Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Moving Forward: The Grand Opening of the TOVP
By Sankirtana Das (ACBSP)   |  Feb 04, 2023

Recently Ambarisa and Braja Vilasa prabhus wrote about the final stages of the TOVP which will be finished within the next two years: “This project belongs to all of us, and the sense of unity that will be experienced by all devotees in this achievement for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada, our acharyas and Lord Caitanya will bring everyone the greatest sense of transcendental satisfaction. . . .”

They had also expressed their hopes that the opening of this international project “will herald the beginning of a new era for ISKCON.” I for one am curious to understand what the “beginning of a new era” will actually look like for the devotees and for the Movement itself. Establishing a new era must proceed with the actual opening of the new Temple. “Why?” you might ask. For one thing, the type of international media attention this event will receive will be unprecedented in the annals of ISKCON. The opening of the temple will thrust ISKCON and Mayapur onto the international stage.

Therefore, I must offer a word of caution. With my experience of the media, we should not assume that they will simply highlight the grand opening events without probing a little deeper into various aspects and dynamics of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness itself.

What type of Society will the media find? Are its leaders traditional or liberal? Defensive or proactive? Usually, leaders of many institutions see their first duty as preserving the institution’s integrity. Their gut reaction is defensive, to hide or minimize the transgressions of priests or leaders in their midst. It would be advantageous for ISKCON to present its history and the challenges it has faced, in an honest, principled, level-headed way. This alone will distinguish ISKCON from other institutions and religions.

ISKCON is still a fledgling movement, and in the Society’s first 50 years, many of its challenges were, unfortunately, often met by inexperienced devotees. We can all make mistakes. That is natural. But when the mistakes become a pattern and are not corrected, then it harms the message and the messenger, the founder of our Movement.

As ISKCON once again steps onto the international stage, with the attention it has not seen since the 1970s, will the media find the devotees struggling with various issues and controversies? Society members must have the ability to openly talk about its own issues, as well provide insights on issues which confront the greater society. The Movement has to be relevant to modern day concerns?

One of the symptoms of Kali-yuga so rampant today is the constant quarreling, lying, and deception in politics, religion, industry, and in so many fields. ISKCON leaders will have the opportunity to show the world that they can have honest, respectful, and meaningful discussions. To many, such a display of unity in diversity will be as impressive as any building.

For Srila Prabhupada’s sake, devotees need to move forward together. On one hand, devotees should be eager to find ways to cooperate. On the other, they should respect one another’s different strategies and approaches. Srila Prabhupada urged the devotees to implement “unity in diversity,” and has provided a wealth of instructions to move forward on these various issues.

Srila Prabhupada writes in a letter of October 18, 1973:
“Material nature means dissension and disagreement, especially in this Kali yuga. But, for this Krsna consciousness movement its success will depend on agreement, even though there are varieties of engagements. In the material world there are varieties, but there is no agreement. In the spiritual world there are varieties, but there is agreement. That is the difference.

“The materialist without being able to adjust the varieties and the disagreements makes everything zero. They cannot come into agreement with varieties, but if we keep Krsna in the center, then there will be agreement in varieties. This is called unity in diversity. 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.”

Srila Prabhupada ends the letter with a cautionary tale: “When the father asked his children to break the bundle of sticks wrapped in a bag, none of them could do it. But, when they removed the sticks from the bag, and tried one by one, the sticks were easily broken. So this is the strength in unity. If we are bunched up, we can never be broken, but when divided, then we can become broken very easily.”

ISKCON leaders must lead the way by their example. The Society has ample time to prepare. At this point, it’s the right time (not too early or too late) to set things in motion for a new era. ISKCON’s actions during the next two years, leading up to the TOVP opening, will itself be an important step in establishing the Movement’s international reputation.

Prabhupada was very concerned about the reputation of his Movement. He wanted devotees to act tactfully, “that our Movement may not get a bad reputation.” (letter, February 15, 1972) Devotees need to keep this in mind, and all that it implies. The TOVP opening is a wonderfully exciting event. Now, the Society needs to put as much time and effort into actually establishing “Unity in Diversity” as went into the planning and construction of the TOVP. 2023 is an opportunity to take a fresh look at Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, and for devotees everywhere to prepare themselves to meet the public anew.

Sankirtana Das, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, is a longtime resident of New Vrindaban Community and an award-winning author and storyteller. His most recent book, Hanuman’s Quest, has received a Storytelling World Resource Award. For more info about his work visit