9860558899?profile=RESIZE_584xBy Madhava Smullen

Up till now, one of the main methods of getting your Bhakti Sastri Degree in ISKCON involved taking six months off from your job or service to study in person in Mayapur or Vrindavan. This made it elusive and difficult for many to get the “family transcendental diploma” based on Srila Prabhupada’s books which Prabhupada wanted all his “spiritual sons and daughters” to inherit.

This system also required anyone who taught the Bhakti Sastri program to have a Bhakti Sastri degree themselves. To facilitate more devotees studying Srila Prabhupada’s books, however, the ISKCON Ministry of Education has introduced the new Study and Teach program.

The program will allow senior ISKCON members, leaders, and experienced preachers to study for and receive their sastric degree at their own home base, without having to undergo the usual elaborate coursework and assessments. As they study for their own degree, they’ll also simultaneously be able to teach a group of at least eight devotees in their congregation who are already used to being mentored by them, creating a naturally symbiotic relationship.

At the program’s conclusion, the ISKCON Ministry of Education will conduct the assessments for the lead teacher, while the lead teacher will conduct the assessments for the students in their congregation. This creates a “distributed program,” which will allow many more devotees to study Prabhupada’s books systematically, without having to put their lives on hold for months.

Teacher and students will begin with Bhakti Sastri, which includes the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Nectar of Instruction, Nectar of Devotion, and Sri Isopanisad. Those who have already taken Bhakti Sastri can pursue Bhakti Vaibhav, which includes the first six cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Prospective teachers can apply at iskconeducation.org, receive an approval within a week, and begin teaching Bhakti Sastri to their batch of students within a month. To allow for flexibility, teachers will be able to teach the program at their own pace, over a range of six to eighteen months.

To assist them, they’ll have access to online resources including published study guides like Bhurijana Das’s Surrender to Me: An Overview of the Bhagavad-gita; verses to memorize; optional lesson outlines and schedules; and video and audio classes and notes by educators such as Bhurijana Das, Chaitanya Charan Das, Urmila Devi Dasi, and Gauranga Priya Das.

In addition, a Ministry of Education mentor will be available to handhold the teacher throughout the program, in the form of monthly catch-up calls.

To complete Bhakti Sastri, students will need to hear the typical 150+ hours of classes, do a 5,000 word closed book assessment in the form of short answers or essay / multiple-choice questions, complete a 5,000-word open book essay, and memorize slokas for memorization. Taking into account the preparation required for teaching, as well as their seniority, experience, and contributions to the ISKCON community, the lead teacher will only have to undergo a simplified assessment for their degree. This will include teaching 75+ hours, memorizing 20 verses, and completing a 2,500-word open-book essay.

Those who finish the program will receive digital certificates which will allow teachers and students to enter a unique code and print them out anywhere in the world so that they don’t need to worry about losing them.

According to Co-Minister of Education Tapana Misra Das, all registrations for the program will be received by December 15th. “We hope to take on about 24 to 32 lead teachers in the first year, and guide them through the first instance of the program,” he says. “Some of them will be doing Bhakti Sastri, and those who are already Bhakti Sastris – there are about 10,000 so far in ISKCON – will do Bhakti Vaibhav.”

The Study and Teach program will give devotees the chance to acquire their sastric degree at their own pace, in their own communities. It will also allow leaders who have spent decades in the movement to transmit the realizations they’ve garnered from years of service to their congregations, through the medium of systematic study of Srila Prabhupada’s books. Finally it will allow such systematic study to be done in a culturally contextual way.

“If you have a group of young students doing Bhakti Sastri in your community in a certain part of the world, the examples you give to illustrate points will be slightly different from those you’d give in another part of the world,” explains Tapana Misra.

So far, the response from devotees around the world has been extremely positive, with many saying they’re relieved to know they’ll be able to get their sastric degrees without having to wait until retirement to find the time.

“I’m hopeful that this will be a major revolution when it comes to systematic study of Prabhupada’s books,” Tapana Misra says.

Prospective lead teachers can apply here: https://iskconeducation.org/study-and-teach/

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