MESSAGE FROM THE GBC CHAIRMAN TO THE DEVOTEES OF ISKCON
By Bhakti Caitanya Swami
Posted March 31, 2003
GAURA PURNIMA 2003
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
The relationship between the GBC Body and the devotees of ISKCON is
important. I and my fellow GBC executives for this year - Praghosa Prabhu
and Devamrita Swami - want to help cement it by being open and
communicative about our decisions and working with you for the pleasure of
Srila Prabhupada. With this in mind we offer you this letter describing the
proceedings and main decisions of our most recent meetings in Mayapur, from
February 20th to March 1st, 2003.
We came into this year's meeting with the memory of the tragic passing of
His Holiness Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja prominent in our minds. Just a
year ago, due to pressure of his academic pursuits, Goswami Maharaja
attended the meetings for the first time in six years. We all looked
forward to the prospect of his continued GBC involvement. His sudden
departure shocked ISKCON and caused tremendous grief and sadness.
As a mark of the great respect and affection that we share for Tamal Krishna
Maharaja, and in recognition of his wonderful service to Srila Prabhupada,
the GBC Body, as this year's first item of business, unanimously passed the
The sudden and premature departure of Tamal Krsna Goswami to join Srila
Prabhupada's eternal pastimes has left a void in ISKCON that will be
extraordinarily difficult to fill.
Today, a year after his departure, we reflect on his many accomplishments
Srila Prabhupada's service. During his thirty-four years of service, Tamal
- Organized the first wide-scale hari-nama and book distribution in
- Helped pioneer Krsna consciousness in America, Europe, India and the
- Was appointed by Srila Prabhupada to the first GBC.
- Accepted and maintained vows of sannyasa for thirty years.
- Served as ISKCON's first GBC in India for four years.
- Secured ISKCON's first property in Mayapur and participated in the
development of Mayapur for the rest of his life.
- Organized the Radha Damodar party, one of the most successful
preaching and book distribution team in ISKCON history.
- Opened China for Krishna consciousness and preached there
successfully for over twenty-five years.
- Developed model Krishna conscious communities in Dallas and Houston.
- Cared for Srila Prabhupada as his personal secretary for the final
year of his manifest pastimes.
- Initiated over one thousand disciples in America, Europe, India,
Fiji, the Far East and elsewhere, exceptionally well-trained devotees noted
for their dedication.
- Published Jagannath Priya Natakam and several other valuable and
- Achieved outstanding success in the academic field, earning top
honors at Southern Methodist and Cambridge Universities.
Tamal Krishna Goswami's departure from this world was clearly Krishna's
will, coming as it did at an auspicious hour in an auspicious place. He left
this world without suffering and immediately after completing a period of
deep loving exchanges with his God brothers and disciples.
We, the Governing Body Commissioners of ISKCON, express our profound
bereavement at his passing. We miss him deeply as we glorify his exemplary
life and service to Srila Prabhupada.
Six Steps for GBC Improvement
Six recent organizational and administrative steps have gradually improved
the GBC's annual general meeting in Mayapur and its efficiency throughout
the year. These steps include:
1. GBC Secretariat
The GBC Secretariat organizes the annual GBC meeting and facilitates GBC
communications throughout the year. They have helped the GBC be more
organized and responsive to inquiries and needs from ISKCON members.
The GBC owes a great debt to Mother Divyambara from Bulgaria, who has
organized the GBC meetings for the past several years, and to Radha-Krishna
Prabhu who runs the GBC secretariat office in Bombay. We also extend a
special vote of thanks to Kalakantha Prabhu who is retiring from secretariat
work after six years of service. Mother Divyambara will also be leaving the
Secretariat, to be replaced by Lilasuka prabhu from Belgium whose expertise
in administration has proven invaluable to development of ISKCON's European
RGB (Regional Governing Body).
