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January 31, 2001 VNN6538 Comment on this story
Proposal To Restructure The ISKCON GBC
BY SRI RAMA DAS
USA, Jan 31 (VNN) Dear Members, Friends and Well-Wishers of ISKCON: PAMHO, AGTSP.
It hardly needs repeating that there has been a crisis of confidence in ISKCON's leadership that has been building up over some years. During this past year, especially when ISKCON's long-time poor response to its child abuse problems came to light, many devotees began taking a closer look at the effectiveness of ISKCON's current management scheme. The Governing Body Commission itself recognizes the need for change, as demonstrated by its reform/restructuring resolutions passed over the last few years, as well as the appointment of a committee to work on specific proposals.
However, as in the mid-1980s (and similarly with the BBT in the early 1990s), the GBC seems unable to arrive at a concrete plan and take the necessary action without outside help. Meanwhile, calls for radical action, such as for the mass-resignation of the GBC or the adoption of ritvikism, have increased. As an alternative to such drastic approaches, several groups of devotees have been working on more moderate (but nonetheless sweeping) proposals.
One of these groups formed in the GBC Restructure conference, a public Internet discussion forum on PAMHO.NET (formerly the BBT's COM email system). About eighty devotees of all types from around the world have participated for months and produced a proposal to reorganize the membership and role of ISKCON's top-level management. Below, you will find the full text of the proposal as it has been placed on the GBC agenda for the upcoming Mayapur meetings.
We are posting the proposal here in order to solicit your support. While sannyasis, GBC members and ISKCON leaders have voiced support, we also know that some may be reluctant to take the sometimes painful steps needed for genuine reform. We hope that a widespread show of support from devotees in general will encourage the GBC to adopt this proposal without hesitation or reservation.
If after reading this proposal (which we hope you will find both reasonable and well-reasoned) you are willing to add your name to the list of proposal supporters, follow the simple directions that appear after the "End of Proposal" line near the bottom. Thank you taking the time to give this your attention and consideration.
Sri Rama das
GBC Restructure Conference Moderator
FULL TEXT OF PROPOSAL:
NAME OF PROPOSAL: "GBC Restructuring: Division of Leadership Responsibilities in ISKCON"
PROPOSED BY: PAMHO.NET "GBC Restructure Conference" (Contact: Sri Rama das [email@example.com] or publicly on the conference: [firstname.lastname@example.org])
WHEREAS: There is a widespread lack of confidence in ISKCON's leadership,
WHEREAS: Srila Prabhupada instructed his followers to implement the principles of Varnashrama Dharma within ISKCON for the peaceful administration of the Society and in order to set an ideal example for the benefit of society in general,
WHEREAS: When seeking solutions for ISKCON's leadership and management problems, it is appropriate that, before we examine other alternatives, we first look to the managerial models implemented by Srila Prabhupada,
WHEREAS: Srila Prabhupada's original managerial concept mandated a separation between those in the sannyasa ashrama and those who manage,
WHEREAS: Many, many devotees believe that the lack of separation between management and the process of initiation (and all it entails) since Srila Prabhupada's departure has significantly damaged ISKCON and its members, contributing to managerial insufficiency, conflicts of interest, the loss of more than fifty gurus and sannyasis, as well as encouraging ISKCON members to seek guidance outside of ISKCON, and
WHEREAS: ISKCON and its affiliates and members will benefit extensively by the implementation of these divisions of responsibilities,
IT IS THEREFORE PROPOSED THAT: A reorganization of the ISKCON leadership according to the principles described below be implemented by March 31, 2002 [allowing for two complete cycles of GBC and Temple President meetings in Sridham Mayapur]:
A. GOALS FOR THE REORGANIZATION:
1. ISKCON management needs to be restructured in a manner that is (a) consistent with Srila Prabhupada's desires, (b) where management is separated from the process of initiation and all it entails, and (c) leaders are engaged in roles that are consistent with their underlying natures and with the personal life-choices they have made regarding their social roles.
2. The implementation of varnashrama in ISKCON is long overdue and it must begin with ISKCON's top leaders -- for the purposes of both setting the proper example, and for utilizing the divine system Krishna gave us and which Srila Prabhupada wished to see instituted and developed.
3. The GBC body should continue as the "ultimate managerial authority" as Prabhupada indicated.
4. The most qualified people should occupy the roles and positions in which they will be most effective.
5. Proper balance needs to be restored between the temples (as the primary places where management is exercised) and the GBC as the ultimate managerial authority. The temple is the basic unit of management in ISKCON and some management prerogatives need to be returned to the temple level.
