Bhakti Vriksha

Why is it called Bhakti Vriksha (BV)?

Sri Caitanya Caritamrta compares Lord Caitanya and his movement to the tree of devotion or Bhakti Vriksha (BV). It is figuratively described that both the tree itself and the trunk of the tree are
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The tree surrounds the entire world and the flowers of the tree are to be distributed to everyone. In this way the tree of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu intoxicates the entire world.

Srila Prabhupada says, our ISKCON movement is one of the branches of the Caitanya tree. Every small group in ISKCON’s congregation is therefore a branch of the branch, stemming from the BV, the tree of bhakti of Lord Caitanya. The BV group is a type of Nama-Hatta group especially geared towards branching out.

It is preferred to use the name BV instead of Bhakti-Cells because the cell analogy simply talks about division,but the analogy of branching includes keeping the connection with the root. Someone may think that we have borrowed this type of preaching from some Christian organizations or from some other groups, but actually this is our own system. Lord Caitanya used to go from village to village and everywhere he went, each person he preached to, would branch out and make five more families Krsna conscious. Each of those families would make five more. Such branching is more dynamic than the simple cell multiplication: from ‘one to five’ is more than from one to two.

Goal of BV program
The BV program is meant to enable everyone to practice, to grow and to preach the process of Bhakti Yoga. By practicing, the devotee will grow in Krsna Conciousness (KC). He or she should also learn how to help others in their KC and also be able to preach to new people. The BV program provides association and spiritual community support, and when the new devotee becomes strong he should preach. One cannot carry out Lord Caitanya’s orders without preaching.

To achieve this in a systematic way requires a great stress on training, on all levels and on all aspects of practice and preaching. To be successful, the BV program needs to implement a ‘culture of training’. It is a brahminical, Vaishnava effort, dealing with people’s hearts and minds. It needs ongoing training of every member of every group, by seminars and courses, by practical engagement and philosophical study, by personal development and by preaching experiences.

What is a BV group?

It is small group of congregational devotees, meeting every week to practice KC and to plan preaching activities. In these BV groups, the devotees learn how to nourish their spiritual creeper and to cultivate their service attitude in cooperation with others. Every group member is also active in preaching and in bringing new people into the group. Upon reaching 15 members, the group divides into two. This system keeps the group small, maintaining an intimate atmosphere of personal care and nurturing,not possible in larger groups. The member help each other under the supervision of a group servant leader and a trainee servant leader. The trainee servant leader is being trained and groomed to become the future group leader after the group multiplies into two. Multiplying adds life and increases preaching momentum, compelling new leaders to take initiative. When the group multiplies, the servant leader continues to supervise one group while the trainee servant leader starts supervising the other group as a servant leader. Both appoint new trainee servant leader. Srila Prabhupada indicated, that the way to care for many people is to divide them in groups and to delegate leadership to the more advanced.

The Weekly Meeting
The meeting has 6 parts: Association/Ice breakers (10 minutes), Kirtan (25 minutes), Japa (15 minutes), Discussion (60 minutes), Preaching reports and plans (20 minutes) and Prasadam (20 minutes).
It is important to include all the six parts of the weekly meetings. Each has a specific function and when they are properly done the effect is that everyone leaves the meeting in good consciousness, satisfied and eager to come back next week. The Ice Breaker, as the name implies, breaks the ice. It warms up the atmosphere and rekindles the group spirit after being away for a week from each other. The feeling of unity created by the ice breakers helps people to approach the Kirtan more relaxed and receptive. When everyone focuses on singing in the kirtan, it is also easy to concentrate during Japa. If during the Discussion everyone is eager to hear and talk, and if the discussion flows smoothly, at the end of the session everyone feels stimulated and satisfied. Without properly imbibing the Preaching mood the BV group risks to stagnate, internal conflicts may arise and become a dominant feature. Therefore the preaching session should never be neglected and should inspire all to reach out to make newer devotees. The Prasadam crowns the gathering and everyone goes home in a light and happy mood. The art of conducting successful meetings includes keeping to the time slots alloted.

The Structure
The BV program’s structure follows the same format as Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Nama Hatta organization. It is a pyramidal structure with the BV groups at the base. It resembles the banyan tree described in the Bhagavat Gita: the root is up and the branches are down. Every few BV groups (3-4) are supervised by a Sector Servant. A few sector servants (3-4) are supervised by a Circle Servant. A few circles (3-4) are again supervised by a Supervising Preacher. Off course, this entire BV program is programmed and supervised by a Program Director.

The whole idea of this structure is to have a close supervision and accountability at all levels. The mood of every leader on any level must be SERVING the devotees under his care. Higher position means serving more devotees.

The Broad Strategy (BS)

The main objective of BS is bringing a person to eventually join a BV group. The idea is to take a person from the first contact with KC to the point  he commits to devotional service. The BS has three phases, the three C’s in fact: Contact, Cultivation and Commitment.

The contacts can be through book distribution, a festival , a harinam, a visit to the temple, contact’s contact etc etc. Further the BV groups can grow only by cultivating people (by mail, phone, in-home visit and participation in temple programs, festivals, Vyuha programs etc) to develop interest and faith in KC, Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON until the person commits himself to regular devotional service. In the beginning of the BV program, the first groups are mainly made of existing congregational devotees, but to keep growing and multiplying, the group needs to concentrate on building relations and gradually introducing new people to BV life. This preaching work has unlimited scope, as every contact has close relations with other people, which in turn are in touch with others, and so on, forming a chain of connections spanning the whole human society.

For the BV program to expand smoothly, all group members must be trained systematically in all the aspects of these three stages of preaching.

We started BV program from Oct, 2007 onwards and the following summarizes our overall Report in JM till date for the first one and a half years.

* Number of Areas BV conducted : 35
* Number of Bhakta Dasas : 38
* Number of Bhakti Vrikshas : 50
* Number of Bhakta Janas in as many Bhakti Vrikshas : 571

Also, our next ‘MILESTONE’ to achieve in the next one and a half years (by ‘Oct 2010’) will be to have a minimum of 100 BVs with 1000 Bhakta Janas in Bangalore under the umbrella of ISKCON – Sri Sri Jagannath Mandir.

The turn out for Shiksha/Shelter/1st Initiation/2nd Initiation held on 29th Mar, 2009 seems to be a record of sort in Bangalore so far. Please find the statistics below in a nut shell.

* Number of Shiksha candidates : 211
* Number of devotees accepted Shelter : 22
* Number of devotees accepted 1st Initiation : 27
* Number of devotees accepted 2nd Initiation : 3