GBC Meetings Day - 1
Posted February 9, 2007
Day One of the G.B.C. Meetings.
Monday, February 5, 2007
Devotees assembled as Bhanu Swami offered an arati to Srila Prabhupada and Vijaya Prabhu led a kirtan.
The GBC chairman, Bhaktivaibhava Swami, opened the well-attended meeting. Only a few members were absent this year, some because of illness. The day's agenda: a summary of the autumn GBC meetings in Italy and a discussion of book distribution.
2006: An Overview
The chairman first presented an overview of the GBC's work in 2006.
Regarding the departure of Sripada Bhaktiswarupa Damodara Maharaja, the chairman asked some GBC members to eulogize him. Later, a day will be set aside in his honor.
Jaya Pataka Swami strongly lamented the loss of Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami's unique contribution in the field of scientific preaching. He mentioned a Nobel Prize winner who said that twenty years ago he never expected to have dialogues with religionists. Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Maharaja perfected the art of gathering top scientists for congresses, and he also brought Manipur culture to an international audience.
Bhakti Caru Swami expressed how much he regretted not being able to meet Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami before he left this world. Bhakti Caru Swami was the temple president of the Manipur temple in the early days, and he said that all the Manipur people took great pride in Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami's accomplishments as a scientist and devotee.
The chairman continued his overview by saying that ISKCON needs to develop a justice system, just as any government has such a system. He also pointed out that GBC Executive Committee requires more secretaries and offices.
Last year the GBC dealt with the Kazakhstan crisis, and Bhakti Bhringa Govinda Swami will be making a presentation.
The Tirupati temple successfully opened last week. Some GBC members who were present at the opening spoke highly of it. Bir Krishna Goswami complimented the Tirupati devotees for meeting the needs of every single guest. Lokanath Swami said that seven to eight thousand devotees went to the opening and that most of the funding came from book distribution. He praised the Revati Ramana Prabhu, the temple president, for making the project a success over the past eight years. Gopala Krishna Goswami said the temple is attractively designed and that Bhakti Swarupa Damodara Swami played a role in both getting the land there and providing a strong foundation for the community while he served as the GBC for Tirupati.
Jaya Pataka Swami said that the renowned priests of the Tirumala temple did the initial installation procedures. And the present head sannyasi of the Tirupati/Tirumala branch of the Ramanuja sampradaya came to the ISKCON temple for the first time; although scheduled to be there for only one day, he attended the ceremonies during all three days of the opening and praised ISKCON for making foreigners devotees through the powerful process of chanting the holy names of Vishnu, which, he said, surpasses the rituals alone.
The GBC Meetings in Italy
Bhaktivaibhava Swami, who called the GBC meetings in Italy last autumn, gave his impressions: The GBC body needed to relieve itself of its somewhat stifling annual format. The additional meeting in Italy brought out ideas concerning the future development of ISKCON and ways that these ideas will be put into action. He stated that the GBC's performance as a group needed strengthening and cited Srila Prabhupada's indications that holding more than one meeting a year may be necessary for the proper functioning of the GBC. He concluded that skepticism about the amount of time invested in special meetings should not dissuade the GBC from meeting the challenge of thinking about the whole world. The members need to invest time and resources in plans that lead to more action.
Gopala Bhatta Prabhu, who facilitated the meetings in Italy, summarized them: A beginning of more effective leadership emerged out of a certain fuzziness at the start of the meetings, which were about the future of the GBC and ISKCON. Now, taking things a step further towards the sphere of action will be taken up during three days of this annual GBC meeting.
Kavi Candra Swami said that all the GBC members who attended those meetings were happy with the outcome and agreed to have more additional meetings. Jaya Pataka Swami appreciated Gopala Bhatta Prabhu's role in helping the GBC members open their hearts, build teams, and focus on issues. He asked the body to thank Gopala Bhatta Prabhu. He also thanked the Prabhupada-desh devotees for their hospitality and wonderful prasadam.
Gopala Bhatta Prabhu said that he was not driving an agenda but pulling an agenda out of the GBC members by encouraging a team spirit of service to Srila Prabhupada.
