Connecting Devotees Worldwide - In Service Of Srila Prabhupada
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– Akrura: Could you please describe your project? What is Vanipedia?
Visnu Murti: Vanipedia is a humble but bold attempt to offer an unparalleled platform for Srila Prabhupada to continuously inspire and train devotees, strengthening their faith to take up the process of devotional service through his teachings.
It is meant to be a long-term project. We have done this work in the last 35 years since Prabhupada’s demise, but still there is a lot of work to be done. Why? When Srila Prabhupada left the planet, he left us possibility to serve him by bringing his teachings to pristine condition. So what do we mean by this “bringing in pristine condition”? We understand this as a work in progress, because still there are books, his lectures, conversations and letters, which have to be translated in different languages, Prabhupada’s audio tapes have to be made available and studied, the same applies to all his teachings, that is, we have to have educational courses into those messages. Why should we make such an effort? Prabhupada said, “If you want to love somebody you have to know who they are.” He gave us Krsna’s name, and telephone number, and place of address, and then explained His pastimes, His character and His nature, and like that we can fall in love. So similarly if we are going to fall in love with Prabhupada, which is in important element of anyone being able to give themselves completely to him, we need to know him. So this is one of our goals in Vani, to maximize the chance for people to get to know Prabhupada. So far, for example, we have documented 69 ways how we should study his books – seriously, scrutinizingly, penetratingly, minutely, thoroughly, critically, devotionally, faithfully and many more. Therefore, it is not enough just to keep books in print, which is already a challenge – they must be studied, realized, assimilated, and they need to be taught. That is how we can keep Prabhupada’s teachings alive and relevant.
Akrura: Will these 69 ways of reading be facilitated by Vanipedia?
Visnu Murti: Yes, they will be facilitated. But the most important thing is to facilitate a culture of Prabhupada’s messages and it is way beyond Vanipedia. Vanipedia at the moment is just a website. It is planned to become to most comprehensive repository of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings in all varieties of ways to facilitate access to.
Another work for Vanipedia, of course, is to keep updated with all the different technologies that develop. The web didn’t exist when Prabhupada was on the planet. But the web has become known as an incredible platform for the distribution of knowledge.
Once I wrote to a devotee that I would like to turn his books into an encyclopedia. As an answer this devotee mentioned a letter of Srila Prabhupada written in 1973, where he said not to do it as it is too much work and encouraged him to go on with his service. Nevertheless, this devotee approved the service we are doing in Vanipedia; that I appreciated so much. I wrote back to him, and said: “Prabhu, what was too much work in 1973 would be a crime not to do it in the year 2012. Actually, it shouldn’t be called just a crime. If we do not give devotees this opportunity, maximize the capacity for them to connect with Srila Prabhupada, it is no less than devotional genocide, in other words, we will wipe out all the future generations of devotees before they even take birth.”
Prabhupada’s books are the law books for the next ten thousand years- this has become standard ISKCON accepted fact. Why do we say so? In our research we have found a letter written in 1972 to Satsvarupa Maharaja. There he asks Satsvarupa Maharaja to study the books. He says, “We have enough stock for a thousand years.” So this is it! Time frame statement from Prabhupada: “We have enough stock for a thousand years.” Please understand: this was in 1972. If we calculate how many books were printed in 1972 and how many books were printed by 1977, if we do such statistics of how many more there was, then there could be stock for about 3000, 4000, or 5000 years.
Through such messages as this one we have got certain conviction: Prabhupada envisioned that his books would be studied, through future generations, for future generations. And therefore we say, “What do we have to do, to facilitate that to happen?” This is our quest. Although we don’t have all the answers, we are enthused to have such service and that many devotees of great talents and dedication, come together and cooperate together to discuss everything. It is alright, even if all the devotees do not agree unanimously regarding the necessity of such service, because some devotees have different realizations, or different ways of serving Prabhupada. Prabhupada’s mission is very vast in that sense. Prabhupada has said, “what is the use of hundreds and hundreds of stars, better one moon. I just look for one moon. So, it doesn’t need many shiny trinkets in the sky. It only needs a few, very competent, committed, dedicated, conscious, aware and very realized moon-like devotees who want to do this Vani-seva and are engaged, according to their capacity. They may be 108 people who have become the well-wishers of, and the executors of the mission of Vanipedia. And they can execute from the level of patronage, to be patrons, or they can execute from the level of praying, in that sense, but when you communicate with them, or they communicate with others, it’s very coherent. And they have to be users in order to understand and to get to this level of commitment. It is a question of association. And, I say, that because of modern technology we have the possibility to do astronomical work in a very short period of time and thus fulfill these dreams of Prabhupada-every gentleman in his home has a Bhagatavam set, and every person studies his teachings.
