GBC Elections & Term Limits:
Detrimental or Beneficial?
BY: AMEYATMA DAS (ACBSP)
Feb 20, 2012 ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO, USA (SUN) Part Two of a two-part article on the DOM (Direction of Management).
When Srila Prabhupada was physically present the system of management for his society was:
The rank and file members
Subordinate Temple Authorities (Treasurer, Vice President, Temple Commander, etc)
Sannyasis (not managers, but social advisers)
GBC Members - individually for their zone
GBC - as a body for the whole society
Sri Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead
(and Radharani, the Controller of the Supreme Personality of Godhead)
The intrinsic nature of this system provided a functioning and effective system of checks and balances. Srila Prabhupada was and is (via his teachings) the absolute authority of His mission and could only be checked by Radharani or Krishna. As a pure empowered devotee and authorized representative of The Supreme Personality of Godhead, he required no other checks or balances to his authority.
Srila Prabhupada had appointed the GBC to represent him, to execute his instructions in his absence. While Srila Prabhupada remained physically present he often needed to keep the GBC men in-check. Srila Prabhupada formed the GBC 7 years prior to his departure and during those 7 years there were many times where he needed to remind them of their duties, admonish them for straying off the path, insist that they abide by the rules, etc. (both individually and as an entire body also). Srila Prabhupada was there to keep them in-check.
And everyone, from the rank and file members to the Temple Presidents and sannyasis, could approach Srila Prabhupada to issue a complaint if, in their view, a GBC was not performing his duty properly. If Prabhupada determined the complaint was true he would take action to rectify the wayward member of the GBC, or if needed, the GBC as a body.
Making a civilized complaint about the leadership of a society is not wrong. Yet, over the years I have read articles by a leading GBC member arguing that, in his view, it was an offense to make a complaint about the GBC because he defined the GBC as a Divine or Ecclesiastic Authority. However, we do not find this definition for the GBC given in Srila Prabhupada's teachings, and enforcing such a system has created a suppressive environment.
From the Ramayan we find that when Lord Ram was king of Ayodhya that there was a set time each day, maybe an hour or so, that anyone in His kingdom could come and lodge a complaint. They could complain about anything, they could even lodge a complaint against Lord Ram, the King of Ayodhya and the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Himself. He allowed this and set this standard by His example that leaders of a society must allow their dependents the ability and right to issue complaints, and it is the duty of the leaders to take such complaints seriously and work to assure all the citizens of the society are happy and content. And, as we said, during Srila Prabhupada's physical presence all rank and file members could, if they needed, issue a complaint about a GBC member or the GBC body directly to Srila Prabhupada and yet we have found no evidence that Srila Prabhupada ever forbid this.
Since Srila Prabhupada's disappearance, however, there has been no real means by which the rank and file members can affect any real change if they see the GBC is not managing or doing their duty correctly. The only ones allowed to lodge a complaint about the GBC is a member of the GBC itself. We have firsthand experience over the decades that the GBC only occasionally addresses issues of complaints lodged against them. Since Srila Prabhupada's disappearance there is no one to keep the GBC in check. No means to balance their authority. There have been many actions that the GBC have taken where many devotees did not agree with, but, have had no voice, no means, to affect any change.
For myself personally, in the late 1990's to mid 2000's sent many requests to the GBC members begging and pleading with them to please discuss, in a formal way, with me regarding my concerns regarding several issues and was either met with deafening silence, or was sent a reply of refusal to openly discuss certain issues. Even when I begged for their guidance, their was no favorable response.
The way ISKCON is set up today, if the GBC heads down the wrong path, there is no way to bring any real pressure on them by either the Temple Presidents nor the rank and file members to try and correct them. This means that sooner or later (and in the opinion of many of Prabhupada's direct disciples - it happened long ago) the GBC could go astray (in some way or other) and there really is nothing that can be done about it.
Let's look at how the GBC system functions today. At least I would think the following is close enough understanding for purposes of making the point: When a GBC member were to retire or resign (maybe due to old age or bad health), pass away, or fall down, etc, and there is need for replacement, then it falls on the rest of the GBC body to select that replacement. At present the GBC body can select anyone they choose. But, most likely they will select someone who was familiar with the temples and operations of the out-going member.
What we have, in the current system, is a Closed or Exclusive group. The GBC members, alone, decide who can join their exclusive group. The GBC alone decide who is no longer fit to be part of their group. Looking at it from a governance view, the GBC rules ISKCON as a dictatorship since the GBC as a body is the ultimate authority in ISKCON. Since the disappearance of His Divine Grace, Srila Prabhupada, neither the rank and file members of the temples of ISKCON, nor the duly elected Temple Presidents of the ISKCON temples have a voice, absolutely no say, no vote, in either the election or removal of the GBC members. Yet, those GBC members as a body hold ultimate authority over the ISKCON mission and its members. Thus, today, the GBC govern over ISKCON as a totalitarian authority. One major problem with this system is that once the GBC start heading down the wrong path there is no way that the other members of the society can work within the system to try and correct them.
Of course, one can argue that when Srila Prabhupada was physically present that he also was a totalitarian authority. Yet, he was Divinely Empowered by Krishna. And, ISKCON was his ashram, his society. He was the Founder and the Acarya of ISKCON. But, what he created was not to remain totalitarian after he physically departed.
