Srila Prabhupada – A Transcendental Manager

Srila Prabhupada tours the construction work at New Vrindavan ISKCONS farm community

The success of ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna Consciousness) was a direct result of Srila Prabhupada’s devotion, determination, purity and intelligence, however, he was a soul completely surrendered to Krishna. He depended completely on Krishna. So ISKCON succeeded because Srila Prabhupada was totally dedicated to the order of his spiritual master and Krishna.

Srila Prabhupada was the force behind ISKCON but the thousands of young boys and girls who surrendered to him and accepted him as their spiritual master were the Krishna conscious soldiers fighting maya (illusion) on her own territory. Srila Prabhupada was always unlimitedly grateful to his disciples for helping him fulfill his spiritual master’s orders. He even sometimes said, “My spiritual master has sent you all to teach me how to be Krishna conscious.”

Srila Prabhupada didn’t want to control everything himself. He wanted to encourage his disciples to take responsibility and use their intelligence in devising ways to spread Krishna consciousness. He wanted his disciples to become competent in all areas of practical work and management as well as being learned in the philosophy and expert preachers. He didn’t like centralization or bureaucracy. His management program was always for independent and self-supporting centers not in any way dependent on any other center. The only exceptions to this independent and self-supporting model were his Indian projects where he made Bombay the head office and he personally managed everything from there. He also centralized the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust as it would have been unworkable to have every temple printing books. There had to be some central body to coordinate book publication.

...I have heard from Jayatirtha you want to make big plans for centralization of management, taxes, monies, corporate status, book-keeping, credit, like that. I do not approve of such a plan. Do not centralize anything. Each temple must remain independent and self-sufficient. That was my plan from the very beginning, why you are thinking otherwise? Once before you wanted to do something centralizing with your GBC meeting, and if I did not interfere the whole thing would have been killed. Do not think in this way of big corporation, big credits, centralization--these are all nonsense proposals. Only thing I wanted was that books printing and distribution should be centralized, therefore I appointed you and Bali Mardana to do it. Otherwise, management, everything, should be done locally by local men. Accounts must be kept, things must be in order and lawfully done, but this should be each temple's concern, not yours. (to Karandhara 22 Dec, 1972)

Srila Prabhupada wanted a confederation of independent ISKCON centers each managed by a Temple President, Secretary and Treasurer. His mood was that each Temple President should develop the preaching in his area at his own creative rate.

The formula for ISKCON organization is very simple and can be understood by everyone. The world is divided into 12 zones. For each zone there is one zonal secretary. His duty is to see that the spiritual principles are being upheld very nicely in all the temples of his zone. Otherwise each temple shall be independent and self-supporting. Let every temple president work according to his own capacity to improve the Krishna consciousness of his center. So far the practical management is concerned, that is required, but not that we shall become too much absorbed in fancy organization. Our business is spiritual life, so whatever organization needs to be done, the presidents may handle and take advice and assistance from the GBC representative. In this way let the Society's work go on and everyone increase their service at their own creative rate... We request that everyone take these formulas to heart and execute them very conscientiously. In this way we shall certainly be successful in pushing on this movement. (Signed by Srila Prabhupada & Karandhara dasa 22 Apr, 1972)

Prabhupada wanted to give his disciples all opportunities to preach without being burdened by bureaucracy and mundane organization. Even the Governing Body Commission (GBC) was not meant to be a managing body as such. The GBC members were to travel and preach in their zones and enliven the devotees spiritually. They were also given the responsibility to ensure that every devotee in their zone was strictly following the four regulative principles (no illicit sex, no intoxication, no meat eating and no gambling) and that every devotee was completing at least 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra daily without fail. They were also to ensure that all routine work in the temples was being carried out to the proper standard. This included cleanliness, the standard of Deity worship, etc. Their position was to advise and assist the temple presidents but they had no authority over the temple president, nor did they have any power to remove the temple president. The temple president could only be changed by vote of the members of the temple.

Srila Prabhupada wanted all of his temples to be “revolutionary clean”, he wanted every disciple in ISKCON to rise before 4:00am and attend the 4:30am temple program. He wanted everyone to chant at least 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra daily and to strictly follow the for regulative principles (no illicit sex, no intoxication, no meat eating, no gambling) and he wanted his books distributed as widely as possible. Outside these areas Srila Prabhupada gave a great deal of freedom to his disciples. He had faith in his disciples. He accepted that they were intelligent and he wanted them to use their “American brains” in Krishna’s service. Often Srila Prabhupada gave the broad idea of what he wanted and left the details to his disciples. In book distribution Srila Prabhupada told his disciples he wanted them to distribute his books. He didn’t tell them exactly how or where, he expected them to use their intelligence and work out how to do it.

