Spain’s New Vraja Mandala farm community.
A brand new ISKCON educational institute, set to open for its first school year from April to September 2011, will deliver a unique service: all of its spiritual, philosophical, and vocational courses will be offered in the Spanish language only.
Based in Spain’s New Vraja Mandala farm community, Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta, or “Institute of Bhaktivedanta Studies” is the brainchild of Yadunandana Swami, principal of Belgium’s Bhaktivedanta College.
“Spanish is the second most natively-spoken language in the world, with 329 million native speakers,” he says. “Yet most of ISKCON’s existing educational programs are in English. So our intention with this project is to cater to devotees and seekers from the Spanish-speaking world, who would otherwise have very limited opportunities to systematically study Srila Prabhupada’s books and to learn more about our tradition.”
Newcomers to the Hare Krishna movement will be able to take introductory and foundational courses on the main themes of Krishna consciousness and Vaishnava philosophy, theology, culture and practice at the Institute; while more experienced devotees are likely to take advantage of its Bhakti Sastri and Bhakti Vaibhava, courses based on Srila Prabhupada’s desire that his books be studied in a systematic manner.
“Prabhupada himself named different levels of study in letters to disciples such as the late Bhakti Svarupa Damodar Swami,” explains Yadunandana Swami, a native of Spain. “These are Bhakti-Shastri, Bhakti-Vaibhava, Bhaktivedanta, and Bhakti-sarvabhauma. Bhakti Sastri comprises of Bhagavad-gita, the first part of Nectar of Devotion, Nectar of Instruction, and Isopanisad. Bhakti-Vaibhava, which is taken after passing Bhakti Sastri, covers the first six cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam. In the first year of Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta, we will only study the first three cantos, but we will offer the next three in 2012.”
The Institute will also offer up to one week long intensive vocational courses written and developed by the VTE (Vaishnava Training and Education) on communications, leadership and management. These, Yadunandana Swami hopes, will equip devotees with practical skills that they can use in their ISKCON services such as outreach and temple duties.
In addition, the Institute will conduct weekend courses for the general public at yoga centers in various Spanish cities, an initiative that could attract new students to take its full introductory and foundational programs.
And a strong team of teachers—including both Spanish and South American devotees—has already committed to the project. Yadunandana Swami will teach some of the courses, while Param Padam Dasa, a prominent ISKCON educator who has taught Bhakti Sastri and other courses in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, has been appointed as the Institute’s Course Director, and will be moving to Spain with his wife Ananta Sayana Dasi, who will also teach. Veteran book distributor Radhika Nagara Dasa, who is currently teaching the Mayapur Institute for Higher Education and Training’s (MIHET) Bhakti-Vaibhava course, will also join the team, as will Srila Prabhupada disciple Vedavyasa Dasa and Bhaktivedanta College alumni Aksara Dasa and Bhaktin Susana.
Courses will be taught in an already existing building on the 300 hectare New Vraja Mandala farm, one of the biggest in the ISKCON world. The community will also provide living facilities, as well as a room to be developed as a library.
“Such a marriage between a farm community and an educational institution is actually very beneficial for both parties,” says Yadunandana Swami. “ISKCON has many rural communities around the world, many of them with vast amounts of land and large buildings which may not be fully used or well-maintained. But their environments are very peaceful and conducive to study and spiritual practice, which is perfect for an educational institution. And in turn, the presence of the institution increases the spiritual life of the community, and helps give meaning to having such big buildings and properties.”
2011 is Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta’s “pilot” year—based on the response, staff will continue to build the project, advertise it, and improve its facilities. Within two to three years, they hope to have a solid foundation on which to expand and offer more courses, including accredited university level courses such as an undergraduate degree in Vaishnava Theology. Farther down the line, they also plan to explore the possibilities of establishing a partnership with a Spanish University.
But for now, the focus is short term. Yadunandana Swami has applied to register Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta as an officially-recognized educational institution in Spain’s Comunidad Castilla La Mancha region, a process which should be completed this September. “This will enable us to apply for government grants, as well as to get students’ visas for our South American students,” he explains.
The Institute’s first year attendance is estimated to be at just between ten and twenty full-time students. But Yadunandana Swami has done this before, with Bhaktivedanta College, and his attitude is a positive one. “Even if it is a humble start,” he says, “By being patient and working conscientiously as an offering to Prabhupada and Krishna, it will become a project that we can develop very nicely.”
For more information, please contact Course Director Param Padam Dasa at firstname.lastname@example.org or Director Yadunandana Swami at email@example.com.