Unfortunately, the historical facts, the past track records, reveal that the GBC are fully capable of making bad and simply wrong decisions which were very disruptive and destructive to Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON mission. There have been so many examples over he past 3 1/2 decades, we could not list even a fraction here. But, to make our point, we will mention a few. The most glaring, for many, is the decision of the 1978 GBC to set up the Zonal Acarya system. That system alone accounted for the greatest number of Prabhupada's direct disciples to leave his mission unwillingly. It was responsible for mass disruption. Another example from the early 1980's the GBC once passed a resolution stating that whoever was Guru for a particular temple where a new bhakta joins, that the new devotee must, automatically, be forced to have to accept the local ISKCON Guru as their Guru. With this resolution the GBC tried to abolish the scriptural injunctions which teach that the new devotee must make his/her own evaluation of their selected guru to assess that they are qualified and compatible with that devotee. This resolution was rescinded due to large number of complaints by many devotees, but not before enacting much strife and suffering. I know of one case personally where a very sincere new bhakta voiced his disagreement with this resolution, and went so far as to say he would NOT allow himself to be forced to accept a guru whom he did not see as qualified. When disciples of the local guru came to know of his position they actually physically attached him and he was ran out of ISKCON.
In those examples and others the errant, out right totally wrong, decisions by the GBC were eventually overturned because other senior devotees voiced their complaints loud and clear. But, what would happen if devotees were forbidden to make such complaints? In the mid 1980's the GBC was finally forced to abandon the destructive Zonal Acarya system because of the loud complaints of the majority of the Temple Presidents and the opposition to the resolution that new devotees must be forced to accept the local guru, taking away their right to chose. If those devotees had not loudly and clearly voiced their complaints the GBC would not have acted, at that time, to correct their wrong ways. The Zonal Acarya system had fractured the unity of the ISKCON, and undermined the global authority of the GBC. Under the Zonal Acarya system there was a destructive undertow where each Zone had become totally independent. If it had been left unchecked, by the 1990's there would no longer would have been a single ISKCON, but each Zone, each Guru, would have created their own independent society. As it was, they were forming each their own BBT's. The mood among the Gurus was not one of cooperation, but of fierce independence from one another. And taking away the rights of new members to select their own guru would, eventually, have been the end of Srila Prabhupada's mission. The mission would have dried up.
Voicing honest complaints about the GBC over genuine issues is not wrong. And, in fact, it must be freely allowed. And, was also encouraged by Srila Prabhupada. For example: In the mid 70's Bali Mardan was GBC for the NY temple. He married a woman that he wrongly thought would inherit a fortune. But, this woman could not give up her craving to eat fish. At one point she told the devotees at the temple to cook fish for her, in Radharani's kitchen, and to offer the fish to Krishna on the temple altar. Bali Mardan, as GBC, told the devotees whatever his wife wanted, they were to obey, he told them it was his order, they must obey him because he was GBC. The devotees recalled that Srila Prabhupada had previously instructed that we must obey our authorities, so they agreed and cooked and offered the fish. Eventually news came to Srila Prabhupada about what happened. He was greatly upset. He asked the devotees at the NY temple why they complied with such an offensive request? Why didn't they COMPLAIN to him about this errant GBC???? One devotee pointed out that Prabhupada had previously taught that we must obey the GBC, and should not fault-find. Srila Prabhupada told them that when you know they are wrong, it is not fault finding, when you know the so-called authority is clearly wrong, then you must complain, you must disown them, as Bali Maharaj ignored his own Guru.
But, over the years the GBC has strongly discouraged any complaints against them. In fact, I don't know if it is a resolution passed by the GBC, but I do know that it was proposed by one of the GBC to forbid any complaints. That if anyone complains about the GBC decisions they are to be removed from ISKCON, kicked out. Again, i am not sure if that resolution passed, but it was proposed and may have passed in some similar form. There are GBC resolutions that have banned discussion of certain issues. And, on the Internet those sites that support the GBC do not allow ANY form at all of any criticism of the GBC in any way. Obviously, a vile free for all of nasty fault-finding and low-class abusive language is not wanted. But, healthy debate, and genuine complaints must be freely allowed. Sometimes a resolution by any governing agency may not be popular, and simply being unpopular does not make it wrong. Sometimes there may be complaints over good or proper decisions. And, that is why healthy public debates and fully open discussions of these issues must be freely allowed and encouraged, so that the reasons for even unpopular decisions can be discussed and known and understood. Forbidding open discussion is not create a healthy and cooperative environment. When open discussion is allowed and where in such discussion it becomes clear that a decision is wrong, corrections can be made, as they were in the past regarding the Zonal Acarya system, etc.
But, today, there appears to be no tolerance on the GBC side for any healthy or public debate. And, the GBC have formally passed resolutions forbidding GBC members to engage in discussion of important issues, such as the guru issues. Over the decades very very few GBC members come forward and discuss important issues or even write articles on the internet. They are the leaders of our society, yet they do not come forward and tackle directly issues in the open. And for some time now there have been many who have argued that the GBC needs to adopt the principles of elections that are espoused by Srila Prabhupada in writing in the DOM. Where do we find the members of the GBC discussing the points openly? Rather, the GBC body simply dictates their final decision, and that is it. Accept it, support it, or get out of ISKCON. There exists no system and no allowance, for debate or discussion or complaints. Thus, if the GBC is wrong, then there is no means to correct it and the entire mission becomes misdirected down the wrong path.
And when we look at the process by which the GBC select new or replacement members we find a similar problem. The GBC is a closed system. That is only existing members vote on who can become a GBC member. When a member of the GBC must be replaced only the existing GBC members can select someone to replace that member. And, the existing GBC will only select someone who fully supports their agenda and past decisions. They will only select those who uphold their views and opinions. Some may see that as a good thing, but it would only be a good thing if the GBC were perfect and never made any mistakes, never made bad decisions, then everyone who is advanced and sincere will automatically support their decisions and uphold their views, etc. But, the reality is, this has not been the case for the past 3 and a half decades, nor will they ever be so perfect in this material world. The track records show, the GBC is fully capable of making major disruptive, wrong and bad decisions.