2. GBC Deputies
In 1997 the GBC established this forum of senior devotees to help the GBC
body deal with proposals it receives every year. The Deputies scrutinize
incoming proposals for relevance and veracity and pre-digest them prior to
their submission to the GBC Body. This year the GBC received approximately
thirty-five proposals.. The deputies screened out proposals that were
redundant or under-researched, leaving fifteen to go to the GBC body. This
saved the Body an enormous amount of time and energy, allowing it to direct
itself to more proactive topics, such as aiding the spiritual development
ISKCON devotees, caring for devotee's needs, writing a constitution for
ISKCON and discussing
preaching initiatives that will inspire devotees and provide direction and
3. More spiritual content of the GBC meetings
As a result of these improvements in efficiency, this year the GBC dedicated
more time to shared sadhana. The meetings themselves consisted of only one
session of four hours as opposed to previous years when devotees met for two
sessions of three hours each. This allowed much more time for association
and spiritual enlivenment. The GBC members dedicated time each day from 5:00
to 6:00 PM to hear and chant together with any devotees who wanted to join
them. Then, every evening, in the mood inspired by His Holiness Tamal
Krishna Maharaja just prior to his departure, the devotees would gather
together in his room for prolonged, ecstatic kirtan.
This proved to make the entire meeting a much more satisfying and
enlivening experience for all. In addition to kirtan there was a sharing of
each other's burdens, a rejoicing in each other's triumphs, and a drawing
each other's enthusiasm, allowing everyone to gain strength and inspiration
to push on in service to Srila Prabhupada.
4. Alternative Dispute Resolution
One of the most interesting developments this year was the introduction of
mediation for helping resolve difficult interpersonal or managerial issues.
In past years the GBC dealt with such issues by forming time-consuming
sub-committees. However, last year the GBC brought to Mayapur Mr. Arnold
Zack, a Harvard professor and renowned professional in dispute resolution.
This year, Mr. Zack has helped introduce mediation training courses in
ISKCON so devotees may easily have alternative means of resolving disputes
and dealing with intra-organizational tensions. For the first time mediation
was used at the GBC meeting with the result that a number of issues were
happily, expediently and - probably - more satisfactorily resolved.
This introduction of mediation into our movement, along with a system of
"ombudsmen" - officially-designated devotees whom one may approach
confidentially for the airing of any grievance - represents a positive
development for reducing frustration, improving temple operations, and
increasing the satisfaction of ISKCON devotees.
5. Education and Training
The GBC, headed by its Ministries of Communication and Education, is
developing training courses, workshops, seminars and educational tools for
helping devotees improve their management and leadership skills as well as
their maturity in interpersonal dealings.
Development of such programs is already increasing communication,
understanding, and confidence among devotees. Externally, these initiatives
also enable us to become more effective and credible in our efforts to
spread Krishna consciousness. By becoming appreciated as educators,
especially in the West, we can more effectively demonstrate our practical
ability to solve world problems by contributing to the fulfillment of the
individual's search for spiritual truth.
Particularly welcome this past year was the establishment of courses on the
Srimad-Bhagavatam to prepare devotees for the Bhakti Vaibhava exam. It is
essential that all of Srila Prabhupada's followers regularly study his
6. Topical Visionary Subcommittee Work
As part of the GBC's increasing attempts to work proactively, sub-committees
met during the meetings for in-depth discussions on various issues of
concern or interest to our movement. Topics included: "Unity in Diversity"
(Srila Prabhupada requested that this topic be discussed every year in
Mayapura), "Parallel lines of Authority" (understanding Srila Prabhupada's
vision for the role of the diksa and siksa gurus in relation to the ISKCON
authority structure), and "The future of the GBC" (preparing younger
devotees to take up this service for Srila Prabhupada). These topics often
converge or overlap but the consensus amongst the devotees consistently
points to an increasing maturity in understanding of how the diverse
elements in ISKCON must work together to secure its successful preaching
future. Naturally this is an ongoing process and these discussions will
continue informally throughout the year and will be revised again at next
years annual meetings.
