Friday, February 9, 2007
(Reporting: Tattvavit Dasa)
Gopala Bhatta Prabhu began facilitating the third and final day of strategic planning by asking the GBC members how they were feeling about the two previous days of planning and whether they wanted to continue the process.
Bhakti Caru Swami said that it is just a beginning, but the signs are very positive; the GBC is being proactive and dealing with issues that are stifling the movement. Anuttama dasa Prabhu said it is an essential process; the GBC’s constituents want to see something new and positive.
Lokanath Swami described a lion, which looks behind him, thinks, proceeds a bit, stops to look behind again, thinks more, and then proceeds. He compared this activity of the lion to the planning process. This image, simha-avalokana-nyaya, is from Sanskrit literary theory and describes a logical method used in writing sutras.
Bhaktimarg Swami asked that the pace not be slackened. So as not to slacken the pace, Gopala Bhatta Prabhu suggested that the next topic be the proposed GBC meeting in June in New Vrindavan.
Romapada Swami said that in Italy the members present had decided on one extra meeting in America and a spiritual retreat in Vrindavan. The GBC members discussed the advantages and disadvantages of having either one or two extra meetings, since they must synchronize their schedules, plus find the most advantageous length of time to meet in order for the meetings and spiritual association to be productive. A straw vote showed that two thirds of the members prefer one extra meeting this year. And they decided on a four-day meeting combined with a one-day spiritual retreat, from June third through the seventh in New Vrindavan. Directly after that is the New York Ratha-yatra.
Gopala Bhatta Prabhu announced new funding for the GBC over the next two years, being provided by Ambarisa Prabhu and himself. A portion of this could be used by members who need financial help to travel to the extra meetings; the major portion is for new staffing and offices. In addition, Radhanath Swami will offer facilities in Chowpatty for new headquarters of a GBC research and planning staff, and a new GBC secretariat may be located in Radhadesh, pending discussions with Hrdaya Caitanya Prabhu.
Ambarisa Prabhu and Gopal Bhatta Prabhu just want to see that the GBC is committed to moving forward and that it finds solid alternative sources of funding within a reasonable time to keep this momentum going.
The next business was choosing two Executive Committee members who will carry forward these new initiatives. Bhanu Swami, who is willing to, is in line to become the GBC chairman in 2008.
The service of the Executive Committee will soon be made easier by the Sannyasa Ministry, which will make the seventeen sannyasa candidates available to assist the EC’s work for two months each. And this year ISKCON Resolve will reduce the Executive Committee’s workload by offering its conflict resolution assistance.
Devotees expressed a desire to work with Ramai Swami on the EC. The GBC discussed who to nominate and how to cover a new EC member’s zonal services. Sivarama Swami stressed that service on the EC is based on the ability of a devotee to do that service. He asked whether an enthusiastic GBC deputy or temple president could be on the Executive Committee.
A number of GBCs responded to this by asking for a straw vote on whether a GBC task force should immediately look at the options for structuring the Executive Committee. Many GBCs voted in favor. Volunteers for the task force include Jaya Pataka Swami, Kavicandra Swami, Hridayananda das Goswami, and others.
The rest of the morning was spent working on the six core initiatives.
The Afternoon Session
The GBC subcommittees reported on how their sessions went and what results they plan to produce by the June GBC meeting.
Parallel lines of authority
Badrinarayan dasa Prabhu thanked the team in this subcommittee: Prahladananda Swami, Sivarama Swami, Prabhavisnu Swami, Guru Prasad Swami, Bhanu Swami, Ramai Swami, and Radhanath Swami. They discussed an eighteen-point document, by Sivarama Swami, outlining his suggestions to dealing with this key issue. All their feedback and the deputies’ feedback will be collected and reviewed by this subcommittee at the June GBC meeting. Then, at the 2008 annual meeting in Mayapur, a full day will be dedicated to this serious discussion.
Praghosa Dasa Prabhu said that it was pleasant to work with this team: Lokanath Swami, Bhakti Caitanya Swami, B.B. Govinda Swami, Nrsimha Kavaca Prabhu, Samba Prabhu. Its aims are to improve camaraderie among the GBC members and to act as a resource center that provides support for GBC members. For the GBC’s spiritual retreat this Sunday in Mayapur, the subcommittee will line up some activities that the GBC body has never done together. After a breakfast at Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi, the retreat will start.
Srila Prabhupada’s Position
Ravindra Svarupa dasa Prabhu stated the aims of this team (Bhaktivaibhava Swami, Bhakti Caru Swami, Hridayananda Das Goswami, Madhu Sevita Prabhu, Malati Prabhu, and Virabahu Prabhu). The paper about Srila Prabhupada that he read two days ago will be revised by the June meeting, when the GBC body can review it. Hopefully, the paper can be published by Srila Prabhupada’s dispappearance anniversary.
Two initiatives are being undertaken: The “six-month initiative” will focus on the first six months of new devotees in ISKCON, when they accept Srila Prabhupada as their siksa guru. A curriculum will be produced that helps new devotees establish a solid siksa relationship that continues throughout their lives. The team also proposed a “hearing from Srila Prabhupada initiative,” to teach new devotees how to listen to and hear from Srila Prabhupada. DVDs will be made containing selections of conversations in sync with an English translation (or some other languages) on the screen. Photos will be included to set the historical context. Explanatory notes and a study guide will accompany these DVDs, all professionally done and downloadable from the Web, by the target date of the 2008 meeting in Mayapur.
