The 2011 Governing Body Commission (GBC) Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) commenced on February 20th in the Society’s world headquarters, Mayapur, West Bengal. Madhusevita dasa, this year’s GBC chairman, welcomed the GBC body, appreciating that thirty-one out of thirty-three voting GBC members were present at this session.
Serving on the executive committee along with Madhusevita Dasa this year were Hriday Chaitanya Dasa and Bhakti Chaitanya Swami. Prayers were requested for Bhakti Chaitanya Swami who recently fell, injuring his spine and suffering a brain hemorrhage and therefore was unable to attend this year’s meetings. Ramai Swami is temporarily filling in for Bhakti Chaitanya Swami’s executive committee duties.
Following tradition, the first AGM presentation was the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust’s (BBT) book distribution report. Madhusevita Dasa read aloud the outstanding book scores for 2010, calculated by the number and size of books distributed by an individual or temple. Applause and appreciation was shown by the GBC for all of those who distributed Srila Prabhupada’s books. Special recognition was given to Bhakti Radhika Devi Dasi from Mumbai, India who held the top individual score of 118,933 book points and to the New Delhi temple that held the top score for temples, with a score of 782,895 book points.
Gopal Krishna Goswami then reaffirmed the importance Srila Prabhupada placed on book distribution, referencing Prabhupada’s statement that as long as book distribution continues, “ISKCON will never die.” Gopal Krishna Goswami also explained some of the ways they are successfully distributing books in India, such as receiving corporate sponsorship for books, placing books in hotel rooms, and distributing books to prisons. Books are also being distributed to hospitals. One hospital in India has the policy of giving Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita to every patient who has surgery.
Next, Bhakti Bhringa Govinda Swami spoke about the new Bhaktivedanta Hospice in Vrindavan, India. Bhaktivedanta Hospice is a beautiful 40,000 square foot hospice facility fully equipped to professionally care for the medical, emotional and spiritual needs of its patients. The Hospice includes eight single patient rooms, six double or triple occupancy rooms, a temple hall, and a portable temple that travels from room to room. Since opening in August 2010, the hospice has treated 665 patients and hospice doctors have made 1850 home visits. (Those interested in supporting the Bhaktivedanta Hospice or who would like more information can visit www.bhaktivedantahospice.org.)
Presenting the annual report of ISKCON’s Child Protection Office (CPO) was the CPO director, Chamapakalata Devi Dasi. Champakalata Devi Dasi strongly emphasized the need to assure that every ISKCON center has a local Child Protection Team (CPT) per GBC law. CPTs consist of two or three devotees who are elected by the local community to act as a resource and first responder to any allegations of child abuse that may arise within the community.
Champakalata Devi Dasi also addressed the issue of financing the Child Protection Office. Since 2006, there has been a steep decline in financial support, and in 2010 the CPO functioned on less than $20,000 USD. Following the presentation, many GBC members personally pledged to increase their financial support of the CPO. (Any readers who would also like to assist in this cause or would like more information on the role and function of the CPO, please visit www.childprotectionoffice.org.)
In the afternoon, an update on the construction of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (TOVP) was given to the GBC body. Ambarish Dasa was pleased to report that construction of the TOVP is ahead of schedule and under budget. The managing director of the project, Sadbhuja dasa, explained how in seven months, 2300 concrete piles reinforced with stainless steel rebar were driven over one-hundred feet into the footprint of the construction site. Now that the piles are in place, the superstructure of the TOVP is going up at a rapid rate.
Sadbhuja Dasa was happy to report that the TOVP team in conjunction with the construction company, Gammon, is working twenty-four hours a day to insure that every piece of the TOVP is constructed to the highest standard possible. The TOVP team employs approximately 50 devotees, including 22 engineers. This is in addition to Gammon’s 30 engineers and 800 employees on the TOVP project. At the current rate, by this time next year most of the main dome will be constructed. (To learn how to contribute to the TOVP project and to view construction updates, visit www.TOVP.org.)
The evening concluded with a presentation by Balabhadra Dasa on the ISKCON Cow Protection (ISCOWP) ministry. Balabhadra Dasa noted how farm communities are on the decline in ISKCON even though the need and interest in organic and cruelty free milk products and produce is on the rise. Given the situation, Balabhadra Dasa called for a revitalization of farm community initiatives within ISKCON.
From February 21st-24th, the GBC Strategic Planning Team (SPT) will conduct meetings with GBC members and invited guests. The SPT will be publishing reports on this portion of the meetings. Regular meeting updates will continue when the formal GBC meetings resume on February 25th.
After concluding four days of strategic planning, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness’ (ISKCON) Governing Body Commission (GBC) resumed their regular Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Mayapur, West Bengal.
Friday, February 25th was entirely dedicated to reviewing proposals submitted to the GBC by various ISKCON members and committees. Proposal topics have a wide range—from adjusting temple standards, to refining the role of particular committees, to establishing new offices and services in ISKCON.
GBC deputies, a second tier GBC body composed of approximately twenty-five devotees from around the world, assist the GBC in managing proposals. Deputies gather in Mayapur several weeks before the GBC’s Annual General Meeting and work long hours to review and clarify all proposals. For each proposal, deputies discuss in-depth and generate a list of pluses, minuses, and points of interest, which are later presented to the GBC along with the specific proposal. The GBC body then discusses each proposal at great length and takes a straw vote in favor or against a proposal. GBCs can also vote to send the proposal back to the initiators for more information or clarification. Toward the end of the AGM, these proposals are again presented to the GBC body for a final vote on the issue.
As with most years, this year’s proposal topics covered a wide range, from the relationship between ministries and standing committees to guidelines for kirtan standards in temples. One proposal in particular addressed a service that many ISKCON members may not be aware of—the ISKCON Resolve’s Ombuds Office.
ISKCON Resolve was established by the GBC in 2002 as an independent office to assist devotees in resolving problems or concerns that they feel they can otherwise not resolve on their own. The Ombuds office is a more recent service offered by ISKCON Resolve to provide an opportunity for devotees to confidentially voice any questions or concerns, or to simply request clarification or information on an ISKCON-related topic. The Ombuds office does not process formal complaints, but it is an independent, neutral, informal, and free resource to all devotees affiliated with ISKCON.
Braja Bihari Dasa, one of the founders of ISKCON Resolve, presented to the GBC a proposal for the Ombuds office “Terms of Reference,” meaning an official document describing the structure, systems, and purpose of the Ombuds office. Braja Bihari Dasa explained that since its inception in 2002, ISKCON Resolve has processed 2300 cases. Of further significance is that, although ombuds offices are becoming common within universities and corporations, ISKCON is the first spiritual organization to establish an ombuds office on an international basis. If you would like more information on services provided by ISKCON Resolve and its ombuds office, please visit www.iskconresolve.com.
The remainder of the meeting session was spent continuing the review process of additional proposals. Final voting on proposals will most likely take place on March 2nd.
ISKCON’s 2011 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Governing Body Commission (GBC) continued February 26th and 27th with GBC members separating into committees to discussion specific topics. Some of the committees were Guru Services, GBC-BBT Relations, Parallel Lines of Authority, and the Sannyas Committee. Regional Governing Bodies, such as the Latin Governing Body and the North American GBCs also convened to discuss issues particular to their geographic area of service.
In most cases, GBC committees discuss and research a specific subject matter, then seek approval from the GBC body on suggestions regarding how to proceed. The primary role of most committees is to assist in educating others on the content of the topic and how it relates to ISKCON and ISKCON’s members. To do this, committees may develop seminars, courses, or written documents pertaining to their topic.
For example, the GBC Guru Services committee has introduced educational resources, retreats and training sessions to assist devotees in their role as a disciple or guru. The committee continues to organize annual Guru Seminars and Retreats, which allow devotees who serve as instructing or initiating gurus to associate with one another and share their experiences. This year the Guru Services committee is also launching a multi-day course for prospective disciples, in attempt to better educate devotees in the qualifications, responsibilities, and roles of both disciples and gurus. The hope is that in the future this will be a standard course for devotees who desire to take initiation within ISKCON.
