The 2009 Annual General Meeting of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission commenced with arati and guru-puja kirtan to Srila Prabhupada, who is present in murti form in the meeting hall. Apart from the large murti, this year there is a small murti of Srila Prabhupada fixed on a beautiful altar near the chairman’s seat. After the reading of Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.9.16, Chairman Ramai Swami, began the proceedings by explaining the absence of several members, mostly due to health issues. He also gave a brief summary of the executive committee’s work during the year.
After this, as is now the tradition, the BBT, headed by Madhu Sevita Dasa and Brahma Muhurta Dasa, made the opening presentation on the achievements of the BBT, book distribution results and trends across the world, and translating and printing highlights, such as:
- Encouraging reports from the Latin American BBT with 746,000 books printed in 2008 and a goal of 1,000,000 for 2012
- Printing of the Vietnamese “Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers,” the first government-approved book printed in that language
- Entire Braille set of Srila Prabhupada’s books in English and Italian available for download and listening from the website www.sathyaananda.it
- 6000 Hardbound French Bhagavad-gitas sponsored and printed for distribution in the Congo and Ivory Coast
- The first printing of the Kazakh Bhagavad-gita, bringing the total number of languages the Gita is available in to fifty-seven. The BBT is currently working on 240 new titles and 222 temples submitted scores bringing the total number of books distributed in 2008 to 5,364,568; a similar figure to 2007
- Overall, more than 467 million of Srila Prabhupada’s books have been distributed to date!
Brahma Muhurta Dasa then orchestrated a raffle of a special gift originally made for the European sankirtan devotees: an iPod containing nine hundred hours of audio by Srila Prabhupada. Ironically, the winner was Madhu Sevita Dasa who promptly gifted the prize to Guruprasad Swami.
Madhu Sevita Dasa also screened a short video of the highly successful Italian travelling temple and book distribution party, which helped Italy reach the number four country in terms of book distribution behind India, Russia and the USA.
Lastly, Gopal Krishna Goswami was called on to explain the astonishing distribution scores from his Indian temples. He shared that book distribution thrives wherever the leaders stress it. The GBC body applauded both Gopal Krishna Goswami for his strong promotion of book distribution and Prahladananda Swami who, having begun distributing books in 1968, is reportedly the longest continuous book distributor in ISKCON.
After this encouraging report from the BBT, Vice Chairman Romapada Swami led a discussion on some legal issues currently facing the society. Aniruddha Dasa, GBC deputy member, then led the members through straw voting on proposals already discussed by the deputies. Topics included International Steering Committee, Female Diksa Gurus, Rescinding Resolution 311 (of last year) and an issue from the Kirtan Standards Committee regarding appropriate mantras.
After lunch served on the lotus building verandah, the members reconvened at 4:00 pm for a discussion on the Puri Ratha Yatra issue. After considerable discussion from various angles, Communications Minister Anuttama Dasa, was deputed to create a task force of concerned and informed devotees, including Radhanath Swami, Gopal Krishna Goswami and Bhakti Purusottama Swami to further deal with this issue.
The second day of the GBC meetings opened with a presentation by the Law Book Committee. Aniruddha Dasa presented the progress of the committee in revising the current law book, which contains constitutional principles, action orders, rules of order, administrative guidelines and governing law. The committee is working to classify and update the new law book for ease of use. A major highlight of their work has been the creation of a searchable wiki with the last ten years of GBC resolutions and previous version of the law book.
Following the presentation and subsequent discussion, the GBC body voted for a few GBC members to review the proposed updated law book. Kavichandra Swami, Sesa Dasa and Malati Devi Dasi volunteered to take up this service. The current system for processing GBC proposals is that the GBC deputies first review and evaluate the proposal and then present their results to the entire GBC body. The GBC then discusses the proposal and holds a preliminary or “straw” vote. The deputies then implement any suggested adjustments and later on bring back the revised proposal for a final vote.
The rest of the session was taken up with this process. Topics included: accounting for donations by ISKCON leaders (which generated considerable discussion); a disciplinary proposal; and dates for the next two GBC meetings, October 12-16 at Juhu, Mumbai, and February 6-16 in Mayapur next year, which both went to a final vote and were passed.
Day three began with a presentation by the team working on the Mayapur Temple of Vedic Planetarium project, chaired by Ambarish Dasa. After a brief video comparing the proposed temple to famous buildings around the world, the GBC received an update on various aspects of the project. Hari Sauri Dasa discussed the work on the planetarium aspect and the exhibits showcasing Vedic cosmology. This team has approved Visuddha Sattva and Antardvipa Prabhu’s proposed planetarium model.
