The 2013 Annual General Meeting (AGM) for ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission (GBC) began today in Sridham Mayapur, West Bengal, India.
Preceding this year’s meetings was the much anticipated “Sanga for GBCs, Gurus, and Sannyasis,” (SGGS) – five days of meetings between the GBC and ISKCON’s initiating gurus and sannyasis to discuss a variety of issues as well as to introduce to the GBC’s strategic plan.
The GBC Strategic Planning Team (SPT) organized the SGGS on behalf of the GBC body in recognition of the responsibility each ISKCON leader has toward the devotees under his care and for making sure ISKCON’s outreach remains dynamic into the future. The Sanga also creates an opportunity for the GBC to hear from ISKCON’s senior leadership and foster a shared vision of what Srila Prabhupada wanted for ISKCON and how best to develop it.
The SGGS began on Tuesday with an inspirational reading on the central theme of the Sanga:
Material nature means dissension and disagreement, especially in this Kali-yuga. But, for this Krsna consciousness movement its success will depend on agreement, even though there are varieties of engagements. In the material world there are varieties, but there is no agreement. In the spiritual world there are varieties, but there is agreement. That is the difference. The materialist without being able to adjust the varieties and the disagreements makes everything zero. They cannot come into agreement with varieties, but if we keep Krsna in the center, then there will be agreement in varieties. This is called unity in diversity. I am therefore suggesting that all our men meet in Mayapur every year during the birth anniversary of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. With all GBC and senior men present we should discuss how to make unity in diversity. But, if we fight on account of diversity, then it is simply the material platform. Please try to maintain the philosophy of unity in diversity. That will make our movement successful. (Srila Prabhupada letter, October 18, 1973)
- Describe what an ideal ISKCON would look like thirty-five years from now.
- Who will be leading to this ideal ISKCON and what qualities and qualifications do you want them to have?
- What could you be doing now to help realize this ideal ISKCON?
- What will happen if you don’t do the above?
After taking a few moments to record their reflections, participants met in small groups to discuss their ideas before sharing highlights with the entire Sanga.
As the participants began to speak their vision to the group, a sense of urgency developed. We have to begin whatever improvements are necessary to put us on track to achieve the high standard we know Srila Prabhupada wanted for his ISKCON.
With this urgency in mind, participants were then asked to select one of thirteen topics to discuss in breakout sessions over the course of the next day and a half. The thirteen topics addressed the most pressing issues brought up in a series of surveys sent out by the SPT to all ISKCON sannyasis, initiating gurus, and GBC members over the past year. Some of the topics:
- Accountability, and how to assess the performance of ISKCON’s leaders.
- The system of becoming guru in ISKCON. Should it be improved? Changed?
- How the GBC can better serve ISKCON.
- Care for leaders. How to make sure our leaders have time for their own spiritual development and that the expectations of them are realistic?
- Succession – our leaders are aging! How to identify and empower the next generation of ISKCON’s leaders?
- The move from a temple-centric to a congregation-centric movement. What should we be doing to support the reality of how our movement has developed?
- Sannyasi deployment – Srila Prabhupada said that sannyasis should travel both to preach and to help maintain purity in the movement. Should the GBC be sending our sannyasis to areas that are in need of help or otherwise off the beaten track?
- Healthy and unhealthy methods of dialogue.
- And an especially popular choice – relevant and relatable outreach.
Each topic was assigned a facilitator, who later presented the essence of his or her group’s discussion to the plenary.
Participants have brought good energy and enthusiasm to the SGGS, and are taking advantage of the opportunity the Sanga provides to discuss topics that matter to them and to ISKCON. The dialogue is inspiring, and, of course, the association (and kirtanas!) are wonderful.
-Prepared by Sraddha devi dasi and Kaisori devi dasi
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The second day of the Sanga for GBCs, Gurus, and Sannyasis (SGGS) in Sridham Mayapur began on February 27 with Laxmimoni Prabhu reading of a collection of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on the importance of cooperation to successfully spread Krishna consciousness all over the world.
The SGGS breakout session identified several pitfalls of the current system. For example, having senior devotees and the GBC give no objection to a devotee initiating can tend to decrease the responsibility aspiring disciples should have to properly examine their prospective gurus; “no objection” is tantamount in many devotees’ minds to “approval.” The current system also has the potential to imply that siksa-gurus – usually an aspiring devotee’s first spiritual caregivers – are in some way less than diksa-gurus in importance or spiritual development – an impression ISKCON does not want to give.
