When the late Sridhar Swami introduced Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to ISKCON in 1995, Serbian-born Akrura Das was intrigued, and began to take leadership training seminars.
Starting a newsletter called Leadership Excellence, which was read by many top leaders of ISKCON, he was further inspired by the leadership books of Bhakti Tirtha Swami, and learned that people need personal coaching as a follow-up to help them apply their leadership training.
Coaching seemed a very brahminical occupation to Akrura, so he took professional training from coaching academies in England and began to develop a “Gita Coaching” program for devotees in 2000.
“At first I focused on leaders,” he recalls. “My first clients were temple presidents, GBCs, sannyasis and gurus. Then I began to accept anyone who was sincere, and who wanted to develop themselves and take responsibility in the mission.”
Starting at London’s Radha Krishna Temple, and now based in Croatia, Akrura has coached more than one thousand devotees over the past twenty years.
Today, his mission statement is “Investing in Devotees to Help Them Succeed.” Serving the Bhagavad-gita by helping people to apply it through his Gita Coaching program, he offers personal and group coaching to devotees all over the world both in person and online via communication apps like WhatsApp and Viber.
Akrura regularly helps devotees with sadhana (spiritual practice), relationships, health, depression, finances, self-discipline and more.
Broadly-speaking, there are two types of coaching – directive, wherein the coach gives advice and teaches the client; and non-directive, in which the coach primarily listens and asks questions. Akrura favors the latter.
“The advantage is that you help them learn how to think,” he explains. “You don’t listen to respond; you listen to stimulate their better thinking by your attention, encouraging attitude, and incisive questions which root out assumptions. Non-directive coaching empowers the individual to find their own solutions.”
Akrura also helps devotees move away from a negative inner dialogue – which he says causes most problems – and develop a more positive and spiritual inner dialogue.
“We work on how to perceive things,” he says. “You can see something as a problem, or you can see it as an opportunity. One of my main teachings is that every problem is an opportunity.”
For improving inner dialogue, Akrura also draws from the Bhagavad-gita 17.15: “Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature.”
“This verse is so powerful, because it not only helps you communicate better with others, but also with yourself,” he says.
To Akrura, the Bhagavad-gita is an excellent success manual, with several verses and purports proving very helpful in personal development. As well as the instructions that can be applied to inner dialogue, verses 6.16 and 6.17 discuss how with balanced eating, sleeping, recreation and work, one can “mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.” The Gita also explains how to elevate oneself from the modes of ignorance and passion to goodness and beyond.
Using coaching support, Akrura has helped depressed or even suicidal devotees come to a state where they can not only help themselves, but also others.
He has also helped ISKCON leaders overcome their own unique set of issues. “Sometimes leaders are lonely, don’t talk to anybody, become something they are not, or are afraid to admit that they have weaknesses, because they will look bad in the eyes of those who are following them,” he explains.
As well as providing personal and group coaching, Akrura has introduced “success parternerships,” in which he teaches devotees to coach each other by practicing on him. “For half the session they are a coach, and for the other half they are the client,” he says.
Several hundred of Akrura’s clients, in fact, have gone on to become coaches, counselors, therapists, or mentors themselves.
Such devotees become “change agents” in their communities, spreading a culture of care, support and love. “If a client becomes himself a helper of others, that makes me the most happy,” Akrura says.
Along with his coaching, Akrura also gives Gita and Bhagavatam classes, writes articles and e-books, and has a Youtube channel and Facebook page which all offer wisdom and inspiration.
He offers multi-part seminars around the world, such as one on the “Avanti Brahmana” story from the eleventh canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which teaches one how to stop blaming others and take full responsibility for one’s life. This Akrura plans to turn into a book.
In additition, he gives regular Facebook Live talks on a sequence of six main topics, each of which build on the last, entitled: 1) Excellent Questions; 2) Positive Language; 3) Use Your Intelligence; 4) Grow a Giver’s Heart; 5) Become a Trusted Guide; and 6) Make a Wonderful Contribution, and Leave a Legacy.
In some places, Akrura’s work has helped bring about a change in ISKCON’s culture of management, inspiring leaders to become more people-oriented rather than project-oriented, to value devotees, and to focus on individuals’ benefit and care.
“When people feel cared for, appreciated and supported, their highest potential is released,” he says. “Miracles happen when people feel loved.”
To reach Akrura Das on mobile, Whatsapp, and Viber, call: +385917647925.
Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For inspiration and live talks visit https://www.facebook.com/gitaseva