Thats our slogan for the Educate petal of this years congregational campaign – and it sounds simple and obvious enough. We want every member to be well educated in the knowledge, skills and values of Krishna consciousness. And to act on them.
Some years ago, we pondered on a rather obvious question: “How much knowledge does a person really need in order to be a practising Vaishnava?”
There were a lot of possible answers to that one. On the one hand, we have, throughout our Vaishnava history, many examples of great saints who couldn’t even read. On the other hand, many great Vaishnavas were very learned scholars.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu recognised the devotion of the brahmana who could not read the Bhagavad-gita; yet he entrusted the task of composing philosophical handbooks and devotional commentaries to the Goswamis, who were very learned.
Srila Prabhupada also preserved this ‘even-handedness’ towards scriptural learning. He became concerned when his disciples successfully distributed his books to the public but failed to read them, yet he stressed that factual realisation of the contents of the books – even when diligently studied – only comes through devotional service.
But he warned that a Hare Krishna movement in which the members did not know the philosophy would swerve gradually toward sentimentality, or even fanaticism. He said that his disciples should know his books like a lawyer knows the lawbooks and that they should be able to quote chapter and verse to substantiate their points.
And so he suggested a scheme of systematic scriptural study and accreditation beginning with Bhakti-Shastri and ending in Bhaktivedanta degrees. It still remains to be implemented fully internationally, but a good start has been made and the first two degrees are now being taught.
For our own purposes here in England, we wanted a Vaishnava catechism – an introductory level of essential knowledge – that could be delivered within a year. If members know this then we know they’ll be at least equipped with the basic understanding of the theology and knowledge of the devotional practises. We’re using as our material a combination of educational resources for the initial year.
So we’ve set Bhakti-Shastri as the second year and are having some good success with around 40 students coming weekly to learn from an enlivening teacher.
This year we intend to make both teachers and classes available at more locations – first in London then beyond.