Saturday, November 21, 2009
A comment on some ISKCON leaders' struggle to define membership
A few weeks ago, I received a copy of a PowerPoint presentation arguing for certain standards for ISKCON membership. More recently, an ISKCON news site published some audio accompanying this presentation, along with some editorial comments. Perhaps against my better judgement, I posted a comment on this presentation.
I haven't had a chance to listen to the audio yet, but someone sent me Sivarama Swami's powerpoint presentation a couple of weeks ago. At the moment, I can only respond to that. Although I understand the perceived need to define membership, such definition should be in line with Srila Prabhupada's standard, as suggested by others here and elsewhere.
With regard to specifics of his presentation, I can share a couple of my initial, immediate responses to reading his ideas.
He suggests that membership requires accepting the GBC as one's "ultimate managerial and spiritual authority." What's the basis for such an assertion? Certainly not Srila Prabhupada's instruction. We know he told us that the GBC is the Society's ultimate managerial authority, but spiritual authority? Bullet Point One, and I'm already out.
He says that members must "be connected to ISKCON's line of authority." That reads to me as an empty claim. What does it even mean?
He writes that members may "only accept initiation from member of ISKCON." Well, I guess I'd be okay, if I hadn't already been excluded by Bullet Point One. But we might ask about the status of those serving in ISKCON who are initiated by preachers working outside the GBC's authority. Perhaps he means that they should be purged, however valuable their service may be and despite the fact that they follow all the other requirements. I'm not sure that's a good idea.
He says that members of ISKCON "do not divorce." It appears that certain members of the GBC, as well as other officers in the Society, be they local, regional, or international, must be exempt from this requirement.
He writes that "[t]he laws and bylaws of ISKCON determine devotees’ values and conduct in all aspects of their live; work (varna), social status (asrama) and spiritual practice and aspiration." I'm certainly further excluded, it seems. I have chosen for the last 40 years to shape my values and conduct according to guru, sadhu, and shastra. ISKCON's laws and bylaws change too frequently, and on the basis of too many factors other than guru, sadhu, and shastra, for me to take that seriously.
This strikes many devotees as an outline of a plan for further reducing ISKCON's membership and consequently its influence. I'm looking for a reason to disagree with that assessment. Can someone throw me a line?