The web, and collaborative work on the web, has made work exponential. It’s the window of opportunity to do a very large amount of work in a very short period of time. Let’s take the U.N. as an example.The U.N., as you know, has varieties of departments. So it is translated into 76 languages, 70 odd languages, a whole variety of health articles including Different statistics or different information on health. All this is done for the global benefit of people. On wikipedia you can see those same articles in 186 languages. So through the collaboration in Wikipedia the amount of languages has been doubled, where these documents are available.
We can do the work. As you see, there is a lot of work that has already been done and a lot of achieved successes. But there is more to be done, more success to be had. And we say: “Let’s do this!”
– Akrura: You mentioned the term “Vaniseva”. How do you understand it?
Visnu Murti: Vaniseva is a service to the guru through his teachings or vani. There is also such term as vapu-seva which means to serve the guru while he is present. But it is temporary. Service to the vani is eternal. There, for example, was a very strong dependency on Srila Prabhupada’s vapu when he was present. Srila Prabhupada was not only a pure devotee, a baba, a renunciant, a smiling Buddha, who just glanced at everybody and gave them love, but also he a general, a ksatriya, protector, a leader. He went where no one had ever gone before, and no one could ever go. Knowing, very consciously, that his vapu was not eternal, he put, as much focus as he could on preparing the vain. This was something important for him – a sacred service for the souls of this world.
So if we want to establish the relationship with Prabhupada, we have to have the service connected with his teachings where we inquire submissively and render service. If we do not have service then that relationship won’t really be established.. This is how we understand the truth. This is how we get the mercy of the pure devotee, the self-realized soul, and in this way he imparts the knowledge unto us. So we need to establish the relationship with the vani via service. Then one can ask “Is there any such service to be done?” Yes, Vaniseva. We should be creating service for devotees to do. And with that service, and their proper attitude, they will establish a relationship with the vani. This is what Vanipedia represents. We all can work together and decide to continue to build certain foundation of vani-culture to develop before we leave our bodies.
– Akrura: What is the advantage of Vanipedia in comparison to what is already there? We have books, everything is transcribed.
Visnu Murti: What I’ve been trying to do, as a principle of our compiling, is to bring to life Srila Prabhupada’s voice. Prabhupada is communicating and I’ve been trying to bring that to life. Yes, of course, there is the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, which Prabhupada communicates through his purports. He even said, “The books are for my disciples”. But time doesn’t stand still. One of main advantages nowadays is the power of the web. The web is a place to be. For instance, Internet World Stats data shows that there is 34.3% penetration worldwide for mid-year 2012. Some even predict that Internet world penetration will be in the range of 70-80% by 20201. About 1 billion people hang out, connect on FaceBook. It’s a lot of people. And if you talk about Wikipedia 400 million people a month hang out to some degree in Wikipedia. So we’re saying the power of the web has given us an unprecedented possibility to distribute Prabhupada’s teachings. And to make us all connected to them. Like we’re connected now through the web. We are all on Skype and social networks thus communicating all over the world to friends, e-mails are now a thing of the past. On the mobile phones it’s not even limited to being with your computer. You can just be anywhere you are, 24/7, and you’re connected with people. Understanding this, for us not to be on the web in the 21st century is a failure. Therefore Vani, Prabhupadas teachings are on the web. Why is Vanipedia existing? Because Vedbase.net has existed for 15 years now.
– Akrura: But how Vanipedia will expand on the Internet? Now it doesn’t look like it’s very social, very much connecting people.
Visnu Murti: Well, the vani-culture can just expand more and more, into all varieties of ways. This is a step by step process. We don’t know who’s going to come forward and how it’s going to work, but we want a place on the web where you can get a very transcendentally entangling experience with Srila Prabhupada’s teachings.
