2012 (Report II)

February 14-20

The 2012 Annual General Meeting (AGM) for ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission (GBC) continued from February 10 through February 21 in Sridham Mayapur, West Bengal. As previously reported, from February 10-17 all GBC members participated in ISKCON’s first International Leadership Sanga (ILS)—an assembly of ISKCON leaders from around the world invited to participate in portions of the GBC’s Annual General Meeting, attend and discuss presentations on the last several years of GBC strategic planning efforts, and to spend time with one another in devotional sanga.

As the week progressed, the ILS continued to be a grand success, being of great value to all GBC members and the hundreds of leaders present. On the fifth day of the ILS, ISKCON’s Minister of Communications, Anuttama dasa, gave a dynamic presentation on the importance and benefits of organizing communications departments for individual projects and for entire regions. The main aim of a communications department is to develop relationships with individuals, organizations, and communities that can either help ISKCON or hurt ISKCON. Examples of such key audiences include religious leaders, government officials, academics, and media outlets. By cultivating relationships with these key audiences, communications departments can greatly assist in both promoting and protecting ISKCON. Anuttama dasa urged everyone to designate a communications officer or to form a communications team at their local center, and to contact Anuttama dasa for further information, communications training courses, and overall coordination.

Following Anuttama dasa, Gopal Bhatta dasa spoke on behalf of the Organizational Development (OrgDev) committee. A primary goal of the Organizational Development committee is to evaluate the current organizational structure and to implement more systems of accountability for the GBC. The GBC has particular primary objectives. For example, to codify and understand Srila Prabhupada’s directions regarding the GBC and to measure how they are fulfilling these directions, to implement resolutions passed by the GBC, and to review and implement the work done by the GBC strategic planning committees. Considering the need for more accountability, the GBC has conceived of an Executive Director with a staff of Divisional Directors, who will assist the GBC in meeting their primary directives. Gopal Bhatta dasa announced that over the next few years, we will see the Executive Director and the Divisional Directors working more with the GBC and with all ISKCON centers.

Additional presentations were given during the International Leadership Sanga, including a dynamic presentation by the Vaisnava Arts for a New Devotional Era Committee, better known as VANDE. The mission of VANDE is to inspire, nurture, and network artistic talent to create a fraternal community spirit for devotional artists. On behalf of the committee, Bhaktimarga Swami reminded everyone how deeply supportive Srila Prabhupada was of the arts, and how much art infiltrates our devotional lives—through drama, paintings, books, kirtan, and deity worship. VANDE encourages all ISKCON artists to connect with the committee and thereby build a stronger community of art in the service of Krishna.

Some of the most important presentations during the International Leadership Sanga were delivered by the Srila Prabhupada’s Position Committee in regards to the meaning of Srila Prabhupada as the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON and our personal relationship with Srila Prabhupada as disciples and grand-disciples. Although all of us come from a wide variety of cultures, countries, and backgrounds, the one thing that we have in common is our love for Srila Prabhupada and our desire to follow his instructions. In this regard, the Srila Prabhupada’s Position Committee aims to elevate everyone’s understanding of the significance of Srila Prabhupada’s role as the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON and as the primary siksa guru for all ISKCON devotees for all time to come. Currently, the committee is developing the first official website dedicated to Srila Prabhupada which will function as a central resource for everything pertaining to Srila Prabhupada. Educational resources are also being provided by the committee, including a course and foundational document on the position of Srila Prabhupada.

On the seventh day of the ILS, Sesa dasa gave a powerful presentation on behalf of the Constitution Committee emphasizing Srila Prabhupada’s desire to form a constitution for ISKCON. An ISKCON constitution will preserve Srila Prabhupada’s direction for ISKCON and will delineate ISKCON’s structure of governance. Attempts to draft such a constitution have been made since the 1970’s, however an official constitution has never been completed or instated. Sesa dasa was pleased to announce that this current Constitution Committee is the closest that any committee has been to finalizing a constitution for ISKCON. This constitution will firmly and clearly establish the foundational principles that govern, guide and inspire the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

The last day of the International Leadership Sanga included several presentations during the morning plenary session, a boat ride on the Ganga, additional workshops, and the ILS closing ceremonies. Highlights of the morning plenary session include a presentation on the “Ultimate Managing Authority” committee and a presentation by Kish from the Mayapuris.

Badrinarayana dasa gave a significant presentation regarding a committee formed to research what it means for the GBC to be the “ultimate managing authority” of ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada’s will, drafted in July 1977, states that “The Governing Body Commission (GBC) will be the ultimate managing authority for the entire International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).” The committee recognizes that although the GBC is the ultimate managing authority of ISKCON, at the same time, the GBC is not absolute. For the sake of balances and checks, there needs to be principles of the GBC’s authority outlined in ISKCON’s constitution and systems of accountability need to be implemented. This is a significant topic not only for the current leadership of ISKCON, but also for the health and longevity of ISKCON through the future generations.

