Be careful what you wish for...
Posted February 16, 2005
Editors' note: Recently Chakra posted a mention of the North American Spiritual Strategic Planning Initiative. We invited interested readers to propose some suggestions ("Send us your suggestions on how to improve ISKCON", Jan. 31), and declared that we would post a selection of the responses.
It may appear that the response from the community of devotees ranges from lukewarm to negative, but the essays posted below are a fair sampling of the opinions Chakra received. We still hope for essays which respond more directly to the request for positive suggestions to inspire ISKCON in the decades ahead, and will post some of the best suggestions received. If you have an idea for the SSPT, consider sharing it with others via Chakra. Write to email@example.com Please keep your answers brief, civil and focussed (500 words or less is ideal.)
Those who led ISKCON into the ditch should resign
by Shiva das
ISKCON has already been doing -- to one degree or another, depending on the size and abilities of each temple -- all of the things on the list of "strategic initiatives." Every single one was being implemented when I was in L.A ISKCON in the late 70s and early 80s. Instead of ISKCON America flourishing and growing from that, it fell apart.
FATE (the First American Theistic Exhibition) dissolved, Bhakta programs dissolved, schools shut down, dinner programs, college preaching, all of the "new" strategies dwindled or dissolved, and thousands upon thousands of devotees were left saddened by dictatorial attitudes. What had used to be a spirit of "all for one and one for all" changed completely into "us versus them."
Management became a privileged class who seemingly used every opportunity to exploit any means at their disposal for financial gain, while doing next to nothing for the Vaisnavas under their management. Now many of these same managers from back then are leading the SSPT or taking part as sub-leaders.
They want to know the real problems and solutions for ISKCON America. All those, who have led ISKCON America into the ditch, should resign. They have had almost 30 years on their own. They are responsible for ISKCON America's slide into its present state. They are responsible for the gurukula situation and for everything else. They have been the people in charge. It happened under their watch. They have proven themselves to be unqualified. They are the problem, not the solution.
They say they want to bring back the enthusiasm felt during Prabhupada's time with us. They are the reason the enthusiasm is gone. It is their mismanagement, their favoritism, their mistreatment of those under them, their hoarding of wealth, their use of ISKCON as their personal playpen/penthouse, their neglect and use of so many who worked backbreaking hours only to have the wealth from that go into the leaders' personal expense accounts. These guys want our respect and trust?
I wish them well, but "once bitten, twice shy." The leaders are the problem. All of ISKCON America's problems and its slide from its height of devotee participation and achievements in 1978 can be attributed directly to the leaders, many of whom are now leaders and sub-leaders of the SSPT. I am surprised that the same people responsible for the mass exodus of devotees and for all of these problems could have the chutzpah to ask everyone to sign up to help them do it all over again.
It makes perfect sense that they ask everyone to focus only on future possibilities, and not on past mistakes. But those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Honestly, the scheme appears to be an attempt at further consolidation of power and further centralization of monetary control. By creating a bureaucracy dependent on their largesse, it seems they are attempting to usurp the power of individual temples and presidents, as well as their control over their finances, removing any independence they have had till now.
Broad-minded devotees can expand the movement
by Satyahit das
Bhakti Tirtha Maharaj has posted a glorification of the book "Our Srila Prabhupada, a friend to all". He has suggested devotees take his pictures down from ISKCON altars; I agree. While everyone was happy to see Srila Prabhupada, the pictures of successor gurus can sometimes be a cause of divisiveness.
Temples are meant to be dynamic places where expansion is going on, which means new devotees are coming and expansion of locations to practice Krishna consciousness is happening. When Srila Prabhupada was physically present, the number of devotees and locations was always expanding.
The Harinam party was the most nocticeble trademark of ISKCON when Srila Prabhupada was present. How many times have I heard people say: "How come we don't see you people singing on the streets anymore?" Singing the Hare Krsna mantra on the street in groups does not collect huge sums of laksmi as do slick sales methods used to pass on Srila Prabhupada's books, but Harinam surely does attract everyone, the demons and the devotees alike. It is all-attractive Krsna consciousness in action.
Krsna consciousness, Srila Bhaktivinode said, is common sense; if devotees are not broad-minded, expansion will be stifled. Jayananda prabhu was such a broad-minded devotee. When other devotees returned from morning Harinam at Venice Beach to take prasadam and afternoon rest at the temple, he disappeared from the dormitory and was nowhere to be found. Once, a devotee followed him around the corner and observed him cooking prasadam, which he distributed in a "greasy-spoon" diner close to the temple; the patrons loved him for that. Some of those people went on to become devotees.
The Sunday feast, morning programs, laksmi collection and book distribution are only parts of our program. When collection of funds is emphasized over expansion of devotees, the temple will not dynamically attract new members. ISKCON should also re-establish farm or country ashrams where newcomers are engaged and tolerated.
Is anybody listening?
by Suk Shah
Woodbury, Minnesota, USA
Admission of our weaknesses is the first step towards working on them. I would, therefore, like to sincerely thank the "Spiritual Strategic Planning Team for ISKCON North America" (SSPT) for inviting ideas on how to revitalize and improve ISKCON.
Lord Krsna says, "Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues." (Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 3.21)
Since 1984, when I came to the United States from Calcutta, I continue to see numerous ISKCON leaders repeatedly surrendering to the allure of mayadevi. These failures have taken a heavy and quantifiable toll on the morale of the followers.
Where should we begin the change? The answer is as simple as looking in the mirror. More importantly, let our leaders show, by their exemplary acts, how to serve the Lord.
Let us reserve Vyasa puja and the mangala arotik pranati exclusively for Srila Prabhupada. Let us follow true sadhus, gurusand sastras for bringing about a revolutionary change in our lives and the lives of others.
Srila Prabhupada has repeatedly emphasized the potency of sravanam for embracing the wisdom of sastras. Let us now extend this power of hearing by listening to ISKCON well-wishers. We are knocking. Hello, anybody listening?
by Kamlesh Patel
Suggestion 1: Krishna.com radio should have a link to all my Bhagavad-gita recordings. I hope that all ISKCON sites can link to my recordings. This would spread the Krishna consciousness movement using the supreme lecture on audio, the Bhagavad-gita. My site is the only one where the 700 verses can be heard in four languages with one click, free. All translations are by Srila Prabhupada.
Suggestion 2: The ISKCON Gurus need to take part in media interviews and events to give the correct image of the Hare Krishna movement. Most of the media have a negative image of ISKCON, due to ignorance caused by ISKCON Gurus not talking enough to the media.
The Gurus need to approach ignorant people and teach them the correct
values of the Vedic religion. The Pope and many others seem to think
that the Vedic religion is all about worshipping millions of Gods and
that people are divided according to caste by birth. Gurus should go
and talk to public figures like Pat Robertson, the Pope and other
people who apparently have an incorrect image of ISKCON.