M O V I N G   F O R W A R D

With a Case for the Reconstitution of Srila Prabhupada’s “Mission”.

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Segment 26
What Form of Government Does ISKCON Have Now? 

The GBC body is the ultimate authority, and its membership is controlled by the same body.  However, as you will see later, this was not Srila Prabhupada’s desire. The only question is whether they comprise an aristocracy or an oligarchy? This question will not be treated here, however, the primary criteria would be the following:

  •  Are the GBC members selected on the basis of their leadership qualities?
  • Are they focused primarily on the welfare of the whole ISKCON society?

The answer “Yes” to either question points to an aristocracy, and the answer “No” to an oligarchy.

In the opinions of this Treatise, the answer is “NO” for both questions, and therefore, ISKCON is an oligarchy. 

Whatever the actual situation, Srila Prabhupada clearly stated that the ultimate managerial authority in ISKCON would be a GBC body, and he certainly intended that the GBC possess the characteristics of an aristocracy rather than an oligarchy.  Given his somewhat distaste for democracy, it is understandable that he would prefer an aristocracy. However, we may wonder why he did not prescribe a monarchy by naming a successor acharya, since he certainly appreciated the advantages of monarchial government. There are a number of possible reasons. For example,

  1. Perhaps he did not feel that any of his disciples possessed all the necessary qualities of leadership, but tht the combined qualities of a group of disciples would suffice for good government.
  2. Or perhaps one disciple did possess the necessary qualities, but Prabhupada noted tyrannical tendencies in his character and was unwilling to give such a person his sanction.
  3. Finally, perhaps he believed that one disciple should and would come to prominence eventually, but was unsure, as to which disciple that would be.  And/or, he felt that it should happen in due course, self-manifest, rather than by an arbitrary order or decree.

In any case, it seems clear that ISKCON has always been governed by “the few”; i.e., it has never been a democracy. It was first a de facto monarchy, where Srila Prabhupada was “king”. After Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance, the aristocracy degenerated into an oligarchy, as mentioned above. 

What about democracy? We have seen that it is considered to be the least efficient form of government, but also the form best suited to prevent abuses of power. Should ISKCON be changed to a democracy, with the freely elected representatives of all the devotees invested with ultimate power? Theoretically, according to the discussion above, that depends on the degree to which the regular members fulfill Srila Prabhupada ’s vision of ideal men and women.  In a society of such people, a truly spiritual society, the optimal, i.e., best form of government is government by the fewest and finest; the elite, and ultimately the ONE.

In the opposite kind of society, a typical Kali-yuga society, in which power is sought for its own sake, the optimal, i.e., least bad form of government is democracy. ISKCON, or indeed any society, would have to be examined on this objective basis, in order to determine what its optimal form of government would be.

In 1970 Srila Prabhupada wrote the “Direction of Management” for the International Society for Krishna consciousness.  Today, this document is referred to as the “DOM”. 

The following is Srila Prabhupada ‘s original DOM for ISKCON that he gave when he first proposed setting up the GBC in 1970.  This document is evidence that Prabhupada wanted, and desired more or less, an aristocracy with elements of a democracy; especially after his departure.  This Treatise will present various passages from letters, that give evidence that while he was present, he advocated certain elements of democracy. 

A very interesting fact is that all during Prabhupada’s life; he did not add or revise this document; nevertheless, the GBC body has made claims that it was amended before Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance.  He did not even consider adding guidelines regarding Guru.  Today we know why; “he had already instructed “all his disciples to be guru”. With the condition that they must first become qualified and sincere.  Moreover, it is evident, in his writing and preaching, what this “being qualified” is. 

The most superlative reference, in this regard, is in his Sri Vyasa-puja Lecture —Hamburg, September 5, 1969:

“Spiritual master is not a new invention. It is simply following the orders of the spiritual master. So, all my students present here who are feeling so much obliged… I am also obliged to them because they are helping me in this missionary work. At the same time, I shall request them all to become spiritual master. Every one of you should be spiritual master next. And what is their duty? Whatever you are hearing from me, whatever you are learning from me, you have to distribute the same in total without any addition or alteration. Then all of you become the spiritual master. That is the science of becoming spiritual master. … To become a spiritual master is not very wonderful thing. Simply one has to become sincere soul. That is all. In the Bhagavad-gita 4.2, it is said,

‘By disciplic succession this yoga process of Bhagavad-gita was handed down from disciple to disciple. But in course of time that disciplic succession is now lost. Therefore, Arjuna, I am teaching you again the same philosophy.’

So, this is the process. Simply if we… Therefore, Vedic knowledge is called sruti. One has to hear it properly, assimilate it, and then practice it in life and preach the same thing. Then everyone becomes spiritual master. Caitanya Mahaprabhu says,  

“O My dear disciples, I tell you that you, all of you, become spiritual master. Simply you carry out My order. That is all.”

And what is Your order?  The order is the same, Caitanya-caritamrita-Madhya-lila 7.128,

‘Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Sri Krishna as they are given in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-bhagavatam. In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land.’ …”

Therefore, in actuality, there is no guru issue to be resolved. The guru issue is solved simply because there was no guru issue to begin with. 

So, let’s look at this “DOM”.  First, you can see a copy of the original document, and then a transcript of its contents.:

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