One of the challenges for ISKCON since Srila Prabhupada’s departure in 1977 has been how to keep unity in an international society with multiple spiritual authorities and initiating gurus. Srila Prabhupada addressed this issue himself in many ways, including when he instituted ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission (GBC), instructing them to meet every year in Mayapura at ISKCON’s world headquarters to discuss unity in diversity.
One effort in helping establish a healthy unified society, a shared vision in ISKCON, is the society’s disciple’s course, which was taught for the first time in North America at the Washington D.C. temple. The course was facilitated by Anuttama Dasa, a GBC member and ISKCON’s Minister for Communications.
Ananda Rupa Devi Dasi, a congregational leader in the D.C. area, who took the course, said, “This is a very good course. It provides wonderful insights on guru and disciple relationships and gave me valuable information to help me guide those I meet who are new to Krishna consciousness.”
Another participant, Sankhadhari Dasa, said, “The disciple course was very meaningful to me as it helped deepen my understanding of how to properly relate to my own spiritual master and to Srila Prabhupada as the founder-acarya of ISKCON.”
The Disciples Course grew out of the newly created Guru Seminar, the primary aim being to improve the quality of discipleship within ISKCON with the aim of promoting the long-term wellbeing of Srila Prabhupada’s Society and its members. The course was created by the cooperative efforts of devotees around the world under the guidance of ISKCON’s guru services committee.
The course helps prospective disciples:
1. Understand the long-standing principles of discipleship, as presented in the teachings of Srila Prabhupada and the broader tradition and appreciate the unique contexts in which these teachings are applied within ISKCON.
2. Form spiritually healthy, constructive relationships with their gurus and senior Vaisnavas and act appropriately within those relationships
3. Develop the values and attitudes required of a disciple.
In 2012, at its annual meetings in Mayapura, the GBC stated that, because “there is a lack of formal training regarding what it means to be a disciple within ISKCON and how to properly execute the duties of a disciple towards one’s diksa- and siksa-gurus as well as the mission of Srila Prabhupada.” They recommended that “all prospective disciples and aspiring initiates attend the ISKCON Disciple Course prior to their initiation, preferably before choosing an initiating spiritual master.”
Other members of ISKCON are also encouraged to take the course.
The GBC also recommended that local ISKCON leaders facilitate the course by making it available in local languages. To that end, the course is currently being translated into Bengali, French, German, Spanish, Hindi, Russian, and Portuguese. As soon as the course is available, some temples, such as Washington, D.C., will make following it mandatory for all those aspiring to take initiation. An online version is also being worked on in conjunction with Bhaktivedanta College.
Anuttama Dasa said, “It is the hope that this course will strengthen our society by minimising any sense of sectarianism amongst disciples of different gurus and create a society more focussed on the mission of Srila Prabhupada, where devotees learn to work more cooperatively in this generation and the next to spread the mission of Lord Caitanya.”