Some of those bad decisions became obvious. But, What If??? What if some of their other decisions have also been incorrect? What if some of their past decisions have not been so obvious to the masses? Yet, the GBC will only select new members that uphold their past decisions. The problem is that over time the GBC can go astray over certain issues and even when new members are brought in, the past bad decisions are simply upheld. No change is encouraged. The GBC can then be, over time, headed down the wrong path and no one really able to stop them.
For many of us, we see that is where ISKCON has been situated for decades.
There are too many examples of the GBC making bad decisions, and most are controversial simply because we are speaking of decisions the GBC have made that not all devotees, senior disciples of Srila Prabhupada, have agreed with. There are many other examples, but let me give one more. Several years back it became public that Satsvarup had a sexual relationship with a married woman, I believe she was also his own spiritual daughter or disciple. We read that the GBC had asked Satsvarup to give up his Sannyasa title and to wear white but that Satsvarup rejected the request and in defiance stated that he would not comply. The GBC then dropped the request and allowed Satsvarup to continue to keep his Gosvami title and to continue to wear the dress of a sannyasi. The GBC issued an official statement to the devotees wherein they refereed to Satsvarup as having 'retired' from sannyasa, yet stated he could continue to use the title Gosvami.
I wrote an article rejecting this statement by the GBC as being total non-sense. Completely wrong. I questioned: "What is a 'retired' sannyasi?" When one retires from Grhasta life one takes Vanaprasth. When one is ready to give up worldly affairs all together, then one takes to the Renounced Order, Sat-Nyas, or sannyasa. In the case of Satsvarup, the GBC concocted a NEW order, a new Ashram that is not found anywhere in shastra. The GBC called this new ashram: 'Retired Sannyasa'. Again, "What in hell is a retired sannyasi?" The GBC gave no definition, so I supplied the most logical one. When one enters Vanaprasth one 'Retires' from material life, from worldly life. The next step is to then renounce all sense enjoyment, all sex life, all worldly actives, this is the Renounced Order of life, sannyasa. Now the GBC have concocted Another Step that goes 'beyond' sannyasa ashram. The ashram called "Retired Sannyas". To "Retire" from sannyasa can only mean that one is retiring from renouncing the material world. (And, in fact, that is exactly what Satsvarup did, he gave up renouncing sex and engaged in a most abominable form of illicit sex, having sex with another man's wife, having sex with his own spiritual daughter). Retiring from SannyasA means to retire from Renunciation of worldly life. Which means to again embrace worldly life, to again embrace sex life and worldly affairs. This is the 'only' definition that makes any real logical sense. Otherwise, what is their definition of a 'retired' sannyasi?
Thus the GBC concocted a new bogus ashram. Satsvarup was already a 'retired' GBC - yet remained, in the eye of the GBC, still a bona fied Initiating Guru, and had been a sannyasi for decades. As a sannyasi he falls down and has sexual affair with another man's wife, and the GBC ask him to cease using the title Gosvami, and to wear white. Satsvarup became defiant and told the GBC he would not obey their request. So, the GBC backed off and thus concocted a totally bogus ashram called 'retired sannyasa', which meant they basically didn't do a damn thing to chastise him. Satsvarup displayed no genuine humility. Rather he was defiant. Yet, despite this, in the GBC's official statement they recommended that his disciples continue to seek Satsvarup's 'guidance'. I find this deplorable. The GBC showed no real mercy or compassion toward this man's disciples because real compassion and mercy would have meant to tell his followers this man's defiance is another aspect of his fallen condition. First he fell from sannyasa order, he committed a horrible a-dharmic sin of engaging in sex life with another man's wife, then, in a defiant mood he rejected the requests of atonement made by the GBC. No one should be taking any 'guidance' from such a fallen person.
The duty of the GBC at that point was to preach the Truth, and to give the best guidance for those under their authority, and the truth was that such a defiant and fallen person should NOT be seen as qualified to give guidance in spiritual life. To best protect these men and women the GBC should have issued a strong statement recommending that no one should take any sort of guidance from this man until he has properly atoned for his fall down, and has taken up a genuine mood of humility. The most important guidance is that of Example. For a sannyasi to fall down by engaging in illicit sex is bad enough, but, then to be defiant in the face of authority simply makes it worse. And, what sort of example had the GBC set? Is it now acceptable by the GBC that other sannyasi gurus can have sex with married women and not be expected to give up either their title of sannyasa nor their "bona fied" ISKCON guru status? All they need to do is proclaim they have now moved on to the newly GBC-created ashram called 'retired sannyasa'. The GBC had a solemn duty to have instructed his followers to abandon his so-called guidance and preach the real truth, that this man was no longer fit or qualified to give spiritual guidance. At least that was my personal view based on the information I was able to find. Maybe the GBC had other reasons that they had not disclosed, but, that is why open debate needs to be allowed.
The point of this article is not to get into the details of such sub-issues. The point is to show that without a means of applying pressure, without a means to check the GBC, the GBC can, and has, and will again and again in the future, make totally bogus decisions and horrible mistakes leading the mission down wrong and dangerous paths. The way the system is set up now, there is no mechanism for anyone outside of the GBC to correct them or check them. Even if you argue that the current system is working and that the GBC have been able to self-check themselves. Logic dictates that at some point such a system will fail.
Therefore, lets analyze how the application of the Elections process given in the Direction Of Management would change all this? How would that system provide a method to keep the GBC in check?
First of all, in the system outlined in the DOM (and in subsequent letters by Srila Prabhupada on the topic) the Temple Presidents are voted in by the members of the Temple, not by dictate of the GBC. The full-time initiated devotees living at and serving at a particular temple hold elections and they decide who, among their own temple members, will lead them as their Temple President. The rank and file devotees are to chose, via elections, who, among themselves, they was to act as their leader, their local Temple President. They will select the more advanced among them to head up the temple community. Just as the sages of Vedic times selected by vote who will take the leading post in executing a Vedic ceremony, etc.
