Monday, February 12, 2007
(Reporting: Tattvavit Dasa)
The Conch Building now has an elevator (but no elevator music), which makes it easy to ascend to the roof, where the GBC Conference Room is located. It stops on the landing halfway between the fourth floor and the roof. On the way down the other day, I saw graffiti on the nameplate of the elevator company, ICON Elevators. Someone wrote “SK” above the “IC” in ICON and put a caret underneath the “IC”, which, combined, served as a reminder of ISKCON. Not only that, but during a meeting, Praghosa dasa Prabhu said that “ISKCON” stands for the International Society for Kindess and CONsideration. That fits the theme of the soon-to-start Gaura-purnima Festival this year: The Festival of Loving Exchange.
Today’s GBC meeting agenda: presentations on ISKCON Resolve and the Youth Fund; straw voting; and a discussion with disciples of Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami.
About two hundred devotees contacted the Ombudsman’s office of ISKCON Resolve in the past year. Worldwide, dozens of mediations were done. Training courses were offered in San Diego, Durban, Mauritius, and Belgium.
ISKCON Resolve worked this past year to develop a three-part justice system: authority-based decisions, judicial-based decisions, and interest-based decisions taken directly by the parties in conflict (disputants try to understand each other’s interests, such as in mediation). This three-part system allows for flexibility. For example, a judicial-based approach can be rolled back to an interest-based one, if communications improve. And if mediation does not bring closure, arbitration is a next option.
Ravindra Svarupa dasa Prabhu asked about the nature of an independent judiciary in ISKCON: Volunteering for binding arbitration is one thing, but what if the party does not want it? Can ISKCON authorities order it? Members felt that this is an important option that needs to be looked into. Hridayananda Goswami said that if we have an independent justice system, then the GBC can send cases to it, and deal with the cases last, if at all. Some GBC members discussed a previous independent justice system devised by Guru Gauranga Prabhu, which was costly.
Mary Rowe, an international expert who has established internal conflict-management systems for over a thousand organizations advised ISKCON Resolve: “Full fairness, thoroughness and promptness in investigations are unattainable standards. How do you know how thorough to be, for example? People see the same incident differently, etc. So please note that there is no ideal justice system; choose the least worst.”
A representative of the North American GBC reported that in 2006 the first two payments were made to the Youth Fund. Making the outstanding payments (due between 2007 and 2011) depends on receiving the pledges made by ISKCON leaders, temples, and donors. Insurance company settlements will also be contributed to the fund. The legal fees constitute an ongoing debt.
It was proposed that a World Holy Name Day be made an annual event for all ISKCON centers on the first Saturday after the disappearance of Srila Haridasa Thakura (as celebrated in Mayapur). Discussion had to do with the funding and whether a better name can be found (World Mantra Day?), whether ISKCON could better reach an international public if a solar calendar date were used instead, and whether all centers will find this time convenient. There is a big Russian festival at that time. The proposal will be revised by the deputies before a final vote is taken.
It was proposed that the GBC’s Rules of Order be amended to allow meetings to be convened other than on an emergency basis. The members discussed this in connection with its recent special meetings on strategic planning.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami proposed that Devamrta Swami become the co-GBC in South Africa, to replace Bhakti Tirtha Swami. Devamrta Maharaja has been there several times, and the national council is in favor of the idea.
Sivarama Swami’s one-year commitment as the co-GBC of France is over, and he proposed that he not retain the position because he cannot spend as much time there as is needed. He said that he will still visit France. The situation in Paris will improve if loans are secured to obtain properties for a temple and a restaurant.
Malati Prabhu proposed a financial consideration related to the Miami temple.
Discussion with disciples of Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami
The GBC invited four leading disciples of His Holiness Bhaktiswarupa Damodara Swami to come to Mayapur. The GBC wanted to hear the needs and concerns of the Manipuri devotees especially, as they had suffered through both the Janmastami bomb blast and the disappearance of their spiritual master.
Atmanivedana Swami praised Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami’s preaching to scientists and his spirit of following the cultural directions Srila Prabhupada had given him. Atmanivedana Swami highlighted, for example, that Manipuri cultural presentations took place in the USA last summer, and that the temple in Imphal will be finished later this year.
Mukunda Madhava Prabhu, the vice-president of ISKCON Juhu, said that Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami felt aggrieved that his understanding of the Bhaktivedanta Institute was examined by his godbrothers in recent years. Despite that, he remained loyal to ISKCON because of his love for Srila Prabhupada.
Ajit Prabhu, the temple president in Imphal, said that the bombing last fall had killed six people and injured fifty, some of whom are still hospitalized. He commented that because no ISKCON leaders traveled to Imphal to directly help at that time, the devotees in Manipur felt abandoned. In November, there will be a conference at the ISKCON temple, and he is hoping that this time many senior devotees will attend.
Ekanath Prabhu, the zonal secretary of Manipur, also mentioned feeling separated from senior ISKCON leaders after the bombing. He also wanted the GBC to know that the devotees need financial help to finish the temple.
Several GBC members said that they were told that the terrorists were targeting ISKCON leaders and it was dangerous to visit Manipur after the bombing. Moreover, they thought it was difficult to get a visa. Gopal Krishna Maharaja said that he was in regular touch by phone with Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Maharaja at that time, but he apologized for not doing more.
Jaya Pataka Swami was in Moscow at the time, but the Calcutta temple arranged to receive Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami when he was transferred to a hospital there. Eventually Jaya Pataka Swami went to Bali and Bhubanesvara to meet disciples of Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami after Maharaja passed on, and he presented a slide show about him in those places. He wished that the Regional Governing Body in India had sent some leader to Manipur. The RGB is now arranging to raise funds to complete the Imphal temple, he said.
Badrinarayan dasa Prabhu recalled meeting Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami in Laguna Beach in 1969, before either was initiated. The latter was a graduate student then and spoke beautifully about Srila Prabhupada and Lord Caitanya. Badrinarayana went to Los Angeles with him and his university friend. Srila Prabhupada greeted him by saying, “Krsna has sent you,” and talked with him for four hours.
Lokanath Swami said that Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami’s samadhi at Radhakunda will be the site of a festival on the anniversary of his disappearance (Vijaya Dashami). In Mayapur, February seventeenth is set aside as a day in his honor this year. Lokanath Swami will visit Manipur soon.
Sesa Prabhu said that it is difficult to understand how Krsna works. The recent Bhaktivedanta Institute dispute led him to associate more with Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami. Maharaja used to call in Sesa Prabhu to talk about the Bhaktivedanta Institute. After meetings in Alachua and Mayapur about the direction of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami’s mood became adamant about adhering to the instructions that Srila Prabhupada had given him.
Sesa Prabhu cried when Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Maharaja departed. He pointed out that Maharaja was so fixed on Srila Prabhupada’s instructions that his departure from the world was glorious. Krsna, in this way, prepared him to go back to Godhead. Sesa Prabhu asked the senior disciples to be forgiving, as there is a lesson to be learned from all this.
Bhaktivaibhava Swami said that as the GBC chairman last year, every evening for one or two hours, he conversed with Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami. Maharaja invited him to Manipur. Shocked by the bombing attack against the Imphal temple during Janmastami, he called an Executive Committee meeting to discuss sending leading preachers there, but the Indian RGB said that it was too dangerous. Bhaktivaibhava Swami wished the Manipuri devotees well and asked that all devotees in ISKCON help them by visiting Manipur or helping to meet the expenses ($300,000) they will incur finishing the Imphal temple.