for ISKCON News on March 14, 2013
A friendly encounter between two participant sannyasis at ISKCON's annual Governing Body Commission Meeting in Mayapur, West Bengal, India.
Approximately seventy-four gurus, sannyasis (renunciants) and members of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission—the society’s highest ecclesiastical body—gathered in Mayapur, West Bengal this spring for the first annual Sanga for Gurus, GBCs and Sannyasis (SGGS).
The event was organized by the GBC Strategic Planning Team (SPT), an eight-member committee that is preparing a master plan to carry ISKCON forward into the future.
Last year, from February 10th through 17th, the SPT held the first annual International Leadership Sanga, which brought together 600 middle-tier ISKCON leaders from around the world. The group got to know each other and were entertained and inspired by a series of seminars, pilgrimages, and stage performances. They also had a chance to meet and build a rapport with members of the GBC, and to learn about the SPT’s eighteen different teams working on a variety of projects to strengthen ISKCON’s infrastructure.
This year, the SPT decided to give ISKCON’s top-tier leaders—on the one hand, its GBC members, and on the other, its gurus and sannyasis—a chance to connect in a similar way.
It was deemed extremely important to establish a dialogue between these two groups for two reasons.
Firstly, devotee congregations’ relationship with ISKCON is often mainly through gurus and traveling sannyasis. Thus in order for the GBC to be truly effective and embraced by the devotee community, they needed to have sannyasis and gurus on the same page as them.
Participants arriving at the GBC meetings
Secondly, the GBC creates policies that affect sannyasis and gurus and their preaching efforts. Therefore it was important that they got got an opportunity to speak with the GBC and hear what decisions they were making and why. Sannyasis and gurus also required a chance to express their opinions about what was needed in ISKCON, and how to improve the strategic plan of the GBC. The chance for open dialogue and creating unity was important.
Beginning on February 26th, the Sanga for Gurus, GBCs and Sannyasis ran for five days until March 2nd in ISKCON Mayapur’s Isodyana building.
On the first day, participants were asked to go through a series of fifteen different topics gleaned from a survey that had been conducted amongst them, and choose which ones matters they wanted to focus on.
Throughout the first and second days, they spoke about these topics and reported on their discussions.
Topics included how the GBC could best serve ISKCON; what services it could provide to help gurus in their duties; and how to engage sannyasis in preaching within ISKCON communities that need them most.
BB Govinda Swami and Niranjana Swami leading a kirtan at the leadership sanga
“They also discussed reorganizing the GBC zones to be smaller and more manageable, so that GBC members can have more time to spend with their constituencies,” says Laxmimoni Dasi, an SGGS organizer and member of the Strategic Planning Team. “Another topic was how to best provide support for our leaders so that they can maintain their spiritual strength.”
SGGS participants also spoke about the changing face of ISKCON, as less Westerners and more Indians join. And they discussed how to attract a greater variety of people by presenting ISKCON’s message in more relevant and relatable ways.
“Succession was also a big one,” Laxmimoni says. “Who will become the next GBC, the next temple president? They also discussed ISKCON’s system of authorizing gurus, and how the GBC should process complex issues.”
On the third day of the Sanga, the sannyasis and gurus were brought up to speed on the GBC’s strategic plan, and asked to give their feedback on it.
On the fourth day, a panel of GBC members presented the paper Understanding ISKCON’s Lines of Authority. The paper discussed the roles that two different lines of authority—initiating spiritual masters and managers—had in ISKCON devotees’ lives, and how to prevent misunderstandings between the two. Questions and concerns on the paper were aired and addressed. Ravindra Svarupa Das also introduced a draft of the foundational paper on the postion of Srila Prabhupada as ISKCON’s Founder-Acharya.
Kirtan in Mayapur
Finally, on the fifth day, presentations were made by a variety of different groups working with ISKCON or the GBC, such as Rural Development, Devotee Care, The Ministry of Deity Worship, and the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre. Afterwards, the members of the SGGS were encouraged to give feedback on their experience.
The Sanga ran from 10am until 5pm daily, with a two-and-a-half-hour break for lunch. The lunch prasadam was arranged by Bhakti Charu Swami. Sitting down together over the delicious international cuisine gave participants the chance to talk, make friends and get to know each other.
“Then every evening, we had really nice kirtans led by senior devotees, including Niranjana Swami, BB Govinda Swami, and Kripamoya Prabhu,” says Laxmimoni. “On one night, Bhurijana Prabhu did lila-kirtan—chanting interspersed with dramatic readings from Lord Krishna or Sri Chaitanya’s pastimes.”
After its conclusion, participants deemed the Sanga a success. One sannyasi commented, “The themes of urgency, cooperation and succession were totally relevant.” He added, “More interactiveness like this is needed. Meeting peers is precious. The sanga breaks the isolation. Great bonding, and had a chance to see those we don’t normally see.”
A group photo of the participants of the GBC meetings and leadership sanga
Another sannyasi shared with a GBC member: “I had no idea how hard you were working, and what the depth of your service was. Now I understand, and I promise I’ll work with you and try to help you as much as I can.”
“That was what we were looking for,” says Laxmimoni. “We were looking for an increased empathy, and an increased symbiotic relationship between these two tiers of leaders. And we were quite successful, especially considering it was our first effort.”
According to Laxmimoni, creating such unity in diversity—just as Prabhupada wanted—builds strength, comraderie, and faith in our society, not only amongst GBCs, Gurus and Sannyasis, but also amongst the broader ISKCON community.
It’s no surprise then, that plans are already underway for the next SGGS—although they’re not confirmed yet.
“We expect between 700 and 1,000 people for our next International Leadership Sanga, in 2014,” Laxmimoni says. “And the thought is that the year after that, we might do another Sanga for GBCs, Gurus and Sannyasis.”