Chakra Discussions

Positive Solutions

by Niscala dasi

Posted March 8, 2005

There has been a request for more positive contributions for the initiative committee to consider, as most of the contributions from readers have been "lukewarm or negative". Actually this is necessary before a positive contribution can be made- that the problems or negative aspects are analyzed. Of course one cannot consider a negative aspect without being negative, but it is meant to lead to something positive. So what follows is an attempt in this direction.

"Satyam" Committtees

Our society is founded on vaisnava principles such as truth speaking; therefore honesty should be encouraged in our devotees systematically, taking the essence of varnasrama as our blueprint. Let us take a look at that....

Previously, each head of state would have a brahmana advisory committee who would give them honest feedback. Their business was to address any discrepancies in the management, discrepancies that may have been noted or complained about by the citizenry. Since the citizenry is dependent on the good will of the manager, they may feel inhibited to approach the management directly, but they can complain to a brahmana, for all a brahmana is interested in is whether it is truthful. He will then approach the leader, convey the criticism and try to encourage him appropriately.

In our society, advisory committees are appointed by the leaders. The problem with this is that it is still the ksatriya who is in full control, for our experience is (and the mode of passion dictates) that he will most likely appoint advisors who are shoe lickers. He has already cast truth speakers far away, branding them as "offensive" and warning the devotees to shun their association. For this reason advisory committees should never be appointed from above, but from below.

From experience one learns to recognize to whom one can reveal one's mind to in confidence, who will take one's misgivings seriously, who will not jump to the defense of "senior vaisnavas" just because they are senior and in positions of management. Therefore, the rank and file devotees should choose a person or group of persons (depending on the size of the temple), just to convey their doubts about the leadership. This person or group should be given the right to be taken seriously, or remove the leader from his position if he repeatedly ignores complaints that are justified.

Justified complaints are more than just trifles such as "our temple president is not in a good mood today", more than just personal gripes, but rather observations of flaws in character such as being abusive or neglectful in speech or behaviour, not showing a good example of integrity in financial areas, or misrepresenting the philosophy for a personal agenda. Currently, at least in my zone, a temple president is only removed from office if he is not getting the bills paid, regardless of how he pays those bills. I once approached my GBC complaining how my temple president allowed cow abuse, misappropriation of donations and a physically violent farm manager and all he could say was "he gets the job done; he pays the bills". This is only one aspect of management- this temple president should have been a treasurer at best- provided of course, he could come up with honest means of income generation. If he could not then he should not be in management at all.

A brahmana or satyam committee worked well when Srila Prabhupada was here, as he was the brahmana whom devotees felt free to approach when they saw discrepancies, for he took them seriously and was clearly a person of integrity. He was self-effulgent, for he had the approval of all the devotees by his own qualifications- spotless integrity and concern for the spiritual welfare of his children. This is the basis, and therefore the advisory committee- the via medium between leadership and the rank and file- should be elected from the temple devotees according to how much they feel they can entrust certain individuals with the truth, plainly spoken and fairly represented, without bias or partiality. And if such individuals are missing then they should be trained from those who are willing and eager to be trained, for even a desire to be honest and straightforward is a qualification of a kind. Once a brahmincal class is established in ISKCON, we have the basis of reform of any problem- as the accurate report, analysis and timely dealing of problems is assured.

Rather than a distant committee dividing itself up into study groups each one specializing in a particular problem, which is bureaucracy to the limit, it should decentralize and have branches in each and every centre, appointed by the rank and file on the basis of trust. Then they can deal with each problem as it arises, for in each and every temple there is a different set of problems to tackle and a different urgency in the solution. Srila Prabhupada always stressed local autonomy; we stress instead bureaucracy, perhaps because we don't want responsibility for solving problems. We want to use spirituality as an escape rather than for empowerment; we want to follow Arjuna into the forest, throwing down our Gandiva bows. We want peace, and a big institution to solve all our headaches for us, and all we do is chant Hare Krsna and magic happens. That sounds nice, it is very alluring, but I'm very sorry to inform you, it is simply not our philosophy.

Neither will it work in the areas of reform under discussion- the decline of the Sunday feast, book distribution, accountability of leadership and so on. These cannot be solved by centralized committee decision-making or the introduction of the corporate culture in ISKCON, but by personal dealings with the devotees, finding out why they are unenthused in these particular services. It may be that they have been placed in the wrong service for their psychophysical abilities- the "square pegs in round holes" syndrome. Or it may be that they are embarrassed, knowing that the books describe one thing while at the temple there is a castrating authoritarian dynamic, a dynamic based on fear rather than self expression. Either of these will lead to lack of enthusiasm, and the solution is to encourage devotees to express themselves, not to shut them up with threats of the effects of aparadha.

Potentially each of our members is a vital contribution to our movement, in fact not only the present members but the members who have left. When they are encouraged to rise up to their full potential, there will be natural enthusiasm for services performed, and when they are listened to carefully, there will be a natural basis for reform.