Chakra Discussions

A Call To Action

by Shakuntala devi dasi

Posted June 25, 2006

After my experience at the Kuli Mela in New Vrndavana, I had the realization that ISKCON is not out of touch with the rest of society. It is not stuck in the dark ages. It is full of successful talented men and women. It is full of youth, brimming with ideas on innovative preaching. Full of householders and talented professionals ready to contribute. It is full of devotees that are compassionate, balanced and ethical. The only problem is that those are not the people governing our institution.

The average GBC member is between 55 and 65 years old. A far cry from the revolutionary 20 year olds we hear about from "the good old days." There are NO Vaishnava youth or former gurukulis with voting rights. At least 90 percent of the GBC members are renounced men; few women, if any, have voting rights. There are very few successful professionals with jobs outside of ISKCON, and only a small number of householders representing us. I know this first hand because I addressed the GBC in Mayapur a few years ago and it was wall to wall saffron and dandas. To put it quite simply, there are no checks and balances on our Governing Board.

Without checks and balances, it finally makes sense to me why it took over 15 years for the GBC to pressure Dhanurdhara to step down. Those in the decision-making roles have been his friends and colleagues for the past 30 years. It is because they are not an objective, unbiased committee that this issue has had so many shades of grey instead of being simple and clear. This has been the case in many scandals and subsequent cover-ups in ISKCON; many times those playing judge and jury are close friends or directly involved in the scandal.

Beyond these more serious issues lies the fact that many of the decisions being made simply do not represent the views of the members of our society. I am embarrassed to invite my successful friends to temples where the women still stand in the back. It's 2006! I envy the yoga community with their hip, up-to-date and popular approach to many of the same Vedic teachings. Why do we remain out of touch while they flourish? You can go to any yoga studio and find successful professionals enthusiastically chanting in kirtan, yet we are still viewed by many as freaks. Our leaders have been so caught up in the old boys club that they are completely out of touch with the rest of the world... not leading it. Big fish in a shrinking pond... our temples are dwindling.

I realized that many of these problems would be instantly solved if we had more diverse representatives on the GBC with decision making power. Then I read a document called the Direction of Management where Srila Prabhupada states that we should vote for our representatives every 3 years. It made a lot of sense to me. It would eliminate the old boys club concept and create accountability.

While my emphasis is on the things that need to change, I also feel there is a lot of value and wisdom to be gained from many of those who have lead our movement so far. Combining that wisdom with youthful innovation and a feminine touch would create a balanced society. Let's not forget that absolute power corrupts absolutely. So why not try Srila Prabhupada's idea and start holding elections?