The 2014 Radha Madhav Dham Winter Family Camp will be remembered as a turning point in the history of the ashram. Not because any major pronouncements were made, nor any significant visitors or grand tragedies stopped by, but because this was the family camp where everyone began with a desire to set the right tone, for the present and for the future.
Let me explain. A lot of rules changed for this camp. Families were encouraged to attend for the full five days of camp, instead of showing up at the temple for a day and dropping their kids off with a teacher. A guardian program was drafted for children who attended the camp without their parents. Curfew was hard-lined at 11pm and security at the temple was given more leave to enforce the bedtimes. Teachers for youth, tweens and teens were handed a detailed curriculum and instructions on how to handle misbehavior and uphold general classroom policies. A system of “devotional dollars” was instituted, to reward kids for their behavior and provide an incentive to get “caught being devotional.” At night, everyone united in the prayer hall for an hour of kirtan, where the talent of younger devotees shone through their skills at harmonium, dholak and cymbals.
In other words, it was a camp like no other camp before it.
Instead of reduced enrollment because of the five-day restriction, Radha Madhav Dham took on nearly 200 visitors. After lunch, teens who previously loitered or played games in the afternoon, could be seen washing dishes, scrubbing tables, and getting involved in a variety of different sevas around the ashram. Children took the theme of the camp, “Character Building through the Virtues of the Gita,” very seriously, and at the final cultural program a few of the youth presented the Guru Vandana and three full shlokas from Chapter 16. Parents participated in interactive sessions with preachers, workshopping the difficulties they had in staying devotional, enhancing spiritual practice, and raising children as devotees. As much as we changed the rules for the betterment of the camp, participants changed their own behavior to match. It was an inspiring thing to see.
As we start 2015 and look forward to our camp at the summer Sadhana Shivir, I think we are facing something wholly new. In ten years of holding family camps at Radha Madhav Dham, the coordinators and teachers have learned a lot, and a plan is being constructed based on those experiences. This plan will cover eleven years of a child’s development, the idea being that between the ages of 6 to 16, there will be a progression of learning, a system of understanding the spiritual knowledge of our scriptures. The way a school progresses a child from grade to grade, we want our children to progress in their devotional practice. With this goal in mind, we are building a framework, not just for the next year, or the next five years, but something that will last these camps for as long as people are willing to attend them.