The advantage, however, in maintaining the current system of recommendations and “no objection” is that it may help reduce the risk of unqualified persons becoming initiating gurus and ensure that ISKCON initiating gurus and their disciples are indeed following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and mood, and that they remain within his mission.
The second group, facilitated by Gauri Prabhu, discussed “Redressing the ‘Hinduization’ of ISKCON.” Gauri Prabhu first delineated the issues, which included an overdependence on the Hindu community for service and financial support – something that can lead to temple leaders narrowing preaching agendas; that there is a potential for an interpolation of beliefs and practices; and that those not of Indian ethnicity may not feel comfortable in predominantly Hindu congregations. The group did not have immediate solutions to these issues but felt that solving them required more discussion.
Lastly, Kalakantha Prabhu presented on behalf of a group discussing the Sannyasa Ministry and the GBC Resolution on sannyasi deployment. In October 2012 the GBC resolved that for at least a few months a year newly initiated sannyasis should remain available to be sent to areas of the world needing special attention or to serve in other ways necessary for ISKCON’s well-being and expansion.
ISKCON currently has eighty-eight sannyasis, twenty of whom have zonal responsibilities. At the moment there are thirty-two sannyasa candidates. Given that some areas and temples attract many visiting sannyasis while others very few, and that sannyasis could contribute significantly to a number of special projects, the group agreed with the GBC resolution for the strategic placement of sannyasis. More specifically, the group recommended to the GBC that sannyasis be strategically engaged eight months of the year since ISKCON’s need is great in so many places; they felt the remaining four months were adequate time for sannyasis to visit disciples, attend retreats, or do whatever other preaching inspires them. The eight months of strategic placement would include sannyasis’ current service and preaching zones – the intention is not to disrupt current preaching programs but to cover more areas of the world. This eight-month requirement would apply mainly to new sannyasis and sannyasa candidates and not ISKCON’s senior sannyasis. Details of how this will be set into motion are being worked out.
For the remainder of the morning, SGGS participants rejoined their breakout sessions for further discussion, then met again in plenary after lunch to hear two additional group presentations, starting with “Assessment of Leaders.”
This group’s facilitator, Naresvara Prabhu, explained that the idea of assessing leaders’ performance was meant to help develop a sense of stronger accountability. Initially the GBC wishes to begin these assessments with their own members and to perform them annually. These assessments will be done sensitively. The idea is to help leaders identify their strengths and weaknesses and to help them overcome any deficiencies by providing them additional support, training, or, in some cases, an adjustment of service. Before these assessments can take place, the GBC has to clearly define what is expected of a GBC member, a definition that’s been in development for some months as devotees cull all of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on the matter and write an actual service description for the GBC.
Rather than try to decide what is a bona fide ISKCON outreach program and what is not, the group suggested we be supportive of anyone who maintains the above standards whether their outreach programs tend toward the conservative or the innovative. The group also suggested that the GBC form a subcommittee to produce a guidelines and standards paper for devotees designing outreach programs.
The remainder of the day was spent in breakout sessions. Since the GBC meetings officially begin on day three of the SGGS, the third day of the Sanga will be reserved for an exposition on the GBC’s strategic plan. The GBC will rejoin the SGGS for the final fourth and fifth days.
The fourth day of the Sanga for GBCs, Gurus, and Sannyasis (SGGS) in Sridham Mayapur began on March 1, 2013 with Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu presenting a draft version of the new GBC paper, “The Position of Srila Prabhupada.” This paper illuminates what it means that Srila Prabhupada is ISKCON’s Founder-Acharya, why Srila Prabhupada started ISKCON rather than continue with the Gaudiya Math, ISKCON’s ecclesiology, and the importance Srila Prabhupada placed on cooperation. This in-depth analysis of Srila Prabhupada’s use of the title “Founder-Acharya” and the implications this title has for Srila Prabhupada’s position in ISKCON was well received.
Following this presentation, four additional breakout groups reported their results to the SGGS body. Topics included “Becoming a Guru in ISKCON,” “Caring for ISKCON Leaders,” “Congregational Development,” and “Relevant and Innovative Preaching.” Anuttama Prabhu presented on behalf of the second group discussing “Becoming a Guru in ISKCON.” In summary, the group suggested that the GBC’s involvement in endorsing initiating gurus be eliminated and instead, endorsement be limited to a local ten-person review committee for candidate gurus. This is not to say there needs to be a lower standard for becoming an initiating guru – the criteria can remain the same or even increase – however, the analysis of a candidate’s qualifications should remain on a local level. In addition, the group suggested identifying more senior devotees as possible initiating gurus, educating devotees on the importance for disciples’ responsibility in choosing their gurus, and asking the GBC to research and write a paper justifying the current system of becoming an initiating guru in ISKCON.
