Continuing in the line of my previous posts, here are some more thoughts on dysfunctional cultural aspects of ISKCON.
Monasticism and Temples
We still have far too much stress on monasticism in our Society. Gurus and GBCs are mostly sannyasis. What leaders do is reflected on the society and all its members. When so many of our leaders are monks, living a temple-based lifestyle, the focus tends towards that kind of lifestyle and habits – which is very, very far removed from what over 95% of the members of the Movement are living, and totally removed from what mainstream society is living.
It’s old news that ISKCON is now a congregation based society, not the confederation of temple ashrams it was in its first 20 years, but this change still hasn’t reached the way we think and act. The sannyasis and temple residents are still very much the central focus of our society. The sooner we have more grihastha gurus and GBCs, the better. (By the way, here is an interesting discussion on the issue of sannyasa vs. grihastha gurus: http://www.prabhupada.org/rama/?p=4375.) The general perception held by an ISKCON member is that a sannyasi in inherently superior to a grihastha as a leader and guru. Yet, in our scriptures we see that grihasthas are naturally the gurus and administrative leaders of society.
Temples are a wonderful place for devotees to get together to worship the Lord and for Krishna-katha, but may not be the best place for bramacharis(inis) to be trained up or for newcomers to get to know KC.
In Brazil, Dhanvantari Swami has been running a Hare Krishna Seminary for the past 9 years, where men and women (young and old) spend an intense 9 months being trained as devotees, among other things by studying for the bhakti-shastri exam. It’s not a temple, it’s jut a seminary, allowing the full focus to be on their training. It’s a wonderful experience for the participants. In a temple, brahmacaris(inis) can get too involved with cutting vegetables, cleaning, fund-raising, etc.
One of the most successful preaching programs in the world is run by Devamrta Swami in New Zealand. One of the key elements of his success is not having Deities as the central focus point of his centers. Instead his focus is on the guests. Everything is designed and geared up to convey KC to the guests in the most easily assimilated way possible. A regular Deity aratik in a temple is probably the least easily assimilated way to convey KC in a global western culture.
These examples indicate that an ISKCON less centered on the temple and Deity worship could be more effective.
I see a future where our temples can serve the community of those who have already accepted KC, but where we have other programs and places dedicated to exposing KC to the general public, and other places dedicated to those who wish to take time off their studies or careers to absorb themselves in KC training.