LAST ISSUE I WROTE ABOUT what is happening in ISKCON education. Now comes the hard part: I want to look a bit into the future and talk about what we need for the school system Srila Prabhupada wanted a Krsna conscious gurukulain the modern world.
Gurukula means "the place of the spiritual master." A traditional gurukula was the home of a learned brahmana,where he gave shelter and instruction to qualified and serious students.
One problem we face now is that a traditional gurukuladoesn't easily mesh with modern society. Also, ISKCON is an organization, so its school system must develop in pace with our whole institution.
While we may have many different ideas on how to address these difficulties, we must know what is essential and cannot be changed or left out. We must know how to preserve those indispensable features without which we won't have gurukula as Prabhupada wanted it.
Fortunately, Srila Prabhupada told us what a Krsna conscious school must give its students. Whatever form a school might take, this is what it must do to fulfill our Founder-Acarya'saims:
1. Gurukula must train students for a lifetime of taking part in the Krsna consciousness movement. (Since taking part may take many forms, ISKCON schools are likely to vary in their teaching approaches.)
2. Gurukula must imbue students with qualities that foster devotional service, such as honesty, cleanliness, humility, and austerity.
3. It should engage students in practical service for Krsna. Especially, it should train them in sadhana, the devotional practices like hearing and chanting about Krsna.
4. The gurukula must teach obedience especially through surrender to the guru.
This fourth requirement is the most controversial, because it goes against the mood of the freewheeling societies most of us have been conditioned by and also because it is open to abuse.
The last decade of guru problems in ISKCON has made surrender to the guru a daunting prospect. But as our Society has had to face this issue, so must our schools. Getting past our material attachments is impossible without allowing the guru to mold us into shape and harden us with the fire of surrender.
Meeting these four requirements is especially difficult now because we lack the varnasrama social structure Srila Prabhupada spoke of as "the other fifty percent" of his mission, the fifty percent he had not put in place before he left. Now for us, his disciples and followers, varnasrama becomes a significant part of our mission.
Varnasrama is the system that offers each person an occupation to fit his or her personal qualities. So until our society functions within varnasrama, how can we design a curriculum? We're supposed to train students for meaningful employment in Krsna consciousness. But without varnasrama, what precisely do we train them for?
Our present schools tend to train students for a small range of engagements in the temple environment. Or they go to the other extreme and operate as Westernized schools, "with a little Krsna added."
We must have communities of ideal devotees. Otherwise, how do we train our children in the saintly qualities they need? We must have a vibrant Krsna conscious culture, or how shall we compete with the excitement and apparent opportunities of the urban-based culture of maya?
Most of all, we need stable, exemplary devotees to serve as leaders for our children, leaders who can earn the respect that engenders voluntary obedience and surrender.
Yet our educational system cannot be light-years ahead of our Society. We must be patient while ISKCON matures, and we must gradually work toward the ideal school system Srila Prabhupada envisioned.
Meanwhile, though, we can't give up and turn our children over to atheists, humanists, pseudo-religionists, and other non-Vaisnavas. Lord Caitanya strongly warned against association with nondevotees. How then can we justify making our children disciples of people ignorant of the most basic truths about life?
To build a school system is not an easy task. In the modern context, it usually calls for backing from the government or from a powerful church. Nonetheless, it's our duty to see that each of our sons and daughters has the opportunity to receive a good education from another devotee of Krsna.
Despite some failures, we do have some successful Krsna conscious schools that can serve as examples of various workable approaches. And other options, such as home schooling, have also proven workable. Parents and devotee leaders must cooperate to design and carry out school programs in each community. It's not going to be easy.
In future issues, I hope to exchange ideas with you, our readers, on how to fulfill this responsibility. Please send your comments and questions to:
Sri Rama Dasa, Chairman
ISKCON Board of Education
3764 Watseka Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034, U.S.A.