Value of Pastoral Training for Gurus
Posted October 22, 2009
Historically, a guru tends to be an autocrat within his own institution, but Srila Prabhupada's vision of thousands of gurus working cooperatively within a single institution is unique and bold.
In October, in the pleasant and historic holy city of Ujjain, India, where Sandipani Muni once taught Krishna and Balarama, two senior instructors led the fourth session of "Being a Guru in ISKCON: A Spiritual Leadership Seminar." It was hosted by ISKCON Ujjain, where the attendees relished wonderful kirtans, classes, prasada and Vaishnava hospitality in ISKCON's gorgeous and popular new temple.
Why should a guru need to attend a seminar on devotee care, spiritual health and allegiance to Srila Prabhupada, one may ask? Srila Prabhupada wanted hundreds and thousands of gurus to spread Krishna consciousness all over the world. By his mercy, many members of ISKCON are now, or will be in the future, prepared to offer themselves for this cause. Yet even if one has developed a solid knowledge of sadhana and sastra, offering spiritual guidance in this materialistic age requires extraordinary skills, qualities and the support and mercy of the Vaishnava community. This seminar helps prepare sincere Vaishnavas for a most challenging service.
The Guru Seminar is designed to aid current diksa and siksa gurus, as well as those preparing to offer diksa, and other mature devotees, especially ISKCON managers. The four-day program included 13 participants from all four categories. It was facilitated by Hanuman das, Vaishnava Training and Education (VTE) instructor and BBT manager, and Anuttama das, GBC member and ISKCON's Minister of Communications.
Topics included: the role and identity of a guru, relationship with ISKCON, guru-management dynamics. the Guru-Disciple Relationship, Spiritual Care Skills (Counselling, Coaching, Empowerment), Personal Spiritual Health and Peer Support.
Attendees discussed that spiritual leadership means to provide students and disciples with vision, inspiration and facilitation. In each category, the facilitators identified four principles and values to be pursued: Vision — fidelity to Srila Prabhupada, allegiance to ISKCON, brahminical leadership, cooperation and unity; Inspiration — spiritual strength, shastric knowledge and realization, balanced and exemplary lifestyle, concern for the welfare of all; and Facilitation — reflection and self-awareness, social responsibility and accountability, empowerment of followers, peer association and support.
Attendees discussed both the successes and failures in ISKCON's past as a means to build a clear roadway forward to fulfilling Srila Prabhupada's vision.
"Someone who equates being a guru with enjoying comfort and honor has misunderstood," said one attendee. "It is a service demanding enormous sacrifice and relentless introspection. If one is not fixed in being the humble servant of Srila Prabhupada, he will fail."
"After taking this seminar," he added, "I know what specific steps I now need to take in preparation for this service. It is humbling and empowering at the same time."
The seminar was developed under the guidance of ISKCON's Governing Body Commission (GBC) Guru Services Committee. A working group that included Radhanatha Swami, Jayapataka Swami, Bhakti Charu Swami, Prahladananda Swami, Ananda Vrindavanesvari dasi, Rukmini dasi, Ravindra Svarupa dasa, Braja Bihari das, Rasamandala das and others established the aims, objectives and principles underlying the seminar.
It took more than one year to develop the seminar before its launch in Ujjain in February, 2008. The seminar will likely be offered twice a year to accommodate growing interest and demand.