New Vrindaban School Gurukula Sudar Ruci 1984

This week’s challenge: Who are the two devotees, what are they doing and when was this photo taken?

What to do: Post your guesses on the “who, what, when, where & why” in the comment section at the Brijabasi Spirit website.

By Madhava Smullen

A brand new Devotee Relations Department was officially established in March 2014 at the ISKCON New Vrindaban community. The new department is headed up by Sukhavaha Dasi, who joined ISKCON in New Vrindaban back in 1974 and has lived and served there for many years.

Sukhavaha holds a degree in social welfare from Penn State University, and has taken courses on leadership, leadership training, and compassionate communication. She’s also the author of the book, Revealing the Heart: The Practice of Compassion.

Sukhavaha dasi

Sukhavaha dasi

Her vision for the new department includes supporting devotees to grow and mature in the ways they relate to one another (hence the name “Devotee Relations”), as well as providing care and support to the community by empowering devotees to care for themselves.

“To me, it’s the difference between feeding somebody, and teaching someone to grow a garden so they can feed themselves and others,” she says.

The department’s new home, a house with four rooms and a kitchen located just across the road from Sri Sri Radha Vrindabanchandra’s temple, will undergo renovations this winter.

Sukhavaha hopes to turn it into a “holistic center for mind, body, spirit and emotions” by spring 2015, complete with sauna, exercise equipment and spaces for life coaching, energy healing, cooking classes, as well as medical care by visiting and local devotees in the health field.

As well as these ongoing services, the Devotee Relations Department will hold one-off courses. Sukhavaha is currently completing her pilot course, “Empowered Empathy,” to a small group, with a second run open to the whole community to begin Tuesday, October 14th.

She is also planning two weekend workshops in spring and fall 2015, entitled “Healing the Pain of Childhood Wounds,” which will be facilitated by professional psychologists. The workshops will be offered to second generation devotees free of charge, including dormitory accommodation and meals.

For the more long term, Sukhavaha aims to train devotees as mentors for those living in the temple. This mentoring system will provide care for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of devotees.

She also wants to inspire devotees to create and lead a network of small groups that will provide support for different areas of life, such as men’s, women’s, parent’s, and health groups, as well as a book club.

“In small groups, you can feel safe and comfortable enough to be yourself and express yourself,” she says. “And the power of them is that you can get nourishment and support from the other devotees, and learn from one another.”

Although the Devotee Relations Department is new and yet to develop a team, other individual devotees, like Lilasuka Dasi, have been doing their part to assist devotees in various ways. Sukhavaha hopes to train other staff in the future. But it’s something she expects to be a gradual process.

“I’m not in a rush just to throw something together, if it would be counterproductive or fall apart,” she says. “I want to very organically and methodically create structured systems that are sustainable over time.”

In the meantime, devotees who have already taken her coaching or Empowered Empathy workshop are encouraged by the results and returning for more.

Sukhavaha is delighted. “I love to see happy, healthy devotees,” she says. “Not just on the surface, but on a deep level, from the inside out.”

Five interviews between Lilasuka and five of the main tour guides at Srila Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold.

 TRIPAD VIBHUTI DAS

Tripadvibhuti das, long-time manager of Palace of Gold.

Tripadvibhuti das, long-time manager of Palace of Gold.

Lilasuka (L): We understand that you have managed Srila Prabhupada’s Palace here in New Vrindaban for a long time, Tripad prabhu. How long have you been giving tours here?

T: Since 1985.

L: What do you feel is the most important thing to tell visitors?

T: We cover many topics in the tours. But the three points I emphasize are: 1 you are not the body.   2 we make sure they hear the chanting of the holy name of Hare Krsna. 3. devotional service or serving god is the important goal.

It’s also very important that they leave the Palace thinking we’re normal people , not fanatics or crazies. Most people do leave thinking that.

L: What kind of questions have people asked you?

T: Oh, the usual stuff: why do the men shave our heads, what’s with the peacocks, what is that marking on the forehead. Occasionally if they’re more familiar with vedic culture, they’ll ask deeper questions.