B. SPECIFIC DIVISIONS OF RESPONSIBILITY:
6. The GBC shall be comprised of householders and retired householders (vanaprasthas who have not donned saffron cloth, indicating their desire to be free from activities normally associated with grihastha issues).
7. GBC members should previously have been successful temple officers and project leaders whose vision and abilities have been clearly demonstrated. They should be proactive, people-persons, with the experience and skills to manage and govern on a large scale.
8. Sannyasis are the natural spiritual leaders of society. All classes of devotees are dependent on the sannyasis to demonstrate how one relies wholly and solely on Krishna for sustenance and protection. Their example of fully-dedicated preaching, renunciation and austerity is essential for the well-being of our entire Society. Therefore, renunciates should travel and preach, teach, make devotees, and encourage the opening of new centers. They should not manage, oversee or control major projects, zones or regions. They should avoid unnecessarily staying in one place for any length of time and should not have a very comfortable situation always at their disposal.
9. There are certain kinds of simple management that may be acceptable for sannyasis; for example, a small monastery of sannyasis and brahmacharis, supervising brahmacharis in a temple, or organizing a modest local preaching program or traveling party. If an endeavor, begun by a renunciate, grows to a point where management becomes a significant daily activity, or the project is expanding into a full-fledged temple, it is time for the sannyasi to move on to another field. He must allow a competent grhastha or vanaprastha manager, or a board of directors, to take over the management so he will be able to focus solely on preaching. Renunciates should not remain attached to personally supervising projects or programs they have been associated with, but rather, they should demonstrate their ability to go out and begin a new preaching effort.
10. Sannyasis should avoid maintaining bank accounts, credit cards, personal conveyances, residences or real estate, being involved with business ventures, etc. Nor should they permit others to maintain such accoutrements on their behalf or for their primary or exclusive use. Sannyasis should not seek or accept wide-ranging preaching fields requiring expensive travel arrangements or other facilities necessitating expensive purchases or maintenance.
11. These specific guidelines should be observed by all sannyasis, whether or not they have disciples.
12. Diksa-gurus may be brahmacharis, grhasthas, vanaprasthas or sannyasis.
Devotees who take up the service of diksa-guru should be free from positions of formal power and/or institutional authority (just as the sannyasis).
OTHER FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES FOR ISKCON MANAGEMENT:
13. ISKCON, as a whole, is a confederation of temples, communities and projects guided by a single set of principles and standards, and regulated by its Governing Body Commission's prerogative to define those standards and to determine which temples, communities, projects and individuals are meeting those standards and are therefore entitled to identify themselves as members or member-organizations.
14. Within the scope of the overall ISKCON structure described above, temples, centers, projects and communities are financially and managerially autonomous and are to be managed by the local temple president, secretary and treasurer, or appropriate project managers. Individual Zonal Secretaries are responsible to see that proper standards of management and spiritual practice are being adhered to. In the case of certain internationally-funded projects, local management may be under the general supervision of an appropriate international board of directors.
15. Centralized management and bureaucracies should be avoided. However, certain functions that are best performed on an international, national, or regional basis may be established if there is a clear need. Examples may include public relations and communications programs, legal coordination, standards committees, justice functions, etc.
16. GBC Zones shall be consolidated and reorganized into contiguous areas adhering to recognized national and/or regional boundaries.
REASONS FOR ADOPTING THIS PROPOSAL:
The GBC Restructure Conference submitting this proposal consists of roughly eighty devotees who have volunteered their time and effort to work for practical improvement of ISKCON's management and leadership system. Membership in the conference is open to all ISKCON well-wishers who agree to participate in the discussion in a polite and Vaishnava-like manner. [If you have a PAMHO.NET account, you can join the GBC Restructure conference without assistance. If you do not have an account, or need help in joining, send an email to email@example.com.]
The Conference was formed in response to a proposal posted in the Prabhupada Disciples conference, calling for an across-the-board resignation of the GBC.
Responses to this proposal indicated that many were not comfortable with disabling the GBC body when there is no plan or suggestion as to who or what should take its place. There was also concern that simply replacing the current members with a new batch guaranteed nothing if the underlying problems afflicting the ISKCON management structure were not simultaneously addressed.
