Srila Prabhupada’s Vision

Radha KundIn the formation of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Srila Prabhupada closely followed the mission and organization of the Gaudiya Math[1] as established by his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur. In terms of organization, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur requested his disciples to form a governing body—a group responsible for the collective management of the Gaudiya Math’s assets and preaching activities. Traditionally, the acarya, or head of a spiritual institution would appoint such a position to one individual, an advanced student, who would, in turn, become the next leader of the institution upon the demise of his teacher. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur broke from this tradition, opting instead for a council of leading disciples, a governing body, to cooperatively guide and manage the spiritual institution.

After Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur’s departure, however, discord erupted in the Gaudiya Math on the topic of succession. Srila Prabhupada recounts:

In the beginning, during the presence of Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya Astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada, all the disciples worked in agreement; but just after his disappearance, they disagreed. One party strictly followed the instructions of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but another group created their own concoction about executing his desires. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, at the time of his departure, requested all his disciples to form a governing body and conduct missionary activities cooperatively. He did not instruct a particular man to become the next acarya. But just after his passing away, his leading secretaries made plans, without authority, to occupy the post of acarya, and they split in two factions over who the next acarya would be.[2]

Some Gaudiya Math accounts maintain that a governing body did form, however the organization fractured in attempt to name the next acarya of the institution.[3] Out of disagreement on who should be the successor, the once unified Gaudiya Math broke into factions.

Having witnessed the disintegration of the Gaudiya Math and closely patterning his spiritual master, in 1970 Srila Prabhupada established a Governing Body Commission (GBC) for ISKCON. From its inception, Srila Prabhupada personally trained his disciples in governing the institution to insure the continuance of ISKCON and its governing body beyond his inevitable departure. Srila Prabhupada emphasizes, “Personally I wish all the existing GBC may be trained up so perfectly that in the future in my absence they can manage the whole Society very nicely and strongly. That is my desire.”[4]

Although informal GBC meetings began in 1970, the first formal Annual General Meeting of ISKCON’s GBC took place in Mayapur, West Bengal in 1975. Srila Prabhupada himself attended and guided the first session to show how such meetings should be conducted. During this 1975 meeting, a significant decision was made regarding the appointment of GBC members. ISKCON’s original Direction of Management states that in the future, temple presidents would elect GBC members.[5] However, this was never implemented, and in 1975 a resolution was passed effectively amending the original Direction of Management so that temple presidents would not elect GBC members. The resolution, approved and signed by Srila Prabhupada reads:

5) Resolved: The selection of GBC members is that Srila Prabhupada will nominate, and if there is a discrepancy, His Divine Grace will change him. There will be no elections, and the present GBC member will remain. Notice: “There will be no elections.”[6]

Two years later in May 28, 1977 an official delegation of GBC members asked Srila Prabhupada for further direction regarding the future operation of the GBC. On the subject of a GBC member’s term of office, Srila Prabhupada replied that a GBC member should “remain for good” and that a “GBC is not to be changed.” Srila Prabhupada further clarifies “So there is no question of changing GBC. Rather, one who is competent, he can be selected to act by the board of the GBC.”[7] The GBC continues to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions today, maintaining lifelong positions and appointing new members through an election process within the governing body.

The position of the GBC was carefully reaffirmed in Srila Prabhupada’s will. Traditionally, the will of an acarya first names an heir, a successor of the institution, in effect passing on the institution to a leading disciple who would then act as the next acarya. Srila Prabhupada’s will does not name an individual, however, but rather states “The Governing Body Commission (GBC) will be the ultimate managing authority for the entire International Society for Krsna Consciousness.”[8] By naming the GBC as the heir to ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada again affirms the position of the GBC as the ultimate managerial head of ISKCON.

ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission has continued without break since its establishment in 1970, and the GBC continues to convene annually in Mayapur, West Bengal for its formal annual general meeting. Currently, there are thirty-two members of the governing body overseeing a growing number of ISKCON centers worldwide. Still today, the function of the Governing Body Commission remains—to serve as the ultimate managerial authority for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness as instructed by Srila Prabhupada.

[1] The Gaudiya Math is a preaching mission founded by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur (1874-1937) who became Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master. The Gaudiya Math thrived under the leadership of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, but later fragmented after his demise.

[2] Bhaktivedanta Swami, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, Adi-lila, chapter 12, verse 8, purport.

[3] Ravindra Svarupa Dasa. “Cleaning House, Cleaning Hearts: Reform and Renewal in ISKCON.” ISKCON Communications Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2.

[4] Correspondence, “Letter to: Hamsaduta,” September 29, 1974, Vedabase.

[5] Direction of Management, Vedabase.

[6] GBC Meeting Minutes 1975

[7] Conversation, “GBC Meets with Srila Prabhupada.” May 28, 1977, Vedabase.

[8] Legal Documents, “Declaration of Will.” June 1977, Vedabase.