The 2010 Annual General Meeting of the Governing Body Commission of ISKCON commenced Saturday morning in Sri Mayapur Dham with Bhakti Charu Swami offering the traditional guru-puja ceremony to ISKCON’s Founder-Acharya, Srila Prabhupada, while Ekalavya Prabhu led an enthusiastic and inspirational kirtan. This year’s GBC chairman, Romapada Swami, welcomed everyone in attendance and delivered a reading from the tenth canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Badrinarayana Prabhu conducted the first presentation on behalf of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the official publisher of Srila Prabhupada’s written works. It was reported that the BBT is now printing 284 titles in 35 languages and will soon be making Srila Prabhupada’s books and other publications available in e-book format. Strong emphasis was placed in the presentation on the critical responsibility temples have to settle any past BBT debts. The importance of each temple reporting the details of book distribution by their community was also emphasized. There was an increase from 2008 to 2009 of 33% in book score reporting, however more participation in temples is greatly needed and desired.
For the remainder of the afternoon, a presentation was given by GBC deputies, a second tier GBC body that assists the GBC in managing proposals submitted by devotees worldwide. For several weeks, GBC deputies from around the globe met in Mayapur and worked long hours prior to the formal GBC meetings to read, sort through, and organize these proposals submitted to the GBC body. Additionally, they utilized “Mind Map” software to visually display the pluses, minuses and interesting points of a proposal.
With this information, the GBC deputies presented various proposals to the GBC body for comments and an initial straw vote on whether or not to pursue the specific proposals further. Proposals included ideas such as reestablishing an ISKCON Interfaith Commission, pastoral duties of ISKCON leaders, and standardizing ISKCON logos, mastheads, and other templates for published material. Thanks to the efforts of the GBC deputies to carefully clarify and concisely organize proposals, numerous proposals were able to be reviewed and discussed by the GBC body in the afternoon.
Also today, Bhaktivaibhava Swami announced his latest film, “The Lost Village.” This professional quality film uses the story of Lokanath Swami ‘s childhood in the small Maharashtrian village of Aravade as a platform to discuss current important global issues. Such issues include the increase of agribusiness and genetic modification of plants and animals due to the decline of agricultural village life in exchange for big industry based city life. All were encouraged to view and promote “The Lost Village” both within and outside of their local devotee communities.
The first meeting ended with a collective sense of accomplishment as numerous topics were covered and discussed over the course of the day.
Strategic Planning for ISKCON’s future was the central focus for the second through fourth days of the 2010 Annual General Meeting for ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission. In 2006, the GBC body collectively decided to increase their attention on Strategic Planning, more specifically to spend additional energy on defining and planning ISKCON’s direction and management for Srila Prabhupada’s mission to be passed down to future generations.
Through the process of Strategic Planning, sub-committees were formed to address specific Strategic Planning issues. The six standing sub-committees include:
1) Establishing Srila Prabhupada’s Position: To clarify the special role Srila Prabhupada plays as the Founder-Acharya of ISKCON and work to pass the theological and practical implications of Srila Prabhupada’s unique position to future generations.
2) Succession Committee: To identify, inspire and train future ISKCON leaders.
3) Constitution Committee: To formulate a constitution for ISKCON.
4) Devotee Care: To educate and develop systems to assist in meeting the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of devotees.
5) Parallel Lines of Authority and Finances: To create a balance between various levels of leadership in ISKCON, such as GBC members, initiating spiritual masters and sannyasis. Also, to develop job descriptions and financial guidelines for leaders at various levels.
6) Core Preaching Strategies: To identify and promote the main preaching activities, such a book distribution, varnashram, education of children, etc. as outlined by Srila Prabhupada.
For three full days, individual committees convened to further develop and realize specific committee goals. Strategic planning requires committees to not only plan, but also move forward in implementing the committee’s strategies and initiatives. Consequently, enthusiasm and lively discussion, both within and outside of allocated meeting time, often develop through this process of strategic planning.
During these three days, time was also allotted to plenary sessions during which individual groups presented their progress thus far and requested feedback from the GBC body.
GBC members will continue to collaborate with their committee members on their specific initiatives throughout the year and committees will reconvene in person next fall during the GBC meeting in Mumbai.
Day five of the Annual General Meeting of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission began with presentations by the Succession and Leadership Training Committee and Devotee Care Committee.
Tamohara Dasa, on behalf of the Succession and Leadership Training Committee reported that replacement of GBC and Zonal Secretary positions most often occur in emergency situations and are subsequently rapid appointments, many times without thorough training. In order to better this situation, the Succession and Leadership Training Committee developed and initiated a second stage of Leadership Training Courses in North America, Europe and India.
The first stage of training includes individual, short-term leadership and management courses, such as the long-standing VTE Leadership and Management Training Course. The new second stage of training consists of six, two-week modules offered over the period of two years. Training includes topics such as public speaking, pastoral counseling, strategic planning, and qualities of leadership as well spiritual foundations for leadership and management as outlined by shastra and Srila Prabhupada. Devotees with such training will thereafter be able to skillfully take on managerial and leadership positions within ISKCON.
Following Tamohara Dasa, Prasanta Devi Dasi led a presentation on behalf of the Devotee Care Committee. The Devotee Care Committee strives to address the physical, mental and spiritual needs of all devotees, and with such an important task has sought out numerous highly qualified devotees from around the world to assist with the project. Since the October 2009 GBC meeting in Juhu the committee published a second “Devotee Care” informational booklet. The committee also organized an educational program with trained educators prepared to give presentations on Devotee Care to any ISKCON center. Gopal Bhatta Prabhu, a lead coordinator of GBC Strategic Planning, especially praised the Devotee Care Committee for their work and efforts in organizing such a large number of skilled devotees to move forward in this initiative.
The morning session concluded with an astounding presentation of Srila Rupa Goswami’s Citra Kavitvani, a collection of verses in praise of Lord Krishna. This presentation was assembled by and given on behalf of the Srimad Bhagavata Vidyapitham, a Sanskrit school run by Gopiparanadhana Prabhu in Govardhana, India.
Prasanta Devi Dasi beautifully sang the verses while Lokanatha Swami explained the construction of the Sanskrit and Bhakti Chaitanya Swami recited the English translation. The verses of the Citra Kavitvani are not only incredible in content, but also in construction. For example, the first two verses only use two consonants along with vowels in the entirety of verse formation. Another verse uses the construction of a chakra, or wheel, wherein the first three lines of the verse comprise the three spokes of the wheel, requiring the middle syllable of each line to match and form the central syllable of the entire chakra. Then the fourth line of the verse rounds it way across the spokes to create the rim of the wheel, and even more elaborately requires six syllables to match where the spokes and rim meet. The verse construction only became increasingly artful and ornate as the verses progressed, moving into formations such as the snake, lotus and drum constructions.
The presentation not only pointed out the amazing mind of Srila Rupa Goswami, but also the importance of strongly supporting the Srimad Bhagavatam Vidyapitham school in their endeavor to study and translate such wonderful Gaudiya Vaishnava literature.
In the afternoon, members of the GBC congregated in Sri Prabhupada’s quarters in the lotus building to hear and chant the holy name. Bhajans were led by Praghosa Dasa, Anuttama Dasa, Lokanath Swami, Ramai Swami and Radhanath Swami. Chanting the holy name together with beautiful melodies and association left everyone feeling inspired and rejuvenated.
Governance of ISKCON’s managerial bodies was the main topic of discussion for the sixth day of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission’s Annual General Meeting in Mayapur, India.
At present, ISKCON not only has an international Governing Body Commission (GBC) which is responsible for the overall management of ISKCON, but in some regions there are additional lower level governing bodies such as Regional Governing Bodies (RGBs), National Councils, and Continental Committees. What was at question is how these bodies, which hold regular meetings and pass resolutions, interact with and report to the overall managerial authority, the GBC.
Given the intricacy and importance of the topic, the GBC proposed to form a Rules of Order committee composed of representatives from the lower-level managerial bodies who will explore the topic in greater detail. The committee will consider not only practical issues of management, but also the desired management structure of Srila Prabhupada.The issue will then be discussed with more information and in greater detail during the GBC meeting next fall in Juhu.
The following day, another complex topic was brought to the GBC Body for discussion by Shivarama Swami. This was the topic of membership in ISKCON—who should be considered a member of ISKCON as a spiritual society and by what standards?
Romapada Swami, the GBC chairman, made clear that Shivarama Swami’s presentation is not the official position of the GBC, nor is it a formal proposal to the GBC. Rather, the intention of the presentation was simply to reflect on the question and engage in thoughtful discussion.
Shivarama Swami initiated the conversation regarding the definition of ISKCON and ISKCON membership by first exploring the notion of “society.” He pointed out that in general, citizens within a society hold common rights and individual rights. For example, there are general laws to be followed in a country, but individuality can also be expressed within the country as long as a citizen acts within the constraints of the common law. Therefore, a citizen is someone who allows his or her individuality to be subservient to the common law of the society.
Following this logic, Shivarama Swami asked if ISKCON, a spiritual society, should require devotees to follow defined standards in order to be considered a member of ISKCON. Such standards could include anything from following the four regulative principles and chanting sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra daily to perhaps even not watching television for enjoyment. More general standards would be loyalty to Srila Prabhupada, following the GBC as the ultimate managerial authority of ISKCON, and actively engaging in some service within one’s local devotional community.
Shivarama Swami suggested that if we clearly define rules of membership for ISKCON, there is still a place for those who are not at the point of complying with the common laws of the spiritual society and yet who still hold faith in Krishna consciousness. Those who are not official ISKCON members, Shivarama Swami suggested, would share some of the same rights as ISKCON members, such as attending the temple functions, but would not receive the same benefits as official ISKCON members, for instance being allowed to reside in ISKCON temples or farms, serve in official leadership positions within ISKCON, or take part in ISKCON initiative projects.
Gopal Krishna Goswami pointed out that in ISKCON we have members at various levels in their spiritual life. Creating strict membership guidelines for ISKCON could exclude from ISKCON a substantial number of sincere devotees who are not practicing at such high levels.
Shivarama Swami responded with understanding to this point and again explained that his intention was simply to present ideas to consider and discuss, rather than a fixed idea on how ISKCON membership should be defined. However, he did express that a clear definition of what it means to be a member of ISKCON should be further discussed and explored.
Following Shivarama Swami’s presentation, Radha Krishna Prabhu and Radhradhya Prabhu gave an inspiring update on the Eco Valley project in Hungary, a model village working toward self-sustainability. Eco Valley, through its Sustainable Science Research Center, recently began a program where university students live at Eco Valley for two months to study and train in developing self-sustainable communities. Radha Krishna Prabhu also reported that Eco Valley now has eight university affiliations and eleven university students writing dissertations on the Eco Valley project. For more information on the Eco Valley project, visit www.ecovalley.hu.
Hari Sauri Dasa concluded the evening with an enlivening presentation on the new Bhaktivedanta Research Center located in Kolkata. The Bhaktivedanta Research Center, dedicated to gathering, preserving and making available Vaishnava and Vedic Cosmology texts, officially opened in June 2009.
The Bhaktivedanta Research Center project was created from a need to house and make available texts related to Vedic cosmology for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’s Cosmology Project. The building, kindly donated to ISKCON by Mr. MC Shamsukha in 2000, was completely renovated to create an excellent library space for 15,000 books along with comfortable guest rooms for visiting devotees and scholars. Suitable space is also available in the building to function as a temple and lecture hall.
Most astonishing was a recent library acquisition that contained many rare and valuable pieces including a personal diary of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, a postcard written to Bhaktivinode Thakur by his daughter, and a 400-year old manuscript of the Madhya Lila of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. The Bhaktivedanta Research Center, under the academic direction of Pranava Dasa and Krishna Abhiseka Dasa, is currently working to catalog and professionally preserve this acquisition before the texts disintegrate even further.
Thousands of Vaishnava manuscripts and texts have yet to be located and preserved, and due to the effects of time, these texts are disappearing. Hari Sauri Dasa thus conveyed the important work the Center is already doing and the immediate need to support furthering the work of the Bhaktivedanta Research Center. For more information on the Bhaktivedanta Research Center, please contact email@example.com.
The GBC deputies began the eighth day of the Annual General Meeting of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission with another session of voting. GBC members discussed and voted on GBC Ministry and GBC Committee member appointments, such as the Minister of Book Distribution, Minister of Education, and Guru Services Committee members.
A report was also given by Praghosa Dasa on behalf of Mayapur management. After requesting and receiving suggestions from a financial and organizational audit, Praghosa Dasa informed the GBC that approximately 80% of the financial recommendations have been put in place for ISKCON Mayapur and that Mayapur management is currently working on incorporating the organizational suggestions as well. There is still a large amount of work to be done in Mayapur, however, and Praghosa Dasa humbly requested the blessings of the GBC body for the Mayapur management to continue working toward meeting their goals.
