In 2008, a new Vaisnava training initiative was launched in the city of Sotchi on Russia’s Black Sea coast. Unlike many previous versions of bhakti-sastri curriculum (in depth classes on Gaudiya literature), the present course is based on interactivity and emphasizes practical application of knowledge as its main component.
Training consists of three two-week sessions a year, in April, June and November, when students gather at the Sotchi Hare Krishna Center for lectures and interactive seminars. The course continues between these periods via distance learning in the form of tests, essays and, most importantly, practical preaching work.
Students, in their respective locales, are expected to facilitate congregational meetings. Here they articulate knowledge they've gained which, in turn, helps them to more deeply understand the philosophy.
Visalini Devi Dasi (Taganrog, Russia), one of over 20 devotees who attended the training session in late November 2008 recalls, "We would join other devotees for mangala-arati [early morning services] and Srimad Bhagavatam class and then proceed to our training seminars that would go with short breaks for much of the day."
Students were attending lectures on Nectar of Instruction, Sri Isopanisad and Nectar of Devotion, as well as a separate a seminar by Vivasvan prabhu on counseling and a special course on the art of speaking in public.
Each lecture was followed by an interactive session which included team work, discussions, and drama. "For instance, we were given certain tips on how to prepare for a lecture, organize material, stand, look and address the audience, and then each of us had to give a presentation and a discussion followed," Visalini says, "This was the standard for each topic, the classes were always followed by an interactive part".
Between sessions, Visalini is holding classes with a group in her home town. "This is essential. Memorizing Sanskrit slokas is all very well, but if it is not followed by practical application, then what is the point?"
Students of the new training course do memorize slokas and sit exams. They are provided with printed material and CDs for home study and even have to write a paper on their personal experience teaching and counseling their local groups.
"I am happy to take part in the project," Visalini continues, "I hope to stay an active preacher and book distributor, and such training gives fresh impetus to my devotional life."