One of the aims of ISKCON’s Congregational Development Ministry is to promote the activities of the youth in ISKCON. An interview with Caitanya Cintamani devi dasi, co-ordinator of Mayapur Youth Entertainment Seva.
How do you feel being a youth in ISKCON?
Caitanya Cintamani devi dasi: I feel very privileged to have been born into ISKCON and raised in a Krishna conscious atmosphere. I thank Srila Prabhupada often for the chance to have joined this movement from an “inside source” and for the fact that I have been under his shelter my whole life. I truly don’t know where I would be otherwise.
What do you suppose or suggest ISKCON can learn or copy from other organizations to improve the youth involvement?
Caitanya Cintamani devi dasi: For the youth, education is very, very important. When I was younger, for a brief period during my school years, my sister and I attended a Catholic school. Not only did we learn the values of Christianity, but we also learned about the other main world religions, and we still managed to stay up to speed with our academic studies as well. The environment was very professional. But when I attended Gurukula in later years, I experienced two extreme opposite ends of the spectrum. In one Gurukula, you may experience a totally spiritual learning atmosphere, and in another you may experience a very academic environment. There is not much of a balance. Though I understand we are still in the process of perfecting this, ISKCON’s education system has a lot of improvement to go through before they find a clean balance between the spiritual training that we need and the necessary academic learning we require to survive in the material world. ISKCON still needs to make a worldwide standardized educational system that will cover both these needs in a sensitive and professional way, with qualified and balanced, spiritually and mentally grounded teachers.
What challenges do you face being a youth from ISKCON in the secular world?
Caitanya Cintamani devi dasi: I think that times are changing for ISKCON. People are a lot more accepting of things which are new or alternative to what they consider to be “normal” than they used to be. Growing up and going to school as a child, I found it very hard to relate to non-devotee children and in turn they found it hard to relate to me and at times I was faced with hostility or bullying. But now I find that children, adults, old people, are very inquisitive and curious about our lifestyle, they want to know why we do what we do. I would say that it helps to be open and answer questions patiently rather than try to hide. When they find out that you are hiding your beliefs they perceive it as something to be ashamed of.
Some of the enthusiastic ISKCON Mayapur Youth
From the age of 11 I have lived in Mayapur, so for me, secular and spiritual differences don’t really come up that much. It is a blessing to be able to openly practice Krishna consciousness openly with like- minded devotees, but it is a terrible experience if you have to leave it behind. Any time I am outside of a devotional environment I feel intensely uncomfortable!
You often hear this expression “carry the Holy Dham in your heart” so wherever you go should become Vrndavana or Mayapur Dham. It is a lesson you only truly learn in separation from devotee association, but sometimes when you catch a glimpse of it, there is no secular world- everywhere is spiritual. That’s when the differences definitely become more manageable.
Do you think youths are given a fair hearing in situations that need to be addressed, if no what suggestions do you have?
Caitanya Cintamani devi dasi: I have just one suggestion: We need to let the youth grow up. I have found that in devotee communities, because everyone knows you since you were a child, they can’t see you in any other way. They hesitate to allow youth to manage because they still see their little baby vaisnavas! But when they do that, they really lose out on a great resource; a young and fresh look at how to spread Krishna consciousness and management. It all comes down to the law of expectation- the older devotees of nowadays were opening temples at the age of 17, 18…Look at your 17 year old- do you think they could go out into the middle of nowhere and run a temple? No? Well, the reason for that is because you never expected them to! You could be surprised at how much more children can absorb and understand if you let them. We can’t render the youth incapable by never expecting more from them than to finish school, learn mrdanga and go to the temple regularly. Think of someone you had met who was in the movement for 20 years and never got initiated. Did you think it was strange? Yet your son/daughter, was born into this movement, and now fully grown with a family and still hasn’t formally joined Prabhupada’s mission under a guru? Why are we exempt from the expectations that you have of devotees who have joined ISKCON later on in life? We are not that different. At some point we all have to decide that we want to join Lord Caitanya’s Sankirtan Mission. Stop babying us! I think it will really help.
What is your involvement as a youth in the preaching program of ISKCON?
Caitanya Cintamani devi dasi: I am the co-ordinator of the newly Mayapur Youth Entertainment Seva (M-YES!). We are committed to engaging Mayapur’s youth by entertaining the community with performances in the Samadhi Auditorium, teaching them new artistic skills such as acting, dancing, music, painting, martial arts, and sewing etc in the process. We are very privileged to have maybe 15-20 very talented devotee children working with us to put on regular performances.
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies