The Temple President and his Vaisnava council
One of the biggest problems in any individual is the tendency to strive for the best position. Every conditioned soul tries to enjoy to the utmost and readily looks down upon others or envies those who have what he feels he should have. Even such great souls as those who attain responsibility in the lives of others as a Temple President are often affected by these human weaknesses. This creates a hostile atmosphere around them. Often they don't listen to good advice, or they do not give good facility for the development of other members of their community. To make things worse, they often cover up their own mismanagement by preaching that their "position" is almost infallible. This creates a system of inefficiency that greatly hampers the advancement of the temple community. It is not supposed to be like that, because Srila Prabhupada has given us several directives to create community leadership which is always just and dynamic and which functions in accordance with the dictum of Guru, Sastra and Sadhu.
Srila Prabhupada set an example for the management of temples which is given below:
He established a Vaisnava Board in the early days of
his first temple in New York, while he was present
there, for managing the affairs of the temple. This
Board consisted of the president, vice president, treasurer,
secretary and other appointed members.
He condemned centralization and wanted each one of his disciples to become individually responsible and capable of executing any service required.
He asked the advice of his disciples on many occasions in resolving certain problems.
He granted acceptance when some leader in his movement was rejected by the group of devotees under that leader's care, and on many occasions gave credibility to the opinion of any devotee who expressed dissatisfaction with their leaders' action(s).
In short, the Vaisnava Board is of great importance for any temple. Every member of the community who for more than three months is performing serious devotional service, even if he lives outside the temple premises, could be invited to assist in the weekly meetings of the Vaisnava Board. The Vaisnava Board should meet weekly regardless of the quantity of members who are able to assist. Every meeting should be documented in a meeting report book by the secretary. The members of this Board should be eager to include as many members of the community as possible in this forum for the synergistic expansion of Krishna Consciousness.
This Board is the best place to learn how to preach and how to manage and to be Krishna Conscious. The president has Veto Power in general but should not at all be eager to exercise it. In case the whole Board is dissatisfied with the president's veto decisions, the spiritual master or his representative must be consulted for (hopefully) reaching a happy conclusion. All devotees jointly share the same interest, which is to protect the interest of the Deity and the spiritual master. Therefore the Vaisnava Board has its interest in making all devotees in the community happy. Even when there are vastly different opinions, discussions must be held in a courteous and happy Vaisnava way under all circumstances. We have not joined Srila Prabhupadas movement to spend our valuable human lives fighting.
The Vaisnava Board is the forum for making all the major decisions of the temple. Thus it needs to be supplied with good accounting and accurate information from the respective temple departments and especially the financial department. Without such reports it is impossible to make wise plans. Temple Presidents do not need to be in control of the Laksmi personally. That is rather undesirable in any temple with six members or more. Laksmi is to always be managed in a transparent way.
We need a transparent, transcendental transmission between us and Krishna. Only sincere devotees can provide that. All financial affairs must thus be abundantly clear to the Vaisnava Board such that mistrust never surfaces. There is no better way to serve the community then to teach everyone to be excellent leaders.
Such meetings are sometimes time consuming. Do not think that this is time wasted. A truly religious community depends on the enthusiasm of every member and his or her disposition to sacrifice for the common goal. In a material company with a private owner it depends on the leader's good decisions and on his ability to motivate his employees to work according to his plan. But in a spiritual community everyone is a voluntary participant. That makes things more difficult. But this is what is attractive: devotional service for the pleasure of God, not motivated labor executed under the threat of losing one's sense gratification.
Devotees make great preachers and managers, but are
rarely good low income workers fitting into the scheme
of some leader who wants them to produce and not think
very much. The Vaisnava Board is the answer to all
these problems and will supply all of us with the Sadhu
sanga we are all anxious for. Hari Bol
The Temple President and the new devotees
The subject of "making new devotees" is very extensive. Many devotees have meditated on how to convince others to become members of the family of the spiritual master. Faith in Krishna and the spiritual master is a gift of Srimati Radharani and no one else can control this. All rights are reserved by the Lord of love and his confidential devotees.
But many people may join a temple influenced by ulterior motivations. This is quite common and produces a group of devotees who are Kanishta Adhikaris, neophyte in every aspect. Also we find that such Bhakti is mixed with fruitive desires (Karma misra) and with mental speculations (Jnana misra). But this is even explained by the Lord in his Gita when he said that four type of persons will come to him for help: the wise, the inquisitive, the poor and the afflicted.
Giving shelter to all those who are willing to become internal or external contributing members of the Ashrams, the Temple President is the real friend all. Below is some advice on how to deal with new aspirants who desire to connect their lives to a spiritual master.
