by Nartaka Gopala Dasi
From July 30-31, 2022, the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies in Gainesville, Florida, hosted a two-day seminar titled “The Legacy of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, Toward Fulfilling Srila Prabhupada’s Vision.”
When His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami first met Dr.Thoudam D. Singh in the early 70’s, he was so happy to see a disciple of his getting a PhD in science from a respectable University. He said proudly, “A scientist has joined our movement.” Later on this devotee took sannyasa and became HH Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Maharaja, and along with another brilliant disciple, Sadaputa Dasa (Dr. Richard L. Thompson), the two were among the principal founding members of the Bhaktivedanta Institute that was established Dec 10, 1976 in Washington DC. Prabhupada wanted a Vaishnava Research Institute to present the science of Krishna consciousness to intellectual audiences.
Fast forward 46 years: Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Maharaja and Sadaputa Dasa have both passed away, but their legacy continues and the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies in Gainesville, Florida held an amazing global seminar July 30 and 31, 2022. Luckily, four other original members of the BI attended and gave presentations: Brahmatirtha Dasa (Bob Cohen), now Director of B.I.H.S. Gainesville; HH Bhakti Madhava Puri Maharaja (Michael Marchetti, formerly Madhava Dasa) who spoke online from his Bhakti Vedanta Institute of Spiritual Culture and Science at Princeton, New Jersey; Ravindra Svarupa Dasa (William H. Deadwyler) who spoke online from New York; and H.H. Bhaktivedanta Nemi Maharaja (David Webb formerly Jnana Dasa) who spoke online from West Wales.
If you missed the seminar do not despair because all presentations were filmed and will be available at the BIHS Media page by the end of the month at this link: https://bihstudies.org/media/
Some of the many highlights of the seminar:
Local professor at Santa Fe College Sthita-dhi-muni Dasa (S. E. Kreitzer) gave a fascinating historical analysis of the B.I.
HH Jayadvaita Swami gave a presentation and emphasized Srila Prabhupada’s conviction that “B.I. is our most important preaching arm.”
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa (William H. Deadwyler) spoke online from New York.
Advaita Dasa (Professor Edwin Bryant, Rutgers University) gave a most compelling talk online from the UK.
HH Hridayananda Dasa Goswami (Howard Resnick) explained that Srila Prabhupada wanted an institute that expertly presents the philosophy of science, so that his attack on materialism could be translated into the language of science.
“Sometimes hardcore materialism masquerades as science. Prabhupada went straight to the jugular vein. He knew which point to strike at to destroy the misconceptions of science.”
Ramesvara Dasa (Robert Grant) gave an uplifting talk including many personal pastimes with Srila Prabhupada and his instructions to the BBT regarding B.I. (i.e. if Krsna conscious scientists write the books, they must print them at cost with no profit added; and the B. I. should get all facility, whatever they need.)
“B.I has to have the intellectual firepower to defeat the great demon of godless science that kicks God out of every sphere.”
Garuda Dasa (Professor Graham Schweig, Christopher Newport University, also the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley.) presented lively pastimes with Sadaputa Prabhu in the early days.
Several other Prabhupada disciples spoke: HH Romapada Swami, Kardama Muni Dasa, Puskara Dasa, Yogesvara Dasa, Drutakarma Dasa, and Ranjit Dasa all gave illuminating talks.
Krishna Kripa Dasa (Christopher G. Beetle) presented from Paris and related fascinating stories from his seventeen years of association serving with Sadaputa.
Indupati Dasa (Edmund Johnston) and Shaunaka Rishi Dasa both gave well-received presentations.
Brahmatirtha related this story: “All of us B.I. members arrived in Vrindavana in October, 1977 for the First International Scientific Conference on Life Comes From Life. This was the only scientific conference held while Prabhupada was alive. He was very ill and his body had deteriorated so much since we had last seen him. We entered his room together and paid obeisances. When we looked up he saw our faces and laughed, “I told you over and over that I am not this body. Now my body is finished; I am living in my bones.”
From the Kolkata Bhaktivedanta Institute HH Bhaktisvarupa Vrajapati Swami (Vasudeva Rao) spoke. He is a disciple of HH Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami; from B.I. Initiative in Russia Nari Devi (Natalya Antonova) was the only lady to speak at the seminar. HH Bhakti Vijnana Goswami (Vadim Touneyev) introduced two Russian brahmacaris, Damodar Pandit Dasa and Vasushreshtha Dasa, conducting research in Mayapur, who gave a very enlightening talk.
From the Chowpatty BIHS Initiative in Mumbai, Prem Gauranga Dasa (Punit Bhalla) and Shyamananda das (Subhash Marathe) both spoke.
From Ukraine Dvija Govinda Dasa (Vasyl Semenov) spoke from the Kyiv Spiritual Academy of Krishna Consciousness, a stunningly beautiful domed building.
“The B.I. is giving a scientifically consistent alternative, new ways of interpreting the data that exists.”
Prabhupada disciple Akhandadhi Dasa presented on the Science and Philosophy Initiative from Belfast, Northern Ireland. “I think Srila Prabhupada would be absolutely delighted to see the work going on on his behalf.”
HH Krishna Kshetra Maharaja gave a presentation explaining how he is pursuing the integration of scientific research into the varnasrama system.
Arka Dasa (Oliver Zambon) spoke from Australia, expressing an academic appreciation of the more nuanced approach BIHS is taking with science.
Over the two-day period of the seminar all guests in Gainesville were served delicious breakfast and lunch prasad in the lovely, gracious and hospitable atmosphere of the B.I. headquarters in Gainesville, the former “President’s Mansion”, originally serving as home to the University of Florida’s longest serving president, John J. Tigert.
Thanks for the seminar go to B.I.H.S. Gainesville Executive Director Brahmatirtha Dasa; Board Member, Treasurer & Secretary Prishni Devi Dasi; Facility Coordinator and Seminar Moderator Lila Devi Dasi; chef Salagram Sila Devi Dasi; Kunjabiharini Devi Dasi; Shyamala Kishori Devi Dasi; Christina from Krishna House; and Technician Nanda Dasa. We are especially grateful to Gurudasa Dasa and his wife Rati Devi Dasi from Denver for donating to make this seminar possible. All glories to their service!
Again, check the BIHS Media page by the end of the month for films of the seminar: https://bihstudies.org/media/