I like to join ISKCON to become a Member and Practice Devotion. How to Join?
Actual Question from a male devotee (Name hidden):
“Dear sir. You are my revered siksha guru. Through you, I like to join in iskcon. Is it easy to join or any rules. As adviced by you, I will help iskcon being a grahastha and I will not allow my wife and girl child to suffer. But, I want to practice Krishna bakthi. Please guide me. Thank u”
First, my appreciations that you have the determination not to allow your family to suffer. This is what I expect from the devotees. Every devotee should learn how to balance the family and devotion. They should not run away from their family to serve Krishna unless there are genuine reasons or unless they seriously desire so. Devotion can be followed as a grahastha also.
Again, my appreciations for having interest in ISKCON, a sathsangha that gives a perfect formula without compromises for practising BAKTHI YOGA.
Here, I have to admit a fact. Different people have different opinions about ISKCON. I too had come across such views. Of course, there may be some problems or politics or immaturities here and there because such things can not be avoided in any forum where there are hundreds of devotees / persons.
But, I AM OF THE FIRM OPINION THAT IF WE CONCENTRATE ONLY IN THE DEVOTIONAL PRACTICES WITHOUT A DESIRE TO TAKE ANY POSITION IN THE ADMINISTRATION, WE WILL HAVE NO ISSUES IN ANY SATHSANGHA or forum. This is the GENERAL GUIDELINE to avoid any issues in any forum of people.
If we remain as a last bench devotee without the desire of any positions there, we can have a wonderful time there. But, we should seriously concentrate in learning the secrets of developing the devotion to Krishna. I never desired or tried or asked for any position there. I enjoyed learning as an unremarkable devotee. That is why, I never faced even a single issue in ISKCON in my decades of association there. Only because I observed the activities of devotees from the last bench, I am able to write balanced views with both positives and negatives about any topic. Only a good observer can be a good writer.
Only if we expect something in life, we will get upsets in life. Therefore, even in devotional service, I have no expectations. Be with the devotees, encourage and help them morally and financially, watch their activities, learn from them, do some services, come back and take care of your other activities to live keeping Krishna in mind. This is the best formula that worked out for me for a peaceful following of devotion.
I had the fortune of joining ISKCON even in my early twenties when my youthful thoughts were at their peak. After joining, alas, I observed many healthy changes in my lifestyle making me a responsible guy.
You must consider ISKCON as Gurukul to learn about Krishna Consciousness and performing possible services to the Lord and His devotees. There should be no other purpose. Learn, improve and get the mercy of a guru and thereby the mercy of Krishna.
It is very easy to associate with the devotees of the ISKCON as they are always available to guide you at their temple.
However, you can’t get the opportunity to stay and serve on the first day itself. If your services and devotional growth impresses the temple manager/ president, he may allow you to stay there. Otherwise, you should serve as a congregation member.
Here are some basic details of the available options:
TO BE A VISITING CONGREGATION MEMBER:
No qualifications are required, except a determination that you will follow all the rules and regulations of being a member. A desire to know about and practice Krishna Consciousness. You should behave decently inside the temple. Thats all.
TO BE LIFE PATRONS (LIFE MEMBERSHIP):
You will have to make some ONE TIME donation fixed from time to time to be a Life Patron. You will be given a set of Srimad Bhagavatham and other books of Srila Prabhupada free if you become a Life Patron. You can also stay in any of the worldwide ISKCON centres and honour Prasadam there for 3 days per year per temple, based on availability of space and with prior intimation.
The Siksha Program is a system for encouraging the congregation by recognizing their chanting and spiritual standards. It is a great way to help congregational devotees consolidate and increase their spiritual practices. It also offers a system to identify those who are serious about advancing in Krishna consciousness. The Siksha Program has five levels, gradually leading to initiation.
(1) SRADDHAVAN: Chanting at least one round of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra every day and reading Srila Prabhupada’s books.
(2) KRISHNA SEVAKA: Chanting at least four rounds of chanting daily, refraining from meat-eating, believing in Lord Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and avoiding grossly immoral acts
(3) KRISHNA SADHAKA: Chanting at least eight rounds and practicing sadhana-bhakti by worshipping Krishna at home and eating only Prasadam. Refraining from intoxication, meat-eating, gambling and extra-marital sex.
(4) SRILA PRABHUPADA ASRAYA: Following the four regulative principles, Regular and serious sadhana, chanting 16 rounds daily.
(5) SRI GURU ASRAYA: Practicing Srila Prabhupada Asraya standard for a minimum of six months, with additional faith in and surrender to a present ISKCON initiating spiritual master. This Stage will be explained as the next stage below.
The Siksha levels are awarded to deserving candidates at a special program, usually on a festival day in the temple, and a certificate is usually awarded by the Temple President to the devotee who has achieved the appropriate level of advancement. If the temple is convinced, some deserving devotees may be exempted from the sequence of siksha levels and they can directly get a higher level of siksha if you are continuously and convincingly following the rules.
The program aims to give congregational devotees gradual recognition and encouragement on the path towards achieving the standards required for initiation in ISKCON.
NEXT STAGE: TAKING SHELTER FROM GURU:
First you have to take Sikshas for One round, 4 rounds, 8 rounds and 16 rounds and then upto Sri Guru Asraya from your local temple presidents. When you remain chanting 16 rounds for atleast one year and are regular to the temples, you may choose a bonafide guru of your choice and approved by the GBC (Governing Body Commission) of ISKCON and take shelter to him, if he is convinced with your service and you have a natural inclination to accept him. If you do not have a natural inclination to accept a guru at this moment, wait for some period and take the shelter when you are ready.
HARI NAM DIKSHA – INITIATION FROM A GURU:
Taking the SHELTER itself is NEARLY equal to having accepted that guru and hence taking formal HARI NAM DIKSHA is just a formal confirmation of our having taken the shelter of that guru. After 6 months of taking shelter, you can get initiated by the guru of your choice from whom you got the shelter.
Taking diksha is a new birth to us. That is why, we take some vows and are given a new name related to Krishna and vaishnavas. In that new birth, you should avoid all the offences taht you were doing before and also follow the recommendations of your guru.
BRAHMANA DIKSHA (Popularly known as Second Initiation):
For the normal following of devotion, the first initiation (Hari Nam diksha) is enough. However, If you like to perform Poojari services to the deities of Krishna or to organize the preaching programs or to start a temple of ISKCON in your area, you must be initiated as a Brahmana by the same guru (provided he is alive, or to another guru of your choice). After that, you can take part in the direct sevas to the deities of Lord, if the temple president chooses to engage you.
These are just preliminary details. For more details, contact your nearest “Official” ISKCON Centre or any Namahatta centre or any “Devotee house program co-ordinators”. They will guide you. You can undergo Krishna Consciousness even while doing your studies, job, business , etc.
So, Live for Krishna. Spend your rest of life meaningful and get permanently relieved from this painful material world.
All the best for a successful devotional life.
After reading these guidelines, also read my other articles on BALANCING YOUR LIFE AND DEVOTION because you should not take extreme emotional decisions without genuine reasons affecting your parents, career, studies and family. I have given some links in this article itself here and there.