– Akrura: What do you mean by that, “transcendentally entangling?
Visnu Murti: When you go to some clip, of a video, a trailer and you watch it for two minutes, you can get materially entangled, by thinking, “I want to watch this movie. I’m going to download it.” So then you download the movie, and watch it for two hours. That’s called, “materially entangled”. Because the trailer captured you. Transcendental entanglement means we want people to be attracted by this great personality named A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his teachings. For example, one of such promising ways for achieving this is a Vanipedia project we want to develop now. We believe that not enough people have had access to Prabhupada’s speaking. We also believe in the power of the way how the speech is delivered. And when it comes to text there is a tendency to interpret. We can think that the emphasis is on this or that word, I mean, in the text form. When we hear, we are much more aware of where the emphasis is, so there is less probability to interpret the message wrongly. So hearing is a very powerful form of learning. Even in the spiritual level “sravanam” is stated as the first of nine ways of pure devotional service (SB 7.5.23-24). Prabhupada was great example for this. He spoke continuously, over a vast period of time and subjects. There has been captured 2000 hours of Srila prabhupada’s audio. But predominantly that has only been available to the devotees. Now the books have been distributed to the world, 500 million people have touched Prabhupada’s books, very few people have touched his audio. So in Vanipedia we want to make a presentation of Prabhupada’s audio that facilitates many people to encounter Prabhupada’s voice.
Our plan is to make one-to-three-minute snippets of Srila Prabhupada speaking. And we would like to make 1000, 2000, 3000, 5000, whatever Krsna allows us to. And those snippets will be an audio file. We will create a very nice presentation, which can be a combination of photos of Prabhupada, or something, some graphics which could help to capture the individual’s attention. The achievement we want to have is multi language subtitles, so that foreign people could be able to hear, understand Prabhupada, and the meaning of his messages. For this we want to include as many languages as possible. These videos are one-to-ten minute statements about certain aspect of philosophy, therefore they will be thematic. They will be linked to all the other ones that we have created on that subject, and then linked to the repository of all of the compiled thematic snippets of Prabhupada’s teachings. And then, of course, also linked to the full the full origin of where that was. As links they can go out in YouTube and other sites. In this way we are hoping that will greatly increase the capacity for people to hear Prabhupada’s voice, and as the result, many more people will be introduced with Srila Prabhupada and attracted to him.
Akrura: I like the idea of subtitles. But do you already have this video section and the audio section on the website?
Visnu Murti: Yes, yes that is Vanimedia, so that will go inside that. But Vani-projects are never satisfied just to put the source original content. We are educationalists, compilers, researchers, packagers. So we want to present in ways that, we believe, will maximize the possibility of understanding, accessibility, etc.
We wanted to do it in the beginning including audio links to Vaniquotes, as it was something that was very dear to me, but we couldn’t do it because the technology wasn’t available. We did a lot of feasible things. Instead we went with the with text, the Vaniquotes, and basically we focused on that, created that. But now, when Mayapur opens up, and we start our IT department, this will be one of the first projects that I will give IT department, to actually start creating the infrastructure.
These short video clips are just drops of nectar. So any devotee who listens Prabhupada and hears something that really is first class, then he can give it to us, we can enter those in. We will start with one and we hope to continue to ten and then to a hundred, then to a thousand.
Akrura: But what if for every lecture you have at least one snippet?
Visnu Murti: Yes, we could have every lecture one snippet. But we just want to let it grow organically. What we have done in Vaniquotes is much more comprehensively, in the sense of in the sense of text. And, as I was explaining before, our original idea was that with Vaniquotes we would already have the audio to link to. For the snippets as well, the snippets of the quotes in text form would be linked to the audio. This has not happened as yet, but it might still be able to be incorporated at a later date.
It is like Vaniquotes, because Vaniquotes is big, impressive. People hear about it and take interest to it. So when we say here is one thousand, one minute to three minute, thematic snippets of his Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta swami Srila Prabhupada propounding the Krsna conscious philosophy, people can come into that and see the different themes, and then they go in, then they see the different languages, they can click on their preferable language and start listening. Of course, the link travels and people can have it and find it in other ways, but in our repository, we will try to make very nice and very attractive stand alone inside of Vanimedia, that is a powerful exposé of Prabhupada’s audio.
