By: Madhava Smullen ISKCON News on Nov. 20, 2010
Thirty-five members and ministers of the Governing Body Commission attended their second annual meetings from October 31st through November 4th at the ISKCON Juhu temple in Mumbai, India, where they discussed plans to cement ISKCON’s future.
The GBC meets twice a year: once for ten days during the spring Gaura Purnima festival at ISKCON’s international headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal; and once for five days during the autumn Kartika Season at another location.
For the past several years, the second annual meetings have been held in Juhu, which is highly appropriate considering ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s famous statement: “Vrindavana is my home, Mumbai is my office, and Mayapur is my place of worship.”
Four out of the meetings’ five days were focused on Strategic Planning, while the last day dealt with other GBC business. The GBC also spent four days of their Mayapur meetings on Strategic Planning, showing that it’s something they’re clearly putting a lot of energy into these days.
“Strategic planning means identifying our strengths and challenges, and planning how to direct our organization, our resources, and our intelligence in a systematic way to best achieve Srila Prabhupada’s and Lord Chaitanya’s mission,” says GBC member Anuttama Dasa. “We have to think about the future of our society.”
Behind the focus on Strategic Planning is the knowledge that with each passing year, more of Srila Prabhupada’s direct disciples are leaving this world. The GBC is taking this very seriously, and doing everything possible to solidify and strengthen ISKCON while these senior devotees are still with us. They want to take advantage of the wisdom of devotees that spent so much personal time with Prabhupada and were trained by him in how to manage the society. This, they feel, will put ISKCON in a position for generations of healthy growth.
In fact, the GBC invited forty such senior devotees from around to the world to attend the Mumbai meetings and add their collective wisdom to the Strategic Planning process. It’s the first time, after years of Strategic Planning, that they’ve felt there has been sufficient preliminary progress to invite the participation of a larger group of devotees.
“The GBC’s Strategic Planning has been working largely through a series of committees, each of which presented their initiatives—part of the overall strategic plan—over the four days,” Anuttama says. “One of them was of course the Strategic Planning Committee, which is behind the scenes, driving the whole effort.”
There were many others. The Constitutional Committee—which is attempting to write a constitution that defines what is ISKCON, and what it means to be a part of ISKCON—presented a draft to all of the participants for feedback. Braja Bihari Dasa of ISKCON Resolve made a preliminary presentation about developing additional dispute resolution systems within ISKCON. And the Devotee Care Committee, an international effort based in India, presented the third issue of their Devotee Care Journal, and reported that they had updated their website, devoteecareiskcon.com.
“They’re very proactive, with many devotees travelling and helping to improve the standards of devotee care around the world,” says Anuttama. “In fact, the Devotee Care Committee embodies the GBC’s model for its Strategic Planning goals: more devotees, and happy devotees. That our management should be primarily focused on care for our members, as well as expanding those members by sharing Krishna consciousness with as many new people as possible.”
Other committees present included a newly-formed education committee, an outreach committee, and the Srila Prabhupada’s Position committee, which does research and publishes information clearly establishing Prabhupada’s pre-eminent position as the Founder Acharya of ISKCON.
Another was the Dual Lines of Authority Committee, which is seeking clarification of how a multiple guru society—as Prabhupada created and wanted—can function under the ultimate authority of the Governing Body Comission.
“This is more or less the first time in the history of Gaudiya Vaishnava organizations that multiple gurus are working under one common authority,” Anuttama says. “And there are questions about how authority works within such a multi-guru society that can’t just be left to work out on a local level in the future. For instance, what’s the relationship between the authority of an initiating spiritual master and a temple president? What do we do in the future when there’s an eighty-year-old guru and a twenty-five-year-old temple president, or the other way around? These are the kind of things that have to be looked at.”
The GBC also has several committees working on its own future. There’s a team-building committee, which focuses on developing positive team-spirit amongst the GBC members themselves, to help increase their effectiveness as leaders. And there’s a committee for establishing the GBC’s own communications office.
“The GBC understands that it needs to be more proactive in informing not just the leaders, but also the members of ISKCON around the world, what they’re working on, thus helping to create an increased sense of shared vision and purpose for the movement around the world as it grows,” Anuttama says. “So we should be seeing some significant developments on regular communications from the GBC within the next six months or so.”
Another very important committee involved in the Strategic Planning Process is the Succession Committee. The purpose of this is to help create a culture of training devotees systematically and making them more capable of assuming higher levels of leadership within the society.
“Personally I think such strategic initiatives are critically important for the long term success of ISKCON,” Anuttama says. “Historically, the first generation after the departure of a great religious movement’s founder—in our case, Srila Prabhupada—is a critical period. During this time we must retain, adapt and standardize his teachings, assuring that future generations are able to preserve his mood and vision.”
This kind of thing, of course, doesn’t happen overnight.
“Srila Prabhupada famously said, ‘I have given you the basic structure—now you need to fill it in,’” Anuttama recalls.
“So,” he concludes, “We have a lot left to fill in.”