Saturday, February 10, 2007
(Reporting: Tattvavit Dasa)
Today’s agenda: morning presentations about Kazakhstan, the Child Protection Office (CPO), and Mayapur; in the afternoon, subcommittee meetings.
Bhakti Bhringa Govinda Swami presented the history, which began in 1999 with the purchase of 116 acres of beautiful land outside Almaty. In 2002 the Society for Krishna consciousness was registered. Then the president of the country changed the land laws and allowed individual Kazakh citizens to own land, so the devotees attempted to privatize their land in 2004. But they were not allowed to privatize, and the district governor instigated an effort to confiscate their land and homes. A demolition was attempted in April 2006, and ISKCON appealed to human rights organizations and various governments. In September the Kazakhstan government held an international world religions conference. Four days before that, the government established a special commission to deal with ISKCON’s case. But local government agents destroyed the devotees’ homes in November. A ten-minute video depicted the current situation.
BB Govinda Swami said that there has been a lot of hardship for the devotees, but the level of international support from governments and human rights agencies is unprecedented. A leader of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), for example, told him that addressing the harassment of Krishna devotees in Kazakhstan is one of this organization’s top priorities.
In the last few weeks, the Kazakhstan government has taken additional steps against ISKCON that may lead to another demolition of devotees’ homes and an effort to seize their temple land. At the same time, there are signs that the government may finally be responding to the pressure from OSCE, by requesting an OSCE advisory committee to mediate the issue. Although the Kazakhstan government does not seem to want us out of the country, it has not been able to protect ISKCON’s religious rights and stop the continued persecution on the local level.
BB Govinda Swami thanked all devotees who sent faxes and letters to officials and the media. He especially thanked Sivarama Swami, Anuttama dasa Prabhu, Vyenkata Bhatta Prabhu ( Vineet Chander ), Romapada Swami, Gopal Krishna Goswami, Mahamanatra Prabhu, and Romapada Prabhu (UK), Gauri Prabhu, and the support team for Kazakhstan. Bhaktivaibhava Swami, the GBC chairman, thanked BB Govinda Maharaja for his tireless efforts in this struggle.
Child Protection Office
Tamohara das Prabhu reported that because of a budgetary shortfall in 2006, the CPO decided to no longer maintain its European office. Most of the European work can be done from its central office, but Latin America is more problematic because the CPO’s European representative, Hanuman Prabhu, had also been working there. Tamohara Prabhu has adjusted the 2007 budget accordingly, and he included the financial report in a handout to the GBC members.
The CPO continued to investigate and adjudicate reported cases of child abuse. Dealing with cases of child abuse is an issue that continues to demand our attention, he said.
The CPO office was also active in enforcing restrictions, training, communications, and follow-up. Preventive systems, such as screening new devotees, were emphasized in Child Protection Training. Every temple or ISKCON project should have this training. An active local CPT program at all centers will prevent many problems in the future. It is critical to law enforcement agencies at least in North America that ISKCON have active screening procedures in place.
In India, the CPO made great progress over the past year. Some leading devotees developed an all-India child protection team that provided initial training. And twelve temples established teams. Bhaktarupa Prabhu has been a driving force behind this. Seventy-five Indian leaders and child protection team members attended a three-day training program during Kartika in Vrindavan, where policies were developed for all the temples in India.
Nineteen training sessions in six different countries provided child protection training to 350 devotees. Bhaktivedanta Manor was prominent in this regard. Hungary also offered it and was well organized in translating all the presentations, including video presentations.
Another important initiative in child protection is the education of children. Tamohara Prabhu and his wife and assistant, Mantrini Prabhu (who is also attending the GBC meetings), are both trained as facilitators of the “Good Touch, Bad Touch” child-abuse prevention program. They train teachers and counselors, who then train children in schools. This was done in Alachua and in Vrindaban, at the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula and International School and the Sandipani Muni school. Schools in Australia and Chowpatty also want to implement this program. The CPO has a grant to offset some of the curriculum costs for those schools that need it.
Support for victims is now available through a free hotline in the United States. It has already dealt with several severe problems and potential suicides. Gopal Bhatta Prabhu has helped finance it. The CPO also publishes a youth resource directory for devotees.
This year the CPO will continue to offer training worldwide. Financial support is sufficient, but limited. The vast majority of CPO funding comes directly from contributions of individual GBC members, all of whom have contributed. Anuttama Prabhu and Rukmini Prabhu, his wife, provide twenty thousand dollars per year to the CPO and have given several hundred thousand dollars over the years. The CPO needs the continued financial support of the GBC, at least as much as the members pledged last year. Tamohara Prabhu said that his office spends a lot of time collecting the pledges, which could be better used for other CPO work.