This is not DemonCrazy democracy where the lower class masses will simply select the lowest among them to lead them, but this is a qualified civil organization whose members are qualified, initiated Vaishnava brahmans, who vote to select who among them is most qualified to lead their community of Vaishnavas.
Then, the Temple Presidents meet every 3 years and they choose who is to occupy the post of GBC, who will lead the society as a whole. And, they select a new or replacement GBC from among the Temple Presidents.
The checks and balances of this system are not instant. It is a gradual system. The GBC 3 years ago may have made what the temple presidents see as a horrible mistake, it may take 3 years, but next election cycle the Temple Presidents have a means to affect real change. They can select a whole 2/3rd new GBC if they chose.
And, the new GBC member(s) the Temple Presidents chose may not, necessarily, support all the past views or decisions of the current GBC. This is a very important point. The following is an exaggerated analogy, but it is used to make a point. Today the existing GBC members have the final and only say as to who can become a GBC member. So, I am going to give an absurd example, just to make my point. Let's say that all of the existing GBC decide to create a new Ashram they call 'retired sannyasa', and that to enter this new ashram an existing sannyasi must have sex with another man's wife. I know this sounds totally absurd, I am simply using this absurd example to make a point. So, the majority of the current GBC pass this resolution creating this new ashram and it creates a lot of opposition. But, the GBC are convinced they are right, so they ban any discussion of the topic. Accept their decision or get out of ISKCON. Then, a GBC member leaves his body and a replacement must be found. The existing GBC will look to find someone who upholds their existing views. They will not consider, at all, to select a new member who opposes their views. Thus, they will perpetuate their totally foul, wrong, decision. Obviously I am using an absurd example, but the point is that since only the existing GBC select their own replacements, they will never select someone who disagrees with their major points, right or wrong, and thus once the GBC heads down a wrong path, it is impossible to correct them from either the outside nor the inside. This is the danger of a closed system, a totalitarian system. A system without any means of checks or balances.
If someone does not agree to perpetuate the existing GBC views the GBC will not consider them for becoming a GBC member regardless of how advanced that person is otherwise. But, a system by which Temple Presidents can select new GBC members, it allows for new GBC members to come who may have differing views. Differing opinions and thus, over time can change the direction of the mission should it be headed down the wrong path.
The system outlined by Srila Prabhupada in the Direction of Management provides that a well qualified body of devotees (the Temple Presidents) who are 'outside' the GBC group has the authority to chose the new, or replacement members of the current GBC which provides a mechanism for affecting real change to the GBC if the Temple Presidents feel such change is needed. It provides a very badly needed means of Checks and Balances. Yes, it is not an instant system, it can take years, but, at least it provides a very real and very effective system of checks and balances.
Another aspect that makes it even more stable is the fact that the Temple Presidents cannot vote out the entire GBC at one election. The GBC themselves vote to decide which 1/3rd of the current members will remain another term without being up for election. Thus, the Temple Presidents can only decide the fate of just 2/3rds of the GBC at any one time. And, those current members of the GBC who are advanced, strict and doing their duty well, the Temple President can, and should, re-elect them for another term.
The system outlined in the DOM provides that the Rank and File members at the Temple level have the power to select who among them will lead them in the post of Temple President. If their Temple President makes bad choices in their voting of the GBC members, that Temple President will hear about it, and could be removed so that a new Temple President will be put in place who will not make the same bad choices. The Temple Presidents then chose who will lead the society, and they select new GBC members strictly only from among their own. According to the DOM, any new GBC member must currently be a Temple President, who has the vote of confidence of his local temple members.
For many of Srila Prabhupada's disciples and followers, once we discovered the Direction Of Management and the election process originally conceived of and instructed by Srila Prabhupada it was a God-Send. We see that it will, in time, change everything - For The Better. It will remedy the ills our society has faced over the past decades and will resolve our future issues as well.
But, the current GBC insist that Srila Prabhupada had long before his final year abandoned the DOM and had done away with the election process described therein. They claim that it was just a preliminary idea of Srila Prabhupada's, but that he obviously changed his mind and never saw that it was implemented. They say that if he had really wanted it, he would have and could have demanded that the elections be held by the Temple Presidents in his presence. They say the fact that he did not do this is proof that he no longer wanted that system followed. They claim he had ample opportunity to establish this aspect of the DOM, and since he didn't, then he didn't want it, and so the GBC label those who push for it's acceptance as being deviants, fallen, rebellious or misguided. Not so. We are concerned for the long term future of Srila Prabhupada's mission just as much as the current members of the GBC are. We are just as sincere in our heart as they claim to be. But we have reached a different conclusion.
I have reviewed their points and arguments in the past, and many of their points are not as clear cut as they present them. For instance, Ravindra Swarup wrote an article (posted on www.Dandavats.com in 2007, depicting the official views of the GBC on this issue entitled, 'Bylaws And Centralization - The Facts'. In that article he argued that it was during the 1975 GBC meetings that Srila Prabhupada formally dropped the GBC elections by Temple Presidents. A resolution was passed that stated:
"5. Resolved: The selection of GBC members is that Srila Prabhupada will nominate, and if there is a discrepancy, His Grace will change him. There will be no elections, and the present GBC member will remain."
Ravindra Swarup, representing the official views of the GBC body, claims that this resolution, which he says was made cooperatively by the GBC and Srila Prabhupada, made the elections process in the DOM null and void.
I have previously pointed out the discrepancies of their logic. First of all, what was being discussed was the replacement of the GBC men whom Srila Prabhupada had personally selected. Karndhar, a prominent GBC member of that time, had, the year previously, resigned. Srila Prabhupada made the decisions as to who (Jayatirtha, then the President of the LA temple) would replace him, etc. The resolution as quoted above is simply a restatement of the DOM provision.