Sadbhuja Dasa stated that his team has nearly completed all the drawings relating to the structural design and engineering work. Other related topics discussed included the necessary government clearance, financing and fundraising, vastu issues, and environmental concerns.
Finally, the GBC were asked to vote on the last major decision: the color of the dome. They were presented two designs, in blue or gold. The majority voted for the gold dome. Ambarish Dasa mentioned was his preference too, despite the higher price.
At noon, the meetings broke for the Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur’s worship ceremonies in the temple. Before the resumption of the meetings at 1:00 pm, the members broke their fasts by honoring Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s maha-prasada.
Tamohara Dasa, director of the Child Protection Office began the afternoon session with an update of how his office is moving towards dealing in more of a training and advisory role. Again, straw voting took the remainder of the day. Topics included leadership prohibitions for divorced devotees, review of the Child Protection Office, increasing GBC participation in farm projects, prompt release of the GBC resolutions, and regulation of Deity installations.
For the last several years, strategic planning has been a major theme of the GBC meetings. Several days of the Annual General Meeting, as well as the second GBC meeting later in the year, is exclusively focused on this important theme. This year was no exception. Days four through six saw all regular work shelved and the entire body, plus many other devotees, come together to proactively discuss the best way for the GBC and ISKCON to prepare for the future.
Gopal Bhatta Dasa has been the leader for this initiative and was the chair for this part of the meetings. He began by asking everyone to take a few minutes to individually meditate on Srila Prabhupada’s vision for ISKCON, and to then analyze how far we have been able to fulfill that. The agenda for the day was based on the Organizational Development team’s January meeting in London.
The first topic was an analysis of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on the GBC. This was divided into three categories:
1. Unchangeable principles, such as the responsibility of the GBC for the development of ISKCON
2. Topics on which he gave varied instructions, such as the centralized and autonomous legal structures, and the balance between GBC oversight of local temples and encouraging local initiative
3. Topics on which Srila Prabhupada did not give many details, such as managing the parallel lines of authority of the guru and GBC, sizes of GBC zones, and serving the community of devotees that has now become home-based.
A major theme of the ensuing discussion, which took most of the day, was the idea of creating an administrative division of the GBC, headed by an executive officer, with mandates such as implementing and following up on GBC resolutions, strategic planning, caring for devotees, etc. To underscore this point, Kaunteya Dasa of the Organizational Development Team screened a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Realigning with Existing GBC Resolutions.” This highlighted the many good GBC resolutions of the past, which have largely not reached the stage of implementation.
A second presentation, “Zonal Redesigning,” showed the Organizational Development team’s suggestion for more effective GBC monitoring by dividing the world into much smaller zones than at present which would necessitate having many more zonal secretaries.
Some highlights of the ensuing discussions:
* Shivarama Swami affirmed the need for follow up of the resolutions after the meetings are over.
* Harivilas Dasa shared that he felt that the most productive time for the GBC was the build-up and execution of Srila Prabhupada’s Centennial celebrations. He further suggested that the GBC should concentrate on fewer tasks at a time.
* Gopal Krishna Goswami proposed as a global model the current system in India of non-GBC zonal secretaries to help administer to the many temples.
* Devamrita Swami stated that this year’s many absentees emphasize the need for bringing new members
* Bhakti Vijnana Goswami said that there are several such qualified devotees in the CIS, but who are limited by language barriers.
* Ramai Swami stated that he doesn’t find many younger devotees willing to take on managerial roles.
* This brought up many responses, such as Praghosa Prabhu’s comment that we need to balance younger devotees’ concerns for security with ISKCON’s spirit of pioneering and sacrifice.
* Jagajivan Dasa quoted a letter Srila Prabhupada had written him regarding leadership: “If spiritual potency and strength is there, then material intelligence will automatically follow.
* This again led to many interesting responses, such as Gopal Bhatta Prabhu’s story of Srila Prabhupada, shortly before his departure, telling Giriraja Swami that “intelligence and organization” were needed for the movement to continue.
* Several members expressed that better organization is needed for ISKCON to keep up with other religious groups.
The day ended with the GBC members writing down their thoughts on the creation of an executive office. These were collected and typed for review the following day. The response was overwhelmingly positive in principle. This idea is still in the beginning stages, so many GBC members called for a detailed plan, suggested it be introduced in increments and expressed concern about the possible cost of maintaining such an office. The Organizational Development team will meet again in London from June 4-8, and will have a detailed plan ready for the October GBC meetings in Juhu.
