A report on the annual meeting of ISKCON's highest governing body.
For ten days every year, thirty men gather in Mayapur, West Bengal, a village on the Ganges seventy miles north of Calcutta, to guide the course of the Krsna consciousness movement.
This is the GBC, the Governing Body Commission of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
While Srila Prabhupada was physically on earth, he had final authority in guiding the movement. Before he left, he entrusted this authority to the GBC.
Srila Prabhupada first formed the GBC in 1970. He chose twelve disciples to serve on the body, assigned each a geographical "zone" of the world, and referred to these men as his "zonal secretaries." In each zone, he said, his secretary should spread and maintain Krsna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada didn't like big bureaucracy. Legally and managerially, he said, each ISKCON center should be independent. But the GBC men should set an ideal spiritual example and see that each center followed the Krsna conscious standards he had taught.
How well did the GBC do? So-so. Sometimes they did splendid, sometimes botched it.
When Srila Prabhupada saw a secretary getting too "puffed up," Srila Prabhupada would verbally cut him down. And once when the GBC pulled a move that especially displeased him, he wrote to all his temples that for now the GBC was dissolved.
But soon he put his GBC men back in action, and over the years he "trained them up," as he would say, and placed more weight on their shoulders.
Finally, as he left, he directed that the GBC should be the final managing authority for the whole Krsna consciousness movement. One man might make a mistake, Srila Prabhupada said, but he trusted that together his GBC men would make the right decisions.
The main time and place for making decisions, Srila Prabhupada said, was "once a year at Mayapur." Mayapur is the birthplace of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and there the GBC holds its annual meeting, right before the festival for Lord Caitanya's birth.
Here is a summary of the decisions the GBC made this year.
Officers for the Year
Each year the GBC rotates its officers. This year the chairman is Virabahu Dasa, a native of Argentina. The vice chairman is Bhurijana Dasa, an American serving in India. And the secretary is Jayapataka Swami, born American but granted Indian citizenship several years ago.
Every year the GBC looks at the map, and from time to time the body redraws zones or makes shifts in who will cover each area.
This year the main place for change was Africa. People in Nigeria and nearby countries have shown a great interest in Krsna consciousness, and the GBC wants to be sure they receive proper spiritual guidance. Last year, the GBC expressed its concern that its member serving in west and central Africa was drifting in his duties. So this year the GBC entrusted his GBC duties to another devotee. The GBC also plans to have other senior devotees visit Africa to strengthen the Hare Krsna movement.
Two new members joined the GBC: Suhotra Swami will help guide the Hare Krsna movement in Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Czechoslovakia. And Sridhara Swami will oversee ISKCON's programs for life membership.
Service to ISKCON Life Members
Throughout the world, ISKCON has several thousand life members, who have given generously to help maintain and spread the Hare Krsna movement.
In return, they receive various benefits from their local temples, and ISKCON temples throughout the world offer lodging, prasadam, and hospitality to life members and their families when they travel.
Sridhara Swami will now help co-ordinate these programs, to offer better service to ISKCON life members worldwide.
Sridhama Mayapur: Lord Caitanya's City of Pilgrimage
A major focus of energy for the Hare Krsna movement is Sridhama Mayapur, the birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Poised on the Ganges in the Nadia district of West Bengal, Sridhama Mayapur was virtually neglected twenty years ago, when ISKCON first began working there. Now Mayapur attracts busloads of pilgrims every day from Calcutta (about four hours away) and from around the world.
ISKCON's Mayapur center—the Society's largest—includes a temple, guesthouses, parks, gardens, agricultural fields, and a children's school. Also included: a printing press, handicrafts projects, a cow-protecting dairy, and a charitable center for free distribution of food. Gradually the center is developing into a full-scale Krsna conscious city.
The GBC, therefore, spent two full days going over plans for Mayapur's growth.
At the center of the Mayapur city will be a large temple, combined with a Vedic planetarium. For the last two years, the GBC's main advisor on plans for the temple has been Mr. A. G. Krishna Menon, an architect from New Delhi. This year the GBC chose Mr. Menon to design the structure.
He has quite a task ahead of him. According to the guidelines the GBC has given, the temple should be large enough to hold ten thousand people at a time. And it should be made of brick rather than reinforced concrete (the main stuff of most modern Western structures). Though concrete allows greater freedom of design, it crumbles after about a hundred years; brickwork lasts indefinitely.
Mr. Menon has also advised the GBC on the layout of the Mayapur city itself. Traditional Vedic plans, found in scripture, offer various geometrical patterns for city planning. The patterns assign places to temples, fields, houses, and so on, in a way to foster both social and spiritual harmony. Mr. Menon has suggested ways to put these patterns in place at the Mayapur site.