The fulfillment the aim of this Vanipedia petal as well as other ones does not last for one hour a day, or two hours a day, or every weekend on Saturday morning, but 24/7 we are absorbed in vani. Please understand- we are not advocating that somebody stays on our website for 24 hours, 7 days a week. We’re saying that living the vani for 24/7. To not be disconnected at any time. To have such a connection with the powerhouse of the vani that even though we are in the material world, with our material needs and our material body, our material responsibilities, we are actually transcendental. We hope this “transcendental entanglement” will allow everyone to regain our original nature.
Akrura: This seem to be very promising project. Yet, as you said, it has just been started. But there are more developed Vanimedia projects already. So, if, for example, somebody wants to make some Vani-link to Prabhupada or improve his leadership, to study more successfully, to apply more successfully, how can he use the present Vanipedia to do that,? What can be “transcendentally entangling” there?
Visnu Murti: Although there still are a lot to be done, we are creative. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to be very bold, to compile, to research, and to package Prabhupada’s teachings, in different ways. That is going on in Vaniquotes.
In Vaniquotes we have compiled everything that Prabhupada said into different categories, like the GBC, “Prabhupada and Management”, “Prabhupada and Training”, etc. Just enter the key word or phrase and find the needed. From these quotes, which are categorized, we would like to have useful, very practical articles made as e-books. You can, for example, go to the category ‘Householder’ and read everything that Prabhupada says about it. We also are studying the words also, that is, why has Prabhupada used that particular word. Or when does he use the word ‘Householder’ instead of ‘Grhastha’? So, we give the facility for that study. To do that, here one can go through all the books, lectures, conversations and letters. The system is thorough, complete, but simple. All we have to do is to take words and make pages, but the true miracle is done by Prabhupada himself. This is another proof for his empowerment. Especially I have been trying to capture Prabhupada speaking directly to his disciples. One reason for this is that during my reserch that I have gone through, I realized how much Prabhupada was with his disciples, the second one, because I feel that voice has to be kept alive for all of us, as also for the future generations, in other words, we should try to become his siksa disciples, to understand him and please him, and love him for what he is, to serve him and carry out his mission. So, in order to make that happen, we developed a category. First of all, in order for this to happen we wanted to document how Prabhupada spoke. If you go to the Category: My (Umbrella Category), you will see different categories, where Prabhupada is speaking directly about his advice, anxiety, ambition or activity, or aim, or attempts, or ability, ‘My ability’. ‘Business’, ‘Blessings’, ‘Books’, ‘Body’, ‘Birth’, ‘Belief’, ‘Home’, ‘Heart’, ‘Health’, ‘My Humble’, ‘My Happiness’, ‘My Hard Work’, ‘My Hearing’. ‘My point Is…’, My Plan’, ‘My Program’, My Presence’, ‘My Proposition’, ‘My
Purports’, ‘My Preaching Work, ‘My Preaching’, ‘My Purpose’, My Pride’, ‘My Projects’, ‘My Position’ etcetera. Here we did a thematic mapping. As a result all of these are easy ways for somebody who is interested in the particular subject, to go into these and find the teachings. We can say that Vani has created a 108,000 windows, into Prabhupada’s teachings, but I would prefer to use the phrase “Magnifying glass”, because not only is it transparent, but it brings out the detail. The thematic grouping allows to get the intent of Prabhupada in much easier way, because everything is grouped together. There one can find Prabhupada’s statements on a specific subject in four different formats, which he said over a period of time (1966 to 1977). We have such sections as books, letters, lectures and conversations and discussions given in different places. Lots of information there is available from purports on the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya Caritamrita. We have have Prabhupada’s teachings presented in such a way that somebody can come in, get a little experience, love it to such a degree, that they spend two hours; entangled transcendentally, in the association of a pure devotee, and a pure devotee’s beloved Lords. And that is valid for devotees, and new people. This is what I want to show you. My goal was to try and map as many different attributes and natures of Prabhupada’s personality as I can, who he was by doing this word based thematic mapping of things in relationship to himself, like ‘My Determination’, ‘My Death’, ‘My Decisions’, ‘My Learning’, ‘My Leaving’, ‘My Service’, ‘My Success’, ‘My Satisfaction’.