ISKCON’s Child Protection Office (CPO) was the next topic of discussion in the morning session. The Child Protection Office is ISKCON’s ecclesiastical body that provides education and manages reports of alleged child abuse within ISKCON communities. The CPO does not supersede or replace state or national judicial systems, but rather provides additional support and education within the organization to insure the protection of children within ISKCON.
Tamohara Dasa, who was the CPO Director for five years, introduced to the GBC Champakalata Devi Dasi, the new CPO Director from Durban, South Africa. Having grown up as an active member of ISKCON and being a highly skilled lawyer, Champakalata Devi Dasi carries immense qualification to take on the service of CPO Director.
Following an introduction from Tamohara Dasa, Champakalata Devi Dasi gave an impressive report to the GBC on the status and goals of the Child Protection Office. In the presentation, Champakalata Devi Dasi stated that a major challenge for the CPO is to locate and train more devotees who can serve on review boards and assess reports of child abuse. She also stated that all ISKCON temples, according to ISKCON law, are required to form a Child Protection Team. A Child Protection Team consists of responsible devotees who are knowledgeable in local child abuse laws and trained to properly respond to reports of child abuse in their community. If a temple does not yet have a Child Protection Team, they are required to assemble a team immediately. Training from the CPO is provided for those needing to create or desiring to serve on a Child Protection Team. For more details, please see www.childprotectionoffice.org.
All members of the GBC were thoroughly impressed with Champakalata Devi Dasi’s knowledge and capabilities. A vote was called and Champakalata Devi Dasi was unanimously appointed as the new director of ISKCON’s Child Protection Office. In turn, Tamohara Dasa officially resigned from the position of CPO Director as GBC members offered words of thanks and applause for his years of CPO service.
On February 14th, all members of ISKCON’s Governing Commission attending the Annual General Meeting in Mayapur, India assembled in the center of a construction zone. It was the construction zone of the long-awaited Temple of Vedic Planetarium (TOVP), a massive and impressive temple dedicated to displaying the Vedic view of the spiritual and material worlds.
The TOVP will become the new home to Sri Sri Radha Madhava, Sri Pancha Tattva, and Sri Narasimhadeva, the Deities of ISKCON Mayapur. According to Srila Prabhupada’s desire, however, the TOVP will also house a functioning planetarium, exhibit halls, a library, and classrooms dedicated to the research of and education on Vedic cosmology and science.
Construction of the temple officially began this year. The grounds of ISKCON Mayapur’s campus that extends from Srila Prabhupada’s Bhajan Kutir to the Chakra Building to the edge of the Conch and Lotus Buildings have been cleared and are now home to two lofty pile drivers. To create the foundation for such a massive structure, 2,600 tubes will be hammered sixty feet into the ground. The tubes are then filled with concrete and reinforced with stainless steel rods. To insure the longevity of the building, six million dollars of the TOVP budget will be spent on stainless steel.
February 14th marked the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’s inauguration ceremony, and thus the entire GBC body was asked to participate.
A simple pandal (tent) was set up for the ceremony in the center of the TOVP’s footprint, now outlined in chalk. GBC members were seated in two rows as Hari Sauri Prabhu introduced Niranjan Babu, the Vastu expert and Vastu consultant for the TOVP project. Niranjan Babu is considered one of the leading Vastu experts in India. He is also the son of famed astrologer BV Raman and is the chief editor and publisher of the Astrological eMagazine.
Hari Sauri Prabhu explained that while the construction team is building the physical foundation of the temple, Niranjan Babu is helping to establish the metaphysical foundation of the TOVP. To create this metaphysical foundation, nine holes were prepared within the marked footprint of the temple. Four marking the cardinal directions, four the intermediate directions, and one in the center. Likewise, nine square copper plates, one for each hole, with Vastu markings on top were also made ready before the ceremony.
As kirtan began under the shade of the pandal, GBC members and members from the TOVP team were individually invited to help place a specific copper plate into each hole. Crowds of devotees ran to one location after another as the plates were successively placed, and everyone enthusiastically chanted the Hare Krishna maha-mantra as each plate went into the ground.
The inauguration ceremony concluded with an opulent feast, sponsored by the TOVP team and served out in Gada Prasad hall to all of the devotees in Mayapur. For more information on the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium project, please visit www.tovp.org
During the last three days of the Annual General Meeting of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission, GBC members gave presentations on new publications and the status of various projects.