Then, on maybe 5% of tours, westerners will ask about the pictures they see of Krsna’s pastimes, since most of them are not familiar with these.

L: What are some people’s comments that you hear?

T: It’s funny but even though we who work here at the Palace clearly see the repairs that are needed, visitors just don’t often see this. They come up here “ooo”-ing and “aaaaa”-ing! This Palace is really the greatest thing, in most of the visitors’ eyes. As a matter of fact, I was just walking past a couple of Americans outside yesterday, and despite the construction with new drainage and pipes going on, they are exclaiming, “This place is unbelievable. I’ve never seen such a beautiful place!” I remember them saying that even though there are problems here, it’s an unbelievable place!

L: Do you have any stories you would like to share?

T: Once on a tour these two older ladies were in the back hallway, when suddenly from the corner of my eye I saw something small dart across the hall. When I checked it out, I saw that there was a raccoon in the office. As soon as I informed the ladies, they freaked out and left immediately. I ran back and was luckily able to chase the raccoon outside. It actually stayed out there for a couple of days and looked kind of rabid.

L: What is your favorite thing about the palace that has kept you going for almost 30 years here?

T: You get to tell people about Krsna and Srila Prabhupada, and that is very enlivening. The high point of any tour is when you get questions. Sometimes their questions pleasantly surprise you. Once someone came and I don’t know if he was a local from West Virginia, or a hippy or who he was, but I sure didn’t suspect that he knew anything about Krsna or Prabhupada, but then he asked a powerful question about Lord Nrsimhadeva.

Srila Prabhupada’s Palace is a great place to be!

CHAITANYA BHAGAVAT DAS

Chaitanya Bhagavat das

Chaitanya Bhagavat das

L: How long have you been doing tours at the Palace, Chaitanya Bhagavat prabhu?

CB: Nine years now.

L: What is the most important thing that you want to convey to the visitors?

CB: I like to emphasize three things: 1.that we are all soul, not the body, and that real happiness doesn’t come just in relation to the body. To understand this, we have to stay in close touch with God and godly people. 2. that this world is not our real home.   3. that chanting the name of God is the best way to associate with God.

I also like to talk about the cows, with whom I work a lot.

L: Really? What do you tell people about cows?

CB: Humans are meant to eat plants.   I talk about vegetarianism. I tell them that cows are Krsna’s favorite animal. I say how cows are affectionate and they are meant to be protected and cared for, just like everyone else.

L: What kinds of questions do the visitors ask?

CB: Many people pick up very quickly that Srila Prabhupada was a very special person and that we love him very much. So they ask about him. A lot of people ask if he ever lived here. They also ask about reincarnation when we get to the “changing bodies” exhibit. I like to explain that we are not so different from other religions. We are eternal souls and the reason we came to this earth is because we have individual free will, because things are based on the concept of love. Love can only come about by individual choice. So the Lord creates this material world, where we can choose to either love Him or not. These are universal principles. This is not sectarian. I ask them, “Isn’t this what Jesus also taught?” People like that.

L: What’s your favorite thing about giving tours?

CB: Connecting with people. We often have this arrogant attitude that “I am giving THEM Krsna.” But Krsna works through these people too.

For example, I’ll tell you a story about this really nice, neatly dressed couple, a man and a woman, who came during a raging blizzard. They told me, “We had a coal miner friend. His dying wish was that we come here and visit the Palace of Gold. He said that he had had the most amazing religious experience here.”

So I started the tour. As soon as we got down to the end of the hallway to Srila Prabhupada’s lotus footprints in concrete under the glass panel, suddenly the man (who was a minister by the way) looks wide-eyed, at me. He shouts out, “THE FEET OF A PROPHET!” Then his wife, also a minister, immediately lays her head on Prabhupada’s feet and begins offering prayers. Her husband asks me, “Do you know why the feet of a prophet are worshipable? Because they go from town to town preaching the gospel of the Lord!”