"2. His Divine Grace will select the initial 12 members of the GBC. In the succeeding years the GBC will be elected by a vote of all Temple presidents who will vote for 8 from a ballot of all Temple presidents, which may also include any secretary who is in charge of a Temple. Those 8 with the greatest number of votes will be members for the next term of GBC. Srila Prabhupada will choose to retain four commissioners. In the event of Srila Prabhupada's absence, the retiring members will decide which four will remain."
To fully understand the DOM law above one has to know why the DOM was written and why the GBC was formed at that time. In the DOM Srila Prabhupada writes:
"As we have increased our volume of activities, now I think a Governing Body Commission (hereinafter referred to as the GBC) should be established. I am getting old, 75 years old, therefore at any time I may be out of the scene, therefore I think it is necessary to give instruction to my disciples how they shall manage the whole institution. "
The GBC was set up, via the DOM, to provide a basis for how Srila Prabhupada wanted his mission to be managed after he, as he put it, would "be out of the scene". In other words, the primary purpose of the DOM was to provide the basis for how the mission was to be managed AFTER Srila Prabhupada were to physically depart. In Item 2 of the DOM code it is stated that Srila Prabhupada will "select" the "initial" 12 members. In the "succeeding" years the GBC will be "elected" by a vote of all Temple Presidents.
In the first years after this was written Srila Prabhupada added to the number of GBC members. Actually, Krishna das left the movement and Srila Prabhupada chose a replacement and then he added new GBC members. From 12 to 14, 16, and so on. By the summer of 1974 were well over 12 members, but I don't have the exact number at hand. I think 16 or 18 at least. Still, we note that while in the prior summer of 1974 we do not find any mention by Srila Prabhupada of the DOM, in July, 1974, he includes mention of the DOM in the TOPMOST URGENCY document, by name and by date signed. Then, in the Fall of 1974, just a few short months before the 1975 GBC meeting in Mayapur when the resolution # 5 quoted above was passed, Srila Prabhupada wrote in letters to various GBC men and referred them to the DOM, stating that they must manage in accordance with the DOM. This provides us with several significant points.
First of all, the DOM had, by 1974-1975 changed. There were at that time now 16-18 or more GBC members. Again, I cannot recall the exact number, but there were more than 12 at that time. Thus, this aspect of the DOM had changed. And, it should be noted that in the Fall of 1974 it had been over 4 years after the DOM was signed (in July of 1970), and yet we find no mention of the DOM for a full 4 years until July of 1974, then in the Fall of '74, Srila Prabhupada writes to various GBC men that they must adhere to the codes of the DOM, and he quotes from it. This provides solid evidence that even though some detailed aspects of the DOM had changed (ie: the number of GBC men had increased) that change was not considered by Srila Prabhupada to make the entire DOM null and void. Not only this change had taken place, but in the beginning of 1974 Karandhar had resigned from his post as GBC and Srila Prabhupada had replaced him, as he had done before with at least Krishna Das. Also, when Karandhar came back temporarily Srila Prabhupada assigned him a new GBC post in India for a short period. These acts Srila Prabhupada did on his own, without any elections held by the Temple Presidents, etc.
Yet, we find, in the DOM itself, Srila Prabhupada had provided that he, and he alone, could make such changes as he saw fit.
1. The GBC oversees all operations and management of ISKCON, as it receives direction from Srila Prabhupada and His Divine Grace has the final approval in all matters.
Here it is stated that the GBC are to manage ISKCON as it receives direction from Srila Prabhupada, and that HDG has the final word in all matters. This provides that Srila Prabhupada, himself, could make changes to the DOM as he desired, and that what ever he said, whatever changes he made, were to be followed. Thus, between 1970 when the DOM was written to 1974-75 Srila Prabhupada increased the number of GBC men by "selecting" additional "initial" members. And, when some of those GBC men resigned or had to be removed and replaced Srila Prabhupada had "selected" their replacements. These things were already taking place PRIOR to the 1974 letters Srila Prabhupada wrote to various GBC men where he quoted from the DOM and instructed them that they must follow the rules of the DOM. Thus, changes made by Srila Prabhupada to one aspect of the DOM did and does not automatically make the entire DOM or other aspects null and void. Rather, if Srila Prabhupada did not make any specific change himself, then the rest of the DOM remained in effect and was to be followed.
In principle the basic structure of management cited in the DOM was never changed. Only the numbers were increased and Srila Prabhupada continued to Select new members AND he selected their replacements when needed.
Viewed with this understanding, then, what was the GBC resolution dealing with? Was the resolution dealing with the aspect of who was to SELECT the INITIAL members, or was it dealing with the Elections aspect in Succeeding years? Obviously, and without doubt, the resolution was only referring to the current SELECTIONs of additional INITIAL members and their Replacements while Srila Prabhupada still yet remained On The Scene. Prior to his being Out of The Scene, as he worded it. In the Succeeding years the DOM states THAT is when the Elections by Temple Presidents was to take place. But, the 1975 GBC resolution stating that the "Selection" of GBC members will be nominated by Srila Prabhupada is NOT a change to the DOM. The resolution states that "If there is a discrepancy" Srila Prabhupada will make the changes, and that for this, there is no need for elections. ("there will be no elections"). This aspect is referring specifically to how changes in the GBC were to be made during Srila Prabhupada's presence.
Which brings us to the last point, obviously this resolution was not dealing with how the GBC men were to be replaced AFTER Srila Prabhupada leaves The Scene. The DOM covers that by stating that In Succeeding Years there will be Elections by the TP's. This indicates in the Succeeding years AFTER Srila Prabhupada is Out Of The Scene, or After he is no longer Selecting the Initial GBC members. While he is present he will go on Selecting and making Changes as he saw fit to the GBC, adding men, removing, replacing, etc. He will do this himself, and neither the Temple Presidents nor the GBC will do so while Srila Prabhupada was still On The Scene.
