As it prepares to play a major role in creating awareness for ISKCON’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2016, the ISKCON Communications Ministry (IC) is looking back on decades of relationship-building and gaining support for Srila Prabhupada’s society.
Meanwhile, it’s also seeking funds to ensure an even more effective next fifty years.
It was really ISKCON Founder-Acharya Srila Prabhupada himself who started ISKCON Communications. Always looking for opportunities to meet with government officials, media representatives, religious leaders, scholars, and opinion-makers like the Beatles, Prabhupada sought ways to help them understand Krishna consciousness, support the movement, and thus improve its worldwide reputation.
Later in 1977, his early disciple Mukunda Goswami began the IC Office in Los Angeles. And in the mid 1990s, when he retired, current director Anuttama Das took over as the International Minister of Communications. Both continued to work with the same groups that Srila Prabhupada did as well as others like neighborhood associations and even anti-cult groups.
“We try to help them understand the value and contributions of the Hare Krishna movement, and how they might assist us in propagating our mission,” says Anuttama. “We also hear their concerns, criticisms, and advice to find out ways we can improve.”
While running the Ministry, Mukunda Goswami improved communication and information amongst devotees by launching the newspaper ISKCON World Review to a huge worldwide readership. He also launched campaigns defending ISKCON’s reputation in some legal cases against the society in those early days.
After him, current director Anuttama Das spoke about ISKCON in front of 11 million people on Larry King Live, following a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court Case against book distribution. Anuttama explained that rather than just being out to make money, devotees’ true purpose was to give people spiritual knowledge that could uplift them, help them realize their full potential, and help solve many of the world’s problems.
Next, in 1996, IC got major media coverage around the world for ISKCON’s 30th anniversary and Srila Prabhupada’s Centennial.
In 2007, when Kazakhstan authorities demolished devotees’ homes, IC organized a campaign to put pressure on the Kazakh government, which saw various world leaders speak out against the injustice. There were also top level meetings in the White House, and a hearing on Capitol Hill with human rights advocates from Kazakshtan testifying in front of the U.S. Congress.
In Washington D.C. ISKCON Communications still regularly represents the Hare Krishna Movement at major government functions, and is active in human rights, supporting religious freedom for not only ISKCON devotees but also other faiths.
For the last twenty years IC has been organizing an annual Vaishnava-Christian interfaith dialogue, and for the past five years a Vaishnava-Muslim dialogue, strengthening the relationships and understanding between these faiths.
Every year, IC represents ISKCON at the American Academy of Religion, helps devotees promote their local temple festivals to the media, and teaches a four-day communications course for local temple leaders in six continents.
Meanwhile around the world, ISKCON Communications leaders in Europe, Australia, India, Africa, South America and Russia have held annual conferences for their staff, organized campaigns to protect religious freedom in countries like Kazakhstan and Hungary, and helped create a positive attitude towards ISKCON.
Online, IC’s website iskconnews.org provides timely, well-researched and insightful reporting on what’s going on in ISKCON around the world. Established in 2007, the site now has thousands of readers every week, over 90,000 followers on Facebook, and two sister sites, ISKCON Noticias in Spanish and the Facebook page Krishna Novosti in Russian.
“ISKCON News helps devotees learn about and take pride in the successes, contributions and growth of the global movement they’re part of,” Anuttama says. “And when we face crises, like we did in Kazakhstan or more recently in Ukraine, it gives the affected devotees the opportunity to inform people in a timely manner so they can reach out to help.”
Next up, ISKCON Communications is playing a major role in the planning of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary celebrations, with director Anuttama Das serving on the global committee, and communications staff around the world working to attract the media’s attention.
IC is also organizing an academic conference in spring 2016 with top scholars to take a look at the significant impact ISKCON has had since Prabhupada founded it 50 years ago. And it is gearing up to launch a revamped iskcon.org website, which will serve as ISKCON’s official place of first contact for members of the public.
“We’re also encouraging temples and communities around the world to reach out in advance and build relationships with neighbors, local religious leaders, etc so that we can use the 50th as an opportunity to get more involved in the larger community and increase our impact,” says Anuttama. “We want to contribute to the world in a way that upflifts people to the spiritual values of Krishna consciousness. And that’s not going to happen with closed doors.”
In Mukunda Goswami’s time, all this work was funded by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and by a network of devotees supporting him. When Anuttama, a householder, took over in the early 1990s, the independent business that he ran with his wife Rukmini Dasi was at first able to cover most of the costs required for the global operation of ISKCON Communications.
But today, with a different economic climate and Anuttama’s business not realizing the same profits, ISKCON Communications needs a network of supporters who appreciate its work to be able to continue on into the future.
“As our movement grows and expands, it’s essential that some of our key ministries like communications, education, and others are funded in ways that allow us to build an infrastructure, create resources, and engage devotee manpower to help us strengthen and professionalize our movement,” says Anuttama.
ISKCON communications requires funds to cover the costs of organizing interfaith and academic conferences, publishing academic journals, staffing ISKCON News, and more. To help, please click the “Donate” button to the right of this column, or send a check to ISKCON Communications, 10310 Oaklyn Drive, Potomac, Maryland 20852, USA. Your support is deeply appreciated.[ fundraising ] [ communications ] [ washington dc ]