Around forty ISKCON leaders and communications staff attended the 2012 ISKCON Communications Europe Seminar at the Community Hall in Radhadesh, Belgium this April 22nd to 25th.
The attendees, who, according to European Communications Director Mahaprabhu Dasa, found the Seminar “dynamic, satisfying, and engaging,” hailed from all over Europe.
From the UK’s Bhaktivedanta Manor, there was temple president Srutidharma Dasa, financial officer Pranabandhu Dasa, Communications Secretary Radha Mohan Dasa, and communications staff member Gauri Dasa.
From Sweden came senior leader Smita Krishna Swami, national Communications Director Merudevi Dasi, Asta-siddhi Dasi—a senior devotee from the Almviks Gard farm community—and Amarantha Dasa, a young Indian devotee interested in working with the Stockholm Hindu community.
Meanwhile from France came Paris temple president Nitai Gaurasundara Dasa, communications staff member Bhaktin Sylvie, and Paris Rathayatra Committee Chairman Bhakta Fred with his wife Mohita Dasi.
Also attending the Seminar were Hungarian and Czech Communications Directors Madhupati Dasa and Trilokatma Dasa, Slovakian social networking expert Bhakta Michal, Croatian National Council President Govinda Sundara Dasa, Belgian GBC member Hridaya Chaitanya Dasa, and many others.
For over twenty years, the ISKCON Communications Europe Seminar has gathered communications leaders from every country to keep each other inspired, to learn how to connect with the media and the public, and to discuss issues currently affecting the ISKCON society at large.
“Good communications are essential everywhere,” says Mahaprabhu Dasa. “But they have been particularly integral to the development of ISKCON in Europe, where there is resistance from both the traditional religions, and from a large section of the population who are secular and don’t want anything to do with religion. Through communications we have learned to avoid problems with the government, anti-cult movements, and majority religions, change our public image, and improve relationships.”
The ISKCON Communications Seminar has also historically been a place of progress, where cutting edge issues were brought up first before filtering into other management bodies and becoming a mainstream discussion in ISKCON, such as women’s issues, guru reform, and education.
This year was no exception, with attendees tackling ISKCON’s relationship with Hinduism.
“We spent half a day on gaining a philosophical understanding of where ISKCON fits in with Hinduism, and why we sometimes say we’re not Hindu, and other times say that we are,” Mahaprabhu explains. “We wanted to show how every situation must fit into the right context and framework: there’s a wrong place and a right place to say we are not Hindus, and a wrong place and a right place to say we are Hindus.”
The intriguing discussion included a presentation called “Am I A Hindu?” by Gauri Dasa, which included many choice quotes from Srila Prabhupada; as well as an introductory presentation on ISKCON and Hinduism by Rasamandala Dasa, course director of the BA program on Educational Studies, Theology and Religion at Bhaktivedanta College.
Gauri, along with Srutidharma and Pranabandhu, then led a practical discussion on how to engage with Hindu organizations, using Bhaktivedanta Manor’s impressive thirty-year example.
Following this up was another hot topic in ISKCON right now—the environment.
Speaking on his perception of ISKCON’s approach to environmental concerns, Gopal-Lila Dasa of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies presented the Centre’s Bhumi Project. The effort, which Gopal-Lila is heading up, is attempting make Hindu and ISKCON temples all over the world more environmentally friendly and
more in tune with modern ecological trends.
“He’s traveling throughout India, the United States and Europe, meeting with leaders of different temples and trying to create awareness and better, greener habits,” Mahaprabhu says.
Later in the Seminar, Europe’s number one authority in advising governments and parliaments on State/Church relations, Professor Gerhard Robbers of Germany’s Trier University, led a discussion on the relationships between the government and religious organizations in different European countries, including specific case studies of Hungary and France.
Also popular was a presentation by Bhakta Michal of ISKCON Slovakia on how to use new technologies and social networking media such as Twitter and Facebook in spreading Krishna consciousness.
Finally, representatives of each European country gave a ten to fifteen minute report on their country’s latest achievements and challenges. Devotees from Hungary, for instance, discussed ISKCON Hungary’s recent fight to retain its religious status in the face of legislative changes by the government; while devotees
from the UK spoke about Queen Elizabeth’s recent visit to their Krishna Avanti School.
Meanwhile, to deepen relationships and share some fun together, all forty Seminar attendees wrapped up the event by taking a fully-day excursion to Brussels.
There, they visited the Fine Arts Museum, the European Parliament, Grand Platz in the city center, and the famous St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral. They also had lunch at the Brussels ISKCON center, and chanted Krishna’s names in a public ‘Harinama’ through the city.
“Devotees felt very happy and fulfilled after the Seminar,” says Mahaprabhu. “As far as practical outcomes go, we are on track to finalize the Hindu issue next year with a statement and a brochure that can be used throughout the ISKCON world, as well as to present ourselves to Hindu organizations and other religious communities in the outside world. We also developed a statement about ISKCON and the environment which we will bring to the RGB—ISKCON Europe’s Governing Body—in a few weeks, to encourage temples to go green, stop plastic, and build other good environmental habits.”
The next annual ISKCON Communications Europe Seminar is expected to be held in May 2013, in Hungary.