by Krishna Kshetra Swami
The number of sannyasis grows from year to year in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, to well over 100; and those who take the vows of this final ashram of renunciation are, since recently, receiving formal training over and above what they receive individually in the course of their devotional lives and through the guidance of their sannyasa mentors. In pursuit of this aim of formal training, on February 18 – 22 we held a Sannyasa Candidate Training Seminar in Sridham Mayapur, with some 30 sannyasa candidates—all senior brahmacaris or vanaprasthas—attending. This was the second time such a program has taken place.
The daily program of the Seminar, which I facilitated under the direction of H.H. Prahladananda Swami (the Sannyasa Minister), included discussions on a variety of topics related to the life and culture of sannyasa. To help in this effort, we had several qualified guest speakers, each focusing on different subjects.
On the first day, H. H. Bhakti Vinoda Swami (based in Kerala, south India) spoke to the candidates. After telling of his own journey to sannyasa, he elaborated on the story of how it transpired that Sri Ramanujacarya (whose 1000-year appearance anniversary is celebrated this year) took sannyasa. He also emphasized the importance for ISKCON sannyasis to understand their relationship to the ISKCON institution and to welcome the increased service and responsibilities the candidates will be called upon to take up as sannyasis.
The next day featured H. H. Yadunandana Swami (based in Spain), who presented and discussed contents of his hot-off-the-press book The Lives and Challenges of Vaishnava Sannyasis in Modernity: A study of the renounced order in ISKCON. This 423-page book is a revised and expanded version of Yadunandana Swami’s M.A. dissertation, which he wrote for his Master’s degree at the University of Wales Trinity St. David, in the United Kingdom. Each candidate received a free copy of the book, as a “textbook” for the training seminar.
On the third day we heard from two guest speakers. First was H. G. Mahatma Prabhu (based in Mayapur)—a grhastha—speaking on the importance for sannyasis to know how to preach for householders’ genuine spiritual benefit without inappropriately and prematurely directing them toward renunciation. In the afternoon we heard from H. H. Bhakti Marga Swami (based in Canada), who enlivened the devotees with his rich account of his own journey to the sannyasa ashram as well as descriptions of his well-known long-distance walks (including several walks across Canada). He also led us in a discussion about the Seven Purposes of ISKCON and how it is imperative for sannyasis in ISKCON to uphold and promote them.
On the fourth day H. H. Bhakti Vijnana Goswami (based in Russia) came and addressed the sannyasa candidates on the need for inner cultivation and the danger of neglecting such cultivation for sannyasis. We also heard from sannyasa candidates H. G. Mahadyuti Prabhu (based in Russia; who has since then received sannyasa initiation as Mahadyuti Swami), and from H. H. Vijaya Prabhu (based in the U.S.A), on subjects close to their hearts that pertain to successful practice of sannyasa.
On the final day, after I led a discussion on the multiple roles of sannyasis in our Society and then another discussion on how sannyasis can effectively deal with any toxic emotions that may arise in themselves, we had our final guest speaker—neither a sannyasi nor a male householder, but rather a Vaisnavi, H. G. Malati Prabhvi (based in the U.S.A.). Malati spoke on the rare opportunity we have to loyally serve the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada; she stressed the importance of understanding and imbibing his mood of self-sacrifice for the mission of Caitanya Mahaprabhu to spread Krishna consciousness throughout the world.
From several of the sannyasa candidates who attended the seminar we received very favorable comments, expressing appreciation that they found the sessions substantially enriching to their understanding of the sannyasa way of life they will be committing themselves to for the remainder of their lives. Thus we see this initiative as an important step in the right direction of serving ISKCON and the Vaisnava community with qualified renunciant preachers who are well balanced and thoughtful in their practice and presentation of Krishna consciousness.