February 15-16, Days Four and Five of the GBC Meetings
By Ananda Tirtha das
For the last several years, strategic planning has been a major theme of the GBC meetings. Several days of the Annual General Meeting, as well as the second GBC meeting later in the year, is exclusively focused on this important theme. This year was no exception. Days four through six saw all regular work shelved and the entire Body, plus many other devotees, come together to proactively discuss the best way for the GBC and ISKCON to prepare for the future.
Gopal Bhatta Das has been the chief spearhead for this initiative and was the chair for this part of the meetings. He began by asking everyone to take a few minutes to individually meditate on Srila Prabhupada’s vision for ISKCON, and to then analyze how far we have been able to fulfill that. The agenda for the day was based on the Organizational Development team’s January meeting in London.
The first topic was an analysis of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on the GBC. This was divided into three categories:
1. Unchangeable principles, such as the responsibility of the GBC for the development of ISKCON
2. Topics on which he gave varied instructions, such as the centralized and autonomous legal structures, and the balance between GBC oversight of local temples and encouraging local initiative
3. Topics on which Srila Prabhupada did not give many details, such as managing the parallel lines of authority of the guru and GBC, sizes of GBC zones, and serving the community of devotees that has now become home-based
A major theme of the ensuing discussion, which took most of the day, was the idea of creating an administrative division of the GBC, headed by an executive officer, with mandates such as implementing and following up on GBC resolutions, strategic planning, caring for devotees, etc. To underscore this point, Kaunteya Das of the Organizational Development Team screened a powerpoint presentation entitled “Realigning with Existing GBC Resolutions.” This highlighted the many good GBC resolutions of the past, which have largely not reached the stage of implementation.
A second powerpoint, “Zonal Redesigning,” showed the Organizational Development team’s suggestion for more effective GBC monitoring by dividing the world into much smaller zones than at present which would necessitate having many more zonal secretaries.
Some highlights of the ensuing discussions:
* Sivarama Swami affirmed the need for follow up of the resolutions after the meetings are over
* Harivilas Das shared that he felt that the most productive time for the GBC was the build-up and execution of Srila Prabhupada’s Centennial celebrations. He further suggested that the GBC should concentrate on fewer tasks at a time.
* Gopal Krsna Goswami proposed as a global model the current system in India of non-GBC zonal secretaries to help administer to the many temples
* Devamrita Swami stated that this year’s many absentees emphasize the need for bringing new members
* Bhakti Vijnana Goswami said that there are several such qualified devotees in the CIS, but who are restricted by not knowing English
* Ramai Swami stated that he doesn’t find many younger devotees willing to take on managerial roles
* This brought up many responses, such as Praghosa Prabhu’s comment that we need to balance younger devotees’ concerns for security with ISKCON’s spirit of pioneering and sacrifice
* Jagajivan Das quoted a letter Srila Prabhupada had written him regarding leadership: “If spiritual potency and strength is there, then material intelligence will automatically follow.
* This again led to many interesting responses, such as Gopal Bhatta Prabhu’s story of Srila Prabhupada, shortly before his departure, telling Giriraja Swami that “intelligence and organization” were needed for the movement to continue
* Several members expressed that better organization is needed for ISKCON to keep up with other religious groups
The day ended with the GBC members writing down their thoughts on the creation of an executive office. These were collected and typed up for review the following day. The response was overwhelmingly positive in principle. This idea is still in the beginning stages, so many GBC members called for a detailed plan, suggested it be introduced in increments, and expressed concern about the possible cost of maintaining such an office. The Organizational Development team will meet again in London from June 4-8, and will have a detailed plan ready for the October GBC meetings in Juhu.
The rest of Day 5 went in meetings of the various strategic planning subcommittees.