A newly chartered foundation will help ISKCON fulfill the mission of Lord Krsna.
FOR SOME PEOPLE, a foundation is simply a good way to keep the government tax agents from taking away a personal fortune. Others see foundations as an excellent way to promote an idea. These days thousands of foundations promote a variety of ideas, ranging from animal rights to human rights. But now there's a new foundation on the scene the only one dedicated to propagating the idea of Krsna consciousness. It is called the ISKCON Foundation, chartered last year in California.
"In a perfect world ideas could be born, nourished, developed, made known to everyone, criticized and perfected, and put to good use, without the crude fact of financial support ever entering into the process. Seldom, if ever, in the practical world in which we live, does this occur. The influence of money on ideas can be powerful." So said Warren Weaver, an official of the Rockefeller Foundation, in 1967.
And it is true that foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation have been instrumental in propagating certain ideas in human society. The Rockefeller Foundation built the Mt. Palomar observatory, where much of the astronomical work related to the godless Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe was performed. The Foundation also funded much of the initial work in genetics and particle physics, supported archaeological work crucial to modern ideas of human evolution, gave money for opening schools of psychiatry at major universities, and supported population studies and medical studies that resulted in the legalization of abortion in the United States and population control programs around the world.
The above list is an example of the strong secular and materialistic focus major foundations tend to have in their giving policies.
In 1951, before Srila Prabhupada came to the United States, he wrote a letter asking the Ford Foundation to fund his work of spreading true God consciousness through an association of intelligent people. But a staff assistant at the Detroit office of the Foundation wrote back: "Regret to advise that we are unable to pursue your suggestions concerning the establishment of an association of the intelligent class of people. The Ford Foundation has no program in which specific ideas such as you describe might be included."
In 1969, Srila Prabhupada, reflecting on his personal experience, commented on how unfortunate it was that the foundations would not support anything genuinely spiritual. "If you go to such foundations and say, 'Give us some money for spreading Krsna consciousness, printing these books,' they will reply, 'No, no. We are not interested in religion. We are for scientific improvement.' "
Nevertheless, Srila Prabhupada continued to see the foundations as important and in 1969 requested his American disciples to approach them. "There are so many rich people in your country. If somebody comes forward, we can make very nice progress very quickly. So we have to make some propaganda amongst them. Actually it [Krsna consciousness] is the nicest thing possible. Simply they have to be convinced. That's a fact. Nobody can challenge our sincerity and our purity in this world….The best thing is what we are presenting. There is no doubt about it. Now people have to know it. How to make it known? We have to go to the newspaper man, magazine man, to the foundations."
Srila Prabhupada would no doubt be pleased with the establishment of the ISKCON Foundation. Significantly, Alfred Brush Ford (Ambarisa Dasa), a great-grandson of Henry Ford, has agreed to serve as chairman of the ISKCON Foundation Board.
"The ISKCON Foundation is a vehicle to carry Srila Prabhupada's movement into the next millennium," says Ambarisa, who is also head of the ISKCON Ministry of Cultural Affairs. He adds, "Only by offering people the genuine Vedic culture of India can we satisfy their desires for peace, prosperity, and spiritual fulfillment."
Dr. Vibhakar Mody, Dr. Arvind Singh (Advaita Acarya Dasa), and Mr. Dahyabhai Patel have agreed to serve as vice-chairmen of the ISKCON Foundation. Dr. Mody and Dr. Singh are physicians, and Mr. Patel is the president of a manufacturing company in Irvine, California. Their participation on the Foundation board reflects the growing commitment to ISKCON among its friends in the Indian community.
"I support the ISKCON movement from my heart," says Dahyabhai Patel. He believes the ISKCON Foundation "will be beneficial to our future generation."
The chief executive officer of the ISKCON Foundation is Naveen Khurana (Navina Krsna Dasa), who holds an M.BA. from the University of Illinois.
"Lord Caitanya ordered that Krsna's message be spread to every town and village in the world," says Navina Krsna. "The Foundation will assist ISKCON in making this order a reality."
Other founding members of the board include Alister Taylor (Advaita Acarya Dasa), John Sims (Abhirama Dasa), G. L. Goyani (Gadadhara Dasa), Dinesh Patel, James McDonough (Dhrstadyumna Dasa), Ian Cheverton (Vicitravirya Dasa), Dr. Kirit Joshi, Amrish Goel, Charles Geer, Dr. Subramaniam Shastri, and William Ogle (Balavanta Dasa). All of them have successful professional and business experience.
"The formation of the ISKCON Foundation is a significant landmark in the long-term establishment of the Hare Krsna movement's position as a major spiritual force in the West and all over the world," says Advaita Acarya Dasa. "I am honored to be involved."
The ISKCON Foundation board also includes the following members of ISKCON's Governing Body Commission Mukunda Goswami, Sridhara Swami, Badrinarayana Dasa, and Ravindra Svarupa Dasa.
The entire ISKCON Foundation Board was approved by the North American Committee of ISKCON's Governing Body Commission, as well as the North American temple presidents. The Foundation will be primarily active in North America, although it is hoped that it will inspire similar efforts in other parts of the world.
Of course, one might ask: Since ISKCON is already raising funds through its temples and the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, what is the need for the ISKCON Foundation?
