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Reform Proposal for ISKCON
By Drutakarma Dasa

There are four major leadership groups in ISKCON: 1. GBC, 2. Gurus, 3. Temple Presidents, 4. Sannyasis. At the present moment, the primary leadership responsibility of each group is not clearly defined.

I propose the following definitions of primary leadership responsibility.

  1. GBC is the ultimate managing authority.
  2. Temple Presidents are the actual managers.
  3. Gurus are meant to connect their disciples with the disciplic succession.
  4. Sannyasis are mean to preserve the siddhanta, preach it widely, and are practical examples of renunciation and austerity.

GBCs should serve for life. 

Each GBC should oversee a zone that is geographically contiguous (no exceptions). Zonal oversight is the main duty of a GBC, and it should not be neglected in favor of other priorities, such as personal preaching projects, dealings with disciples, etc. GBCs cannot be managers of any projects. There will be no GBC ministries, and no GBC deputies. The main duty of the GBC shall be to cultivate relationships with the zonal presidents, insure that the presidents are following the principles and programs, and be their friend, guide, and counselor, thus insuring the proper management of the zone.

When a GBC vacancy occurs in a zone, the chairman of the GBC or appointed representative of the chairman of the GBC shall hold an ista gosthi of all initiated members of ISKCON in good standing serving in that zone and inquire how they wish the new GBC to be chosen:

  1. by vote of all initiated members of ISKCON in good standing in that zone (i.e chanting 16 rounds and following the four regulative principles),
  2. by the zonal presidents,
  3. by the full GBC. If methods 1 or 2 are chosen, the elected candidate must be approved by a simple majority of the GBC. If the candidate is not approved, then the body that proposed the candidate will be asked to submit another candidate, who will again be subject to confirmation by majority vote of the GBC. If after three submissions, no suitable candidate is proposed by election, then the whole GBC shall appoint a GBC by 75 percent majority vote.

Temple Presidents

Temple presidents, individually and collectively (in regional and national councils) will be the principal managers in ISKCON, under the ultimate authority of the GBC. All ministries will be under the temple presidents. In each zone the presidents of the zone will formulate zonal policies and present them to the local GBC who retains the right to disapprove them. If the presidents in a zone disagree with a decision of the local GBC, the matter can be appealed to the full GBC. A GBC can be removed for cause, as under the current system.

Temple presidents will normally serve for life, but can be removed for cause, as under the current system. In the event of a vacancy of a presidency, the local GBC will poll the initiated members in good standing of the temple to see how they wish the new president to be chosen:

  1. by vote of those members,
  2. by the local temple board, if such a board exists,
  3. by the local GBC. If methods 1 and 2 are chosen, the local GBC can veto the candidate who is selected by election. The electing body via the full GBC can appeal this.

Each year, the temple presidents in each zone will select two presidents to attend an annual temple presidents meeting in Mayapur, before the annual GBC meeting. This temple presidents meeting will propose resolutions for the whole society. The GBC will review these decisions, and have the power to send decisions back to the presidents for further consideration. The GBC takes the role that Prabhupada took at the GBC meetings, of reviewing the decisions made by the managing body. If the presidents send back the same proposal, it can only be rejected by a 75 percent vote of the GBC.

The GBC will have the ability to propose a limited number of resolutions to the presidents. In the event that the presidents reject a proposal by the GBC, the GBC has the right to submit it again. If it is again rejected by the presidents, the GBC, exercising its ultimate authority, can vote to compel its acceptance by a 75 percent vote of the GBC.

Any ministries will be established by and function under the temple presidents. All matters related to the management of the movement will come under the presidents and their ministers (i.e., education, public relations, social welfare, legal defense, international projects like Mayapur, etc.). The GBC will be there to provide vision, overall direction, inspiration, etc. on issues that concern the whole Society.

Under this system, GBCs will not be traveling all over the world, but will be focusing on only two things: overseeing the development of their zone by the local presidents and giving some overall guidance to the Society on issues that concern the whole Society. The maintenance of such a GBC should not be a problem for any zone, because there will be no big expense.

In each zone, there should be a focus on providing shelter for single mothers with children who wish to live as devotees and serve, elderly devotees who wish to serve, and gurukula graduates who wish to serve.


The current system for selecting sannyasis is okay, although it might be a good idea to eventually go back to the traditional system whereby any sannyasi can award sannyasa. The check would be that the GBC could discipline a sannyasi that goes off the track, or revoke the sannyasa-giving privilege of a sannyasi that gives it out inappropriately. But the role of sannyasis should be clarified. Sannyasis shall generally not be temple presidents or managers. A sannyasi could be a GBC (but under this new arrangement, GBCs will not be managers). A sannyasi could be a guru. The principle duty of the sannyasi will be to uphold the siddhanta in ISKCON and protect the society from philosophical deviations. A certain percentage of sannyasis (25 percent) should be on call each year as a "strike force," that the GBC can call upon to go to any part of the world to uphold the siddhanta against a deviation. Sannyasis should designate a home zone, and should be responsible for training and engaging brahmacaris in that zone. In temples, male devotees should spend their first few years as provisional brahmacaris, after which they should be given the choice of preparing to enter the householder ashram or continue on as a brahmacari. If they choose to continue they should be placed under the guidance of a sannyasi.


The principal leadership duty of the guru shall be to connect disciples to the disciplic succession. Their principal duty should be to enter into the hearts and minds of their disciples and clear them of all doubts and confusion. Gurus in general should not hold management positions, although they could possibly serve as presidents or GBCs by special permission. All disciples will be under the authority of a temple president in a zone. Gurus can be ombudsman for their disciples, but final decisions will rest with the president. The present system of authorizing gurus is okay, but it would be better to eventually deregulate the guru selection process and leave it up to the prospective gurus and disciples to work out for themselves, with the GBC stepping in only if a guru goes off the track.

There should be a free speech provision in ISKCON, whereby any member of ISKCON can publicly advocate any philosophical point or policy matter, with the following restrictions. If the member is holding any official position (GBC, president, guru, sannyasi), the advocacy can take place only by submitting proposals privately through the system of authority. For example, a temple president should be free to advocate any philosophical point (an opinion on the fall of the jiva, for example) or any practical point (an opinion on ritvik initiations) by submitting proposals privately to the GBC. But the ISKCON official would not be able to engage in public advocacy. If the devotee wanted to engage in public advocacy against a position currently endorsed by the GBC, by making statements on the internet, through public meetings, etc., then the devotee should resign from the official position and conduct advocacy as an ordinary member of ISKCON. Such public advocacy could not take place in official forums, such as temple classes or ISKCON owned and controlled publications and web sites. But devotees could organize private meetings; advocate their views in their own publications (which could not, however, be placed in ISKCON properties), etc. And there would be no sanctions against such free speech activity. The provision for free speech would include only speech, not practices. Any authority in ISKCON would remain free to uphold the Society's current position through public statements in private and official forums.

© CHAKRA 1-May-2000

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