Devamrta Swami said that this was an exciting group: Bir Krishna Goswami, Gopal Krishna Goswami, Jaya Pataka Swami, Romapada Swami, Kaunteya Prabhu, Kavicandra Swami, Aniruddha Prabhu, Acintya Rupa Prabhu, and Prasanta Prabhu. They looked at Srila Prabhupada’s classic preaching strategies and discussed how to apply them in today’s ISKCON. That led to analyzing the obstacles we face while trying to apply them and how we overcome those.
Book distribution should be people-focused. While society has become multicultural, our temple hospitality has not keep pace with this. In the established market democracies, the condition of our temples is generally not strong. Some historical problems: book distribution decreased when sales of paraphernalia began for fund-raising; temples failed to keep devotee care a priority; congregations were not trained.
By June, in an effort to improve our outreach performance, the team will report on key result areas to develop. The team will also examine proliferation, or the harmonious existence and cooperation of more than one center in the same city. This is a trend in a number of places in ISKCON, and if managed properly, it can greatly expand the preaching.
This committee was allotted extra time for its presentation, as it wanted some immediate discussion to help guide its work. Sesa Prabhu pointed out that his group (Bhaktimarg Swami, Hrdaya Caitanya Dasa, Paramgarti Swami) wanted to involve other devotees after the Italy meetings, to help ensure the acceptance of a constitution. Two members have been added from Europe
(Visnu Murti Prabhu and Vedavyasa Prabhu), and Bhakta Rupa Prabhu joined them here. Sesa Prabhu asked the GBC body to use a handout they received called Constitution Committee to recommend anyone else in the world with skills to help prepare a constitution.
Feedback from the GBC members is needed on the subcommittee’s working paper, which proposes having two documents: one concise and foundational and unchanging; the other explaining the constitution’s principles and ISKCON’s day-to-day operations. The constitution could establish a standard for generations to come.
Sesa Prabhu wanted the GBC to consider the primary audience of the constitution. Is it those not in ISKCON: potential devotees, governments, scholars? Or is it our devotees?
Anuttama dasa Prabhu said that it is most important to define what ISKCON is for the members, in language understandable to a wide audience.
Hridayananda das Goswami said that the history of religions shows that a charismatic founder’s departure demands the “routinization of charisma,” or channeling his authority into a rational structure. This includes defining membership (“beyond just doing nothing so bad that you have not been kicked out”) and educating devotees not to imitate Srila Prabhupada’s absolute authority. He thought it important to point out that many of the challenges ISKCON faces have been met by other religions in the same historical space we occupy.
Sesa Prabhu said that another area to consider is judicial recourse. The GBC is Srila Prabhupada’s successor, as stated in his will, but does that mean it also needs to be involved in judicial procedures? Anuttama Prabhu then commented that the GBC has already ceded authority to the Child Protection Office. Jaya Pataka Swami mentioned that Srila Prabhupada said ISKCON should be run by rule of law.
Finally, Sesa Prabhu outlined the components of the proposed constitution: What to do with existing laws; defining ISKCON; lines of authority; membership; justice; organizational structure; purposes of ISKCON; defining a temple and a center; responsibilities for properties and assets; and defining clergy. He said that by the GBC meeting in June the subcommittee will fill out these subcategories.
Succession and leadership training
Tamohara Prabhu said that his group (Anuttama Prabhu, Bhakti Vijnana Dasa Goswami, Pancaratna Prabhu, and Janmastami Prabhu) asked the questions: Who will lead this movement in the future? What kind of training should be provided to ensure that the future is in good hands? The group identified three areas: education for current leaders; short-term plans to find new leaders (e.g., education and the mentoring of young devotees); and long-term planning. The third area took up most of the time.
Many religious groups have seminaries that offer a unified, standardized curriculum for training professional clergy. Our investments in this will have to be substantial. While we have Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh, we will need something for both its graduates to go on to and many other devotees worldwide. ISKCON could start with one location and expand. Bhakti Caru Swami has offered facility in Ujjain. The Indian economic scale makes this offer attractive. This initiative is about upholding fairly high educational standards for the best and brightest devotees who already have some training.
Bhakti Vijnana Swami gave some ideas on spiritual development and empowerment. Internship experiences in temples could be connected to academic reflection in the form of papers written about those internships. Excellent teachers are required. Separate gender education is recommended.
Elements of education: theology, leadership and management skills, counseling, ministerial skills, preaching, temple skills, publishing, cow protection, cooking, basic Sanskrit, and so on. To further develop this committee, GBC help was requested. Research is needed about what kind of training leaders need, how we would do it, and how others do it. By the June GBC meetings, this subcommittee will have more information and provide a better model and outline.
Hridayananda Das Goswami thanked Tamohara Prabhu for this good presentation about an important program. We train devotees to win debates in classes, but not to persuade people to become devotees, he said. Regarding gender separation, he acknowledged its benefits, but warned that in many parts of the world graduates will face an environment far from the ideals of gender separation. He suggested that we do not employ a culture that will not serve our leaders well in the field.
Gopala Bhatta Prabhu reminded the GBC body that a lot of e-mail work is going to be done in April and May, so that the members will be well-briefed by June. He advised everyone to allocate time to read and think about e-mail.
Radhanath Swami, on behalf of the GBC body, thanked Gopala Bhatta Prabhu for facilitating their strategic planning meetings.
Gopala Bhatta Prabhu said, “I do not deserve you kindness, but it feels good to accept it.” He then left the room to return to the United States.[kqf=10]