A new “Second Generation Initiative” was launched in Alachua, Florida – the Western World’s largest ISKCON community – on Saturday October 17th, and is generating a lot of energy and excitement.
Although the words “second generation” often refer to those born into the Hare Krishna Movement, the initiative aims to help all 25 to 45-year-olds who attend Alachua’s New Raman Reti temple, regardless of how they came to Krishna consciousness, to find balance and inspiration in their lives. It also aims to facilitate succession.
Namamrita Das, a married disciple of Radhanath Swami in his thirties who balances a job as a commercial airline pilot with caring for his special needs daughter, has been working on the effort for the better part of a year.
“When I joined the temple board here two years ago, I soon realized that the best way I could contribute would be to reach out to my peers,” he says. “Because I assumed that most of them would have similar struggles with balancing family responsibilities, careers, and trying to be Krishna conscious. And on top of that, the responsibility of the movement is going to fall into our hands pretty soon.”
With the input and support of the Alachua temple board, Namamrita began by sending out a comprehensive survey to his peers to find out this specific age group’s needs and desires, as well as how they situated themselves spiritually.
The initiative is aimed at the 25-to 45-year-olds of ISKCON Alachua
The survey gathered information about people’s age, marital status, and whether or not they had children. It asked about their spiritual goals, how often they attended the temple, how connected they felt to the temple, what devotional areas they’d like to improve, which senior devotees in the community they were inspired by, and what type of spiritual programs they’d like to attend.
The survey then asked what temple services they would be interested in participating in, with a list including leading kirtan, offering guru-puja, making garlands, dressing the Deities, and cooking for the devotees. It also listed the requirements for each service, such as following the four regulative principles, chanting a certain number of rounds, and first or second initiation.
Namamrita received 102 responses. They revealed that a majority of this age group were married with children, were gainfully employed, and wanted to improve their spiritual practice, with more and better japa being the top area they wanted to focus on.
Many felt “somewhat disconnected” from the temple, but still were overwhelmingly enthusiastic to help in temple services, with festivals, devotee care, and cow care coming in on top of the list, followed by garland-making, offering guru-puja, leading kirtan and Deity service support.
100 people – around the same number that had responded to the survey – attended the “New Raman Reti Second Generation Initiative” launch at Alachua temple board member Radhikesh Das’ home recently.
Around one hundred devotees gathered for the launch event
The program began with kirtan, prasadam and an introduction explaining the initiative by Visvambhar Aguilera, who joined ISKCON at the age of 13 and is head of Alachua’s Bhaktivedanta Academy Montessori school.
Three second-generation temple board members then gave informative Power Point presentations: Radhikesh Das explained what ISKCON and its Governing Body Commission were doing in terms of succession planning. ISKCON Youth Ministry’s Manorama Das showed a bird’s eye view of ISKCON Alachua and zoomed in to each department to educate the group on what it takes to manage a temple. And Namamrita presented the survey results.
“I also asked for volunteers to be liaisons between the people that want to do different services and the relevant temple department heads, and got a lot of responses.” Namamrita says.
Finally, Padma Dasi presented three main programs that the iniative is implementing based on the desires expressed in the survey results.
The first is the Guest Speaker Program, which is specifically designed with topics that will be relevant and interesting to the 25 to 45-year-old age group, and with speakers that survey takers specifically named as inspiring to them. It begins on November 3rd.
Upcoming talks include What it Means to be a Grihasta Today by Gainesville Krishna House president Kalakantha Das; Q&A with a Professional Family Counselor by Bhakti Dasi; The Four Regs and Me by Brahmathirtha Das; Gita Values We Can Live By with GBC Minister of Education Sesa Das; and Challenges Confronting the New Generation of Devotees by author and academic Yogesvara Das. There will also be a talk on finances and spirituality.
Ekendra Das performs in character as Yama Niyama Das Brahmachari
The second program is the Scripture Study Program, in which participants will read and discuss Srila Prabhupada’s books – beginning with the Bhagavad-gita As It Is -- in a structured format, and share their realizations. It will begin on November 17th.
The Guest Speaker and Scripture Study Programs will rotate so that there is a program every two weeks. They’ll be held on Tuesdays at 6pm, with potluck prasadam, at a different devotee’s home each time.
The third program is the one-on-one Mentoring Program, with senior devotees cited in the survey as being most admired. Along with those cited above as guest speakers, they include temple president Mukhya Dasi, GBC Tamohara Das, Devarsi Das, Madhumati Dasi, Caturatma Das, Nanda Dasi and many more. Most have had previous mentoring experience, while those that did not took a one-time training session with professional counselor Bhakti Dasi.
“This is about connecting with the many wonderful senior devotees that we have in our community, Prabhupada disciples who have a lot of love, care and concern for our generation,” Namamrita says.
During the launch meeting, Namamrita also asked for volunteers to organize different small groups, such as men’s groups, women’s groups, reading groups and more. And he invited attendees who were interested to tick a box in a provided form saying “Yes, I am interested in joining a committee to discuss our future at New Raman Reti,” with a view to finding candidates interested in managerial positions further down the line.
The event ended on a light, fun note, with dessert and a performance by Ekendra Dasa’s parody character Yama Niyama Das Brahmachari, who delivered his usual razor-sharp comedy act satirizing ISKCON life in general and the survey in particular.
“Alachua is a flagship community in ISKCON, known for its great number of congregation members, excellent schools and high standard of deity worship,” says Namamrita. “So I hope we can be an example in succession too.”
He adds, “Personally, I always feel the weight and honor of being Srila Prabhupada’s grand disciples, with this amazing mission of Lord Chaitanya being handed down to us – it’s a wonderful, spiritual responsibility. So I wanted to try to unite my peers, with Krishna in the center, on this exciting journey, so that over time we can become strong enough to actually be the next leaders of Srila Prabhupada’s movement. I think it all starts with personal connection.”[ 2nd-generation ] [ alachua ] [ florida ] [ new-raman-reti ] [ youth ]