A mock debate between GBC members on the topic of “Unity in Diversity Across the Continents” ended in intriguing circumstances during the annual GBC Retreat day on March 2. The debate was one of various activities on a day devoted to kirtana and krsna-katha in novel forms in the tranquil setting of the Jagannath Mandir.
The day began with the GBCs, Deputies, and Ministers honouring breakfast prasadam at Srila Prabhupada’s Samadhi Mandir, following which they gathered in front of Srila Prabhupada for an invigorating kirtana by Lokanath Swami and re-taking of the Oath of Allegiance to Srila Prabhupada. The GBC then traveled to the Jagannath Mandir, an ancient temple of Lord Jagannath in a quiet village setting, where Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra were gorgeously decorated replete with golden arms.
Lokanath Swami introduced the day’s theme, “Unity in Diversity,” as stipulated in a letter by Srila Prabhupada: “I am therefore suggesting that all our men meet in Mayapur every year during the birth anniversary of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. With all GBC and senior men present we should discuss how to make unity in diversity. But, if we fight on account of diversity, then it is simply the material platform. Please try to maintain the philosophy of unity in diversity. That will make our movement successful.”
Praghosa Das, Master of Ceremonies, announced the first activity: short pantomimed dramas on Prabhupada-lila. Four groups of GBCs enacted various incidents from Srila Prabhupada’s life, such as Prabhupada pacifying the disruptive Naxalite hooligans at the Calcutta pandal programme, Prabhupada mediating in the famous showdown between the sannyasis and grhasthas in Mayapur in 1976, Prabhupada sanctioning the use of frozen vegetables in Iran, and Prabhupada in Nairobi training Brahmananda to preach to the local African community.
At the end of each drama, the viewers had to guess which pastime was being depicted. Both actors and viewers thoroughly enjoyed the transcendental entertainment, particularly the way the actors depicted particular mannerisms of prominent early devotees.
The next event was the on-the-spot debate on Unity in Diversity. The two groups of protagonists each had 90 seconds to argue their points. Madhu Sevita Das, on the team arguing for the notion, commenced by stating that since modern means of communication have bridged the geographical divide, and as the culture of world becomes more homogenous, the same goals and problems are shared everywhere. Thus teaming up is possible and necessary.
Anuttama Dasa of the opposing party countered that we live in the age of quarrel where more and more countries are being created. Thus, unity is not possible.
Then Bhakti Vaibhava Swami pointed out that we are in the golden age where the maha-mantra will unite everyone for 10,000 years.
Dina Sharana Devi Dasi rubbished such claims of unity and said that after the meetings when she has to return to her field in Germany, she will be left to struggle alone.
To this, Ramai Swami kindly offered to visit Germany and stated that in the ecstasy of kirtana, not only devotees, but even the opposing elements will unite.
Sivarama Swami’s comment that the idea of going to Germany was simply to exploit that yatra brought peals of laughter from the audience. Bhanu Swami added that we have to be practical and first identify with our own diverse cultures, and also be humble enough to admit that unity is utopian.
To both the humour and dismay of Praghosa, whose purpose was to promote unity, the debating skills of the party arguing against the notion led the audience to pronounce them victors!
Next, Praghosa divided the attendees into their respective Strategic Planning Committees to discuss how “Unity in Diversity” can be utilized in their Committee’s aims. Each group had half an hour to prepare a poem, dance, or song to illustrate to the gathering the points they had collected.
Once again the audience was treated to a surprisingly professional devotional performance of both historic and hypothetical events. The Succession Committee enacted a modernistic Los Angeles Ratha-yatra kirtana performance where a debate arose whether such music was bona fide. The debate connected to the next scene, a flashback, in which a devotee was complaining to Srila Prabhupada about a devotee distributing books in civil clothes. Upon Srila Prabhupada hearing both sides of the story, he advised caution but agreed this was acceptable if it helps to reach people’s hearts.
The Srila Prabhupada’s Position Committee enacted a hilarious depiction from the first Mayapur Festival where devotees from around the world began to bicker with each other over their services speaking different languages like German, Spanish, French, and Italian. Suddenly, upon realizing Srila Prabhupada should be in the centre, they all began apologizing to each other and appreciating the other’s services. They also mysteriously developed the ability to converse in English!
Bir Krsna Maharaja of the Devotee Care Committee brought the house down as Upadhi-ananda Swami with his harsh treatment of a woman, child, and Bhakta Joe, while flattering a grhastha donor and GBC representative. Sadhu Das (Kavicandra Swami) showed Upadhi-ananda Swami the error of his ways by reminding him that everyone is equal in Krsna consciousness, despite external differences, and how Prabhupada would treat everyone with kindness.
The Parallel Lines of Authority Committee, under the direction of early GBC member Madhudvisa Das, depicted the historical occasion of Prabhupada instructing his leading disciples to create the GBC after managerial issues arose between them. They noted how in the beginning of ISKCON there was unity among the few devotees, then as ISKCON expanded and devotees were sent out to establish Krsna consciousness around the world, diversity arose.
The Constitution Committee also drew many laughs depicting the experience of a young couple, excellently played by Paramgati Swami and Bhaktimarga Swami, coming to the temple for the first time and treated in various comic ways by different devotees. Inevitably they are turned off and scared away, following which the Temple President gathers the devotees to instruct them that although Prabhupada allowed diversity of opinion, unity also must be there and therefore they must devise a unified way of preaching to newcomers.
The day ended perfectly with prasadam for all at the Jagannath Mandir. Thus the GBC members tangibly followed Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to meet in Mayapur and focus on creating unity in diversity. All agreed the experience was most memorable and enriching. Srila Prabhupada ki jai!