To increase its effectiveness, the CPO needs to decentralize. ISKCON has four hundred temples and operates in so many languages that one office cannot possibly do all that needs to be done. Tamohara Prabhu thanked the GBC members for their support and asked them to mobilize local devotees and national coordinators. He stressed continuing to train local and national child protection team leaders who can extend the training in their own countries.
Praghosa Dasa Prabhu introduced the presentation by saying that last year the GBC left off with the Sri Mayapur Project Development Committee (SMPDC) doing a feasibility study on building the temple where the park is now. Today the GBC received its report.
Bhakti Caru Swami spoke about the descent of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and how Mayapur-dhama became manifest to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. The temple Srila Prabhupada wanted his followers to build will spread Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy throughout the world when the dhama is properly manifested, he said.
By way of an introducing Ambarisa Prabhu, Bhakti Caru Maharaja said that he felt no one could be better suited to lead us in this service than Ambarisa Prabhu, who has never been affected by his Ford family wealth. When they first met at the ISKCON restaurant in San Francisco in the early 1980s, Ambarisa Prabhu was washing pots. Srila Prabhupada emphatically instructed him to build the temple, and he has taken it to heart.
Ambarisa Prabhu said that someone once asked him whether he was not unhappy not having a son. He replied that he does not need a son, because he has ISKCON.
He told the GBC that it had been an amazing year for the core team of himself, Sadbhuja Prabhu, and Bhavananda Prabhu. They made incredible progress on the design, and the cosmology, legal, and vastu aspects. The new plan is thirty stories high. Building this temple in the park will be a major disruption to the present situation in Mayapur. It will take five or six years to build. Thus the SMPDC is working with the management to make adjustments so that the pilgrims can still visit the temple.
He thanked three young devotees, Vraja Kumar, Krsnadasa, and Srisa Prabhus, who created a DVD presentation for the GBC meeting. The DVD showed various views of the temple in relation to the present Mayapur set-up and included graphics of the interior design of the temple.
A model of temple was then displayed (later, the model was moved to the temple room for everyone to see), and Sadbhuja Prabhu described its features as he showed a slide presentation. The GBC members also received a full-color booklet about the new temple.
In the new temple there will be triple the park-and-garden space we have now, Sadbhuja said. Srila Prabhupada wanted the main dome to resemble the Capitol in Washington, D.C. or the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, and it does. There are two additional domes over the two sides of the temple. The planetarium and a six-hundred-seat auditorium are on one side of the building, the Deities are in the central part (the kirtan hall will hold six thousand people), and Lord Nrsimhadeva’s temple (which will hold two thousand people) is on the other side.
The architect, Anjan Mitra, said that his team is trying to make the temple manifest. They will make it well ventilated, comfortable, and safe. The acoustics also have to be perfect, he said.
Hari Sauri Prabhu reported on the vastu aspects. The SMPDC, in October, met with Niranjan Babu, the son of the most famous vastu authority, B. V. Raman. Niranjan donated his services, reviewed the plans, and advised how to strengthen the vastu. The temple will face south, which is no problem according to vastu. The Deities will face Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s house, while Srila Prabhupada in his puspa-samadhi will face the temple.
Next, in connection with the Vedic Planetarium, the GBC saw a DVD made by Danavir Swami about the Vedic version of the astronomical structure of the universe.
Ravindra Svarupa dasa Prabhu, who is in charge of the scholars working on this project, then made a presentation on the research they are doing. One group (including Carana Renu Prabhu, an astrophysicist who is now earning her second Ph.D.) is researching the Fifth Canto; another group (including Basu Ghosh Prabhu) is researching the pramanas (information on the structure of the universe from various sastras). One team is doing research on Astronomy (from scientific and sastric references), while another (including Pranava Prabhu, who is writing his Ph.D. thesis on Srila Bhaktisiddhanta) is working on Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s writings on this subject. Another group (headed by Gopal Hari Prabhu, who is earning a doctorate at Oxford on science and religion) is researching sankhya (physics, creation and destruction, biology, and so on). These teams have a private wiki on which to update and share their findings, and eventually a section of the wiki will be open to the public.
This research project will grow and in the future seek affiliation with a university in India (probably I Kolkata) and take help from graduate students. “We have enough research for a thousand Ph.Ds,” Ravindra Swarupa Prabhu said.
Anuttama Prabhu asked where all the visitors will stay and what will happen outside this small temple area? Previously the GBC had heard about roads, parking, hotels, and restaurants.
Ambarisa Prabhu responded that the idea is to first get the temple going. Once the building is started, he can do a lot of fundraising. The SMPDC is thinking of adding a floor to the Long Building and converting the current Panca-tattva temple into a guest house. As land becomes available, the SMPDC will develop accordingly.
The meeting adjourned for lunch.