Prajna is a program developed under the guidance of HH Sri Sri Sri Tridandi Chinna Jeeyar Swamiji to educate the children, youth as well as adults about the rich values, knowledge and practices from the Vedas that form the foundation of our culture. In this modern age, we have distanced ourselves from the traditional way of living, thinking that it is not relevant to these times. This train of thought is based on ignorance and misinformation. Prajna is an attempt to guide our future generations to embrace our cultural heritage, by dispelling the ignorance and providing correct and relevant information.
History of Prajna: With the blessings of HH Sri Chinna Jeeyar Swamiji, the JETUSA New Jersey Chapter started its first JET Learning Center in the summer of 2003. It started with 5 students and now we have an annual enrollment of about 200 students spread across 7 centers in NJ alone. Today, there are over 90 centers in 28 states across the United States. In New Jersey the classes are held primarily at the Cranbury School in Cranbury, NJ. We also have classes being held in Edison, Bordentown and other locations in New Jersey. For more information.
Why Prajna? “Prajna” means the ability to translate good knowledge into action. The goal of this program is to teach children the characteristics that define an ideal citizen, help them understand these qualities and put them to practice, thus making them ideal citizens. The values they will learn are defined in our Vedas and illustrated through our pu- ra:na:s and ithiha:sa:s.
What is an ideal citizen? An ideal citizen is not a person who just lives by the rules of the society without committing any sin, but a person who thinks about the welfare of the society and strives to better the community around him. It starts with respecting people and things around you, being kind, speaking properly and helping everyone around you. The terms like “Ma:thru De:vo Bhava”, “Pithru De:vo Bhava”, “Acha:rya De:vo Bhava” are mentioned in our Vedas and refer to respecting elders, parents and our teachers. Several such values exist in our Vedas and are part of our culture which are very much relevant to any time period. In Prajna, we put emphasis on these qualities by giving examples from our scriptures and relate them to everyday life as well as current issues.
How is the program structured? Prajna is structured in progressive modules where all students start with Module 1 and progress each year to the next module. The course currently spans over 10 years. Although the slokas and bhajans are in Sanskrit, the medium of teaching is English and all material provided is in English. This removes the language barrier that most kids are apprehensive about and encourages everyone to be a part of the course. The course is taught by volunteer-teachers who are trained by HH Sri Chinna Jeeyar Swamiji.
As part of each year’s curriculum, the children learn
- Slokas – their meanings, concepts, why and when we need to chant them
- Stories from Vedic scriptures that exemplify values and virtues
- Biographies of great Acharyas
- Our Festivals
- Yoga and meditation
- Volunteering and Community activities.
The children start their journey “Towards Excellence” in the first year by learning about our culture, the importance of our festivals and why we celebrate them. They also learn a few slokas for every activity they do during the course of the day. In this module, we lay the foundation of values such as respect and gratitude.In the second year, the children continue their journey by learning the value of “respect” that starts at home, by respecting their parents. They learn stories from our puranas about “Maatru Devo Bhava (Respect Mother)” and “Pithru Devo Bhava (Respect Father)”.
They also learn “Twilight Prayers” that remind them to
• remove impure thoughts,
• have good thoughts, energy,
• have control over our mind, body and speech so that they are acting synchronously
•fix our goal to achieve eternal bliss.
In the third year, they begin to learn about taking the concept of respect outside the home and start to respect teachers and the value of friendship. These values are illustrated by examples about “Acharya Devo Bhava” and “Sneham (the value of friendship)” from our pura:nas.
They also graduate to learning bigger stotrams, such as
• the Hayagreeva Stotram which helps improve their diction and memory power,
• Guru parampara (a salutation to our lineage of Acharyas) and
• Lakshmi Ashtotharam (in praise of Goddess Lakshmi). The children will continue to learn about the “Power of Knowledge (Jna:nam)” and “Gratitude (Kruthagnatha)” and its virtues in the fourth year. They read various epi- sodes in our pura:nas that drive home the virtue of being grateful to people and our surroundings and how Knowl- edge of self-awareness can lead to eternal bliss. Apart from these values they learn about the “Voyage to Vic- tory” as stated in the first chapter of Srimad Bhagavad Gi:ta (Arjuna Visha:da yo:gaha). They also learn about the situation in which the Bhagavad Gi:ta was delivered, its background and the significance of an individual’s duty and responsibility in this world. They also learn about sages and their contribution to the mankind.
In the fifth year, they will learn the “ABCs of BLISS” by learning the essence of the second chapter of Srimad Bhagavad Gi:ta and how to achieve inner peace. They also learn the importance of “Power of Speech” and how communication is an important part of success in life. They look at examples in our pura:nas of how speech influenced the outcome of various situations and relate them to modern day situations and events. They learn about Sages Agasthya and Vasishta.
As the kids progress through the course each year, we also conduct several events like food drives, earth-day activities, help-the-community activities that give them the opportunity to volunteer and get involved with the lo- cal community. This emphasizes to the children that they are not learning just about our culture, but they have a responsibility to our local communities. This goes hand in hand with the motto of our organization – “Worship Your Own, Respect All” and “Serve All Beings as Service to God”. By putting all the values they have learnt into practice, they will become model citizens who are proud of their identity and culture and showcase to the world the values they have learnt from our culture and Vedas. Such model citizens would encourage other members of the society to embrace our culture and its values, thus contributing to a better society and world at large.