Committees may also suggest policy or request permission from the GBC body to create and oversee an official system of evaluation. For example, by approval of the GBC body, the Sannyas Committee established a comprehensive evaluation process to guide and approve sannyas candidates. Such a process helps to clarify for sannyas candidates the responsibilities and position of a sannyasi, and also creates a support system that aids in strengthening the overall health of the sannyas ashram within ISKCON.
As for the other committees, the GBC-BBT Relations committee discusses issues specifically related to enhancing communications and cooperation between the GBC and the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT). Furthermore, the Parallel Lines of Authority committee explores the relationship between the authority and directions of various leaders such as gurus, GBCs, and local management, and how these lines of authority can and should cooperatively work together.
Committee work is ongoing throughout the year, and additional committee meetings will be interspersed between plenary sessions throughout the remaining days of the GBC’s annual general meeting.
Radha Krishna Dasa traveled all of the way to Mayapur from the Radha-Gopinath temple in Mumbai to present the outstanding achievements of the Midday Meal project. The Midday Meal project, implemented by ISKCON’s Food Relief Foundation, strives to alleviate two major issues that thousands of Indian children face—hunger and a lack of education.
Although education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and fourteen according to the Indian government, the reality is that many underprivileged children within that age group still do not attend school. The reason is that a large socio-economic stratum of the population feels that their children should spend their day earning money for their family instead of gaining a formal education. To counteract the situation, the Government of India established lunch programs in all public schools so that any child who attends school receives at least one hot meal a day. The result has been successful. Because of the free meal, many families living in poverty now opt to send their children to school, rather than to work. Simply put, the school lunches decrease the financial needs of the family in terms of feeding their children. It is, however, a challenge to cook, deliver, and serve meals to the hundreds of thousands of children every day in schools across India.
The Midday Meal project is markedly successful in meeting this challenge. Inspired by Srila Prabhupada’s desire that “No one within a ten-mile radius of an ISKCON Center should go hungry,” members of ISKCON such as Radha Krishna Dasa formed to address the need for children to receive a healthy and nutritious meal while also receiving an education.
In 2004, the first lunches provided by Midday Meal were served. Within six months of operation, over one million meals were distributed to school children in various parts of India. Over the years, the project has considerably grown in scope and reputation. Today, over 850,000 children are fed from eighteen centers in eight states per day. Such distribution adds up to 255 tons of food per day and 355 plates of lunch served every minute. Moreover, all meals are cooked in kitchens with a notably high standard of cleanliness certified by American Systems Registrar (ASR).
In addition to helping thousands of children in India receive on a daily basis the nutrition and education they need, the Midday Meal project has greatly developed ISKCON’s relationship with the Government of India. Government officials are impressed and thankful for ISKCON’s service, and consider the Midday Meal project an exemplary program for feeding the schoolchildren of India. In reciprocation, the Government has eliminated all road tax associated with the Midday Meal delivery trucks and has allowed all donations to ISKCON’s Food Relief Foundation to be tax exempt. If you would like to help support or learn more about the Midday Meal project, please visit www.middaymeal.com.
Following the Midday Meal presentation, GBC members warmly welcomed a visit from more than thirty students of Sri Mayapur International School (SMIS). The Sri Mayapur International School provides a rich devotional atmosphere for students from around the world to study and cultivate Krishna consciousness and receive an internationally recognized and certified standard of education. Grade levels range from primary to high school, and SMIS provides both day school and boarding options.
After an introduction and upon invitation, students raced to sit in the seats surrounding the GBC conference room table. A microphone was passed around the table for all of the students to introduce themselves by name and where they are from. The number of countries represented was impressive. At the end of this special event, all of the SMIS students were served slices of cheesecake on behalf of the GBC. For more information on the Sri Mayapur International School, please visit www.mayapurschool.com.
The 2011 AGM concluded after twelve full days of meetings, four of which were spent specifically on strategic planning. A range of topics were presented and discussed—from updates on the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium construction to ways in which we can better care for ISKCON’s current members, to cultivating and training future ISKCON leaders. GBC committees will continue to work diligently throughout the year, and next October the GBC body will meet again in Juhu, Mumbai.