Following Badrinarayana dasa’s presentation, Kish, a member of the famous kirtan group called the Mayapuris, led the GBC and all leaders in a dynamic kirtan followed by an inspiring presentation. After compelling everyone to sing and clap in kirtan, Kish spoke to the assembled leaders on the incredible popularity of kirtan around the world today. The Mayapuris have been touring practically non-stop for the last three years leading kirtan programs all over the world. Kish encouraged all of the leaders to help facilitate kirtan in their centers and to assist traveling kirtaneers through sponsorship and organizing programs. Speaking as a second-generation youth, Kish also compelled all leaders to show kindness and encouragement to all of ISKCON’s youth by welcoming them in ISKCON temples and programs.

The ILS concluded with an inspiring and heartfelt closing ceremony, during which time several GBC members and leaders expressed their deep gratitude for the ILS. Aside from the highly informational and inspiring presentations, the International Leadership Sanga participants greatly valued the association with one another and with the members of the GBC. Many remarked that they’ve gained not only resources and skills from the Sanga, but even more importantly, they now feel connected with ISKCON’s leadership and with ISKCON as a collective, international movement charged with the mission to spread the message of Lord Caitanya. GBC members also spoke, expressing their gratitude for the immense service and commitment displayed by all of the devotees present. All leaders were encouraged to continue maintaining and expanding Srila Prabhupada’s movement in order to fulfill the theme of this year’s ILS, “More Devotees, Happier Devotees.” From such positive feedback, the GBC Body unanimously voted to organize a second International Leadership Sanga in 2014.

Following the International Leadership Sanga, the GBC’s Annual General Meeting continued for an additional four days with further presentations, review of proposals, and voting. Included in the presentations was the annual report from the Child Protection Office. Although sincere effort is being made to ensure the safety of children in our centers and society, it is clear that even more energy, resources, and commitment needs to be put forth in order to properly protect children under our care. We must make a stronger endeavor to put into place a Child Protection Team in every ISKCON center and community, to increase education in child abuse prevention, to ensure that proper reporting of child abuse is taking place, and to establish and financially support ISKCON child protection offices.

Hari Sauri dasa also presented to the GBC the current status of the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre (BRC) in Kolkata. The BRC has continued to grow and develop over the last several years, acquiring invaluable manuscripts and books related to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, all four Vaisnava sampradayas, and Vedic cosmology. In addition to thousands of rare books, the BRC now has in its care samples of Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s handwriting, a page written by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, and a biography of Bhaktisiddhanta in which he recalls his youth, growing up as a child of Bhaktivinoda Thakur. In addition to collecting and preserving manuscripts and texts, the BRC greatly desires to digitize their entire collection. Such a digitization project would lead to an online catalog of invaluable material related to Gaudiya Vaisnavism and all Vaisnava theology and history. The BRC needs financial help, however, in order to maintain the building, staff, and to seek out additional texts. In terms of digitization, the BRC desperately needs a proper book scanner, specifically an ATIZ Mini Book scanner. Hari Sauri dasa humbly requested all devotees who are able to help support the BRC to please contact him directly, or visit the BRC’s website: www.BRCIndia.com.

Additional topics of discussion during the 2012 AGB included the proposed “Disciples Course” designed for current and prospective initiates in effort to better educate devotees in the role and responsibilities of a disciple, the standards and regulations proposed for installing new deities in ISKCON centers, the proposition for the GBC to draft a paper on the current system of approving initiating spiritual masters, the layout and distribution of ISKCON’s Lawbook, sannyasa candidates, and GBC zonal assignments for the current year. Official GBC resolutions on these topics will be published in the near future.

The 2012 GBC AGM proved to be highly productive and inspiring, due in large part to the International Leadership Sanga. This year, more than any other year, the magnificent scope of qualified, dedicated, and enthusiastic ISKCON leaders worldwide was clearly shown. Such diversity is an immense asset to ISKCON, however it is evident that we all must make a sincere effort toward cooperation. Srila Prabhupada declared, “Your love for me will be proven by how you cooperate after my departure.” He also instructed us that cooperation is the secret to success in spreading the “transcendental message of the Srimad-Bhagavatam throughout the polluted atmosphere of the world.” Despite our differences in language, culture, and even opinion, we must remain focused on our shared vision—to please Srila Prabhupada and to assist Lord Caitanya in the worldwide sankirtana movement.