The rest of Day 5 went in meetings of the various strategic planning subcommittees.
February 17 was the final day of the strategic planning portion of the AGM. After the opening kirtan, Srimad-Bhagavatam reading and quorum check, the subcommittees met and then reported back to the meeting hall at 12:30 pm. There are nine strategic planning subcommittees, seven of which made presentations:
- Succession and Leadership Training
- Srila Prabhupada’s Position
- Preaching (formerly Core Strategies/Book Distribution)
- Parallel Lines of Authority
- Devotee Care
- Organizational Development
- Global Development
- Team Building
Anuttama Dasa gave the progress report of the Succession Committee. This committee is dedicated to ensuring that the future leaders of the society imbibe Srila Prabhupada’s mood, a commitment to the ISKCON mission, and spiritual character and integrity. A twelve-week series of courses for potential future leaders has already been launched in Russia, with India, Germany and the USA all to start during this year.
Ravindra Svarupa Das stated the purpose of the Srila Prabhupada’s Position Committee as follows: “To establish Srila Prabhupada as the central point and source of unity and inspiration for ISKCON for all time to come.” To this end, Ravindra Svarupa has written an essay on Srila Prabhupada’s position, which includes relevant GBC resolutions, is working on an essay about reading Srila Prabhupada’s books and being attached to his vani form, and plans to write a master narrative on Srila Prabhupada’s compassion to help engender a culture of care and compassion in ISKCON.
Other initiatives under development are to encourage and develop Srila Prabhupada festivals, Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa Pujas, an email list with a daily message from Srila Prabhupada, a book of realizations of second generation devotees, a curriculum for new devotees based on Srila Prabhupada, and increase home worship of Srila Prabhupada’s murti.
Sesa Prabhu of Constitution Committee shared that his committee has integrated the feedback they received from the GBC during the October meetings and simplified the constitution by focusing more on concepts rather than definitions. A major achievement has been to chronologically compile all the quotes from Srila Prabhupada on leadership and the GBC. This 270-page document, as well as a fourteen-page summary, will be made available to all the GBC members for them to pick out the most striking quotations which can then be included in the constitution.
Next was the Preaching Committee. Harivilas Prabhu shared their list of necessary “cultures” for the preaching to thrive:
1. Culture of courtesy–Good behavior, good cooperation and good organization are imperative to attract newcomers.
2. Culture of authority–Srila Prabhupada established his authority not by dictates, but by sharing love.
3. Culture of Inspiration–New devotees must be encouraged to be part of the team and eager to see their peers advance.
4. Culture of book distribution–This should be stressed by the leaders.
5. Culture of spiritual standards–Our words will become empowered if we strictly follow the spiritual standards.
6. Culture of gifting–During a Ratha Yatra speech, the Mayor of San Francisco praised the devotees for being “givers.” Guests should feel they were gifted much more than they gave.
7. Culture of local support–Visiting preachers and gurus need to support local temples.
Badrinarayan Dasa of the Parallel Lines of Authority committee reported that Bhanu Swami is writing a book on the authority structure of ISKCON explaining how a movement with many gurus can function under an administrative body. A draft of this book will be ready by the October meetings. The committee is also planning a series of courses to instill a strong sense of membership among all devotees.
The Devotee Care committee’s representative, Revati Raman Dasa, screened a PowerPoint presentation detailing the ISKCON Chowpatty model of devotee care. The committee plans to widely broadcast their vision on devotee care, beginning with a seminar on this topic during the Mayapur Festival by Radhanath Swami, Kavichandra Swami and others. Revati Raman also reported the proposed construction of a retirement village for elderly devotees in Tirupati.
Finally, Organizational Development team member Ramai Swami spoke on the need for ISKCON to have a global impact, apart from the successful projects going on in many local areas.
During the afternoon the subcommittees continued their work, after which Gopal Bhatta Dasa wrapped up the three-day strategic planning session by thanking the core members of the strategic planning initiative: Braja Bihari Dasa, Aniruddha Dasa, Kaunteya Dasa and Laxmimoni Devi Dasi.
GBC Vice-Chairman Romapada Swami in turn conveyed the appreciation of the members for Gopal Bhatta Dasa’s efforts: “By his involvement the GBC is doing much substantial work. The culture of planning for the future of our movement is evolving, which is itself the biggest result.”
Gopal Bhatta Dasa has put in much time and money in this initiative, which was warmly noted by the body. He concluded by stating, “When we heard the reports from the committee chairs, we were extremely pleased. The biggest change is that the GBC is devoting so much time to our future. That is very powerful. Another significant change is that the team spirit of the GBC is developing.”
