The 2008 Mayapur GBC annual meeting ratified as official ISKCON policy the presence of multiple ISKCON centres in the same city.
Conceived in New Vrindavan, June 2007, at the special GBC meeting for strategic planning, the “urban proliferation proposal” earned unanimous support from the brainstorming GBCs, hungry for greater ISKCON effectiveness. Their enthusiasm led to the final resolution crafted and passed at Mayapur in March.
In the eyes of many GBCs, the crucial factor for their support was the stipulation that any expansion in a city would be subject to the local GBCs guidance and authority–in other words, no loose splinters flying off on their own.
A look at ISKCON’s urban history reveals why this resolution was necessary. Both ISKCON and cities have changed. During the early, developmental years of the sixties and seventies, extending into the eighties, the common devotee notion of the day was one centre per metropolis. A prime reason for this policy was the prevalence of traveling sankirtan parties roaming throughout the first major ISKCON continents, North America and Europe. Hence Srila Prabhupada established the protocol that no sankirtan party from one city could enter the sankirtan space of another city without permission of the local president.
Perhaps this protocol was taken too strictly, as justification for a rigid "city-state concept"–both of a temple and of its president’s domain. Thus apparently the idea became enshrined that one temple president controlled entire sprawling metropolises such as Johannesburg (8 million), Chicago (9 million), New York (20 million), and London (14 million).
True, less expansive geo-ecclesiastics would limit the city-state temple’s domain to precisely within a city’s official borders. Nevertheless, even such partially curtailed concepts of metropolitan sovereignty still encompassed massive areas, millions of people, and lengthy commuting distances. An interesting historical item is that during the eighties, considerations in ISKCON for developing more centres in the same city were often dismissed as needless "duplication of missionary services."
Since the heady, trail-blazing days of ISKCON’s first phase of urban development, the preaching field has markedly changed, and so have the missionary services. By 2010 more than half of the world’s population will live in cities. That means, for the first time in its known history, humanity will be a predominantly urban species.
Cities have become gargantuan metropolitan sprawls. Traffic congestion—gridlock–has triumphed; consequently the commuting time for ISKCON’s flock has soared. Meanwhile, lamentably, especially in the established market democracies traditionally known as the First World, ISKCON’s urban performance generally has plummeted.
Few traveling sankirtan parties now crisscross those nations—thus no need for the exclusive metropolitan monopolies of the golden book distribution days.
Today often temples in such former boom countries are quiet, inactive, and shockingly inhospitable except for, at best, on Sundays.
Therefore at Mayapur the GBCs voted that the time is now–under the local GBC’s authority–for sanctioning multiple missionary ventures in the same metropolis, as a tool for igniting more preaching outreach, more servicing of the population.
The ISKCON historical record clearly reveals that none other than Srila Prabhupada himself was the first to advocate multiple centres and temples in the same metropolis. In London, New York City, and Mumbai, Srila Prabhupada urged multiple endeavours. His managemental requirement was that the local GBC would oversee all proliferation. London has had two temples for more than three decades; Mumbai has three (soon four); Delhi is up to six, with no limit in sight.
Jan 22, 2022
Sunanda Das, tovp.org