While it may still be something of a well-kept secret, at least in the English-speaking world, Brazil’s Hare Krishna Seminary of Philosophy and Theology has been systematically educating Portuguese-speaking devotees in Srila Prabhupada’s books since 2001.
But it’s only this year that the school was recognized by its local union of Federal Universities and renamed Instituto Jaladuta, or “The Jaladuta Institute” after the steamship on which ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada brought Vaishnava spiritual education to the Western World.
Established and run by Dhanvantari Swami, the Institute is set in an “urban ranch” in Campina Grande, a college city in the state of Paraiba, Brazil. Twenty-two students – twelve male and ten female – reside there from March to October every year to take the onsite Bhakti-Sastri course.
“We have accepted a great challenge to improve the scriptural knowledge of the members of our ISKCON society,” says the Swami, a native Brazilian who has been developing gurukulas and educational projects since joining ISKCON in 1973.
The Institute, which was built with the help of Dhanvantari Swami’s parents as well as Brazilian devotees, is ISKCON’s main center in Paraiba. The complex it’s in – Naimisaranya Ranch –features a temple, restaurant, auditorium and private homes owned by thirty devotee families.
The Jaladuta Institute itself spans across three buildings. The main hub includes a classroom, offices, library, dining rooms, and accommodation for male students. There’s also a secondary building with an ashram for female students, and a small guest house.
The Institute offers the Bhakti Sastri course, which covers Prabhupada’s books Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Necar of Devotion, Nectar of Instruction, and Sri Isopanisad, both onsite and online. It also offers a distance-learning only course of the next level, Bhakti Vaibhava, which covers the first six cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
On top of that, the experienced teachers, including Dhanvantari Swami, Maha-Krishna-Nam Das, Devakinandana Das, and Mitravinda Dasi teach classes on communications, public speaking, and the art of serving the Vaishnavas.
While courses are taught in Portuguese, many devotees from Spanish-speaking countries and beyond enroll and learn Portuguese along with their scriptural studies. Students hail from many regions of Brazil and Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, and even Spain and the USA.
Resident students start their day early with the traditional morning spiritual program at the temple. They attend classes from 9:30am to 5:00pm, Tuesday to Sunday, with book distribution and Harinama programs on Saturdays, temple festivals on Sundays, and resting on Mondays.
Life at the Jaladuta Institute can be exciting and unpredictable. Sometimes students and teachers travel to other ISKCON Brazil campuses during the school year such as Gaura Vrindavana in Rio de Janeiro or Nova Gokula in Sao Paulo. And sometimes they travel together after the school year, which usually runs from March till October, but can be flexible.
“In 2015, we are planning to begin in July, then, travel to a couple of countries in Europe,” says Dhanvantari Swami. “There we should have a course on The Nectar of Devotion with Yadunandana Swami at Bhaktivedanta College in Belgium. After that, we want to go to Vrindavana and Mayapur to complete the Bhakti-sastri course, then travel around other sacred places in India.”
With its study program now well established, Dhanvantari Swami wants to continue working to get the Jaladuta Institute recognized by the Brazilian government as a college specializing in the field of Indian literature.
“From March 17th to 20th 2015, we will hold our first academic event along with the Federal University and a governmental research group on Hindu and Vaishnava Philosophy and Religion, with Krishna Ksetra Swami as the main speaker,” he says.
In the meantime, Instituto Jaladuta students – many of whom are second generation devotees — will be getting the spiritual nourishment and education they’ve been looking for.
“They get sadhana bhakti, devotee association, life experience in areas such as sharing their spiritual faith with peers, and of course they learn how to study Prabhupada’s books in a systematic way,” Dhanvantari Swami says.
After their studies, students get the Bhakti Sastri degree from the Board Of Examinations of ISKCON. Many then go on to serve in different ISKCON departments around Latin America.
“The main inspiring thing about this project for me is that I can serve the sons and daughters of the Vaishnavas,” says Dhanvantari Swami, “And help them to cultivate their faith in their parents’ Vaishnava way of life.”