What is it?
A dynamic program that offers a systematic process by which Krishna consciousness is presented to small groups of participants in a way that enables everyone to practice, develop and present the principles of Bhakti-yoga. The program offers regular association and mentorship with the aim of encouraging devotional association and active engagement in Bhakti. Group members keep in touch with each other and participate in outreach programs and various devotional activities on a regular basis.
What does it involve?
The structure of the program follows the format established by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thäkura in his organization of devotional congregations (Nama-hatta). The group gathers weekly at the home of one member (ideally in a rotating fashion) in small numbers of 15 members maximum, with the purpose of developing personal relationships.
Meetings are divided into six parts:
1. Ice Breakers
4. Discussion (of the Scriptures)
5. Preaching Reports and Planning
Multiplication and Supervision
A Bhakti-vriksha group multiplies at least into two groups once it has reached a certain level of growth and advancement. Groups are supervised and supported by group-leaders who are appointed according to their training, commitment and experience within the groups. To make this program sustainable, every group-leader has a trainee-leader who is learning how to lead a Bhakti-vriksha group by assisting the leader in his or her duties. Multiplication is based on groups having a steady increment of members, completing a number of study modules with a fixed curriculum and as new leaders are ready to lead new groups.
The principle of the program is to encourage healthy devotional interactions between members. During the weekly meeting, instead of having a formal lecture, participants sit in a circle (this aids to the participation of even a shy person and facilitates a good communication flow) and discuss a particular aspect of the Vaisnava philosophy from the scriptures. For this, they follow a set of modules that assist new members to advance systematically to higher levels of bhakti. This style of participation encourages everyone to share practical and personal realizations on how such teachings can be applied in one’s life. This makes the meeting highly interactive and engaging.
Preaching as the Essence
An essential characteristic of the weekly meeting is the preaching section, during which the group discusses the outreach activities of the past week and plans for future engagements.
Ongoing Training and Support
Being an essential characteristic of the Bhakti-vriksha program, there is emphasis on training and providing support to the members on all aspects of practice and presenting the philosophy. This is achieved by the interactive philosophical discussions, practical engagement, study, mentorship and preaching. All participants also learn how to help others in their spiritual advancement, so that eventually the entire group will be able to teach, guide and support new members.
Who is it for?
It caters for newcomers and also seasoned devotees by engaging everyone in devotional practices (kirtana, japa, study, presenting the philosophy, etc.), and in sharing their experiences in the group’s discussions and planning.
What else is there for the Group?
Besides the weekly meeting, on Sundays all groups in the same area come together whether in the temple or in some other suitable place. In these larger gatherings the focus is on bigger kirtanas, lectures by expert preachers, and association. On special occasions such as Gaura Purnima, Janmastami, or Ratha-yatra, all the groups from one city — or sometimes from the whole country — gather together to celebrate these grand festivals.
Caring for its members
Since Bhakti-vriksha groups are meant to remain small (around 15 members), close relationships are fostered between participants. New members are assigned to more experienced devotees who personally guide them in developing their Krishna consciousness. This allows group-leaders to know about each member’s difficulties and strengths and in this way provide support accordingly. Thus, this Bhakti-vriksha method is a program to effectively care for devotees.