This is quite logical when we consider that there has been a 96%+ turnover in the GBC over the years, yet many, many devotees feel the performance and effectiveness of that body has not concomitantly improved.
The many devotees who contributed to the start of this project made it very clear that this cannot simply be an academic exercise. Our Society faces a crisis of confidence as never before. This crisis is not just the sum total of the devotees' personal dissatisfactions, but is reflected in a collection of tangible and highly-negative events clearly tied, in our minds, to the behavior and decisions of ISKCON leadership.
ISKCON's organizational structure should be based on one of Srila Prabhupada's original concepts: the division of duties of the householder community and the sannyasi group. This is not a comprehensive varnashrama solution, as it does not immediately address the issue of the varna role of the GBC and others. However, it is solidly based on the daivi-varnashrama principle of getting the most qualified devotees in appropriate positions of leadership -- specifically to insure the effectiveness of their service to Krishna, as well as their spiritual longevity. It recognizes that, while Vaishnavas can act on any needed platform, for their own spiritual welfare and for the peace of society, they do not try to act on more than one spiritual or social level simultaneously.
The GBC remains the sole highest body as Prabhupada envisioned and will be comprised of grhasthas and vanaprasthas (wearing white). The GBC oversees and maintains standards, sets ISKCON-wide policies, and resolves matters or disputes that cannot be settled at lower levels. The GBC is the "ultimate managing authority," which means it is the final, or concluding, authority. However, all management is enacted at the local, regional, national, or continental level.
That management should be done by householders and retired householders (white-wearing vanaprasthas) is fundamental to this proposal. They are the natural managers of society, because it is the sva-dharma of householders to control land, capital, resources, and labor. By definition, this is never the sva-dharma of sannyasis. Householders usually spend large portions of their lives in one locale, which is ideal for ongoing management.
On the other hand, in order that all orders of our Society are encouraged to reach their full spiritual potential, it is also fundamental that the spiritual heads of society set an ideal example of unattachment to material affairs and concomitant advancement to the highest levels of bhakti-yoga. The advantage of renunciation is the ability to remain aloof from entanglements and encumbrances, while enjoying the freedom and nectar of constant preaching and chanting -- thus remaining always dependent on Krishna's mercy. In this way, the sannyasi develops strong faith, resilience, adaptability, and has no other shelter but the Holy Name.
Sannyasis following the guidelines proposed above will set an inspiring example for new recruits, householders and the public, and also greatly reduce any perceived need to compromise the principles of purity and simplicity in order to obtain funds. They will demonstrate how one can remain wholly and solely dependent on the mercy of God. These principles must not remain theoretical concepts, but should be demonstrated through practical example.
Similar principles should apply to all those who have accepted the weighty service of continuing the disciplic succession. As we have seen over the last several decades, the pitfalls surrounding the acceptance of disciples are numerous and deep. By divorcing themselves from management considerations, gurus stand a better chance of remaining pure, humble, simple, and dependent on the mercy of Krishna. Gurus, disciples and ISKCON are also protected from conflicts of interest and abuses of a perceived absolute position. Most importantly, many spiritual masters will have greatly increased time to sufficiently train and guide their disciples.
POSSIBLE ADVERSE EFFECTS:
The authors of this proposal have not been able to identify any possible adverse effects that might stem from implementing this proposal. However, we do anticipate certain objections interested parties may raise, as well as a number of challenges we face in completing the process of reform and restructuring. A few of these points are addressed here.
1. "Didn't Srila Prabhupada say sannyasis could be on the GBC?"
Yes he did. For example, here is a well-known quote supporting this fact:
"Recently, I have given Sannyasa order of life to Rupanuga, Satsvarupa, and Bali Mardan, and I have made Brahmananda the GBC man for Africa, and I wanted that you should be GBC man for South Pacific zone. So being Sannyasi is no hindrance for being also GBC. In fact, the duties of the GBC men are now to be just like the duties of the Sannyasis." (Letter to Madhudvisa, 12/6/72)
On the other hand, Srila Prabhupada also spoke against sannyasis managing:
"Prabhupada: Yes, sannyasi, brahmacari, means preaching. They are not meant for material management. They have dedicated their life for spiritual--although this material service is also spiritual--but they are doing on such a strength. You cannot expect a very expertly management and... But they act. Simply ask them to do the needful.... They cannot be expert, these men, managers. They are not...
They are giving up everything. But as soon as there is big establishment, we require a top manager."
