for ISKCON News on Nov. 27, 2010
A new residential and educational ashram for women, called the Bhakti Bhavan—or “House of Devotion”—was launched at the ISKCON community in Alachua, Florida this October, and is currently offering its first “Bhakti-Sastri” study course.
One hundred devotees attended the Bhakti Bhavan’s “House Warming” on October 9th to take a tour of the renovated mobile-home facility on the Alachua farm and to celebrate its opening with kirtan and prasadam.
The ashram’s first seminar, on improving Japa meditation, was held on November 12th, and drew fifteen attendees from Atlanta; while a larger three-day Japa Workshop from November 19th to 21st with Sesa Dasa, Bada Hari Dasa, and Mahatma Dasa was a major success, attended by around fifty appreciative devotees.
The Bhakti Bhavan’s first Bhakti-Sastri Course, meanwhile, began on November 15th and will run for nine weeks until January 21st. ISKCON’s official spiritual education course, Bhakti-Sastri offers in-depth study of spiritual classics such as Bhagavad-gita, Sri Isopanisad, Nectar of Devotion, and Nectar of Instruction.
The six modules of the course, which provide students with practical knowledge, important skills and deep lasting spiritual values to enhance their Krishna consciousness, are being taught five days a week by senior Vaishnavis including Nanda Dasi, Rucira Dasi, and Sudharma Dasi.
Students also attend an inspiring morning program at the ISKCON Alachua temple, and take advantage of opportunities to chant the Lord’s name and offer service to the beautiful Sri Sri Radhe Shyama, Sri Sri Krishna Balarama and Sri Sri Gaura Nitai in order to charge their spiritual batteries.
Upon completion of the course, students will receive an official Bhakti Sastri degree, which is upheld by the high standards of the GBC’s Board of Examinations.
This will open the doors for them to take higher level study courses such as Bhakti Vaibhava at the VIHE in Vrindavana or the MIHE in Mayapur, and even to serve in leadership positions in ISKCON, many of which now cite Bhakti Sastri as a requirement.
Seven women are enrolled in the current course, with students from Chicago, North Carolina, and New Vrindaban staying in the Bhakti Bhavan’s residential quarters. Alachua locals, meanwhile, are also taking the course, with some given options to only study chosen books, to facilitate their busy lives and responsibilities such as children and work.
The idea for the Bhakti Bhavan for Women came to Laxmimoni Dasi, who has worked in education in ISKCON for twenty-nine years, after the Alachua Vaishnava Academy for Girls she served at closed down in 2005.
“I spent three years traveling and teaching Bhakti Sastri in Mayapur and Vrindavana, as well as working for a couple of years at Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh, Belgium,” she says. “And I noticed that there were many wonderful young women who were serious about Krishna consciousness and contributing to the movement, but who had no good residential facilities or training programs to avail of.”
Ashrams for celibate men and women—Brahmacharis and Brahmacharinis—had once been an institution at every ISKCON temple. Yet now, Laxmimoni noticed, there were very few, especially for women; and even less with a solid training program.
“I spoke to Yajna Purusa Dasa, who runs an excellent men’s program at the Bhakti Center in New York, and he said that despite the many women interested in such a program, there were simply no such facilities for them,” says Laxmimoni. “And it was the same story throughout ISKCON.”
Hoping to help start such a program, Laxmimoni began searching for a suitable location, and found herself back in Alachua, where everything fell into place.
She and Akuti Dasi—whom she had worked with in ISKCON schools for many years—raised the funds, bought an old mobile home, worked hard for three months to fix it up, and installed it on the ISKCON Alachua farm, where the management welcomed them warmly.
Laxmimoni says that one of the Bhakti Bhavan’s unique qualities is its sustainability as a project. “We’ve created a facility that has hardly any overheads,” she explains. “We don’t owe anything on the building, we live very simply in a corner of the farm, and ISKCON Alachua is kindly charging us very little for maintenance and prasadam.”
This means that women who want to stay and study—either indefinitely or short term—at the ashram can be accommodated without having to worry too much about finances. And the Bhakti Bhavan is a comfortable space, with four rooms that can house twelve people, and a spacious classroom that can accommodate fifty.
Of course, Laxmimoni doesn’t expect people to stay at the ashram forever.
“With the Bhakti Bhavan, we hope to provide a temporary residence for women who are serious about Krishna consciousness, so that they can get a taste of
ashram life, some good training, and a solid foundation for their spiritual life,” she says. “Then they’ll move on with their life, perhaps get married and start a family, or perhaps pass their learning on to others. But we’re hoping to give them a good springboard from which they can do that.”
The mention of Bhakti Bhavan’s students passing their learning on to others is key; the ashram’s long-term vision, in fact, is to train devotee women who will then go out and train others.
“We hope that if ISKCON temples, particularly in North America, want to facilitate or train up devotee women, they will send them to us,” Laxmimoni says. “We could then train them up to the level where they could run a women’s ashram themselves, and thus hopefully reestablish the Brahmacharini ashram, which is currently almost dead in North America.”
For now, however, the Bhakti Bhavan is focusing on launching a number of services which it plans to offer in the near future.
Hari Nama Sanga, a new program expected to be introduced in December, will see devotee women gathering on the second Saturday in every month to chant japa, read about Krishna’s Holy Name, sing some bhajans and share a potluck brunch.
And during the last weekend in January, following the conclusion of the first Bhakti Sastri Course, a VTE (Vaishnava Training and Education) teacher training
course will be offered.
“Akuti and I also do outreach at colleges in the local cities of Jacksonville, Tampa and Ocala regularly, and hold a program every Tuesday at the Krishna House opposite the University of Florida in Gainesville, which is just half an hour’s drive from Alachua,” Laxmimoni says. “We hope to get a small travelling group of ladies from the ashram together for that project.”
“Eventually,” she concludes, “We also hope to offer a special retreat for newcomers to Krishna consciousness, many of whom have already shown interest.”
Devotee women who are interested in residing at the Bhakti Bhavan and/or enrolling in its courses can call 386 462 2528, or email Laxmimoni Dasi at email@example.com, or Akuti Dasi at firstname.lastname@example.org.