In conclusion, Gopal Bhatta Dasa read the following from Srila Prabhupada’s famous letter on management:
“So the future of this Krishna Consciousness movement is very bright, so long the managers remain vigilant that 16 rounds are being chanted by everyone without fail, that they are all rising before four in the morning, attending mangal arati—our leaders shall be careful not to kill the spirit of enthusiastic service, which is individual and spontaneous and voluntary. They should try always to generate some atmosphere of fresh challenge to the devotees, so that they will agree enthusiastically to rise and meet it. That is the art of management: to draw out spontaneous loving spirit of sacrificing some energy for Krishna. But where are so many expert managers? All of us should become expert managers and preachers. We should not be very much after comforts and become complacent or self-contented. There must be always some tapasya, strictly observing the regulative principles—Krishna consciousness movement must be always a challenge, a great achievement to be gained by voluntary desire to do it, and that will keep it healthy.”
After the three-day session on strategic planning and the team-building day, February 19-21 saw a return to regular meeting mode. The 19th was largely devoted to straw voting and final voting on previously-discussed topics, such as Resolution 311 of last year and the appointment of Devakinandan Dasa as Minister for Fund Development.
Apart from the daily plenary meetings, it is noteworthy that there are many other meetings of sub-committees, ministries and regional GBC bodies. These mostly occur in the afternoons or evenings, making it a very full day for many attendees.
A highlight of February 20 was the presentation by Sannyas Minister Prahladananda Swami regarding the current candidates for sannyas. Six devotees: Jagat-caksur Dasa, Yadunandana Dasa, Sarvaisvarya Dasa, Brhat Mrdanga Dasa, Jaya Govinda Dasa, and Vasudeva Dasa are to take sannyas this year. Jagat-caksur Prabhu is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada from Venezuela; Latin American preacher Yadunandana Prabhu the headmaster of the Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh; and Sarvaisvarya Prabhu a leader based in South India. Africa will have three new sannyasis: Brhat Mrdanga Dasa, the South-African based preacher and educator; Jaya Govinda Dasa, a preacher in Botswana; and Vasudeva Dasa, an academic preacher originally from Nigeria.
Ten other devotees are on the sannyas “waiting list”, the newest additions on the two-year waiting list: Abhay Dasa, who preaches in the UK and Russia, and on the five-year list, the GBC Executive Committee’s very own secretary, Lilasuka Dasa.
Next, Prasanta Devi Dasi presented a slideshow on the recent fantastic temple opening in Aravade, Lokanath Swami’s hometown in Maharashtra. Several GBC members, such as Bhakti Purusottama Swami, Gopal Krishna Goswami, Bhakti Chaitanya Swami, Radhanath Swami and Malati Devi Dasi had been in attendance and enthusiastically attested to the superbly-organized festival and impressive temple project.
The morning session ended on a light-hearted note with the annual visit by the school children, this year from the Sri Mayapur International School. All the GBC members symbolically relinquished their seats to the children who then voted themselves into power and were served prasada snacks by the “former” GBC members. Prominent among the children was Nandanandana, who promptly grabbed the chairman’s seat, and Harivilas Prabhu’s three grandchildren.
The afternoon session began with Anuttama Prabhu reporting about the ongoing development of the Spiritual Leadership Seminar, “Being A Guru in ISKCON.” This course is now mandatory for devotees taking up the service of diksa-guru and focuses on topics such as peer support, parallel lines of authority, disciple care and introspection. The second level of this initiative, a retreat for ISKCON gurus, will be launched in Ujjain in October.
Anuttama Dasa also conducted an assessment exercise for the GBC members, which was interrupted with the news of Jayapataka Maharaja’s imminent arrival to Mayapur. This was Maharaja’s first visit to Mayapur after his critical illness, which incidentally occurred during the October GBC meetings in Mumbai. As a mark of respect towards this senior GBC member and dear servant of Srila Prabhupada, Chairman Ramai Swami, decided to break the meeting so the GBC members could greet Jayapataka Maharaja at his reception in the temple.
Despite his weakened condition, Jayapataka Maharaja made it a point to attend some portions of the meetings every day. He first came on the 21st during a presentation on kirtan standards by Janananda Goswami. Again, the meeting was temporarily adjourned as the GBC members greeted Maharaja, following which he thanked the GBC members for supporting him during his illness, stating that he considered that as being “the deciding factor” that Krishna allowed him to survive. He further expressed his appreciation for his godbrothers, saying, “I value your association so I wanted to come to take your association this year. You don’t know how dear all of you are to me. . . .”