Be extremely conscious that new devotees harmonize with the group and do not create a disturbance to the temple. To assure this, one should know whether that person has any stability in his previous life. He should have no problem with the authorities and should have no contagious illness. You should get references on the person from his previous workplace or place of living. It is best to have full information about his mother and father, their position, their attitude toward the movement, any possible connections which could become problematic due to their anger, etc. If you have personal contact with the mother of a new devotee it is not very likely that such a newcomer will steal from the temple, as no one wants his mother to know of such nonsense activities.
In case such information is not available about a devotee
and it is obvious that he comes from a chaotic background,
you should be very cautious about him.
New devotees should have documentation and these documents should be kept locked in the temple office for security. He can carry photocopies for the purpose of identification.
It is advisable that newcomers should be kept in the association of one mature Brahmin or room leader to study his personality and motives. If that Brahmin gives his opinion that the candidate is sincere, then the devotee is transferred to the Bhakta leader.
The Bhakta program is an important first step in one's
spiritual life. Well trained from the beginning, it
will be easier for the devotee to follow the Vaisnava
etiquette and accept the responsibility of becoming
a real disciple. He has now got his first authority
in spiritual life. Other older devotees should not
disturb him by giving different instructions to this
New devotees should have time to study with the help of their leader, but sometimes the amount of service makes it difficult to maintain that standard. That is no big problem. Emergencies and Marathons are the real field of training. A friend in need is a friend indeed. A devotee who likes to help when he is needed is going to be stable in Krsna consciousness.
I was sent out on samkirtan from the very first day in Srila Prabhupadas movement, and I do not repent one hour of service done, even though I did not stay in the same place and as a Brahmacari I kept contributing to whichever temple I stayed in. But it is a fact that all the effort I spent trying to distribute books or collecting funds for the temple or any other service was done because I felt the desire to do it. I was never forced to do anything, and I also would not have accepted being imposed upon by anyone. This is a loving and voluntary movement, and it is expected that any serious candidate will automatically make himself useful and liked by all other devotees.
Srila Prabhupada used to say: "It is my duty to
enthuse and to correct as I travel and visit the devotees."
But as we know, Srila Prabhupada's disciples were very
enthused and if any correction came from him, everyone
was more then eager to change.
External devotees should also have full chance to get initiation and to be able to cooperate with the temple. Since they have their own entanglement, we cannot expect the same attitude as that of the resident devotees. All we want to see in an external devotee is his sincere desire to help and participate in the mission of his Guru. They should be invited to special preparation classes to qualify to take initiation.
The property of devotees such as cars or houses or other valuable items should not be accepted easily as donations. It is best they keep them and use them for Krishna's service themselves. If that is impossible make sure that they will not change their mind later about any possible donation. We must not forget that the Vaisnava family has a spiritual and a social responsibility in the world and in the lives of its members. Most members are young and have not yet organized their life. Often they do not yet know how to earn a living or maintain a family. They do not yet know whether they will marry one day or not. The Guru is a guide for becoming a good devotee and a responsible citizen. Krishna consciousness does not mean that everyone has to be poor because he has given all his assets to the temple to which he belongs. How will the temple exist if the devotees do not donate to the cause? We have to be mature and not encourage fanaticism or impulsive actions. Everything belongs to Krishna and not one atom can be removed from the world. Why worry? Krishna can give us what he likes and he can also take away what he likes. But we shall make sure that no one is angry with our activities. If a devotee or member insists that he wants to donate something, it shall be documented well and legally.
The Temple President and the parents of new devotees
The parents of new devotees can be understandably upset about their offspring's change of lifestyle and beliefs. Often I have seen that they too change out of affection for their child. Anyhow, one has to deal with them as a perfect gentleman, even if they come in a very rude way and insult you.
Personal and religious freedoms are not as convincing to them as is a friendly, well balanced reception with subsequent explanations about how our devotees are many times happily married, fulfilling their duties in this world on top of their spiritual dedication. Take away their fears. Tell the new devotee to preach softly to his parents and to be sensitive to their suffering and to pray for their understanding. We have to always be kind and patient. It took my mother fourteen years to accept Vegetarianism. Today she chants the holy name and does devotional service.
Let the new devotees assure their parents that they will always love them and that Krishna only increases our responsibility. Don't forget. It takes parents time digest this shock and to be able to balance the facts. Also with so much negative propaganda against minorities with uncommon beliefs due to a few groups' terrible activities, we should not be surprised that some parents fear that the worst has happened to their child. Tell new devotees to contact their family at least once a month, unless the communication is absolutely impossible. Letters are very good, because they are not so emotional and give the other person time to think about what he is being told.
Let them send gifts to their parents such as prasadam, books, etc. Everything well done will have some wonderful result. But we should not expect quick results. Avoid fighting at every cost with anyone.
Try to connect parents of devotees with the favorable parents of other devotees. Educators share opinions on what will be good for the young people and similarly, good parents can quickly appreciate that their children have received great blessings to have come into contact with Krishna and the spiritual master. At least there will be respect in most cases.