The answer takes us to the heart of what a foundation does. Compared to governments, even the biggest foundations have limited funds at their disposal. They therefore tend to look for emerging, breakthrough areas of research and development where a small investment can have the greatest impact. So foundations have commonly been active in farsighted social and intellectual trendsetting. The ISKCON Foundation will also function in this tradition.
The ISKCON Foundation has a board of thoughtful, concerned ISKCON members who will be using Foundation funds and their own expertise to encourage innovative approaches in critical areas getting important projects off the ground, helping established programs with special needs, and identifying new avenues and methods for spreading Krsna consciousness.
In the twenty-five years since its founding by Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON has compiled a remarkable record of achievement. ISKCON has:
brought together people from all racial, national, and religious backgrounds in a worldwide spiritual community;
built 300 temples, farms, schools, and institutes in all parts of the world;
printed 400 million books of Vedic knowledge in more than 60 languages;
distributed 900 million plates of spiritual vegetarian food (prasadam);
renovated holy places in India, such as Vrndavana;
established cow protection programs on 6 continents;
held major academic conferences and published books on scientific topics through its Bhaktivedanta Institute;
set up an archives to preserve rare Vedic texts and record the history of ISKCON;
maintained a high standard of puja in its temples;
celebrated 500 Rathayatra festivals of Lord Jagannatha in cities around the world;
defended the freedom of Krsna devotees to practice their religion in many countries.
All of this caused the renowned scholar A. L. Basham, author of The Wonder That Was India, to comment: "Hinduism is once more becoming…an expansive missionary religion taking in people from all over the world….The culmination of this process so far is that represented by the followers of the Hare Krsna movement."
Unfortunately, because of insufficient expertise in management and organization, ISKCON's record of success has not translated into the degree of public recognition, understanding, and support that might be desired. The Foundation is therefore initiating a two-phase program to achieve these objectives in North America.
In the first phase of activity (1991-1992), the ISKCON Foundation is conducting the movement's 25th Anniversary Campaign.
In this phase, a primary goal of the Foundation will be to improve the management and organization of ISKCON temples. A key element will be to bring more Indian community and other congregational members into the forefront of ISKCON leadership on all levels local, national, and international.
To help local temples achieve financial stability, the Foundation is developing a system of annual membership by ISKCON friends and supporters. The program involves methods employed by successful nonprofit organizations of all kinds.
Through its public relations committee, the Foundation will help ISKCON establish better relations with various segments of society, including government, business, academia, the media, and the Indian community.
The first Vaisnava Vedic college has already won approval to grant degrees in the United States. The Foundation will help create the college's educational programs, including Vedic philosophy, Vedic science, and Sanskrit.
Lawsuits are part of the price ISKCON pays for following Lord Krsna's instruction to teach the message of the Gita in a sometimes unfriendly environment. For years ISKCON has been fighting religious intolerance in courtrooms around the world, and the Foundation will act to insure that ISKCON's resources for legal defense remain at a high level of readiness and effectiveness.
Building on the accomplishments of Phase I, the Foundation will embark on a Srila Prabhupada Centennial Campaign in 1992. The five-year campaign, which culminates in 1996 with the 100th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada's birth, will incorporate local, North American, and international objectives.
Local campaigns will be conducted to better meet the needs of ISKCON congregations, including improving existing temples and developing more facilities and programs.
For North America as a whole, goals of the Srila Prabhupada Centennial Campaign include:
developing the National Vedic College, which will provide a base for research and publishing, as well as education and training for future generations.
establishing an endowment for primary and secondary Vedic education programs (grades 1-12) for children of ISKCON members and others.
building the Vedic Planetarium and Science Museum in Washington, D.C., for presenting Vedic cosmology and astronomy through the latest video and computer technology.
launching a public information campaign to publicize Vedic books of knowledge such as Bhagavad-gita, thus creating increased awareness of fundamental Vedic truths such as transmigration of the soul and the law of karma.
increasing facilities to protect cows and educate the public about the value of cow protection and living a simple life in harmony with nature.
funding the Bhaktivedanta Archives' efforts to digitally preserve Sanskrit texts and ISKCON historical materials on CD-ROM.
assisting the Festival of India, which stages yearly Rathayatra parades in major cities, along with festivals promoting Vedic culture through food, music, dance, philosophy, and displays of paintings and photos.
supporting KrishnaFest, a traveling group of devotees that reaches out to teenagers and young adults, acquainting them with Vedic culture through contemporary music and drama.
On the international level, the Foundation expects that with adequate organization and funding, ISKCON will be able to speed up construction of its model Vedic city in Mayapur, West Bengal, the appearance place of Lord Caitanya. ISKCON will also be able to continue restoring and renovating holy places in and around Vrndavana, U. P., the site of Lord Krsna's earthly appearance some five thousand years ago. Projects for building and renovating temples at holy places elsewhere in India will also benefit.
In an appeal to ISKCON friends and supporters, Foundation chairman Ambarisa Dasa recently said, "Please join us in assisting Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krsna to make this a better world, now and for coming generations."
Drutakarma Dasa is an Associate Editor of Back to Godhead. He and his wife live in San Diego.