Ravindra Swarupa Prabhu said that many people gained realizations through the open-ended process and analysis at the meetings in Italy. It was a relief to talk about things that the GBC rarely gets to talk about. Two areas were especially important, he said: clearly establishing the preeminent position of Srila Prabhupada and the position of the GBC body as the head of ISKCON. Individual GBC members are respected within ISKCON, but there is a lack of respect for the GBC body, and it should be even more respected, for it is the sum total of the individual members and, according to Prabhupada's will, the successor to Srila Prabhupada at the head of ISKCON. Establishing Srila Prabhupada's position in ISKCON is intimately tied to inspiring confidence among the devotees in the GBC body. We have to create and pass down this legacy of respect for the GBC body before all the disciples of Srila Prabhupada on the GBC pass away, he concluded.
Gopala Bhatta Prabhu confirmed that this is "mission critical."
Anuttama Prabhu mentioned that the GBC needs to plan strategically so that it does not continue just "missing trends": for example, multiple independent musicians are now world famous for chanting Hare Krishna instead of us; yoga is on the cover of TIME, while we are busy reacting to problems. Anuttama Prabhu said that the meetings in Italy helped the GBC think about putting their hearts and intelligence together to gather momentum and get out front by long-term planning as well as heading off problems.
At this point the GBC deputies excused themselves to hold their own meetings.
Gopala Bhatta Prabhu facilitated this section. He asked the GBC members to speak about how they really feel about book distribution. This is a sensitive topic, for book distribution is not as prominent as it was during Srila Prabhupada's time. Three years ago, the GBC began putting this topic first at its annual meetings.
Brahma Muhurta Prabhu, the BBT Trustee for North Europe, read a few of Srila Prabhupada's statements on book distribution.
Gopala Bhatta Prabhu said that good managers can get a clear picture of how their organization is doing just by hearing some numbers. He read out financial figures and said that the BBT's worldwide revenue went flat about ten years ago, though there are still high and bright spots distributing more than ever. He pointed out that there are approximately 350 temples and 100 preaching centers worldwide. Of these, 208 units reported doing some distribution last year, which is a little more than half. Just one-third of the temples distribute books; two-thirds don't do much. Moreover, we have not implemented systems for accurate score-keeping in every region.
He said that we want to investigate reasons why book distribution is successful in some areas and not in others. But first we want to find out how each member feels about book distribution and its current status. We want to take an inventory of that. And we also would like to hear what the GBC members want to tell the BBT trustees (four trustees were present).
The GBC members, one by one, began stating their ideas and eventually mentioned dozens of them, too numerous to list here. (All the comments were noted down, to be used later.) Having been requested to openly express themselves, they revealed how their hearts and energies are directed toward book distribution, their concerns about it, and even their doubts, if they had any. They brought up a wide range of topics: ensuring that street book distribution is ethically done; considering how the public perceives book distribution; mobilizing devotees in our congregations and making the best use of sastra dan programs; reviving BBT councils composed of devotees in various services; maintaining Srila Prabhupada's desire that book distribution be at the center of ISKCON's preaching activities; finding new, improved ways to design, advertise and distribute our books and bridge books; following up on interested "customers"; and helping devotees read and appreciate our books.
After this detailed discussion, Svavas Prabhu, a BBT trustee from America, said that he heard many ideas today that he has not heard from GBCs he has known a long time, and he will try to put them into action.
Brahma Muhurta Prabhu thanked the GBC for discussing book distribution. He said that Krishna.com (a BBT-inspired Web site) gets 57,000 unique visitors a month (a "unique visitor" is someone not counted twice in the same month). These visitors come from 111 countries (US, India, UK, Canada, Australia, UAE, South Africa, Netherlands, Singapore, Germany, Brazil, and so on). He summarized the GBC's comments to the BBT trustees and encouraged the GBCs to sympathize with the distributors. When Kavicandra Swami distributes seven hundred books during the marathon, that inspires the distributors, he said. When Sivarama Swami sends out SMS messages to the distributors, that also inspires them.
Gopal Bhatta Prabhu expressed appreciation for everyone's statements, and
the meeting ended.