By Sraddhadevi dasi
The 2011 Governing Body Commission (GBC) Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) commenced on February 20th in the Societyâ€™s world headquarters, Mayapur, West Bengal. Madhusevita dasa, this yearâ€™s GBC chairman, welcomed the GBC body, appreciating that thirty-one out of thirty-three voting GBC members were present at this session.
Serving on the executive committee along with Madhusevita dasa this year were Hriday Chaitanya dasa and Bhakti Chaitanya Swami. Prayers were requested for Bhakti Chaitanya Swami who recently fell, injuring his spine and suffering a brain hemorrhage, and therefore was unable to attend this yearâ€™s meetings. Ramai Swami is temporarily filling in for Bhakti Chaitanya Swamiâ€™s executive committee duties.
Following tradition, the first AGM presentation was the Bhaktivedanta Book Trustâ€™s (BBT) book distribution report. Madhusevita dasa read aloud the outstanding book scores for 2010, calculated by the number and size of books distributed by an individual or temple. Applause and appreciation was shown by the GBC for all of those who distributed Srila Prabhupadaâ€™s books. Special recognition was given to Bhakti Radhika devi dasi from Mumbai, India who held the top individual score of 118,933 book points and to the New Delhi temple that held the top score for temples, with a score of 782,895 book points.
Gopal Krishna Goswami then reaffirmed the importance Srila Prabhupada placed on book distribution, referencing Prabhupadaâ€™s statement that as long as book distribution continues, â€śISKCON will never die.â€ť Gopal Krishna Goswami also explained some of the ways they are successfully distributing books in India, such as receiving corporate sponsorship for books, placing books in hotel rooms, and distributing books to prisons. Books are also being distributed to hospitals. One hospital in India has the policy of giving Srila Prabhupadaâ€™s Bhagavad-gita to every patient who has surgery.
Next, BB Govinda Swami spoke about the new Bhaktivedanta Hospice in Vrindavan, India. Bhaktivedanta Hospice is a beautiful 40,000 square foot hospice facility fully equipped to professionally care for the medical, emotional, and spiritual needs of its patients. The Hospice includes eight single patient rooms, six double or triple occupancy rooms, a temple hall, and a portable temple that travels from room to room. Since its opening in August 2010, the hospice has treated 665 patients and hospice doctors have made 1850 home visits. (Those interested in supporting the Bhaktivedanta Hospice or who would like more information can visit www.bhaktivedantahospice.org.)
Presenting the annual report of ISKCONâ€™s Child Protection Office (CPO) was the CPO director, Chamapakalata devi dasi. Champakalata devi dasi strongly emphasized the need to assure that every ISKCON center has a local Child Protection Team (CPT) per GBC law. CPTs consist of two or three devotees who are elected by the local community to act as a resource and first responder to any allegations of child abuse that may arise within the community.
Champakalata devi dasi also addressed the issue of financing the Child Protection Office. Since 2006, there has been a steep decline in financial support, and in 2010 the CPO functioned on less than $20,000 USD. Following the presentation, many GBC members personally pledged to increase their financial support of the CPO. (Any readers who would also like to assist in this cause or would like more information on the role and function of the CPO, please visit www.childprotectionoffice.org.)
In the afternoon, an update on the construction of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (TOVP) was given to the GBC body. Ambarisa dasa was pleased to report that construction of the TOVP is ahead of schedule and under budget. The Managing Director of the project, Sadbhuja dasa, explained how in seven months, 2300 concrete piles reinforced with stainless steel rebar were driven over one-hundred feet into the footprint of the construction site. Now that the piles are in place, the superstructure of the TOVP is going up at a rapid rate.
Sadbhuja dasa was happy to report that the TOVP team in conjunction with the construction company, Gammon, is working twenty-four hours a day to insure that every piece of the TOVP is constructed to the highest standard possible. The TOVP team employs approximately 50 devotees, including 22 engineers. This is in addition to Gammonâ€™s 30 engineers and 800 employees on the TOVP project. At the current rate, by this time next year most of the main dome will be constructed. (To learn how to contribute to the TOVP project and to view construction updates, visit www.TOVP.org.)
The evening concluded with a presentation by Balabhadra dasa on the ISKCON Cow Protection (ISCOWP) ministry. Balabhadra dasa noted how farm communities are on the decline in ISKCON even though the need and interest in organic and cruelty free milk products and produce is on the rise. Given the situation, Balabhadra dasa called for a revitalization of farm community initiatives within ISKCON.
From February 21st-24th, the GBC Strategic Planning Team (SPT) will conduct meetings with GBC members and invited guests. The SPT will be publishing reports on this portion of the meetings. Regular meeting updates will continue when the formal GBC meetings resume on February 25th.