And, IF we accept the GBC view that the 1975 GBC resolution makes the DOM Elections process null and void even after Srila Prabhupada leaves the scene, it would leave No System At ALL for maintaining the GBC after Srila Prabhupada did leave the scene. The resolution clearly states that only Srila Prabhupada can Select and Change the GBC lineup, and states No Elections. Thus, if this were to apply to the Succeeding years After Srila Prabhupada left, then it would mean that the GBC could not hold elections either. There would, at that time, be NO system at all for maintaining the GBC. Logic will dictate that Srila Prabhupada had no intention at all, what so ever, that this resolution would have made the Election process of the DOM null and void. It only pertained to maintaining the GBC during Srila Prabhupada's presence. It was only describing the how the process had been going on for years before then, anyway. It was not the basis for a dramatic Change to the process of how the GBC was to selected from then on, but was more a statement reflecting how it had been going on for years anyway.
Had it been Srila Prabhupada's intention that this resolution was to have made the Succeeding Years Election aspect of the DOM null and void, as the GBC proclaim, Srila Prabhupada would have discussed how he then wanted the GBC to be maintained after he departs from the scene, because this resolution, if taken the way the GBC say it was meant, would have left no system at all after he left. And that, Srila Prabhupada tells us, is why he wrote the DOM in the first place, to provide a written document that explains how he wanted his mission to be managed After he is Out Of The Scene.
Srila Prabhupada had hand selected these men and it was Srila Prabhupada who interface with them. It was Srila Prabhupada whom these men must first and foremost serve. Thus Srila Prabhupada need to be the one to go on selecting new men and the replacements. He was the one who needed to make changes if and when he saw they were needed. Srila Prabhupada selected the original members of the GBC in 1970 and continued to do so into mid 1977. In 1977 he added yet more new or initial members to the GBC. Thus, while Srila Prabhupada was still present with us, he continued to select the new members of the GBC and he made whatever changes he needed as he needed them.
Srila Prabhupada had a mission, a critical one, he was in old age, as he wrote in 1970 in the DOM stating at that time he was 75 year old man, his health was not so good, and as he stated he could be out of the scene at any moment. Yet he had so much to accomplish. So many books to translate, so many temples to open, so many projects to oversee, so many disciples to save. He set up the GBC not only to manage his mission after he departed, but to help relive him of day to day management while he was present so that he could continue with his translation work. It was vitally important to him that he continue to personally hand select the GBC members as these were the men that he must work with the most on the day to day dealings for overseeing his mission. It would not have been practical or efficient to have allowed others, the less experienced Temple Presidents at that time, to chose who Srila Prabhupada had to work closely with during his presence. But, after he departs, the system he delineated would provide the most equitable means for providing a much needed system of checks and balances. The only thing he left in writing how new GBC were to be selected or elected is given in the Direction Of Management. Srila Prabhupada selects the initial men, and after wards the Temple Presidents Elect. He wrote and signed off on no other formal detailed procedure how this was to be done in his absence after he leaves The Scene.
Another argument the GBC have given is that on May 28th, 1977, the GBC met with Srila Prabhupada in his room in Vrndavana and asked him several questions as to how they were to manage the movement in his absence. Satsvarup asked Srila Prabhupada how long the Original Members of the GBC, the first members that Srila Prabhupada originally selected (the original 12, but at the time in 1977 only 10 remained), how long would they remain as GBC. Srila Prabhupada said that the members he SELECTED, they shall remain for life.
This is different then what was stated in the DOM, but, in the DOM it also states that Srila Prabhupada can give ongoing direction and the GBC are to follow it. This aspect, that THESE GBC men, specifically Satsvarup only asked about the ORIGINAL men as He had Selected, just those 10 or so GBC men Srila Prabhupada said They are to remain for life. It makes us wonder why Satsvarup stipulated in his question that he was only referring to just those original GBC men? Was this because Srila Prabhupada had previously mentioned that those men should not be subject to reelections as the others would? Was Satsvarup only asking for clarity on something Srila Prabhupada had already previously had mentioned? Or was this something that the GBC thought of to ask on their own? I would be inclined to conclude it was something Srila Prabhupada had himself mentioned and that the GBC was simply seeking clarification.
Yet, why were those men singled out for special treatment? Here is the way I see it:
Srila Prabhupada's main mission was his translation work. Especially the Srimad Bhagavatam, Caitanya-caritamrita and Gita. Once he set up the GBC he had to invest a lot of his time and effort in training those men. He worked closely with those men, which is why he wanted to continue work with the same men as much as possible and to select their replacements when needed while he was present. The alternative would have been to implement the elections process and 3 year term limits while he was present. But, that would possibly mean that every 3 years he would be sent new men. Men he had not selected, but his less experienced disciples had selected for him. New men who would now demand his additional time and effort to train a-new. New men with new issues and new problems to solve. His time was limited and he was very aware of that. Establishing the Elections process that he Did Want Set up, while he was still present, simply would not have been practical. So, he left the DOM provision stand as it was, that the elections aspect was to be implemented After he left the scene. While he remained he would hand pick the men he wanted to work with, and he wanted those same men to remain on the job, and not be changed out every 3 years. But, that was only while he was present.