Other Positive Developments
In addition to the above-mentioned six steps for improving its performance,
the GBC members this year shared with each other and, through the internet,
some of their outstanding accomplishments and plans. For example, Bhakti
Marg Maharaja is again crossing Canada by foot this year. Through his
demonstration of a simple, spiritual life, he hopes to raise awareness of
deeper, spiritual issues affecting society and, capture the imagination of
the Western public. His walk will be featured in a CBC television
documentary on Canada's National highway.
Other GBC members and sannyasis, according to their expertise, are
seminar courses and educational tools and are gaining access to governments,
universities, scientific symposiums, interfaith conferences, all types of
cultural events and even major corporations. HH Bhakti-tirtha Maharaja,
Drutakarma prabhu and Bhakti-Swarup Damodara Maharaja are involved in
dramatic developments to spread Krishna Consciousness through the fields of
science, interfaith dialogue, metaphsyics, academia and social development.
Several major development projects taking place in the ISKCON world. In
America, Badrinarayan prabhu has begun work on a three-stage temple project
just outside San Diego, California. In Bombay the Chowpatti temple building
is undergoing an extensive refurbishment. And in Tirupati, next to one of
the most famous pilgrimage sites in India, ISKCON is building a traditional
temple all on the strength of book distribution. Day and night the devotees
man booths, selling literature in the hundreds and thousands to the pilgrims
who flock there. The temple is maintained and is developing solely from book
In Kazakhstan, officially a Muslim country, BhaktiBrnga Govinda Maharaja,
intends to build a groundbreaking Vedic temple. In Bhaktivedanta Manor near
London devotees have begun work on an extensive Goshala and have plans
underway for a new resource center. In the annual Mayapur Project report
Abhirama Prabhu, the managing director, explained the progress that has been
made in preparing for future development. Next March, the Project's
permanent seven-foot Panca Tattva deities are scheduled to be installed in
While appreciating these positive developments, on many fronts the GBC
continues to struggle. Book distribution is down worldwide from a recent
peak of 6-7 million books in
1996 to around 3 million last year. To address this trend, a special
committee was established to improve communication between BBT and ISKCON.
Several resolutions were passed all in the mood of increasing cooperation
and reconfirming the importance of distributing Srila Prabhupada's books.
The legal challenge to some ISKCON branches from lawyer Wendall Turley is
ongoing concern. For legal reasons, more details cannot be discussed in this
From time to time the GBC Body is confronted with philosophical questions
that need to be answered according to Sadhu, sastra and Srila Prabhupada's
teachings and example. As a result last year the GBC established the Sastric
Advisory Council. The Council includes several devotees who are well versed,
experienced, non-GBC members who can give objective, insightful and
philosophically sound analyses of various philosophical issues. This year
this Council critiqued a paper being circulated in relationship to the guru
in ISKCON. The GBC found the critique "adequately addresses the essential
points of the paper's arguments concerning the position of the Diksa guru
In many ways the challenges confronting ISKCON are unique. Not only have we
never before dealt with many of the issues facing us today, but never in the
history of the Vaishnava world have they had to be faced by anyone. How does
a guru, for example, who traditionally, for all intents and purposes,
operates as an absolute authority in his own right, function effectively
within a worldwide institution led by the collective will of a Governing
The fact that ISKCON continues to work through such unique challenges,
surviving, and in many places, thriving after nearly 40 years - 25 of those
direct guiding hand of Srila Prabhupada himself - is a cause for optimism
and confidence. We fervently pray to serve you so together we can
successfully execute the great mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu we have
inherited from Srila Prabhupada and the predecessor acharyas.
Hoping this finds you well and enthusiastic in the service of Srila
Prabhupada, I remain,
Your humble servant,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami
On behalf of the members of the GBC Executive Committee and the GBC Body