Memorial for Srila Prabhupada
The main building now in progress in Mayapur is the "puspa samadhi" of Srila Prabhupada. When Srila Prabhupada passed away, flowers adorning his body were brought from Vrndavana to Mayapur, to be enshrined in a memorial.
That memorial, long delayed in construction, has taken the form of a huge museum. Srila Prabhupada's disciple Matsya Avatara Dasa, a professional designer, has taken charge of the details for finishing the building.
But the managers of the Mayapur project told the GBC that more devotees are needed to complete the work on schedule. Art directors are needed to supervise local craftsmen in the detailed artistic work. And apart from work on the samadhi, devotees are needed to oversee construction of other buildings for the Mayapur project. (Interested devotees may get in touch with the project director, Harikesa Swami, at Korsnas Gard, 14792 Grodinge, Sweden.)
Project in Puri
South of Mayapur, in the state of Orissa, ISKCON owns thirty acres of land in the holy city of Jagannatha Puri. The land, donated to ISKCON several years ago, includes five acres on the oceanfront. The other land is nearby.
This year the GBC appointed a committee of seven devotees to see to the use of this land for a new ISKCON center.
For spreading Krsna consciousness, the GBC reemphasized what Srila Prabhupada had said: the most effective way to spread the Hare Krsna movement is by distributing Krsna conscious books.
By distributing these books, the GBC said, "We can make a revolution in the hearts of the people of this world and save these people from material existence."
As more books go out, more devotees come in to join the movement, and as more devotees come in, again more books go out. So the GBC called on the movement's leaders—and especially its gurus—to inspire more and more people to join the movement and distribute more and more books.
Philosophical Research Group
From time to time, philosophical questions come up on which even leading ISKCON devotees have differing opinions. The GBC has appointed a "Philosophical Research Group" to study such questions.
This year, the GBC has asked the group to offer guidelines on the use of Vedic astrology. Another question for the group to study: May ISKCON devotees serve as gurus in their own gurus' lifetime? The GBC has also asked the group to write a paper, from research already done, about the origin of the soul.
You'll find out more about these and other such questions in upcoming issues of BTG.
History of "Guru Reform"
After Srila Prabhupada's departure, ISKCON went through troubles and reforms over how devotees should serve as gurus. The GBC Body has now asked one of its members, Ravindra Svarupa Dasa, to write a historical and philosophical account of those turbulent and highly instructive events.
Readers of BTG who wish to offer advice, thoughts, documents, recollections, or other input are welcome to write to Ravindra Svarupa Dasa, 41 W. Allens Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19119, USA. (He asks to hear from you by August 1.)
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa is also the editor of ISKCON Journal, which the GBC started last year to clarify major philosophical themes for the members of the Hare Krsna movement.
This year, the GBC loosened up the Journal's editorial mandate to allow for more open-ended discussions. The GBC asked that the Journal appear twice this coming year.
Also to come out this year will be an ISKCON handbook for worship of the Deity.
Overseeing children's schools in the Hare Krsna movement has been the duty of an ISKCON Board of Education. This year the GBC made adjustments to the board, decentralizing it.
So now, under the international Board of Education, six GBC members look after six regional boards for schools in various part of the world. (Two more GBC members see to ISKCON's schools in eastern and western India.)
The international board has drafted rules setting strict limits on punishment, to make sure that children are disciplined wisely, with sensitivity and restraint. It has widely distributed a guidebook, "Preventing Child Abuse in ISKCON." And it is placing at least one parent always on the scene, in each school, to make sure the kids get the care and attention that come from mature parental experience.
The Order of Renunciation
To accept sannyasa, ISKCON devotees must receive permission from the GBC. In recent years the GBC has been tight about this. New candidates must generally undergo several years of waiting.
This year, the GBC approved sannyasa for Mahavisnu Dasa, an elderly devotee from Maharashtra, India, living in London. It also made a new rule: by a four-fifths vote, the GBC could waive all its other rules and allow an especially fit devotee to take sannyasa at once. The GBC then invoked this rule to allow sannyasa for Avinasa Candra Dasa, a leading devotee from Germany.
Getting Things Done
This year the GBC devoted several days to examining the GBC body itself. What are the specific aims it wants to lead ISKCON toward reaching, and how does it help ISKCON reach them?
The aims, it found, were yet to be clearly set forth and defined, and ISKCON's ways of moving toward them were fitful and uncoordinated.
