Ashram.
The upcoming “New Devotee Training Retreat” at the Bhakti Bhavan Ashram in Alachua, Florida, promises to give new devotee women a solid basis in Krishna consciousness by immersing them in the kind of ashram experience that’s rarely seen in ISKCON today.
Seven women from across the US who are new to Krishna consciousness will reside and learn at the ashram, tucked away in a quiet, peaceful corner of ISKCON Alachua’s 127-acre farm.
The three-week retreat, now being offered for the fourth time, will run from March 16th through April 6th, 2013.
It was devised by Laxmimoni Dasi and Akuti Dasi, both long-time educators in ISKCON, after they spotted a major lack throughout the society of ashrams with newcomer training programs—once a staple at ISKCON temples.
“We loved our experience in the ashram,” Akuti says. “I think that everyone should get to have that experience. Today, there are quite a few people who have been in the movement for some time, but never got the basic training on why we do what we do. So we wanted to try and give them that understanding.”
Retreat participants attend the full morning program at the Alachua Radha-Shyamasundara temple, followed by breakfast and then a rigorous schedule of different classes.
Class with Sudharma Dasi.
There are scripture classes on Sri Isopanisad, Nectar of Devotion, and Bhagavad-gita, given by senior Vaishnavis such as Nanda Dasi, Sudharma Dasi, and Laxmimoni Dasi.
There’s a Guru-Disciple course by Laxmimoni, an essential feature as it is now required studying for any ISKCON devotee applying for initiation.
And there are themed seminars such as Great Vaishnavis in Krishna consciousness, wherein students study the lives and teachings of such saints as Queen Kunti.
Retreat participants also hear from senior Vaishnavis about realizations from their lives in Krishna consciousness. Pashupati, for instance, speaks on how to navigate through household life. And 85-year-old Indrani, the oldest member of the ISKCON Alachua community, speaks about her deep faith in Krishna consciousness and how it’s helped her get through life’s trials and tribulations.
Meanwhile, Madhumati Dasi gives classes on how to find a good Krishna conscious husband, how to be a good wife, and other lessons regarding marriage and family life.
There are also lots of practical activities at the ashram. Students learn how to keep a good schedule, how to keep their living quarters clean, and get to roll up their sleeves for some simple service such as washing pots.
Laxmimoni Dasi and Akuti Dasi (front) with last year's new devotees in training (left to right) Sparrow, Casey, Alyssa, Marit, and Miriam.
They also learn how to perform Tulasi arati, how to chant all the key Vaishnava mantras and prayers, and what they mean. And there are excursions where students are instilled with Srila Prabhupada’s mood of spreading Krishna consciousness, and learn how to convey the philosophy to others.
“Once or twice a week I take them out to chant at the University of Florida campus in nearby Gainesville,” says Akuti. “I also encourage them to take turns interacting with the students who are taking Krishna Lunch. And I give them some guidelines beforehand about what to do and what not to do, and how to be sensitive to each person.”
Akuti also teaches the participants how to balance their material and spiritual lives.
“Women today have a lot of duties and responsibilities,” she says. “They’re spread out. So we want to help them keep their heads high above the water.”
Finally the new devotees learn fun and practical skills such as gardening, cooking, sewing, jewelry making, and mridanga playing, which can come in handy both at home and at their local temples.
In between all of this, Akuti and Laxmimoni also make sure the participants have some time to relax and assimilate what they’ve learned.
After previous retreats, participants have returned to their home communities refreshed, educated and inspired. They’ve begun attending the morning program and studying more regularly, and their local leaders have commented on their progress and transformation.
“Some of the participants who joined Krishna consciousness later in life said they especially appreciated it,” Akuti comments. “Because otherwise they would never have learned all these things.”
As well as the New Devotee Training Retreat, which is given twice a year, Bhakti Bhavan will be offering an Advanced Teacher Training Class from April 11th to 16th. Taught by experienced educator Laxmimoni, the course will be open to both women and men, and will provide all the skills needed to give a well-organized and informative spiritual class or seminar, become more effective in book distribution, or simply share Krishna consciousness with others.
The Ashram also offers a Japa workshop for more focused chanting of the Holy Names, a Bhakti Sastri scriptural study program, and occasional weekend retreats.
Meanwhile, with demand increasing for the New Devotee Training Retreat, Akuti and Laxmimoni hope to offer it more often in the future, if they can find a way to work around the challenge that taking three weeks off from work or university presents.
Retreat participants chant with Akuti at Santa Fe Community College
They also hope that women who attend the retreat will be inspired to start similar programs in their home communities.
“We’re not going to be around much longer,” Akuti says. “So we’d like to give what we have received. Because the movement changes, and things are lost and watered down. So if we can pass Krishna consciousness onto others the way we received it, maybe it will be imbibed, and will stay around for some time.”
To enroll/inquire please contact Laxmimoni Dasi at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 386-462-2528.