The Seattle ISKCON temple is a happening place. When someone enters on a Friday or Saturday, it feels like a Sunday feast. The classrooms are filled with teachers presenting a successful seminar called Discover Yourself, a crash course on the Bhagavad Gita that wets their appetite to delve deeper into the ancient wisdom of Lord Krishna. In the main temple hall there is a Bhagavad-gita class for curious visitors.
Currently there are eight Bhakti Gita (systematic Bhagavad Gita study) and five Discover Yourself classes happening concurrently with over 100 students. These classes are taught by Bhakti Shastri graduates. This has been made possible in Seattle by the careful and excellent training given by Harivilas Das, disciple of Srila Prabhupada, member of the GBC and Temple President for ISKCON Seattle. He evolved the temple from its modest beginnings in the eighties and nineties to the imposing edifice in the greater Seattle landscape.
Meanwhile the devotees in the kitchen are getting trained in how to prepare food for the Lord, many others in Deity worship, garland making, etc. Vedic education touches all parts of the spiritual practice at ISKCON Seattle.
On Sundays, children attend the Vedic School. One hundred fifty students have enrolled this year. During the week, academic and values education is provided by Synergy International - a full-fledged pre-school, child care, and day school managed by temple devotees. It has an enrollment of sixty three students. The primary goal of the school is to educate the whole child; the mind, the body and the spirit soul, by developing intellectual competence, moral and ethical values, and Vaisnava sadacara (good behavior). The school also helps children inculcate life-oriented skills to become expert in their spiritual practices and competent to live in this world without being victimized by the materialistic social context.
Higher education for teens and adults is available in the Vedic University which offers systematic degree courses like Bhakti Shastri and Bhakti Vaibhava. Auxiliary subjects such as "Time Management", "The Happiness Seminar", "The Intricacies of the Mind", "Habits: Form Good ones and Break the Bad Ones", "Take Charge of Your Emotions" are offered for development of life skills based on the timeless wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
Radhika Gopinath das, Principle Engagement Manager with Microsoft mentions, "Harivilas prabhu has a keen sense of strategy and vision for growth of the Seattle congregation. He uses modern techniques of preaching while not deviating even a bit from the parampara acaryas teachings. He touches every sphere of society such as the Sri vaishnavas, Christians, atheists, even inviting Muslims to come and partake in prasadam in Interfaith conferences. People of all backgrounds are able to understand the timeless message of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his followers. Under his leadership we saw the Vedic University grow leaps and bounds with many classes happening concurrently in Redmond, Bellevue, Seattle, and Sammamish all suburbs in Seattle. The prasadam distribution program in the University district for the last 12 years and the weekly nagar sankirtana with burrito prasadam for homeless and future devotees has been well received."
Knowing that women may have needs that are not always directly addressed through sastric courses, ISKCON Seattle Vaisnavis have weekly women's circles - Sakhi Sanga in meetings, conference calls and kirtans. Bhakti Women is a website created especially for Vaisnavis to provide devotional wisdom and various spiritual strategies for succeeding in different stages of their lives: before marriage, professional work, marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, rearing children, etc. Many topics are discussed that present various challenging activities they can pursue as women in Krishna consciousness.
Navakishori Dasi who serves in the Sakhi Sanga mentioned, "Vaisnavis in Seattle are enabled and encouraged to take up services that they feel connected with. As a result we have many talented women finding great happiness and a sense of worth through serving Krishna. Through these programs many women were able to overcome problems of depression and loneliness as well."
A new educational facility is being planned in Bellevue, a prominent suburb in Seattle which will host the Vedic School for children, a second campus for the Synergy School and a Varnashrama Institute of Benevolent Education (VIBE). For the last two years a concerted effort has been made to develop a new congregation in Bellevue by organizing all the same introductory courses and gatherings that take place in our Sammamish facility. The programs are conducted presently in the homes of Bellevue supporters. The programs will be transferred to the new building, which will have at least 8,000 square feet of classrooms and open space.
When asked about the vision for the VIBE, Harivilas Das elaborated, "The Varnashrama Institute of Benevolent Education (VIBE) will teach subjects that are not taught in normal institutions of higher education. Its curriculum will be based on verses 13.8 to 12 of the Bhagavad Gita beginning with amānitvam adambhitvam…, which presents the “real process of knowledge” according to the supreme Vedic authority, Lord Krishna. Modern education is only concerned with subjects pertaining to the temporary gross and subtle body coverings of the spirit soul. It completely avoids the essential identity of an individual as a spirit soul who has an eternal relationship to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Without spiritual knowledge and devotional practices, it is impossible to have a sustainable and peaceful society wherein its members attain love of God and compassion and respect for all living entities.”
“To implement the Vedic organizational model for a peaceful, prosperous, and happy society, the VIBE will offer courses for people to develop their natural tendencies for work and spiritual enlightenment according to the four social and four spiritual divisions. This model maximizes cooperation so that everyone can achieve the goal of human life, which is living happily in this world by following spiritual principles outlined in the Bhagavad-gita and at the end of life going back to Godhead. With only material education one can neither live happily in this world, nor go back to Godhead.”
A question may be asked, “What is the viability of such education in a city like Seattle which is a center for technology asnd industry with companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia and Boeing which employ thousands of people?” Harivilas das replied, “By taking the courses presented in at the VIBE, graduates will be able to function in the modern, technological society and still live a pure and happy life and go Back to Godhead at the end of this life."
This is very well said, since most of the current congregation of ISKCON Seattle is from the companies mentioned above. They are making considerable spiritual advancement.
Madhava Chandra Das who earlier worked in Microsoft research and later as CTO at Global Scholar is now a teacher at the Vedic University. He teaches up to 3 classes a week. He says, "I came to Krishna consciousness in ISKCON Seattle. The various courses offered in a systematic way for adults and children help us understand the practical aspects of performing devotional service by following the timeless principles of the parampara."
Recently at one of ISKCON Seattle's yearly festivals Ananda Mela, the ancient agrarian Varnashrama way of life was showcased by a replica of a Vedic Village. Devotee volunteers used the example of the village to showcase timeless principles. Harivilas das wrote a comprehensive booklet explaining the original Varnashrama society and its modern adaptation called Daiva Varnashrama which can be successfully practiced in the context of a technological and industrial oriented society. A video was also created with him explaining this concept. The same goals achieved by the ancient system can be attained today in modern society by implementation of the Daiva Varnasrama principles of God-centered societal organization.[ education ] [ seattle ]