The Vice Principal of an ISKCON school in Dallas, Texas, is offering online bhakti courses for teenagers during the COVID-19 pandemic, teaching them The Nectar of Instruction using Srila Prabhupada’s purports and Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Along with her other classes, Gopi Gita Schomaker of TKG Academy shifted her Bhakti Leadership series to the video conferencing platform Zoom when COVID-19 struck in March. Current online courses include “The Child Saint Prahlad” for students aged 9 to 12, and “Nectar of Instruction” for students aged 12 to 16.
The Prahlad course, which is part of a festival series that also features units on Jagannath and Krishna Balarama, teaches leadership and practical life skills through various pastimes from the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
“For example, Prahlad spends a lot of time discussing friends and enemies,” Gopi Gita says. “So we use that to learn about conflict resolution and empathic communication, skills that kids can use every day with their friends in school.”
Teenagers aged 12 to 16, meanwhile, are learning Rupa Goswami’s Nectar of Instruction (Sri Upadesamrita), with a potential for qualified students to move on to Bhagavad-gita and then a full Bhakti Sastri certificate afterwards.
The Nectar of Instruction course includes four modules lasting six weeks each, and takes participants from “self awareness” all the way to “your spiritual destination.” Along with Prabhupada’s purports, it draws parallels from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Nelson Mandela’s biography The Long Walk to Freedom, and Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s Leadership for An Age of Higher Consciousness.
There are currently 55 students in three different “sessions,” or groups of 12, studying Module 1, which covers the first three verses of Nectar of Instruction and lasts six weeks. Each “session” is staggered, with a new group starting every two weeks. The next available session has a registration date of June 12th, orientation on June 17th, and live one-hour Zoom classes with Gopi Gita every Tuesday from June 23rd to July 28th.
Enrolled students hail from all over North America. Ninety per cent are children of practicing devotees, while several come from Hindu families who are interested in Krishna consciousness.
In Week 1 of Module 1, students learn how to be proactive rather than reactive, and how to practice willpower, drawing from the first verse of Nectar of Instruction which exalts “A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak.”
In Week 2, they cover Steven Covey’s “The Circle of Control” and connect it with the second part of Verse 1, which describes how one who can tolerate “the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.”
“We discuss how students can control these urges in such a way that they’re feeling strong in their own identity and are able to increase their circle of influence,” says Gopi Gita.
In Week 3, “Human Toolkit,” which contrasts the key differences between humans and animals, the group discusses the first two of six activities that spoil one’s devotional service according to Verse 2 of NOI. These are “atyaharah prayasas ca,” or overeating (which can also be described as overcollecting) and over-endeavoring for mundane things that are very difficult to obtain.
The students discuss practical application of these principles, watching a video of people fighting over toilet roll during the pandemic and asking themselves questions about what they need while going to the store. “We also talk about why there is such disparity between the poor and the rich in this world,” Gopi Gita says. “And we ask why our world has such extreme opposites, and how, from a Krishna conscious perspective, we can help people.”
In weeks 4, 5, and 6 – “Avoiding the Unwanted,” “Intrinsic Motivation,” and “Decision-Making” – the class looks at how to interpret Verse 2’s instruction to avoid association with “worldly-minded persons who are not interested in Krishna consciousness.” Because complete avoidance is impractical for teenagers who are in public school and have deep friendships there, Gopi Gita discusses what it means to “not take association, but instead to give others your association.”
Students also learn about about how to feel confident in sharing their identity as devotees with others, and how it is normal to feel shy and uncomfortable in opposing environments. They learn about relationships in different social groups, about peer pressure, and about how to increase their ability to stand up for what they believe in, or stand against what they don’t believe in; all from The Nectar of Instruction’s verses and Srila Prabhupada’s purports.
After the current Module 1 course, Modules 2, 3, and 4 will cover the remaining verses of Nectar of Instruction over a total of 24 weeks. In Module 2, “Connect with Others,” students will learn about actions and words, empathy and trust, collaboration, and more; in 3, “Immerse in Krishna,” they’ll learn about the effects of ignorance, the Holy Name, time management, and their own nature. And in four, “Attaining the Supreme Goal,” they’ll learn about awe and reverence, karma and jnana, giving back, and pure love.
During the Zoom classes, Gopi-Gita’s sons and assistant teachers Vraja Kishor, 18, and Nitai Pran, 16, facilitate “breakout rooms” on Zoom, separating the students into smaller groups of four so that each student can discuss these topics in depth, and share their own thoughts and experiences.
As well as the weekly Zoom classes, students also download workpages, complete assigments that they submit on video portal Flipgrid, and create interactive notebooks. These notebooks include minibooks, foldouts, and different writing mediums like pencils, colored pencils, markers and highlighters, providing a very visual and creative way for students to take notes and organize the information they are learning.
The discussions and insight they get during Gopi Gita’s courses are very helpful for teenage second generation devotees, who have to straddle the worlds of Hare Krishna and regular American public school student.
“This creates a divide for them in their identity,” Gopi Gita says. “They’re asking questions like, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How do I make bhakti relevant in my day to day with my friends at school?’”
For her, it’s been eye-opening to talk to students and hear their ideas about how to practically apply Krishna consciousness in their lives. And, she says, she will continue doing everything she can to help them do so.
“During this time, when their identity is in sway, and they’re trying to figure out who they are, I would really like them to come out of it feeling strongly that ‘I am a servant and a lover of the Lord, even if I’m not practicing the way my mom and dad or the temple president or pujari practices in the temple room.’ I really want them to feel that Krishna is real, that He’s somebody they can talk to, lean on, and connect with. And I want them to see Krishna consciousness as something they can practice as a highschooler in an outside environment.”
Click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page to register for the next Nectar of Instruction course: https://gopigita.com/noi
The next session for ages 12 to 16 for Module 1 runs from June to July 2020. The registration date is June 12th, and orientation is on June 27th. Live classes will be held every Tuesday from June 23rd to July 28th at 2:30pm EST. Limit: 12 students. Register and submit fees by June 12th to confirm your attendance.
NOTE: These sessions are being filled up within one to two days. If you’re interested in this course, please register now. Spots get taken up quickly. Only 12 students per class.
The Bhakti Leadership Nectar of Instruction course is also open to adults – a new session just for adults can be started if enough show interest.
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