I was amazed. The verse “prithivite ache yada nagaradi grama” came to mind. Prabhupada himself declared, “Prthivite, all over the world, as many towns and villages are there, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu predicted that His mission will spread. This prediction was made by Caitanya Mahaprabhu personally five hundred years ago.“

When the tour was finally over, we hugged and they left in the snow. You become renewed in your Krsna consciousness and in appreciating the Palace when things like this happen.

L: Thank you.

PARAMDHAMA DASI

Paramdhama dasi

Paramdhama dasi

L: Paramdhama, we understand that you’ve been working at Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold for over 30 years. Is this correct?

P: I guess that’s right. I love it here. But I’ve only really been giving tours for the last eight or nine years.

L: You must have some stories to tell.

P: Recently, a visitor came to the Palace on his way from Baltimore to Las Vegas. I teased him, ‘Don’t you think it’s a little unusual that you’re stopping at the memorial of a saintly man on your way to a gambling place?’ He told me that he was stopping here to get some protection from the sinful lifestyle prominent in Las Vegas.

L: How do visitors react when you talk about the “changing bodies” exhibit photo that is up on the wall? I think sometimes there are opposing reactions.

P: Yes. One person blurted out, emphatically, “NO!”   Like “wait a minute – back up here”. A lot of people just listen and don’t say anything. Some people nod their heads, as if they’re intrigued by what I’m explaining. Others sometimes will even go up to the picture and jokingly comment, “So that’s me over there,” as they point to either a young man, middle-aged man or old man.

L: You must have fun with that. What do you think is the most important thing to emphasize?

P: I feel it’s very important to show them the chanting on beads. I try to first explain how we are not this body, and how we need to accept a spiritual master in order to make real progress in our lives, and then I emphasize the importance of chanting Hare Krsna, which is the highest instruction given by the spiritual master.

L: What do you like about giving tours?

P: I like to find out about how people heard about the Palace. If they are really interested, I like to give them one of Srila Prabhupada’s books.

L: What kind of questions do people ask?

P: Where did we get the money? I tell them donations. They also are curious about the tilak that we wear. Surprisingly, there is this guy from Washington, PA who rides a motorcycle and comes here to visit every year. You would be surprised by what kind of people come back here for repeat visits.

L: Anything else you’d like to share?

P: Whenever I take people in Prabhupada’s study, I like to briefly explain, “These books you see here that Prabhupada translated and gave to us are very important. And, most importantly, Prabhupada recommended that we chant on these beads.” Then I repeat the maha mantra and chant for a while.

JAYA MUKTI DAS aka BHAKTA TOM

Jaya Mukti das aka Bhakta Tom

Jaya Mukti das aka Bhakta Tom

Lilasuka (L): When did you start giving tours at Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, Jaya Mukti prabhu?

JM: Five years ago.

L: And what do you feel is the most important thing to tell people on a tour?

JM: Well, I like to put emphasis on different things according to the people on the tour and their particular interests. There are such topics as the building and its architecture, there’s the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, there’s Srila Prabhupada, the person, there’s the community and how we work together. Of course, if it’s a mixed group, I touch on each of these subjects, in order to keep everyone’s interest.

L: What are the kinds of questions that people ask?

JM: One popular question is: If Srila Prabhupada was a renunciate, why such a grandiose building? So I’ll tell them the analogy about a small child making a nice picture for his grandparents. He wants to use all the crayons in the box, and fill in the whole page so it’s the very best picture he can create. Well, when we get donations for Prabhupada, we want to use them to create the very best thing we can for him since he is so important in our lives.

L: What kind of comments do people make?

JM: People comment on the murti (statue) of Srila Prabhupada in the study, and how real he looks. And once, when I described how the beautiful Ming Dynasty vases in the study are from China, one little nine year old boy commented, “So what? I’ve got lots of stuff from China!”

L: What do you like about giving tours?

JM: Connection with people! I’ve met so many nice people giving tours here and I’ve even stayed in touch with some of them. I’m always curious about why they came, and where they are from. The transmigration picture in the back hallway is an important tool that I use to explain the gist of our philosophy.

