ISKCON Communications Director Anuttama Das and Bhumi Project Director Gopal-Lila Das presented a proposal for a new ISKCON Environmental Initiative at the North American GBC meetings in Chicago this August.
The proposal was unanimously accepted, and if successful will see ISKCON temples reducing waste, increasing renewable energy use, and contributing their unique Gaudiya Vaishnava perspective to environmental awareness days.
The four-part presentation began by citing environmentally-friendly Gaudiya Vaishnava practices – such as daily worship of a tree (Tulasi Devi) – and teachings, such as the first verse of Sri Isopanisad.
“Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord,” the verse reads. “One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.”
In addition, Anuttama and Gopal-Lila presented examples of ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s Krishna-centric brand of environmentalism, and how his daily life was infused with caring for the natural world.
Prabhupada, for instance, took a daily morning walk in nature, and instructed his disciples building the Krishna Balarama Mandir in Vrindavana not to cut down a tree but to leave space for it in the courtyard. He also deplored waste, rebuking disciples for leaving a fan on in an empty locked room in Mayapur, and for wasting the perfectly healthy flowers in his Los Angeles room by replacing them with new ones every day.
The second part of Gopal and Anuttama’s presentation looked at what other faith communities were doing to help the environment. These included the Global Catholic Climate Movement, which campaigns on climate change issues; the U.S. based Hazon, which develops gardens in Jewish communities; and the recent release of the first Islamic declaration on climate change.
At ISKCON Ujjain
The third part of the presentation then took a look at the work of the Bhumi Project – the world’s leading Hindu environmental organization.
Although it’s not an ISKCON initiative (It’s run by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies), the Bhumi Project is run mainly by ISKCON devotees. In India, 15,000 people have participated in its Hindu Environment Week over the past two years, which includes street and temple cleaning activities in holy places such as Vrindavana, Dwarka and Puri; as well as lectures, workshops, exhibitions, and school essay competitions.
Meanwhile Bhumi Project representatives attended a convergence of young religious environmental leaders in Rome in July, and held 12 environmental awareness events such as seminars and activities across North America this year.
Finally Anuttama and Gopal-Lila presented the ISKCON Environmental Initiative itself to the GBC in two strands.
“The first is internal-facing,” says Gopal. “We want to identify 12 ISKCON temples in North America, and conduct a very basic environmental audit on them. Through that we’ll get data on things like how much waste does the temple generate? How much water and electricity does it use? How much prasadam is wasted? If it’s still using Styrofoam or plastic, how much waste is generated from that? And what does it pay for all the above?”
Once the most pressing overall issue is identified, representatives of the ISKCON Environmental Initiative will create green committees at each of the selected temples and work with them on the issue for the first 12 to 18 months.
“If wasting electricity is the issue, for instance, we’ll work with them on reducing their energy useage and costs, and increasing renewable energy useage,” says Gopal-Lila. “The reason we want to work on the same issue with all the temples is so that they can share information and best practices with each other.”
The initiative’s second strand will be to identify ways that ISKCON temples can promote caring for the environment through outreach. Four to six U.N.-recognized environmental awareness days, such as Earth Day, Vegetarian Day, Mountain Day and World Water Day will be selected, and resource packs will be created to help temples observe them.
Hindu Environment Week at Princeton University
The resource pack for Water Day, for example, would include the Gaudiya Vaishnava theological understanding of water conservation using quotes from scriptures and acharyas, information on current environmental issues related to water, and descriptions of what other faith groups are doing about water conservation.
The pack will also include a list of suggested activities for the temple to do on the day, such as Sunday School activities and a morning Bhagavatam class outline. Finally, there will be sample talking points for temple representatives to use when reaching out to other NGOs, local government entities, or the media.
After presenting these plans, Anuttama and Gopal-Lila requested each GBC member to publicly endorse the initiative; to practically inspire devotees in their areas with their own words and actions; to identify local leaders who can help move the initiative forward; and to help find a national coordinator for the whole program.
The GBC members present, who included Romapada Swami, Bir Krishna Goswami, Badrinarayana Swami, Malati Devi, Vaisesika Das, and current North American chairman Tamohara Das all unanimously agreed.
“Of course, we don’t want this to be a top down thing – it has to be grassroots,” says Gopal-Lila. “The membership of ISKCON has to feel like this is important and they want to do it. And I have already spoken to a good number of devotees from congregation members to temple commanders in Boston, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Toronto, Denver, and Chicago who are interested.”
There is no set timeline for the Initiative yet – but it will all kick off as soon as a national coordinator is found and funds are secured.
“I’m very happy that the North American leadership is making this a big priority to help our temples and communities become more eco-conscious in a practical way,” says Anuttama Das, who also serves as a GBC. “In my opinion, being Krishna conscious means being environmentally conscious. Because we understand that the earth and all its creatures are Krishna’s property. And as servants of Krishna, we should care for everything connected to Him.”
Anuttama adds: “Environmentalism is a very popular issue these days, not just philosophically but also practically, in terms of the need to maintain the health of the planet, human society and other species. So for me, it’s clear we should be leading voices in environmental concerns. It’s part of a Krishna conscious lifestyle, and being in a Krishna conscious community.”
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The ISKCON Environmental Initiative is looking for a qualified national coordinator who can contribute at least ten hours a week. Interested candidates should send a resume to Gopal-Lila at firstname.lastname@example.org[ environment ] [ gbc ] [ nature ]