On behalf of the GBC, EC member Madhu Sevita Prabhu responded by thanking Maharaja for coming to the meetings and expressed that he feels that Srila Prabhupada wants Jayapataka Maharaja to fully recover and stay actively serving ISKCON with his godbrothers for many more years to come. “Where would we be without the historical depth and memory of Jayapataka Maharaja?” he said. “You will help us to remain sober and balanced in our decisions and to avoid mistakes. . . .” Several other GBC members similarly expressed their appreciation for Jayapataka Maharaja.
At the end of the session, the GBC members gathered around Maharaja for a group photo.
The last two days of the 2009 GBC meetings, predominantly consisted of final voting and zonal assignments.
Every year, each GBC member’s zonal areas of responsibility are reviewed and ratified for the coming year. It is interesting to note a gradual shift over the years with an increasing number of GBC members preferring to share their zonal duties with one or more “co-GBCs.” This holds true not just for major projects like Mayapur, which has a six-man GBC committee, but even for smaller yatras like Latvia, Bangladesh, and Honduras. Another recent development is a number of non-GBC members holding zonal responsibilities.
The major change this year, however, was the induction of the first non-English speaking GBC member, Chaitanya Charan Chandra Das from Russia, and the second female GBC member, Dina Sharana Devi Dasi from Germany.
Chaitanya Charan Chandra, who is already an authorized diksa-guru in ISKCON, thus became the first GBC member to require translation of the proceedings, with Bhakti Vijnana Goswami doing the honors. And in recognition of Dina Sharana Devi Dasi’s sterling services as a European RGB member, she was unanimously voted on as an Assistant GBC member, by-passing the standard first stage of Candidate.
There are various levels of GBC members, beginning from Candidate GBC to Assistant GBC to Acting GBC to a full GBC member with voting rights. GBC Ministers (such as the Deity Worship Minister), Deputies (who assist the GBC) and Emeritii (or “retired” GBCs) make up the entire gamut of GBC membership.
For example, this year Hrdaya Chaitanya Das was accepted as a full GBC member from Acting GBC and is now on the Executive Committee as Second Vice-Chairman. His Holiness Romapada Swami, last year’s Vice-Chairman, was voted as this year’s GBC Chairman, with Madhu Sevita Dasa as Vice-Chairman (and thus probable Chairman next year). Kavichandra Swami continues as Special Duty Officer. These four devotees make up the Executive Committee (EC) for this year.
The EC are elected representatives of the GBC delegated to carry out executive functions throughout the year such as implementation of the annual GBC resolutions, fielding concerns from the Regional Governing Bodies and others, and responding to matters of international scope.
A prominent theme of discussion of the final two days was farm development in ISKCON, with two farming-related resolutions being passed. Radha Krishna Dasa of New Vraja Dham in Hungary screened an informative presentation highlighting the development, under Shivarama Swami’s guidance, of their self-sufficient farm project. New Vraja Dham’s success has attracted considerable attention from the Hungarian government and universities, who are now working in collaboration with the project. For more details, please see the attached PDF or visit the www.ecovalley.hu web site.
Shyamasundar Dasa, European Minister for Cow Protection and Agriculture, also made a presentation giving an overview of the current status of ISKCON farms around the globe based on a survey of 31 farms. Along with showcasing the need for more support and emphasis on farming and cow protection, the report included encouraging news, such as:
* The Irish farm is growing vegetables on four acres to supply three restaurants in Dublin.
* The Sussex cow sanctuary and several Indian goshallas are running businesses selling cow dung products.
* Bhaktivedanta Manor’s new goshalla complex will be completed this summer.
* The Czech farm received funding 45,000 euros from the European Union for Vedic and traditional farming, has developed a good working arrangement with Prague temple, and is now looking for more land.
* The Vrindavan goshalla has started ox-cart parikrams.
* The Mayapur goshalla is using oxen for tourism and rubbish movement.
* The Tirupati goshalla contracts out ox teams to local people.
A final item of this year’s meetings was the annual budget. Keeping in mind the current global financial crisis and not wanting to tax the temples further, Gokula Dasa, new GBC treasurer, together with the EC, prepared a budget for this year similar to last year’s. The GBC budget mainly funds the various GBC ministries, the GBC secretariat, and AGM-related expenses.
As always, the meetings concluded with thanks to the chairman and the entire EC for their hard work during the year and the AGM, as well thanks to all the staff and secretariat members who helped facilitate the meetings. As is a yearly tradition, Jayapataka Swami had gift packets for all the attendees.