Tamohara Prabhu presented on the “Relevant and Innovative Preaching” breakout session. His group spoke on the importance of not losing the essence of the message and standards of Krishna consciousness. They also reminded us that in any preaching, devotees should give their association rather than take the association of nondevotees. A review process for preaching activities was suggested coined “Always Better Service” (ABS) on the basis that in any preaching we do – innovative or traditional – there is always room for improvement. Such a review process could help mediate any shortcomings in a preaching project. Also, the group pointed out that we need maturity to apply Krishna consciousness to a specific time, place, and circumstance. As with the first group exploring this topic, Tamohara Prabhu’s group also suggested that the GBC produce guidelines on how to engage in innovative preaching while remaining faithful to Srila Prabhupada.
March 2 marks the last day of the SGGS. The GBC strategic planning sessions then begin on March 3, continuing through March 6. GBC members will resume their regular Annual General Meeting plenary session on Tuesday, March 4.
Due to technical reasons the compiling of day three would be added shortly.
March 2, 2013 marked the final day of the Sanga for GBCs, Gurus, and Sannyasis (SGGS) in Sridham Mayapur. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) presented first.
Then Hanuman Prabhu and Madhu Sevita Prabhu spoke on the importance of cooperation between the BBT and ISKCON. Hanuman Prabhu commented that the BBT is really meant to serve ISKCON and wants to better understand the needs ISKCON devotees have in their outreach. Madhu Sevita Prabhu added that if the BBT and ISKCON cooperate, it would make a major positive impact on global preaching activities.
Badrinarayana Prabhu described the BBT-GBC team meetings that have been going on for some years now–to build cooperation between the two organizations and to set and achieve the related goals of both. Vaisesika Prabhu concluded the presentation by encouraging all leaders to actively promote book distribution in their preaching fields. “We’ve barely scratched the surface,” he said, “on what we can actually do to further distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books. By a collective effort, we will see significant, enlivening results.”
Badrinarayana Prabhu gave the second presentation of the day addressing the paper produced by the GBC’s Lines of Authority committee. The paper addresses issues of multiple lines of authority existing in ISKCON, specifically the line between guru and disciple and the line between devotees and their local managing authorities. In this paper the committee addresses the principles associated with the issue, such as proper education of disciples, conduct of gurus, duties of ISKCON managers, etc. The goal is to set guidelines and cultivate a cooperative, mutually respectful spirit between ISKCON’s various lines of authority for the benefit of everyone involved. Additionally, the Lines of Authority committee desires to develop educational material to support this paper and are proposing to make the paper required reading for any devotee aspiring for initiation.
After the presentations, SGGS members thanked the GBC’s Strategic Planning Committee for their several months’ of work spent organizing the SGGS. GBC Chairman, Bhakti Caitanya Swami, then spoke a special thank you to Gopal Bhatta Prabhu for leading the SGGS efforts. In response, Gopal Bhatta Prabhu and all the participants concluded the SGGS by offering their humble obeisances to one another.
The Sanga for GBCs, Gurus, and Sannyasis (SGGS) continued on February 28, 2013, but the GBC members did not attend, instead formally beginning their Annual General Meeting (AGM).
The majority of the day was spent reviewing submitted proposals and casting straw votes. Several weeks before the GBC AGM begins, GBC Deputies organize and review all proposals sent to the GBC by ISKCON members. These proposals are then presented to the GBC for an initial discussion and a straw vote. Later in the AGM, the proposals with any necessary modifications are again presented to the GBC body for a final vote. Those proposals that receive a majority vote then become official GBC resolutions.
Approximately fifteen proposals were sent to the GBC for review at the 2013 AGM, and several were evaluated at today’s meeting. Proposals include ensuring Srila Prabhupada has a prominent place on the home page of every ISKCON temple website, making the new GBC paper on “Parallel Lines of Authority” mandatory reading for all those aspiring for harinama initiation, encouraging current ISKCON sannyasis and mandating sannyasa candidates to attend the ISKCON Spiritual Leadership Seminar, creating placement programs for engaging ISKCON youth who have graduated from ISKCON educational programs, and licensing the GCal Vaisnava calendar program.
On March 1, the GBC members will rejoin the other SGGS.