“People always tell us, ‘You’re the next generation, you’re going to take over!’” says Ksamesvari Edwards, 21, a board member of US-based youth organization The Sanga Initiative. “So our goal is to become steadfast in our Krishna consciousness and in our lives, so that we can one day successfully run the Hare Krishna Movement.”
It’s an ambitious statement from the biggest ISKCON youth organization you may not have heard of – yet, that is. The Sanga Initiative, launched as a US branch of the UK’s “Pandava Sena” in 2007 and taking on its own identity in 2014, is an inspirational outfit that gives major hope for succession in ISKCON.
One of its most powerful efforts is an annual retreat designed to bring youth together to encourage each other in their spiritual lives, and learn how to balance that part of themselves with demanding study and work schedules.
A considerable crowd of 125 young people, aged 16 to 32, attended the latest TSI retreat, entitled “Hidden in Plain Sight,” from July 20th to 25th at the new Baltimore, Maryland ISKCON temple.
Every morning during the retreat, they were treated to a different seminar by a senior devotee who addressed relevant issues in their lives.
Bhuta Bhavana Das, who started the original Pandava Sena in the UK, spoke on “Humility vs Self-Esteem,” explaining to the youth how to be humble without developing low self-esteem.
Yogesvara Das, Rukmini Devi Dasi and Kunti Devi Dasi split youth into age groups and talked to them about their struggles in feeling comfortable identifying as devotees at work and school.
TSI alumni Venkata Bhatta Das spoke on the main theme, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” telling youth how they could remember Krishna everywhere while they are out in the world.
Other devotees such as Ritadvija Swami and Madhvacharya Das also spoke. At each seminar, youth could ask questions, and could also approach speakers to talk during mealtimes and down time. This created a very personal, caring mood, bridging the gap between older and younger generations.
During the retreat, youth also went on an outing to see the film “Hare Krishna!” about Srila Prabhupada’s life and achievements in a local theater.
Later, all 125 of them went out on Harinama Sankirtana in downtown Baltimore, drawing the attention of the public who stopped to look and often joined in.
“We were also distributing books and invitations to the temple,” says Ksamesvari. “Because there were no older devotees there to do it for us, we had to step out of our comfort zone. It was very inspiring.”
The TSI retreat happens every year at a different temple, with youth from that temple acting as the main organizers.
The Sanga Initiative also organizes “Camp Ignite” every June for younger youth aged 10 to 16, offering them the same chance for Krishna conscious association with peers from around the country.
Beyond that TSI connects youth with older devotees at their temples to create connections and apprenticeships.
“For instance, if someone’s really good at managing, they get to help the temple president manage different areas of the temple,” says Ksamesvari.
For her, TSI has been a powerful experience. “Sometimes as devotee youth we feel like we can’t ask too many questions that show we have doubts,” she says. “With TSI, we have a platform where we can be open and honest, and everyone is encouraging. It’s amazing.”
The Sanga Initiative is looking to connect with more ISKCON temples who want to engage with youth. Organizers are also looking for involvement from more youth from around the country.
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