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“If the reforms I talk about are instituted, that will change a lot of things.”

      Bhaktivedanta Institute









Reform: The Role of Congregational Devotees
By Drutakarma dasa and Madhusudani Radha dasi

Madhusudani Radha devi dasi: You speak of the disciples in each zone as being under the authority of the local temple presidents, but that seems to apply primarily to those devotees who live in temple communities. Many, perhaps most of us these days are congregational members and a large number of devotees don't even live in an area where there is a temple. Under whose authority would you see them as being when it comes to service and other ISKCON related issues?

Drutakarma dasa: If the reforms I talk about are instituted, that will change a lot of things. There is a lot that will be happening outside the guidelines I have put forward, just like in the United States, there are a lot of things that happen outside the things explicitly stated in the Constitution. As I mentioned, there are four sources of authority in ISKCON, and I think a congregational member will probably have relationships with all of them: temple presidents, sannyasis, gurus, and GBCs.

There would be much more focus on systematic development of Krishna consciousness in a particular zone, or region. A GBC would be in residence there all the time. Temple presidents would have close relationships with the GBC. Congregational members would have some relationship with the temples in their regions. Of course, the relationship of a congregational member to a temple president would be different than that of a temple resident. Perhaps there would be congregational associations in some relationship to the regional temples and preaching centers. I don't think that all this has to be clearly defined in any constitution or set of rules. But my thought is that if the basic structure I envision is set up, there would be a kind of community of interest among the temple presidents, GBC, sannyasis, and gurus in a particular region, and they would have to work things out.

Notice also, that I have specified that the congregational members in a zone or temple would have the option to select the temple president or GBC. I think that this would help set up a set of relationships between the presidents and congregational members that would be healthy. For example, let's say there was a vacancy in the temple presidency of the current Bay Area temple in Berkeley. The local GBC would call a meeting of all initiated members of ISKCON in good standing in the area served by that temple. Let's say most of the initiated members in good standing are congregational members like you. In the meeting with the GBC, the congregational members, including you, might decide that the initiated members of the area served by the temple should vote to select the next president. I think that would give the congregational members the chance to select a president who would be sensitive to their concerns. You would have the same option with the choice of GBC. So I think that this would set up a different set of relationships between the congregation, the local president and temple, and the GBC than exists now.

In relationships with the president, I don't see that he or she would be telling the congregation members what to do, like bhaktas or bhaktins in the temple. But there would be a process of developing a communality of interest and action. Of course, in certain matters that directly impinge upon temple affairs, there might be some instances where a temple president might issue decisions in a more authoritative way.

Also, if a congregation member comes to do pujari service or some other service directly at the temple, that would come under the president. Or if the congregation member were doing something outside the temple, involving the temple, such as making publicity for Rathayatra, that should ultimately come under the president's supervision. Or if congregational members wanted to distribute books on weekends in certain places, I could imagine they would have to coordinate with the temple authorities. But if a congregational member, otherwise unengaged, wanted to be a researcher for her guru who is writing a book, then I don't think that the temple president would or could try to exercise authority in that manner. Now if that congregational member had been serving as a part-time treasurer for the temple, and the temple had come to rely upon her knowledge and expertise in that area, then I don't think it would be appropriate for her to simply give that up on the plea that my guru wants me to do research for him. There would have to be some negotiation there.

So you also would have a relationship with your guru, and under the system I envision, your guru would have to negotiate friendly understandings with the local president and GBC regarding any heavy decisions about you that would trigger some concern by the local president and GBC. Of course, as I said, a lot of stuff will just be happening, with no expression of concern by anyone, but if something does come up, I think the structure I have set up will encourage the guru, disciple, president, and GBC to come to some kind of collegial understanding. You would have a team of devotees that was really focused on improving and expanding Krishna consciousness in a particular region. People would get invested in that, and would want to keep everything cooperative.

© CHAKRA 9-May-2000

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