Anuttama Dasa, representing the GBC’s Guru Services Committee, reported on the guru seminars and guru retreats program. These programs allow devotees who are serving as initiating or instructing gurus to associate with one another and share their experiences serving Srila Prabhupada in the role of guru. The guru seminars and retreats also aim to enhance skills in counseling disciples and caring for one’s own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Members of the GBC including Bhakti Marg Swami, Bhakti Chaitanya Swami, Prahladananda Swami and Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu, who attended the guru retreat in Ujjain last October related their experiences. They all expressed enthusiasm and thanks for having such a wonderful retreat last year and strongly urged others to attend future guru seminars or retreats. A guru seminar and retreat will be held in Tirupati next October before the GBC meetings in Juhu, Mumbai.
The Guru Services Committee also presented the progress made on developing a seminar for disciples. The idea of such a course is to educate devotees before they receive initiation on the theological, institutional and practical issues pertaining to discipleship. Some topics include: the special position Srila Prabhupada plays in ISKCON as the Founder-Acarya; a theological understanding of guru-tattva, issues of etiquette between guru and disciple; understanding the initiation ceremony; and the qualifications of a disciple and a guru. Over the course of this year, a committee will continue to develop curriculum for this course.
Following the Guru Services Committee, ISKCON’s Minister of Education, Sesa Dasa, updated the GBC body on the current educational institutions within ISKCON. He reported that the Bhaktivedanta College in Budapest currently has 200 students and offers two bachelor degree programs. Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh is also growing with 30 full-time students and is looking toward offering degrees in management as well as theology.
Sesa Dasa also presented to the GBC body profiles of various religious educational institutions that maintain lifestyle values similar to those of ISKCON. He pointed out that Amrita University, founded by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math in 1994, now has over 13,000 students and 13 university departments. Likewise, Maharishi University of Management in Iowa started small, but now has 1,200 students. Maharishi University has seen a 125% student growth rate in the last five years. Moreover, Brigham Young University, a successful Mormon university in Utah has an enrollment of more than 30,000 students. Brigham Young University lists “purity” as a requirement for graduation and funds 70% of student tuition through church tithing.
After presenting these examples, Sesa Dasa urged that ISKCON look toward the future and put additional energy into further developing our own educational programs. Everyone was in agreement. A directional straw vote was taken, and unanimously the GBC decided to place strong emphasis on the development of education within ISKCON.
Kaunteya Dasa on behalf of ISKCON’s Congregational Development Ministry presented two new publications to the GBC. The first book, Holy Jail, is a compilation by Candramauli Swami on the activities and stories of ISKCON’s Prison Ministry. In the thirty years that the ISKCON Prison Ministry has been in operation, hundred of lives of inmates have changed due to the practice of Krishna consciousness and the support received by devotees. For more information on the ISKCON Prison Ministry, please visit www.ipm.bbnow.org.
The second title presented by Kaunteya Dasa is an English translation of Bhaktivinode Thakur’s Sri Godruma Kalpatavi(The Desire-tree Grove of Godruma.) Sri Godruma Kalpatavi was originally a newsletter produced in Bengal 120 years ago by Bhaktivinode Thakur to guide leaders and members in his preaching movement. The topics discussed are very practical issues often faced by those with families and careers who also want to fully engage in practicing and preaching Krishna consciousness. Jayapataka Swami felt the Godruma Kalpatavi to be so relevant to lives of devotee today that he translated the text and inspired the current publication. For more information on the Godruma Kalpatavi, please visit www.namahatta.org.
The GBC meetings concluded with words of praise and a standing ovation for this year’s GBC Chairman Romapada Swami. Several GBC members expressed their gratitude toward Romapada Swami for putting so much time, effort and care into chairing the GBC. Over the course of the year, he addressed many difficult issues and diligently offered support to ISKCON programs and leaders throughout the world. Many GBC members felt that Romapada Swami raised the bar and set a new standard for the position of GBC chairman.
The GBC body also welcomed the new GBC Chairman, Madhusevita Dasa, as well as Hridaya Chaitanya Dasa and Bhakti Chaitanya Swami as members of the incoming GBC executive committee.
After twelve days of meetings, members of the GBC appeared satisfied with the amount of work accomplished during the 2010 annual general meeting. The GBC will meet again next October at the ISKCON Juhu temple in Mumbai.