Community Dialog on the topic of a possible “Village Council” at the onsite Joint Board Meetings in New Vrindaban
by Lilasuka dasi
The weekend of March 14 and 15, 2015 was a jam-packed, exciting and informative two days for New Vrindaban (NV). There used to be two weekends a year when the two Boards of Directors, namely ISKCON New Vrindaban (INV) & ECO-Vrindaban would get together with their managers and staff so all involved could connect and communicate. Starting two years ago, however, the joint board members decided to expand these weekend gatherings and open them up for all New Vrindaban residents and well-wishers to participate as well.
Devotees at the community dialog.
During the weekend of March 14 and 15, the activities were divided into four sections:
- morning: Dept. Heads presented their yearly reports- accomplishments and goals.
- afternoon the Community Dialog sessions were held – formal opportunities for board and community members to interact and share concerns with each other, the goal being to improve overall relationships. This year a Village Council idea was introduced.
- Sunday morning, everyone was invited to go on a tour of the spots around New Vrindaban that are being improved and/or renovated, such as the Deity kitchen at the RVC temple, and the ox barn at Bahulaban, and more.
- Sunday after the feast there were service appreciations given for some devotees who have been serving New Vrindaban for some time in different capacities but have recently stopped these services.
Jaya Krsna introducing the dept. head meeting.
And, in between, on Sat. evening there was a relaxed, yet informative event at Prabhupada’s Palace. Sankirtan prabhu gave his dramatic, visual powerpoint presentation called “How the Hare Krsna Mantra Came to the West”.
The account in this article is a glimpse into Saturday afternoon’s discussion, just one of the weekend’s events, to inform anyone who missed it. There will soon be a series of detailed articles written by Madhava Smullen who also participated in the weekend activities.
Of particular interest to the residents of New Vrindaban was a lively community dialog,, after lunch on Saturday March 14, 2015, which was well attended by many community members. Chaitanya Mangala introduced the topic of a possible Village Council for New Vrindaban, which is just in the idea stage with no details worked out yet. The proposed Council could ideally consist of a body of local devotees working together, where all residents could feel that they have an increased voice in their community of New Vrindaban.
Chaits mentioned how previously leaders of New Vrindaban had made valiant efforts to manage a community through a non-profit religious corporate structure, but this doesn’t work because the required legal structures have restrictions that can’t be transformed into a broader democratic system. Therefore, we need to approach this from a broader perspective.
Chaits emphasized three buzz words for such a Village Council: small, local and simple.
“Small: Let’s just have a few people on the Council, at least to begin with. Later it can expand as needed.”
“Local: The members should be available to regularly meet face to face, for optimum effectiveness and communication.”
“Simple: Let’s create as few pre-conditions as possible, so as not to restrict the group from starting. They can develop the rules they will operate under as they move forward.”
Chaitanya Mangala’s proposal for a “Village Council” is based, in part, on the following quote from Srila Prabhupada:
“Go on acquiring the surrounding lands and in this way we will establish a local self-governing village and show all the world a practical example of spiritual life as Krishna Himself exhibited in Vrindaban.”
Here is a link:
Then the discussion was opened up. Devotees were expressing themselves very respectfully, but frankly as well. Many remarked afterwards that this was a mature discussion coming out of people’s honest desires to have a “village voice”. That is, the residents of New Vrindaban want a voice in how the community is run, so they spoke up frankly, but also showed much appreciation for the current leaders and managers and all the challenges they’ve faced.
At the community dialog.
The apathy in NV over the years was mentioned as one of the many challenges. This apathy has different sources. There is much skepticism that things will change, yet others still have hope. Some devotees have complained that, in their opinion, New Vrindaban is being run as more of a corporation than a spiritual institution. Some asked what kind of influence would a Village Council really have on the decision-making process in New Vrindaban. The NV Advocacy Sanga has been discussing many of these issues for the last year and a half.
One devotee appreciated that this year has been identified by Jaya Krsna prabhu as the year of “deepening relationships”. Just as we have to continuously deal with the structure of the roads and buildings of NV, dealing with ongoing devotee relationships is also essential.
A suggestion came up for us to possibly study how a few successful intentional communities run and what their successes are based on. Mukunda das said, “Those communities, although they may not be based on spirituality, have many of the “0’s” in the equation, but we have the “1” (Krsna) to make it perfect. So we can still learn from them.”
An old friend and well-wisher of the Hare Krsna movement, Burke Rochford, a professor of sociology, was present at the meetings. He expressed that he sees these types of dialogs as very important. He said that since Srila Prabhupada had set up New Vrindaban as a community, as opposed to a city temple, that we have had to face certain special challenges. He has also come to understand that the voices of the residents need to help shape the direction of New Vrindaban.
There was a short discussion on the topic of the Sunday feast. People were expressing both sides, namely what enlivens and what sometimes discourages the devotees’ attendance.
Although many topics were touched upon, the themes that were recurring throughout the afternoon were the need for the residents’ voices to be heard and the challenge of rebuilding trust. It was suggested that a Village Council could address these types of concerns for a win/win situation.
The NV Advocacy Sanga announced that the Sanga will continue the discussion of a Village Council and try to come up with a solid proposal from their side. They also expressed their wish, along with the joint Board members, that this healthy, open discussion will continue in the community at large.