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A Plan for Democratic
ISKCON Governance

from Ananda das

Dear devotees:

I offer my humble obeisances at the lotus feet of all the Vaisnavas. I'd like to share with my godbrothers and godsisters some thoughts regarding the future development of ISKCON. I hope that you will all give these ideas due consideration. I am also interested in your opinions and any ideas of your own respecting ISKCON governance.

Recently, Pratyatosa das wrote in an article posted to alt.religion.vaisnava as follows:

"For a time, some of the original 11 "gurus" seemed actually to believe that they had been appointed by Srila Prabhupada, and some of them actually seemed to have some genuine spiritual potency."

Obviously at least some of the "original 11" did have potency at the time that they gave diksa, else how can we account for the fact that many people they initiated have remained fixed in their sadhana despite the falldown of their diksa-guru? This is because, although diksa is certainly required to connect a person to the guru-parampara, if good siksa is there, it can override any subsequent loss of the ongoing diksa relationship, whether by death or falldown of the guru. Once should not overlook the fact that at least a few of them still possess, and will continue to possess, that genuine spiritual potency.

"But how can any of the gurus who came after them, who obviously stepped forward to say, "I want to be a guru" be considered to be very good devotees? Isn't the current havoc in ISKCON graphic testimony that they are not!!!"

The attitude that this statement is grounded in is not a healthy one. The Srimad Bhagavatam (7.7.30-31; 7.15.25-26) explains the importance of serving a spiritual master with faith and devotion, and points out: "For one who maintains the material conception that the spiritual master is an ordinary human being, everything is frustrated."

It is mere mental speculation to affirm that these newer gurus "stepped forward," as Pratyatosa das puts it, and said "I want to be a guru." The plain fact is that accepting the responsibility for acting as guru is a very thankless task in ISKCON today. Of course, some kanistha-adhikaris think that the guru is only someone who desires to sit on a high seat, eating fruit and clotted cream, while racking up frequent flyer points.
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Such snipers and cat-callers aside, becoming a guru is a responsibility analogous to becoming a spouse or a parent; one becomes responsible for the spiritual development of his or her dependent. What is required is faith in the guru, a willingness to obey his or her instruction, and a determination to make advancement by faithfully chanting one's rounds and studying the works of Srila Prabhupada, particularly his chef d'oeuvre, the Srimad-Bhagavatam, in which he left complete instructions for all devotees.

It is not that a person desires particularly to be a guru, but that the prospective disciple recognizes that person's qualification to be the devotee's guru, and seeks out the guru to request initiation from him or her [Bg. 4.34] At that point, the potential guru must with soul-searching determine if he or she is qualified, and mentally and emotionally prepared to accept disciples selflessly and solely for their own upliftment in pursuance of Lord Caitanya's order (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 7.128)

"For such a guru to be on the GBC, where they are required to resolve conflicts between godbrothers and grand disciples, this is obviously a conflict of interest."

To a limited degree I agree that it is not always the best situation for the GBC and the gurus to be composed of the same people. A person occupying such a dual role may not necessarily be in actual "conflict of interest", as Pratyatosa prabhu puts it; however, on the dictum of "Caesar's wife being above suspicion," it may ultimately be desirable to evolve in the direction of separation of the management committee from the clergy. As ISKCON continues to grow, the number of fiscally and administratively competent devotees is bound to increase as well. Division of labour is the natural outcome of such growth.

This is by analogy with the situation which prevails in most civil governments; usually a premier or governor must resign from provincial or state office in order to serve at the federal level. The principle of separation of powers is taken to a high degree in the United States, where executive, legislative and judicial bodies are completely distinct. Most countries of the British Commonwealth, however, have their executive body drawn from the leadership of the legislative body, and the system works well. So it is unnecessary to make a hard and fast ruling one way or the other, I think.

In the long run, I think we will see the GBC evolving into an extremely competent managerial body elected for a limited term by local devotees from the electorate of those who hold bhakti-sastra certification, and accountable to them. This democracy of the brahminical intelligentsia will see the GBC becoming a very representative body chosen to supervise the ongoing management of the society. Fifty percent of the seats on the GBC will be held by women. The GBC delegates will then include members of all asramas including brahmacari, grhastha, vanaprastha and sannyasi; they will all be highly learned in sastra themselves, and able to certify the qualifications of persons to be trained as gurus. Requiring comprehensive qualifications of the electorate will have the very beneficial side effect of stimulating renewed interest among the devotees in improving their knowledge of sastra, if not for the sake of their bhakti creeper, at least for enlightened self-interest in securing their right to vote for the GBC delegates of their choice.

As varnasrama culture naturally develops in civil society, perhaps at first in small-scale projects under the guidance of ISKCON, people in general will be able to recognise the noble spiritual qualities of the brahmanas who are leading them. The brahmanas, themselves, will be cultured, competent, level-headed, intelligent and good-natured persons imbued with spiritual wisdom who are worthy of all respect but who would never demand it themselves. Their compassion for all beings will inspire respect, trust and obedience.

Devotees rising to a leadership position within local temples or on the GBC will study for diplomas in business and financial management, and, until their training is complete, serve as apprentices under the guidance of proven leaders. Sannyasis will be able to withdraw from the responsibility for large-scale financial management, and will concentrate on study, writing, teaching and preaching. Those who, to a greater or lesser degree, have felt alienated from ISKCON, will see the success of this future social development of ISKCON, and will gain renewed confidence in the ability of the society to manage its affairs nicely, and they will be eager to return to accept their responsibility within ISKCON.

I would like to thank Pratyatosa prabhu for putting forward interesting points; while I mostly disagree with him, answering his points has stimulated much thought in a mostly positive direction, I hope. All glories to Srila Prabhupada, to all his disciples and grand-disciples, and to Lord Gauranga.

Best wishes to all the devotees for ever-increasing bhakta-seva.

Ananda das.

CHAKRA 29-Sep-98

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