Chakra Discussions

Eight ways to fix ISKCON

by Narottama das

Posted March 7, 2005

Gopal Bhatta prabhu asked for critical input for the Spiritual Strategic Planning Team. However, ISKCON leaders have sometimes ignored ungratifying answers, as with Burke Rochford's sociological study of ISKCON which showed that most devotees reject the GBC's authority. Others with bold messages have even been maligned as 'envious snakes' and ousted, as in the case of Pradyumna prabhu. For our society to remain healthy, we must never shut off honest debate.

GBC divisiveness includes personal bank accounts, personal projects, individual spiritual families, etc. Only little cliques are united and usually speak up only when their toes are stepped on. Individual GBC members do not always follow their own resolutions. The guru system is incorrect: whatever tricky language is used, the GBC must take responsibility if their appointed leaders fall. There is no integrity in expecting estranged disciples to take shelter of yet another ISKCON leader in such circumstances. Improper management of funds appears widespread; all ISKCON funds should be properly accounted for and be subject to audit.

'Sannyasis' are not sannyasis. Where is the renunciation? The renunciates have borrowed or stolen power from grhasthas -- administration, wealth, responsibility and leadership, living lives more comfortable than most grhasthas'. Sannyasis should hold spiritual leadership, but have also taken on administration, though without qualification. Trying simultaneously to be both brahmanas and ksyatriyas is unhealthy and dysfunctional. The gurukulis, the little people of ISKCON, disgruntled members, ex-members, 'blooped' members and others need to be heard and taken seriously through a genuinely democratic system of electing GBC members by secret ballot. Until this happens, ISKCON's leaders are unlikely to change or to have the respect of devotees.

Most positions of authority are occupied by sycophants instead of people with competence. The Peter Principle really shines through here. People are frequently judged on externals: how submissive they are, how strictly they're following, how many years in the movement, etc. Such criteria are given as reasons for not listening to people, yet brahmanas are supposed to heed the words of a child, if the shoe fits. The criterion for being a manager in ISKCON should be a person's actual ability to manage.

Official dealings with other Vaishnava groups have been horrible, showing lack of Vaishnava etiquette and a concern for symptoms, not problems. That some are so naïve as to go to other groups, which may be presenting a sham, shows ISKCON's failure to provide a good education. Devotees should be taught to be independently thoughtful. Then, should they see an ISKCON leader as dysfunctional, they would not simply transfer their dependency to someone else whom they hoped was pure.

People are sometimes scooted out the door without assistance, despite the years, time and money they gave for ISKCON, and with little or nothing contributed in their names to government social safety nets. An actuarily sufficient portion of the funds collected today should be banked in interest-bearing trust funds administered by an honest third party to help elderly and infirm devotees.

Educational systems such as VIHE and VTE should not be the sole means of attaining Vaishnava learning. We should enable devotees to attain Bhaktishastri and Bhaktivaibhava degrees through independent study or distance learning. We should also respect traditional academic, vocational and technical degrees and diplomas, and encourage ISKCON's high school graduates to pursue advanced education whenever practicable.

We should all, including our leaders, be honest about our shortcomings. Truthfulness will always be more effective than duplicity, even if the motive is 'protecting the new devotees'. It is ridiculous to talk privately about how ISKCON is failing and then, as soon as a new devotee walks in, for the conversation to turn to talk of successes and great numbers of new devotees. Whenever an attempt has been made to hide some issue, the GBC has only looked more foolish later, when the facts came out. Any devotee interested in observing GBC deliberations should be able to do so. The only GBC meetings which should be in camera are those concerned with hiring staff or purchasing real estate. In those cases, as with city councils or national governments, the names and salaries of people hired and the agreed sales price for land or buildings should also be made public after negotiations are completed.