So, why the special treatment that those men were to now remain as GBC for life? Because when he needed the help the most these men took over the day to day affairs of managing the world wide movement, and despite whatever personal character flaws some of the had, or their own fall downs, or other inebriaties, even including that some of them had and exhibited obvious tendencies to want to lord it over others, and wanted big positions, still these men were able to render Srila Prabhupada the crucial services he needed most. They dealt with all the 1,000's of new devotees. They dealt with assuring the property payments for the growing number of temples was met, they took care of feeding and housing, and maintaining thousands of his disciples, they kept them engaged, they kept up the Deity worship and standards, they over saw the many festivals, they helped him build his projects in India and they over saw the publication, printing and distribution of millions of his books. Despite their flaws, these men had rendered Srila Prabhupada such valuable and dear service to him. Thus, Srila Prabhupada agreed, or maybe it was he who requested, that those Original men, the men he had personally Selected and who helped him accomplish his goals, he wanted that they be given special consideration. They were to remain in the post of GBC for life.
But, that, again, does not make the Elections aspect by Temple Presidents nor the term limits aspect of the DOM Null and Void for the remaining and future GBC. That we disagree with the current GBC on.
In that May 28th meeting Satsvarup then asks what if some of those GBC step down or are removed? Srila Prabhupada said their replacement will be via Elections. Srila Prabhupada did NOT say that the GBC was to hold the elections. He simply said by Elections. But, Satsvarup then added, "Elections by the GBC". Srila Prabhupada did not respond, and then, just a second later, in the same breath, Satsvarup goes on and brings up another even more important question asking Srila Prabhupada how initiations were to be held after he leaves. The GBC argue that Srila Prabhupada's silence to Satsvarup saying the elections were to be held by the GBC is proof that Srila Prabhupada agreed with this B>new idea. I call it a new idea simply because that is NOT what Srila Prabhupada wrote in the DOM, and the DOM stands as the only document Prabhupada wrote that explicitly states how the GBC are to be elected.
We can NOT accept that Srila Prabhupada's silence is to be taken as his agreement to such a major far-reaching change. There is no way to prove that Srila Prabhupada even properly heard the passing comment. He was ill and weak at the time. It is my understanding that this meeting took place in his private room at the Krishna Balaram Mandir at a time when Srila Prabhupada was bed-ridden and weak. The whole reason for the meeting was because there was concern that Srila Prabhupada may leave us at any moment due to his weak condition. Since there was no ongoing discussion about this major deviation from what Srila Prabhupada had written in the DOM, that elections were to be held by the Temple Presidents, there is simply no way to know for certain that Srila Prabhupada even properly heard the comment. It was simply a 'passing' comment, no discussion, no details. There was air conditioner running in the background. It cannot be proven he heard the comment and it cannot be proven that his silence to this comment marked his full and desired acceptance of such a major change.
And, this was a very major change, one that would affect his mission from that point onward. We cannot accept that he agreed to make such a major change without any discussion, without even saying one single word himself, but his secretary makes a passing comment then moves on to another important issue. The DOM is written and stated clearly. He never asked that any paper be drawn up reflecting this change in writing with his signature. All there is, is a passing comment made by one GBC and Srila Prabhupada's silence, which could very well be that he didn't even hear the comment properly. Such argument given by the GBC must be rejected.
Srila Prabhupada was clear, that those GBC men whom He had personally Selected, those men, and those men only, they are to remain for life. That is what he stated, and so we support that. (as long as those men are not fallen and adhere to the principles and duties of the GBC post). But, for their replacements, the GBC should not have held their own elections. Rather, the DOM should have been implemented. That is our argument.
Both sides have made their arguments and logic justifying their conclusions for years. The GBC has not budged. But, I have another point of view, which will be seen in answering this question:
"Would the inclusion of GBC elections and term limits, as Srila Prabhupada proposed in the Direction Of Management, be beneficial or detrimental to ISKCON in the long run?"
The answer to this question is what should, in the end, determine whether or not the DOM Election's process should be implemented. Both sides feel that there is sufficient evidence to justify their conclusion, then which process has the most merits or demerits for the long term future and well being of Srila Prabhupada's mission?
Will it harm ISKCON? Would it, somehow cause disastrous effects to implement what Srila Prabhupada originally wanted and gave in writing as to what he wanted? Or, would it be beneficial?
Ultimately, Srila Prabhupada would favor that which would be of benefit and reject that which would be detrimental.
Actually, I have already given most of my answer to this question in the above examples of how I have showed that the GBC have made many bad decisions in the past and present. I have shown that the current system offers no mechanism of checks and balances. Whereas the DOM provides exactly that.
Without this system of checks and balances the GBC can and will go on making more and more wrong, bad decisions, and they will only select members who support their wrong and bad decisions, and thus over time the entire mission can, will and has, wander totally off course, and there is no means or mechanism by which their direction can be corrected (save and except by Krishna's direct hand). We have seen Krishna's hand in providing us again with the DOM - this is Krishna's hand coming to help correct the mission. We must not turn Krishna's helping hand down.
My answer to the question is clear. Yes, the DOM election process will be vitally Beneficial, and not implementing will eventually lead to the end of Srila Prabhupada's mission.
This is not about the Guru issue, it is not focused on how to deal with fallen gurus (like the incident with Satsvarup's falldown), this is not about the order of worship during Arotik, this is not about if it is ok, or not, to eat chocolate, this is not about the massive changes to Srila Prabhupada's books, this is not about any one specific sub-issue. The DOM issue is by itself the fundamental issue. Without the means of keeping the GBC in check, the mission will ultimately run a-muck and fail. Once the election process of the DOM is properly put into place, then all issues can eventually, over time, be worked out. If the GBC is found to be on the wrong path, eventually new members will be voted in from among the Temple Presidents who may hold opposing views on some past actions taken by the GBC, and thus real change can and will eventually take place. We are not, here, advocating any specific changes or sub-issues, what we are advocating is that the DOM election process is the only means that will eventually resolve all these sub-issues.