First, therefore, the GBC drafted statements to articulate ISKCON's purposes. Then it made changes in its own workings so that it can do a better job of leading the Society toward them.
The GBC assigned each stated aim to one devotee. During the year, this devotee is to work with each GBC man to monitor and encourage progress in reaching the aim in each part of the world. In this way, the monitors should provide the GBC an account of the state of the movement and its progress in reaching its aims in various locations.
The monitors cluster into six committees. The GBC envisions that these committees will speed through much of the work that till now would get stuck in the gears of the larger GBC body.
For Krsna, managing the entire universe is easy. He can do it all with merely a glance. For Krsna's devotees, managing ISKCON takes a little more work.
At the annual meeting in Mayapur, the GBC drafted the following statements articulating ISKCON's aims. Each aim is assigned to a devotee, who will work within one of six committees designed by the GBC to help ISKCON achieve its goal.
Ksetra Committee One
To provide children with a lifelong devotional foundation and to progressively train them according to their natural propensities in occupational duties of devotional service to Krsna.
2. Self-Sufficient Communities
To reform the economic and social structure of all communities in the world by demonstrating the God-centered culture that depends on the land and the cows.
3. New Devotees
To convince receptive people all over the world to commit themselves to rendering devotional service, as taught by Srila Prabhupada, under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master.
4. Training New Recruits
To teach new devotees, through proper Vaisnava association and instruction, the philosophy and basic devotional practices of Krsna consciousness.
Ksetra Committee Two
1. Deity Worship
To attract all peoples of the world to the personal service of the Lord, to engage them as devotees in that service, and to train them in the principles and techniques of that service.
2. Mayapur and Vrndavana
To develop and maintain, for devotees and society, Mayapur and Vrndavana and other such holy places dedicated to the pastimes of Lord Krsna and His devotees.
3. Spiritual Standards
To establish and maintain in the Hare Krsna movement and its members the high standards of Krsna conscious under-standing and practices taught by Srila Prabhupada.
To manage temples so that all aspects of temple life offer inspiration to all visitors at all times to engage in the devotional service of the Lord.
Ksetra Committee Three
1. ISKCON Constitutional
2. ISKCON Property Affairs
4. Legal Affairs
5. Unity of ISKCON
6. Zonal Affairs
[Statements still to be drafted.]
Ksetra Committee Four
1. Finance and Accounting
To ensure that every ISKCON organization and program meets standards of excellence in handling fiscal matters.
To establish systems and programs of fund-raising throughout the world to provide ISKCON with adequate funds to realize its goals.
3. Management and Administration
To ensure that the leadership of ISKCON is characterized by devotion to guru and Krsna, spiritual purity, compassion, integrity, commitment, consistency, competency, and accountability, and to ensure that the devotees and assets of ISKCON are appropriately engaged, protected, and increased.
4. Life Membership
To engage every member of the Indian community and others interested in Vedic culture, everywhere in the world, in the service of Lord Krsna and the mission of Lord Caitanya in this and all generations to come.
Ksetra Committee Five
1. Book Publication and Distribution
To publish and distribute the books and periodicals of Srila Prabhupada and his followers in all languages and distribute them in ever-increasing numbers and with ever-increasing effectiveness, so that an ever-growing collection of Krsna conscious literature is enshrined in every household in the world.
2. Public Chanting and Festivals
To celebrate the congregational chanting of the holy name of Krsna by regularly organizing public chanting and joyous festivals in every city, town, and village of the world.
3. Speaking the Message of Krsna
To present the philosophy of Krsna consciousness in public media and other public and private forums—educational, religious, social, or political—to awaken in receptive people everywhere an attraction to the philosophy and practices of Krsna consciousness.
To bring the congregational chanting of the holy name to every town and village of the world through organized Padayatra festivals.
Ksetra Committee Six
1. Congregational Programs
To bring to all homes in the world the continuing association of devotees and the regular practice of devotional activities.
2. Cultural Programs
To reveal Vedic culture as the universal and essential culture of all the world's peoples, and to supplant all mundane productions of literature, drama, music, and art with Krsna conscious alternatives.
3. Food for Life
To establish massive free prasadam distribution programs all over the world so that all human beings are adequately fed and nourished with Krsnaprasadam and there shall be no hunger anywhere.
4. Public Relations
To win respect for and trust in the Krsna consciousness movement in all nations and among all people of the world.
To establish Krsna prasadam restaurants in every city and town and make them famous all over the world so that millions eat in them every day.
6. Vedic Science
To convince all people of the world of the errors of materialistic science and philosophies and to research, elucidate, and teach God-centered science, based on bona fide Vedic knowledge.