Right form the early days of ISKCON at 26 2nd. Avenue in New York Srila Prabhupada gave much of the responsibility for the management and preaching to his disciples. Prabhupada worked on his translations, gave morning and evening classes and guided devotees where required. He answered their questions and instructed them in the practical aspects of Krishna consciousness like cooking and cleaning, but left them to manage the temple and to a large extent the preaching. Srila Prabhupada had established the Back to Godhead magazine in India as his own preaching program and now in the United States he had given Back To Godhead to his disciples. The Back To Godhead magazine gave his disciples a forum for their preaching at their level of realization. Many of the early Back To Godhead articles were quite esoteric and sometimes had little to do with the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, but Srila Prabhupada encouraged his disciples, praised their Back To Godhead articles and knew that, in time–with practice and realization–their writing skills and philosophical understanding would improve. And he was right. In a few short years Back To Godhead went from a “esoteric” mimeographed newsletter to a beautiful full-color magazine presenting the philosophy of Krishna consciousness so nicely and clearly that anyone could easily understand and appreciate it.

Srila Prabhupada was always enthusiastic to push his disciples forward and to see them advance in Krishna consciousness. Hearing and chanting are the two most important processes in advancing in Krishna consciousness. He wanted his disciples to hear from him, but then he wanted them to take the responsibility and preach by repeating what they had heard. Sometimes he would encourage quite new devotees to go off to another city or country to establish a temple there. Prabhupada had great faith in the process of discussing the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam in the association of devotees.

Srila Prabhupada gave much stress to being engaged in Krishna’s service 24 hours a day. He was personally always engaged in Krishna’s service and he wanted to see his disciples follow his example. From the very first days of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada tried to engage any interested person in Krishna’s service 24 hours a day. In the first store-front temple Prabhupada had his disciples preaching, cooking, distributing prasadam (spiritual food), writing articles for Back To Godhead, printing, collating and stapling Back To Godhead, painting pictures for illustrating his books, sending sankirtana [street chanting] parties out to chant in the city and parks and many other activities. He said that “We are just trying to be engaged in Krishna’s service 24 hours a day, even if we have to invent some service to keep us busy.”

The idea is that we can only do one of two things. We can serve Krishna or we can serve maya (illusion). If we are not fully engaged in serving Krishna then maya will take the opportunity and engage us in her service causing us to fall from the spiritual platform and again become entangled in material activities. There are many regulative principles in Krishna consciousness but they are all summarized in one: Always remember Krishna and never forget Krishna. If we are engaged serving Krishna 24 hours a day we will automatically always remember Krishna and never forget Krishna and all the regulative principles will automatically be followed.

This chanting means always remembering Krishna. Cooking, I am cooking for Krishna, I am typing for Krishna, I am going to preach for Krishna, I am distributing Back To Godhead for Krishna. In this way always remember Krishna. That will make you perfect... Therefore it is equally good for anyone because we can engage anyone in the business of Krishna. If somebody has no knowledge he can simply sweep the floor of Krishna's temple. That will make him remember Krishna. That I am cleansing the floor of Krishna's temple. He's as good as the editor of Back To Godhead.

The thing which separated Srila Prabhupada and his ISKCON from every other religious or philosophical group was he was asking his disciples to fully surrender to Krishna and spiritualize their whole life. He was interested in pure devotional service and training his disciples to become pure devotees. There is no shortage of people or organizations who are prepared to give some percentage of their time and energy to God. But Prabhupada wanted one hundred percent. Prabhupada could have had millions and millions of disciples if he had relaxed the rules and regulations. But he was not interested in that. He wanted a few pure devotees, not millions of mad sentimental followers who were not serious about surrendering to Krishna or giving one hundred percent of their time and energy to Krishna.

...they say that everyone is God... So we are realizing by meditation that I am God, you are God, my brother is God, my father is God, everyone is God! This is going on. We want to stop all this rascaldom. That is our challenge. We may not have as many followers, we don't care for that. We don't want these nonsense followers, many thousands. What will they do? But if we can turn one man into Krishna consciousness perfectly he can do tremendous work in the world. That is our principle. We don't want nonsense. (SPL 68-030 27 Nov, 1968)
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