It is also most important to note that in promoting the DOM elections process we are not advocating any concocted newly dreamed up idea. We are not looking at the current management system in place and inventing our own dreamed up concoction of our own as the means to resolve the issues. Holding the GBC to 3 year terms, allowing current members of the GBC to select which 1/3rd to remain and which 2/3rd will be up for re-election, having the Temple Presidents hold the GBC elections and voting any new members from among themselves, not one single part of this is an idea any of us got by studying this organization or that religion, etc. We are not advocating that we implement the management system of some other organization. We are not fabricating any new concocted idea of our own.
Rather, the system of elections and term limits for the GBC comes directly from Srila Prabhupada. It is the System or Direction Of Management that He, Himself, instructed us originally to follow. It is a system that he devised. And we see that in letters at the end of 1974, just months before the 1975 GBC meetings he was advocating that the GBC follow the DOM. In 1974 he wrote and singed a TOPMOST URGENT decree, that in part ordered that the DOM be named in all of ISKCON's legal papers. And, in 1975 he directed several GBC to include this wording in new ISKCON corporations that were incorporated that year. This system has Divine origins. It comes from His Divine Grace. Those who promote the idea that the DOM elections process is for the benefit of Srila Prabhupada's society and advocate that it must be adopted by our society are not promoting some concocted idea as to how we think ISKCON can be 'saved' or improved upon.
This plan is Srila Prabhupada's plan. Yes, it is a fact that it was never implemented that specific aspect. Yet, we have provided valid arguments why it was not beneficial for Srila Prabhupada and his mission to have implemented this during his presence. He needed to continue to make his own selections as to who will work closely with him as GBC during his presence, and he did not have the time to be training new men every 3 years. During his presence it would have prevented him from completing his translation work had he implemented the DOM elections at that time. Yet, he never rescinded that this be implemented after his departure. In the succeeding years after he was "out of the scene", as he worded it.
Next, let's review the election system given in the DOM.
The system of elections Srila Prabhupada put forth is nothing short of absolutely brilliant. It is ideal. It provides a simple, yet very effective and fair means to keep the leadership in check. Implementing it will eventually resolve the major issues and conflicts facing our society. And without a means to balance and check the exclusive and totalitarian nature of the GBC authority that we now have the leadership can only become slowly corrupt and the mission eventually fail. At some point the GBC will endorse a system that will be worse then the Zonal Acharya days, but this time the Temple Presidents will be too weak, having lost all vestiges of the independence Srila Prabhupada gave them, and prohibited from voicing any opposition, to affect any change. At that point the society (ISKCON) will be doomed.
What can be done at this point?
Well, this is a bit testy situation if the current GBC does not agree. Personally, I very much doubt the current GBC will embrace the content and conclusion of this article, but it would be wonderful if the majority would and willingly help to adopt the concepts.
If not, then for those who are Temple Presidents, it is simple to start. Simply take the 1974 TOMOST URGENCY document, a signed and written order given by Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON's Founder-Acarya, an order that still stands and was never rescinded by him, and follow the orders he gave. Follow the July 1974 TOPMOST URGENCY order by amending your temple's constitutions with the exact unchanged wording Srila Prabhupada Ordered YOU, the Temple Presidents, to OBEY and Follow. Remove the wording the GBC promoted be adopted, and replace it with the amendment Srila Prabhupada Ordered, in writing, to be implemented.
Then, meet with other like minded temple presidents and present to the GBC that you want to elections to be held, as authorized by Srila Prabhupada in his DOM. Request that they submit a list of 1/3rd of the existing GBC members that they want to remain for the next term, and then proceed to hold elections for the other 2/3rds. Replacing any GBC who has not, in the view of the Temple Presidents, performed his duty properly with newly elected GBC members from among the Temple Presidents.
Should the GBC not agree to these proposals, then the Temple Presidents should proceed to hold elections for a totally new GBC who will abide by the DOM.
What can the rank and file devotees do? Ask your current Temple Presidents if they support Srila Prabhupada's DOM system, if so, then ask them to adhere to the 1974 TOPMOST URGENCY order given by Srila Prabhupada to the Temples of ISKCON and demand that they Execute his written and most highly emphasized order and follow the above. If they do not support, then hold elections for a new temple president that will support this.
What if there is no such action among the Temple Presidents? And the GBC continues in their hard stand opposing this? Then, those of us who are convinced this is what Srila Prabhupada wants, we should proceed to form a new and real ISKCON with temples that will carryout the 1974 TOPMOST URGENCY order by placing the wording of that document in their By Laws, having Temple Presidents who are elected by the temple members in good standing and then have those Temple Presidents elect a new GBC to lead them in accordance with the DOM.
If the current GBC does not agree then all the other alternatives will not be easy to implement. Neither was it easy for Srila Prabhupada to start his own ISKCON ashram separate from the ashrams Srila Bhaktisiddanta Sarasvati founded, but, eventually this is what he had to do in order for him to faithfully carry out the instructions of his guru maharaj.
I don't know exactly what action must be taken, but, i fully understand that some action must be taken. Approaching influential congregation members and educating them on this issue will certainly be one path to take. Simply keeping this issue at the forefront of our service to Srila Prabhupada will eventually lead to action and results.
For my part, I am not giving up on the idea, and continue to express my views and try to educate and convince others. If the current GBC feel this is wrong, that my conclusions are wrong. I am always open to an open public and civil discussion on the matter. If they feel my views are very wrong and wish to debate in a civil and philosophical manner then I welcome such opportunity. I remain convinced that their main desire is to please Srila Prabhupada. That is all I desire as well. Thus, we are not enemies. We are God Brothers, we share the same end result, to see that Srila Prabhupada is pleased, to see that he is served as nicely was we can. Ultimately there should be a determination to cooperate nicely together to achieve this common cause. We all accept His Divine Grace as our guiding and loving father. We both pray to him for our success in being able to serve him. Then, why not openly discuss the issue in a friendly manner?
Aspiring to become a worthy and humble servant of the servants of Srila Prabhupada,
Ameyatma das das anudas