L: Do you have any stories you can tell us about the guests?

JM: Sure. Two things: once a young woman from Cameron almost went into labor at the changing bodies exhibit (ironically)! They rushed her to the hospital, but it was false labor. She came back the following week to finish her tour!

And one time there were these tough bikers on a tour. When I mentioned that Srila Prabhupada, a holy man, went to preach in the bowery of New York City, the apparent leader of the bicycle gang couldn’t get over that Srila Prabhupada, a real holy man, had actually lived in the bowery!

SADARUCI DAS

Sadaruci das

Sadaruci das

Lilasuka (L): Sadaruci, I understand that you used to give tours at the Palace at the beginning of the 21st century, back in 2001.

Sadaruci (S): That’s right. And I even gave tours farther back than that, when I lived here in NV from 1995-2001.

L: That’s cool! And now that it’s 2014, what is your connection with the Palace of Gold?

S: Well, beginning in April of this year, I’ve been giving Palace tours five or six days a week.

L: It sounds as though you’ve conducted a lot of tours here at the Palace. What do you like about giving tours?

S: I get to talk about Srila Prabhupada all day!   For a devotee, what can be more blissful than that?

L: That’s for sure! What do you feel is the most important thing you can tell the visitors?

S: That everyone needs a guru. Lord Krsna had a guru. Lord Caitanya had a guru. Srila Prabhupada also had a guru. A guru is necessary in order to be successful in your spiritual life. I emphasize that.

L: How does a typical tour go?

S: I start by introducing Srila Prabhupada and his history of coming to America back in the ‘60’s, during the height of the hippie movement when everyone was looking for peace, love and happiness. Prabhupada himself gave the peace formula: “chant and be happy”.

L: How do people react to hearing that?

S: I’ve seen many people have life changing experiences coming to Prabhupada’s Palace. There are a variety of reasons. For instance, when I explain the “changing bodies exhibit”, it opens many people’s eyes to the fact of life after death. Many people didn’t understand that. But they can see the progression of life. I tell them that they have a chance to change their destiny for the better. I tell them they don’t have to take another birth, and that they can actually go back to the spiritual world. A lot of people are fascinated. I encourage people that no matter what religion they are following, if they just add the chanting of Hare Krsna, they will make rapid advancement spiritually.

L: I see. Anything else?

S: Well, I think it’s important to convey the message of hope for the future – everyone’s future – if they can take to some spirituality.

L: So what do you think is the importance of the Palace of Gold to the NV Community?

S: I think it is the Palace that is the magnet that draws people to NV. Some of them don’t even go down the hill to visit the temple, but they still get a lot of information and a great impression by just taking a Palace tour. I feel that the more we restore and improve the Palace, the more good things will happen here in NV.

L: Do you have a final message?

S: Yes! If you’re not too busy, come and pick up a shovel or a paint brush. We have lots of work to do here and we can sure use your help.

END

New Vrindaban Radha Vrindaban Chandra

Dear Brijabasis,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

As we do twice a year, the board members of ISKCON New Vrindaban and ECO-Vrindaban will meet face to face November 1st & 2nd, 2014.

In our ongoing efforts to improve communications, we are organizing a weekend of open presentations and discussions.

We humbly invite all New Vrindaban residents and well-wishers to participate.

Weekend schedule

Saturday, November 1st. 

10:00 am to 1:30 pm: Department Head Presentations for 2014 (under the Lodge)

1:30 pm to 2:30 pm: Lunch Prasadam (at Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s Temple)

2:30 pm to 4:30 pm: Community Dialog (under the Lodge)

6:00 pm to 7:30 pm: Srila Prabhupada Sangam (at his Palace)

Sunday, November 2nd.

10:00 am to 1:00 pm: New Vrindaban Tour (various locations around the Community)
1:00 pm to 3:00 pm: Sunday Program & Feast (at Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s Temple)

We would be honored if you join us throughout the weekend and look forward to seeing you then.

Hare Krishna!

Your servant,

Jaya Krsna das
ISKCON New Vrindaban Community President






















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