By Ananda Tirtha das
Tension was in the air as GBC member Praghosa Das traded insults and criticisms with ISKCONResolve Director and meeting facilitator Braja Bihari Das during a presentation by Praghosa. As the debate got uglier and began to resemble a â€śDaksa-yajnaâ€ť, worried attendees looked to the Chairman to pacify the situation. Some considered leaving. Some were considering removing the two antagonists before the situation got out of control. The good will that had permeated the meetings thus far was being threatened. . . .
A few attendees, however, realized it was all an elaborate role play and began to call their bluff. Praghosa and Braja Bihari relaxed and broke into smiles, apologizing to the Body for any discomfort caused and explained that their purpose was to illustrate the result of disunity and disharmony. The role play had a galvanizing effect on the GBC. Praghosa and his fellow committee members then presented their Strategic Planning report on the Team Building Committee. They will be conducting the annual GBC Retreat Day on March 2.
Thus February 26-28, days 4-6 of the GBC meetings, were devoted to Strategic Planning towards the future of the GBC and ISKCON. All other issues were put aside for the members to focus on Strategic Planning, as facilitated by Gopal Bhatta Das.
The basic format of the meetings continued: kirtan and reading from Srimad-Bhagavatam, plenary sessions, Gayatri recesses, smaller break-out meetings, and reporting from the sub-committees and break-out groups. The Strategic Planning Groups met in the afternoons. Strategic Planning has been a major focus of the GBC in the last few years.
â€śIn October 2006 when the GBC met and talked about their vision of ISKCON, there was a lack of unified vision,â€ť Gopal Bhatta noted. â€śSince then, we came up with these committees and began our work. Today, seeing the progress, focus, intent, and clarity generated over these last few days, I feel thrilled.â€ť
The importance of Strategic Planning was further highlighted by Radhanath Swami, who addressed the Body on the second day of Strategic Planning on the subject of the Seven Purposes of ISKCON as laid down by Srila Prabhupada upon ISKCONâ€™s incorporation:
â€śThese Seven Purposes are in essence teaching loving, caring Vaisnava relationships where we inspire each other to chant Hare Krsna, read Srimad-Bhagavatam, and make plans to preach this message. Whatever organization or management planning we do is meant to exclusively facilitate execution of these purposes. Prabhupada emphasised that our work is in vain unless we develop a taste to chant Hare Krsna and inspire that in others. The devotees will be enthused and inspired in a loving, caring environmentâ€ť, Radhanath Swami noted.
Two core queries submitted by the Strategic Planning Group for discussion were â€śWhat sort of changes would we like to see in the GBC in strategic planning in the next few years?â€ť and â€śWhat sort of changes would we like to see in ISKCON based on this?â€ť
The break-out groups threshed out these topics and reported their findings back to the whole GBC Body based on the categories of Building Community, Organizational Development, Leadership, Finances, Devotee Care, etc.
Another question given for discussion was â€śIn the next two years, what cultural elements can we improve in the GBC Body that would assist in Strategic planning?â€ť This discussion generated many ideas, particularly on how to improve the effectiveness of the GBC meetings.
Highlights from the Strategic Planning Committees included the work done by the Constitution Committee and the Succession and Leadership Training Committee as presented by Anuttama Das. Anuttama reminded the Body of the urgent need to find new future leaders for ISKCON. To this end, his team, headed by Yadunandana and Jaya Krsna Prabhuâ€™s of Bhaktivedanta College (Radhadesh) are concentrating on creating a training course for current and future leaders. Anuttama presented slides of the detailed outline of the course which would consist of six two-week sessions over two years focusing on both spiritual values, and leadership and management skills. The curriculum would include topics such as Srila Prabhupadaâ€™s Teachings and Example, Vaisnava Behaviour, a Japa Retreat, Congregational Preaching, Communications, Property Management, Public Speaking, etc.
A large amount of the curriculum is already prepared and the plan is for the course to start later this year or early 2009 in the US and Russia. Some funds are required for completion of the curriculum. Anuttama requested the Body for blessings as well as finding qualified applicants for the course. Attendees were enlivened by the committeeâ€™s meticulous planning and presentation, and Sesa Das spontaneously volunteered to help in the project.
Braja Bihari presented the work of the Srila Prabhupadaâ€™s Position Committee. For starters, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu is writing a definitive 60 page paper on Srila Prabhupadaâ€™s unique position, and Sraddha Devi Dasi is writing a book on granddisciplesâ€™ experiences and relationship with Prabhupada. The committee is also planning to create a website.
A preliminary report from the Devotee Care Committee stressed that caring for devotees and keeping them happy is foundational to ISKCONâ€™s future. The Committee will create a website and conduct a survey among the devoteesâ€™ to hear about their needs.
The Strategic Planning meetings ended with loud applause and appreciation for all the devoteesâ€™ hard work. Bhanu Swami, GBC Chairman, commended Gopal Bhatta Prabhuâ€™s effort in promoting Strategic Planning. To suit the schedule of devotees in other time zones, he sometimes attends conference calls at 1:30 am. In turn, Gopal Bhatta thanked the GBC for engaging him in service and drew particular attention to the efforts of the core Strategic Planning Team of Ramai Swami, Braja Bihari Das, Kaunteya Das, Aniruddha Das and Laksmimoni Dasi.
The Strategic Planning Groups are as follows:
1. Constitution Committee
2. Succession and Leadership Training
3. Parallel Lines of Authority & Guru Issues
4. Team Building
5. Srila Prabhupadaâ€™s Position
6. Core Strategies/Book Distribution
7. Fund Raising
8. Devotee Care (recently-formed)
Other miscellaneous points of interest from Days 4-6:
Â· Kazak Edition of Bhagavad-gita presented to Srila Prabhupada. This is now the 55th language in which Bhagavad-gita has been printed.
Â· Srimad-Bhagavata Vidyapitha (Govardhan Sanskrit School) prospectus distributed to the Body
Â· Satsvarupa Das Goswamiâ€™s resignation as GBC Emeritus was accepted
Â· Revati Raman Das, ISKCON Tirupati President, shared with the GBC the benefits of installing a Garuda Stambha in temples