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“Thus the business of training devotees and engaging them in Krishna's service, i.e. the role of guru, should not in general be performed by ISKCON post holders such as GBC, temple president, etc.”

      ISKCON Manchester, England


A Comment on Drutakarma's Reform Proposal
By Krishna Dharma das

I would like to make a few remarks about Drutakarma prabhu's “Reform Proposal,” if I may. In general I found it agreeable and I feel it constitutes a useful basis for a discussion about how we can improve ISKCON. There was one section which did give me some concern, however, and that was where he discussed the question of gurus. He made the following suggestions: "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."

What I understand this to be saying is that devotees serving in ISKCON should be connected to the parampara by a guru, but the guru should not, as far as possible, hold a post within ISKCON. Thus the business of training devotees and engaging them in Krishna’s service, i.e. the role of guru, should not in general be performed by ISKCON post holders such as GBC, temple president, etc. The post holders are to act as managers of ISKCON, but devotees should see their spiritual lives as being under the care of their guru. The managerial structure of ISKCON is merely a material facility to enable its operation, and the parampara is separate from that structure, being continued through guru disciple relationships that may or may not be coincidental with the structure (although preferably not).

I am not sure if I have properly understood, but if so then in response I have to say that this causes me grave concerns. My understanding is that ISKCON is a spiritual movement. In the 'Seven Purposes' given to us Srila Prabhupada, the first purpose begins with: "To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life." This surely is a spiritual function, which should be undertaken by a spiritual master. It is certainly not the business of a mundane institutional manager. However, by accepting a system, which places the responsibility of being spiritual master in the hands of non-managers, we effectively reduce the managers to mundane officials, and we undermine ISKCON's first and most important purpose.

Let me try to elaborate. At present devotees do, for the most part, see their spiritual lives as being under the care and control of their diksha guru. temple president's and other ISKCON functionaries are simply 'managers'. If a guru asks his disciple to follow the directions of a manager, then the disciple may do so, but the manager will at best only ever be a surrogate guru in the capacity of representing someone outside of his chain of ISKCON command. In other words, the ISKCON lines of accountability, descending from GBC to temple president etc, do not carry any spiritual authority unless an “approved ISKCON guru” is somehow in there. This makes for a confused and difficult to manage situation, which I would suggest we are already experiencing. The GBC's and temple president's find themselves having to perform the duty of guru by training and engaging devotees, but without any empowerment through the parampara. Whatever empowerment may be there is seriously undermined by the fact that we have created a separate class of individual in ISKCON who are known as 'gurus', and these individuals are not a defined part of the organizational structure. In fact, as with the above proposal, it seems we would prefer them not to be. But then we are left trying to manage the unmanageable, as management only becomes possible within lines of accountability, and we want to keep gurus outside of those lines. Nevertheless, we have been obliged to create a whole body of separate legislation in an attempt to control the power of gurus, who we recognize as obviously having more authority than any other class of individual within the institution ‘s at least in their own disciples’s eyes.

For our preaching to succeed we need spiritual empowerment. And that means being visibly and factually connected to the parampara. It can be noted that where insititutional empowerment as guru is coincidental with lines of accountability, then success is far more likely. Of course, it is no guarantee of success, other factors are also important, but the opposite situation, where clear empowerment does not come through the institution, certainly leaves managers struggling to make things happen. If a body has its spirit removed, it withers and dies. I would suggest that the organizational structure of ISKCON, being largely bereft of spiritual empowerment, is undergoing the same decline.

In my view we need to move right away from the misconception that ISKCON managers should not be empowered spiritual authorities, i.e. gurus. We need to place the spiritual empowerment firmly in the hands of those who are taking daily responsibility for the society, i.e. 'managers'. Let's properly define the term 'ultimate managerial authority', as Srila Prabhupada described the GBC, in spiritual terms. Management of a spiritual organization is itself a spiritual function. Indeed, Srila Prabhupada also said the following: "The GBC should all be the instructor gurus. I am in the initiator guru, and you should be the instructor guru by teaching what I am teaching and doing what I am doing. This is not a title, but you must actually come to this platform. This I want." (SPL 75-08-04) Clearly he wanted the parampara to flow through the institution, but we have created a system, which interrupts that flow in virtually every case.

Unless and until we have an organisational structure aligned with our mission and Srila Prabhupada's desire, I cannot see how we will make any real progress as an institution. I was encouraged to note that Drutakarma prabhu suggests in his proposal that the guru selection process be 'eventually deregulated', but my feeling is that this should be the first focus of our attention. In my view there are other ways by which we can control and regulate ISKCON standards, all of them being through the via media of established lines of accountability. There is no need to have a separate class of initiating gurus. We have our sastric guidelines as to who is qualified to give diksha. These are sufficient. ISKCON as an institution does not need to get involved in the diksha process, which is essentially a relationship between two individuals, not an organization and those individuals.

All we need to do, as an institution is to ensure that all of our functionaries are properly qualified to push on the mission. That will suffice. Then if anyone chooses to give or take diksha from any ISKCON functionary, that is his or her own business. Our standards will be maintained as long as we maintain our lines of accountability, and we carefully and systematically apply the qualification criteria which we have established for our representatives, be they GBC's temple president's or whatever. I do not think that this will be so difficult. However, I do feel that the way we are presently trying to regulate gurus and initiations is creating many difficulties. As a person who has spent the last fifteen years trying to establish an ISKCON centre, I would point to our present guru selection process as being the greatest organizational impediment to our success.

Your humble servant

Krishna Dharma das.

© CHAKRA 12-May-2000

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