Chakra Discussions

ISKCON's coming succession crisis

by Sri Nrshingha das

Posted March 8, 2005

Prabhupada's disciples are aging rapidly. Many have already left their bodies.

This is the natural course of events, to be sure. What's of huge concern is the development and training of the next generation of leaders who will guide ISKCON.

With very few exceptions, ISKCON-wide initiatives are still only led by devotees who somehow or another were available to leave their homes and move into a temple between the years 1965 and 1977. The list is further limited by the erosion of hard-fought rights ISKCON women devotees may face if Basu Ghosh's proposal makes it past the GBC at the upcoming meetings in Mayapur.

The concerns are obvious:

  1. Education. Devotees were told universities were "slaughterhouses" in those days. They were encouraged to drop out of school, and the majority, for one reason or another, never returned. Large organizations need to be led by educated people; the number of devotees who took initiation then and who are still around and whose education, sadhana, and personality qualify them to take a leadership role is woefully limited.
  2. Age. Though aging rapidly, there are still enough devotees who took initiation from 1965-1977 who conceivably could be running things for the next 20 years. So how does the next generation get trained up for leadership? Wishful thinking is not enough. The next generation of ISKCON must be brought along carefully--with education AND gradually increasing Movement-wide responsibilities until they're ready for bigger roles.
  3. Succession Planning: Without active, motivated, charismatic leaders pushing things forward on the ground throughout the world, ISKCON runs the risk of greater and greater contraction until, finally, you have a small number of elderly former-leaders holed up in a few ashrams in India--the way things were for the most part before the ever-youthful AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada boarded the Jaladuta.

These concerns are real and the clock is ticking. For ISKCON to continue to be relevant, indeed to SURVIVE, the whole business of succession must be given careful thought. Succession planning, it should be remembered, has never been ISKCON's strong suit — even a casual examination of the events following Prabhupada's return to the spiritual world will support that. But barely surviving the 80's doesn't automatically mean surviving the 2000's is assured. Something must be done and soon.