By Ananda Tirtha Das
This morning‚Äôs kirtan was led by Bhaktivaibhava Swami following which Bhakti Charu Swami read from Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.2.12:
‚ÄúImmediately go wherever there is good protection for the cows and brahmanas and wherever the Vedas are studied in terms of the varnasrama principles. Set fire to those places and cut from the roots the trees there, which are the source of life.‚ÄĚ
Srila Prabhupada‚Äôs strong comments in the purport on the proper and improper use of paper elicited humour among the meeting attendees.
Sesa Prabhu presented the ongoing work of the Constitution Committee, one of six Strategic Planning groups. This presentation was the major focus of this morning‚Äôs session.
At the New Vrindaban meeting last June, the GBC members recommended names of devotees qualified to assist in the work of the Constitution Committee. This expanded group had productive email discussions and held a meeting before the current AGM attended by Sesa Das, Hrdaya Caitanya Das, Parivadi Das, Salagrama Das, Bhaktarupa Das, Prema Bhakti Das, Pancaratna Das, Bhakti Marg Swami and Param Gati Swami. Many of the members were present today too. The committee handed out their research and Sesa Prabhu facilitated an overview of it for feedback and straw voting.
Sesa presented the reason ISKCON needs a constitution: ISKCON is complex international society with many projects and people bound by a grand mission given by Srila Prabhupada. To give shape to that, a constitution is necessary. Srila Prabhupada has also talked about a constitution for ISKCON. The present paper is not intended to be a legal document; but is rather more inspirational and foundational.
Sesa presented 27 out of 30 principles presented in the committee‚Äôs paper covering topics such as the Definition of ISKCON, Definition of Members, Member‚Äôs Rights and Responsibilities, etc. The presentation generated considerable discussion.
Next was another set of presentations from the Deputies for straw voting. Topics covered were:
¬∑ Standards for Worship of Srila Prabhupada
¬∑ Regulations of Deity Installations
¬∑ Financial Reporting by Ministers/Leaders
¬∑ Attendance of Deputies at GBC AGM
¬∑ Initiations where there are no Temples
¬∑ Moving the San Diego Deities.
At noon the meeting was adjourned for Gayatri chanting and puspanjali of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur in the temple. Upon returning to the meeting room, the attendees were surprised to find a large amount of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur‚Äôs maha prasadam at the refreshments table. Many took the opportunity to break their fasts until the meeting resumed.
After a brief proposal on financial accountability of ISKCON Leaders, Braja Bihari Das presented the work of ISKCONResolve. He presented ISKCON’s system for dealing with conflicts which includes an Ombudsman office, mediation, dialogue, and the recently added arbitration service. Braja Bihari said that there are two key principles that ISKCON’s system should be run on such as:
¬∑ “Fair Process”‚ÄĒthat the process and decisions made are not unreasonable or arbitrary in nature.
¬∑ “Zero barrier”‚ÄĒThe Ombudsman’s Office is meant to provide a credible, safe, and accessible place for all members, from top to bottom within ISKCON, to raise problems without fear of retaliation or repercussions.
ISKCONResolve dealt with about 400 cases last year.
Next was a report by Hari Sauri Das on behalf of Parthasarathi Das, a sergeant in the US Army in Iraq. He wished to share his preaching activities to the GBC Body and asked for their blessings. His preaching activities include:
¬∑ First Iraqi Ratha Yatra held on an army base
¬∑ Over 100 attendees at Govardhan Puja festival
¬∑ 750 books distributed via 15 smart boxes
¬∑ Weekly Bhagavad-gita classes and mantra meditation sessions for soldiers and Indian contractors
¬∑ A dozen soldiers chanting and performing service as a result of his preaching
¬∑ Daily worships salagrama silas and keeps Ugra Narasimha with him at all times, helping him assist dying victims to pass away in presence of the Lord.
The GBC were moved to hear of his bravery in the preaching field and Bhanu Swami, GBC Chairman, sent him a letter of appreciation.
Tamohara Das, Director of the ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection Office, presented his annual report as the final item of this morning‚Äôs session. A major positive this year was the appointment of Mahavisnupriya Devi Dasi as Assistant Director. She will be mainly working on investigations and adjudications while Tamohara will focus more on preventative training and education. Tamohara stated that he is willing to give seminars wherever required. He noted that although in 2007 there were some cases of reported abuse, there are less cases involving temple residents or schools. Most reports are within the larger congregation.
He noted that physical distance and service overload for the judges are major challenges in timely adjudication of cases. The best solution for this is to ensure there are functioning regional offices and local Child Protection teams, the first line of defence in child abuse prevention. Brazil is setting a good example in this regard.
Tamohara reported that the current budget of $60,000 is just adequate to maintain the activities of the Office. He ended his presentation by listing the contributors to the Office. Radhanath Swami and Anuttama Das and his wife, Rukmini Devi Dasi, are major donors. The vast majority of the funding for the CPO comes directly from individual GBC members.
Afternoon meetings included the Moscow Project, Indian Regional Governing Body, and GBC Deputies.