Devotee Who Grew Up in New Vrindaban Returns to Serve His Community
By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON New Vrindaban Communications
Born to a devotee family in New Vrindaban, West Virginia in 1977, Bhagavan Bauer lived and attended gurukula there until the age of eighteen.
While he developed great friendships with the other gurukula students and has good memories of fun times with them, he also endured the kind of traumatic abuse and neglect that was unfortunately all too common in many of ISKCON’s ashram-based gurukulas at the time.
So it was no surprise that he left in 1995 to create a new life for himself. During his twenty years away, Bhagavan gained a well of experience. He worked in New York City at several different jobs, including fitness trainer, construction worker and electrician. He married his wife Ananga Manjari, and they had two sons, Nava Kishor and Nitya, now 14 and 12.
As a father, still healing from his own negative childhood experiences and looking to give his children a more wholesome upbringing, Bhagavan studied parenting techniques. To pass on his knowledge, he then became a parenting coach and educator himself – a service he still offers.
More recently, after suffering the loss of several relatives, he and his wife sought more stability in their lives. And they felt that New Vrindaban, where Bhagavan’s mother Sukhavaha lives, was the place to find that.
In August 2015, Bhagavan and his family moved back to a very different New Vrindaban – one with a revitalized focus on Srila Prabhupada’s vision, improved devotee care, and increased infrastructure maintenance. He also found dramatically better treatment of children at the local Gopal’s Garden school, where his sons now study and his wife teaches.
When he first returned to New Vrindaban, Bhagavan struggled with what he described as an unhealthy sense of entitlement towards the community due to the trauma he had previously experienced there.
“But I decided to work through it and learn to love New Vrindaban while here,” he explains. “And that, I felt, would help me heal.”
Bhagavan says he is now reconnecting with the community he grew up in – and is at the forefront of efforts to transform it and pioneer the next wave.
Since moving back two years ago, he has been serving as the construction and maintenance manager for ISKCON New Vrindaban, overseeing a team of seven. Together they are assisting the effort to physically revitalize key parts of New Vrindaban, much of which had received little maintenance over the previous thirty years.
In his two years there so far Bhagavan and his team have already done an impressive number of upgrades.
They have upgraded all the floors in the temple prasadam room and hallways with vinyl plank flooring; put in a new sink and cabinets for dishes in the prasadam room; and upgraded the guest kitchen.
The team also helped Gopisa Das finish a host of new apartments for resident devotees near the New Vrindaban Community Gardens. They built the brand newYoga Shala in a record time of four months – a 2,000 square-foot building with a sloped cathedral ceiling, windows on three sides, and a beautiful view of the swan lake. And they built the wittily named “Vishnu Maintenance Workshop” to consolidate all their own tools and make their work more efficient.
Meaningfully to Bhagavan, they also transformed the Palace Lodge ground floor rooms – which had been gurukula ashrams in the 1980s – into comfortable, modern motel rooms.
“Demolishing the old ashram was a cathartic process for me,” he says.
Currently, Bhagavan is redoing the siding on the guest lodge and upgrading the chattras and walkways around the swan lake.
Next, he and his team plan to renovate the old farmhouse at Vrindaban, where the community was originally centered, and where Srila Prabhupada stayed in 1969 – restoring a wonderful piece of history.
After receiving feedback from community members on the details, Bhagavan is also eager to help make a big improvement – upgrading the entire outside of Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s temple to give it a fresh, more attractive look.
The challenge in working for the New Vrindaban construction department, according to Bhagavan, is that one doesn’t have the luxury to specialize but has to be able to do everything. So tasks can have a learning curve.
“But I like that we have a dynamic team who work together cooperatively; that we’re constantly upgrading and making New Vrindaban more beautiful; and that I get to help create nice relationships with the devotees,” says Bhagavan, who is well-respected by his team.
As the name of the department’s new workshop suggests, Bhagavan is a big believer in the “Vishnu principle” of maintenance. “The Brahma and Shiva phases might be more fun – but it takes more energy and effort to maintain, which is why Vishnu is the Supreme Being,” he says. “We want to maintain everything nicely so that the beauty of New Vrindaban can be there for years to come, and attract new generations.”
In this vein Bhagavan is also a member of New Vrindaban’s recently elected Village Council, which is working to develop a more appealing environment for families and individuals by providing community members with a stronger voice in running their community.
“New Vrindaban is ever-growing and developing, and we’re working on shifting towards a focus of how to care best for the community member,” he says. “We hope this will encourage younger generations of families to move here and help New Vrindaban grow towards fulfilling Prabhupada’s mission.”