The issue is not whether sannyasis can be GBC's or not. The first quote above makes it clear that sannyasis can be GBCs. Rather, the issue is really whether they SHOULD be GBC's or not in the present time, place, and circumstances, because ISKCON has grown to a "big establishment" and we should now follow Srila Prabhupada's directive requiring top managers whose focus is solely on management. Many devotees are convinced that our society's present ills are, to a large extent, due to a serious social imbalance, with our top leaders accepting conflicting social roles and not being able to perform any of the roles properly. While some aspects of the management of the society may appear for some time to be able to go OK on under such conditions, the entire social structure becomes disturbed. When the social structure is disturbed, the younger devotees cannot situate themselves properly within suitable varnas and asramas, thus they become weak and lose their enthusiasm to fight with maya.
2. "This proposal is nice, but there are many aspects of ISKCON management and leadership that need to addressed. Wouldn't it be better to wait until we have a completely comprehensive plan?"
Yes, that would be ideal. In fact, the GBC Restructure conference plans to continue working and submitting further related proposals at appropriate times.
However, considering the urgency created by the current crisis of confidence, the proposal above was designed for implementation independent of other measures. In the likely event it takes more than a single year to implement all needed reforms, we feel this proposal addresses such an urgent need that it should be acted on without delay.
3. "Isn't this unfair to sannyasis and gurus already on the GBC?"
It would be unfortunate if this proposal is perceived as being unfair to anyone.
Our proposal is intended to preserve the integrity of the sannyasis and diksa gurus. A healthy ISKCON needs healthy sannyasis and diksa gurus who are not overburdened by duties that are not the sva-dharma of sannyasis and diksa gurus.
Its purpose is to insure that all concerned are best engaged in service according to the social roles they have chosen for themselves. While many GBC members will feel relieved to return to the normal roles of their ashramas, we understand that some will find this transition painful. We hope that allowing over a year for implementation will give sufficient time for those affected to make the necessary adjustments to their personal situations. Focusing on the substantial resulting benefits for their disciples, ISKCON, and themselves will hopefully ease the perceived distress. Since it appears that substantial reform in ISKCON leadership is inevitable, the sooner it is accepted and accomplished, the easier the transition will be for all.
4. "Aren't the proposed limitations on sannyasa life rather draconian? Won't they result in many sannyasis doing less service for Srila Prabhupada and Krishna, not more?"
The essential principles of these guidelines have always existed in the sastras.
These particular recommendations are felt to be the logical application of the standards of leadership, renunciation, and austerity appropriate for the sannyasa ashrama in this time and place.
In the name of increased service, we have permitted the breakdown of the Vaishnava social order by minimizing the importance of the basic principles of this most-essential ashrama. Ironically, in the name of increasing the service of a small number of its members, ISKCON has lost the services of thousands of others who have suffered through the resulting social and spiritual distortions.
Now, ISKCON wants and needs all of its sannyasis back -- in the social and spiritual role only this ashrama can fill. The long-term benefits will far out way any temporary inconveniences.
5. "My guru stays mostly in one place in order to facilitate his studying and writing." or "My spiritual master needs a bank account and a credit card to simplify his extensive traveling and preaching. Aren't there going to be any exceptions?"
Since we know there are four kinds of sannyasis, it seems unlikely that everyone would be doing exactly the same thing. But by their very nature, exceptions are managerial decisions, not philosophical principles or broad, guiding concepts.
Therefore, discussion of possible exceptions is beyond the scope of this proposal.
6. "Won't it be difficult to find grhasthas or vanaprasthas willing to take the dual role of GBC membership and zonal management? Or mightn't there be areas of the world, such as pioneering preaching fields, where only sannyasis are involved and if the zonal responsibility is relinquished there will be a major gap?"
The GBC body could temporarily continue the zonal assignments of some sannyasis and/or gurus while suspending their GBC body membership to make room for the implementation of the above plan. As was mentioned in the text of the proposal, there is sufficient time allowed to manage the various transition issues.
END OF PROPOSAL
TO ADD YOUR NAME TO THE LIST OF PROPOSAL SUPPORTERS, send an email to this address:
Please include this information so we can insure each name is counted only once:
- Initiated Name (if initiated) - Birth name - Current place of residence - Spiritual master (if initiated) - Month, year, and place of initiation (if initiated) - Email address (if available)
You may submit more than one name per email, if you wish. Thank you.
Or use the following form:
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