At the Kuli Mela festival in Simhachalam, Germany, from August 7th to 11th this year, Gurukulis -- those born into ISKCON -- explored their relationship with ISKCON management at a special panel.
Kuli Mela, a festival which has already been held in various locations around the US, Russia, Europe and Australasia, is intended as a forum for Gurukulis to share their talents and realizations as well as to be educated and inspired.
This year’s German event drew 300 Kulis from France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Czech, and of course Germany, as well as some from the United States of America.
Many of these attended “The Relationship Between Gurukulis and ISKCON Management” Panel Discussion on August 8th.
The panel consisted of ISKCON guru Sacinandana Swami, ISKCON Governing Body Commissioner for Germany Dina Sharana Dasi, senior devotee Jagannidhi Das, SKCON Youth Ministry volunteer Manorama Das, and gurukulis Baladeva Keilman and Shyama Sakhi.
Other gurukulis in the audience also participated by asking questions and voicing opinions.
Kuli Mela organizer Damodara Asen moderated the discussion, beginning by asking the question “How do gurukulis see their part in ISKCON, how does ISKCON see gurukulis, and what do both feel is needed to improve the relationship?”
Some gurukulis felt that they were not understood properly and not welcome in ISKCON temples. They wanted to be integrated into ISKCON and be respected as part of the movement.
Damodara poses questions to the panel on The 'Relationship Between Gurukulis and ISKCON Management'
Overall, however, the discussion quickly shifted to an agreement that the issue was not so much about sides -- Gurukulis vs ISKCON -- as it was about enabling people within ISKCON in general.
“If you enable everyone, gurukulis are enabled as well, because they are already part of ISKCON,” says Damodara. “It’s not about us vs them, but about how we can work together and facilitate everyone as a whole social organism.”
Some attendees brought up the concern that while ISKCON is theologically personal, it has historically suffered from impersonalism, with member’s needs not being understood.
One devotee pointed out that there has been a tendency for ISKCON management to assign roles to people according to the current needs of the organization, regardless of the person’s nature.
She suggested that prioritizing people, rather than the needs of the organization, could bring about a paradigm shift. If ISKCON were to facilitate people according to their abilities, it would blossom.
“If people are happy, then creativity flows, and everything develops naturally,” Damodara says.
The discussion ended with Dina Sharana Dasi asking gurukulis to nominate a representative to present a paper of ten things they would like to see improved in ISKCON, along with ways they could contribute to the change themselves.
The mother of gurukulis herself, Dina Sharana was enthusiastic to help, and promised that she would present the paper to the GBC for action on an official level. Damodara Asen is currently in touch with her about furthering these plans.
After the discussion, Damodara also felt inspired to start an organization that would enable motivated gurukulis who wanted to contribute to ISKCON.
“Many gurukulis are very creative, and have visions,” says Damodara. “But sometimes nothing happens because they don’t feel empowered, or don’t have enough self-confidence to take the first step. The first step -- to get something going -- is always the hardest. So I want to start a platform where gurukulis can go and submit their proposal. And behind this platform will be a few people who can tell them, ‘That’s a great idea, we can help you with this, give you advice about that, connect with you with these people.”
Damodara hopes that for this advisory board he can involve a GBC member, an ISKCON Youth Ministry member, and some gurukulis with experience in setting up projects.
He also hopes that ISKCON leaders in general will support the project.
“Let’s say a gurukuli wants to organize a festival,” Damodara says. “Then we as a group supporting this gurukuli would say, ‘Okay, I think Radhadesh would be a perfect venue for that.’ Then the temple president of Radhadesh would commit a certain amount of time to be there and give support to the festival.”
Damodara believes that the right gurukuli projects may also be able to get funding from the European Union through the Euro GBC and CIT Office.
To bring the idea into reality, he is first looking for skilled gurukulis to administrate, build a platform, and commit a certain amount of time every month to maintaining the project’s website.
In the meantime, the panel discussion at Kuli Mela, as well as the festival itself, has gone some way towards building better relationships between gurukulis and ISKCON management.
The friendly, caring atmosphere of Kuli Mela, and its focused spirit of Krishna consciousness, for example, garnered the appreciation of the Simhachalam temple president.
“This was a great event, everyone here at Simhachalam loved it, and you’re welcome to do it again anytime,” he told Damodara, adding, “Let’s work together openly, because we would like to be much more active in the organization the next time.”
Sacinandana Swami also pledged his support, saying, “If something like this is going to happen again, call me immediately. I’ll be there and do whatever I can, because I know that the gurukulis are our treasure, and our future.”
Moving on into the future, Damodara feels that ISKCON leaders need to work on being more warm-hearted and personal, and to realize the need for taking care of the second generation and continuing to rectify the mistakes of the past.
Meanwhile, he feels that the most important thing for gurukulis is to not blame or have a victim attitude, but instead to take responsibility for themselves and whatever they want to achieve, spiritually or materially.
“If both ISKCON management and gurukulis take these two things to heart, then I think we have a very bright future,” he says.
If you are interested in helping Damodara enable active gurukulis and their projects, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org[ gurukuli ] [ kuli-mela ]