In May, ISKCON North America leaders held their by-annual meeting of 2011 at New Vrindavan Dham. During the first two days, North American Executive Committee and Governing Body Commission (GBC) meetings were held. The Temple presidents, GBCs, and other ISKCON leadership met on subsequent two and half days from Friday, May 13th through noon on Sunday, May 15th.
The leaders were coming from various parts of the US and Canada. Some took long distance flights from West Coast or Canada and some arrived via driving few hours to few days. Every attendee came with one thought in mind - How to keep pushing Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON in North America. Many of them took time off from regular duties or work. They arrived to learn and discuss various strategies to increase the book distribution, attracting new devotees, enhancing experience and mood of existing devotees by keeping Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and mission in mind. There was excitement in the air before meetings began.
Kuladri Das, who is an expert artist, had decorated the stage with his own artwork of very beautiful portraits of Srila Prabhupada. These original paintings were made with pencil, charcoal, and oil colors. The other walls of meeting room were decorated with large vertical banners depicting Srila Prabhupada’s pastimes on this planet. About twelve Srila Prabhupada disciples who attended these meetings were invited on the stage. They shared their personal pastimes with Srila Prabhupada. This session brought tremendous uproar and joy to everyone who was present.
The next few sessions focused on positive happenings in North America:
First, there was an introduction of new community president Jaya Krishna Das who took over the responsibility of managing the important New Vrindavan dham. He presented vision, mission, and stated some of the immediate goals for his administration to bring in better experience of New Vrindavan dham.
Next, Vedasara Das talked about how they have transformed an existing building in Atlanta into Self Discovery Center and using it for innovating preaching where visitors are taught organic farming, yoga, vegetarianism, and kirtans and introduction to Krishna Consciousness philosophy. The walls are adorned with various ISKCON artwork and spacious library with Prabhupada’s books welcomes the visitors.
Akrura Das presented a report on ISKCON Vancouver outreach efforts. He explained on how tirelessly devotees are working to spread the mission of Srila Prabhupada during the winter Olympics to various festivals of summer months. He spoke about Simon Fraser University veggie lunch program where 500 plates of prasadam are distributed weekly at the local University.
Next Tamohara Das reported special efforts of devotees at Florida where they are conducting about nine Rathayatras a year. In 2011, they are conducting at Miami, St. Augustine, Tallahassee, Daytona Beach, Jaskconville Beach, Tampa, Clear Water Beach, Orlando and Gainesville. Most of these events are sponsored by local members and organizations. The local government and agencies love the colorful atmosphere created by Lord Jagannath’s presence and enthusiasm of the devotees. These events are creating tremendous goodwill and preaching opportunity for ISKCON.
Westerner and Indian outreach discussion brought everyone to the edge of their seats. This was our continual discussions from January 2011 Dallas meeting on how to preach to Western and Indian audience. The panel lead by Yajna Purusa Das discussed about what Westerners are looking for and Nanda Suta Das spoke about outreach efforts to reach more Indians. The bottom line is that youth worldwide is becoming similar and ISKCON needs more innovative festivals and present its values and mission in a way that is more relevant today. The "Park" and "Castle" models were lively discussed where you are very inclusive and open at Park about bringing anyone in, but once in the Castle you become more strict and staunch followers of the rule and regulations. Everyone was reminded that how Srila Prabhupada was ahead of his time and went about creating unique preaching opportunity, and leader’s needs to develop such a mood to keep expanding out movement. Every attendee had some strong reaction, and discussions easily crossed over allocated time thus it was decided to continue this important dialogue further
Next discussed topic is a very difficult subject. ISKCON Child Protection Office manages an important portfolio to protect the innocent and the help victims. Tamahora Das explained that GBC legislation in 90’s had helped establishing this office. The legal issues such as Turley case was one of the impetuses, system for dealing with abuse cases and providing ongoing training, plus prevention is a charter for this vital work that keeps ISKCON and it’s devotees safer. He explained the current and ongoing issues in NA. The good news is that International CPO office received about 31 cases and 49 victims, and only 2 cases were registered in the North America. He strongly encouraged to have a screening process for new devotees who might take up leadership roles in local communities. He proposed a new national level office with director level support to investigate, train and compliances.
Next discussion brought tumultuous clapping and happiness to everyone’s face. For many months ISKCON lawyers and Kuladri Das worked very hard to obtain trademarks and seal that ISKCON has been using for long time. Thanks to Romapada Swami who found a donor to pay for this expensive efforts. Kuladri Das was excited present an original approval letter from the US patent and trademark office showing Bhaktivedanta Holding Corp as an owner of the following seal and marks.
North American Opportunities:
Later Romapada Swami explained that tremendous work has been done in last decade where we have stopped bleeding and ISKCON has started to grow again. In 2016 it will complete its 50th year glorious years. "5 years is a major milestone in any religious movement’s history” said Communications Director Anuttama Das. "We are at this unique juncture where tremendous opportunity exists to preach and develop ISKCON as major force in society to reduce suffering and bring happiness to everyone." He presented a plan and budget explaining critical functions that need to happen at national level.
Sunanda Das of Gainesville, Florida, is approved to head the service organization to create, help and grow prasadam distribution in an effective way. His expertise to serve hundreds of plates of prasadam for years at University of Florida in Gainesville would be a good example to learn and replicate the successful work at other ISKCON temples. Some of the things that his office would provide are recipes for large quantity cooking, a website with tons of useful information that helps cooks and managers be better equipped and trained about prasadam distribution.
The International GBC had started an ISKCON Resolve office that is headed by Braja Bihari Das, who has vast experience in the field of conflict resolution. He trained meeting attendees about what can leaders do to solve the conflicts, what are the viable options, what resources are available to deal with tough situations etc. His short training was to the point and very useful for taking care of smaller issues, so they do not escalate and create major headaches later on.
There was a discussion led by Praharana dasi about the ISKCON North American Pastoral Abuse Policy and how temple presidents have been informing their temple leaders and congregations about this important program. This will be an on-going topic at future meetings as we continue to educate all of our devotees about their rights and responsibilities.
On Sunday morning, Badrinarayan Das gave a very enlivening and encouraging report of exciting events and examples of best practices from around the ISKCON world. His presentation included many punch lines, anecdotes, and tales of devotees who are fighting to keep pushing ISKCON forward. It was exciting to learn how devotees in Italy are putting on amazing traveling festivals complete with a huge circus tent and a traveling cow shed. The Holi festival in Utah has grown to 40,000 attendants. Devotees in Australia are reaching out to tens of thousands and bringing financial stability with innovative prasadam distribution. The report on new temples openings in Mombasa and in India, and else where around the world were divine.
The meeting ended with an important topic on hearing loss due to very high volume of kirtan playing in our temples. Dr. Piyush Gupta – Prema Vilas Das gave a medical insight about how noise level escalates in ISKCON temples and education is recommended to avoid permanent hearing loss by experiencing the noise over 85 decibels for prolonged time.
The meeting ended with elections of the North American Executive Committee officers. All the present serving officers were elected unanimously by temple presidents.
Nityananda Das – Chair
Malati Dasi – Vice chair
Praharna Dasi – Vice chair
Nanda Suta Das – Vice chair
North American Temple president body’s chair is Akrura Das and vice chair is Nityananda Prana Das.
North American Support Office (NASO) is managed by Kuladri Das (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The dates for next year continental meeting for North American leaders are January 12th 2012 through January 15th 2012. The location will be announced shortly.