If a new devotee's parents are ready to create a big problem for your temple, you should consider sending him home to work out the difficulties himself. The temple should not suffer because of some individual karmic trouble. Do not send such a devotee to another city. It is not fair that the local devotees should suffer because of such a troubled situation. Trouble must be avoided. In South America, for example, if some father has connection to some Army general or other influential persons it is possible that the entire preaching can be disturbed by such a situation. We shall always think: World first and my temple second.
What to speak of those who are minors. You should not even let minors enter the temple programs without being accompanied by their legal guardian. It is not good to preach to children and thus make their parents upset. Spend your time preaching to adults and only let children into the temple in the company of their parents.
If any minor wants to join and has the legal permission of BOTH parents, still you should be very careful. There are always some demonic sexual criminals in this world, trying to abuse some persons' innocence. Children rarely decide to become devotees. Generally it is only their rebellion against their parents which has them searching for other friends and environments. No doubt, it is great mercy for them to be exposed to Krishna Consciousness at a tender young age, but there is no reason whatsoever to come into conflict with a legal guardian of any child. Do not be fooled by their intensive devotional plea. It is their Karma to be born in that family, and if they are serious they can wait until they reach the age of adulthood and surrender to Krishna without disturbance.
The Temple President and the Media
Preaching can be greatly enhanced if the Temple President
knows how to deal with the media. Sometimes we forget
that everything should be used for Krishna, and thus
we miss important opportunities. The Vaisnavas' presence
in a city or country should be felt at every instance.
We should be informed of any public gathering and try
to be present there in the form of a Hari nam party
or a Prasadam booth or a book table.
Advertisement is very costly, but devotees can use the media to preach in many ways. Some suggestions are as follows: Make friends with the media writers and directors of all media organizations by visiting them personally with the ISEV materials. Speak about your projects and invite them for Prasadam. Try to get your programs published in the local Culture section. For special festivals try to get them covered. Many devotees have been able to be part of the media programming.
Never trust the press, but be prepared to deal with them in every aspect. Journalists are salespersons and need scandals. Objectivity is useless to them. Only personal friendship can save you from their misuse. Always represent your Guru as if he were personally present. Srila Prabhupada utilized all types of media in his worldwide preaching, and Krishna is famous because of his expert utilization.
The Temple President and the Neighbors
We should never be insensitive to our neighbors. They may be non devotees, but they should get a fair chance to be benefited by the devotees in their vicinity. If we push them with insensitivity, such offenses will be our fault. We shall again experience neighbors who are not happy about the temple in their vicinity. Their real estate value may even fall due to the presence of a Vaisnava temple, with many visitors, etc. We should especially consider their sound tolerance level, which is usually the cause for conflicts. Yes, we would always like to chant without any restriction. But this is not always possible. We have to be considerate and not disturb anyone with our Kirtan. It is great if we can soundproof our temple, but generally that is not possible, in which case we have to quiet down. No conches blowing and no big Kirtan unless we can get permission from the neighbors, such as for a Sunday feast. Many neighbors fight and often without logical reason. Still it is in our interest to keep everyone as favorable as possible. Humility again will be our best approach.
The Temple President and the spiritual master
This is a subject which can not be explained in full in this book, since the understanding of the entire Guru tattva is necessary to cover this item. Anyhow, since preaching is our life and soul, and since our spiritual master Srila Prabhupada personally started the first temples and Ashramas, later sending his disciples to follow in his footsteps, who, by his grace accomplished the most surprising results even after having been in the movement for only a short time, we can understand that the mystic transaction between the Guru the Temple President and the new aspiring members is quite transcendental. This is the fact: The Temple President generally has more contact with the devotee then their Guru. He also represents the words and orders of the Guru, and tries to maintain the devotees, inspire them on the path of Saranagati.
The Temple President shares in the full responsibility of the protection of the new devotees. He should try to increase the spiritual family as much as possible, and also look after the spiritual standards of the devotees. It is not easy to set clear guidelines on when and how initiation should take place, since time, place, person and circumstances are unique. Srila Prabhupada, for example, initiated one Russian disciple on the first day of meeting him. That person later turned out to ignite Krishna Consciousness all over Russia. It is clear though that if the devotees become negligent in their spiritual practices, they will most likely fall down. Thus the chanting of Sixteen rounds and coming to Mangal Arati and Class every day should always be emphasized, even if it is impossible for all to follow, especially if they live far from a temple, or if they are over burdened with devotional services.
The Temple President, in close connection with the Spiritual Master, has to decide who can get first or second initiation. Generally it can be seen that first initiation is very much in the mood of trust that the disciple eanestly wants to follow the path correctly and that his connection is permanent. Pre-initiation is much easier. If a friend of the movement promises to follow the standards of Pre-initiation, he can be accepted. By these pre-initiations we are trying to tie souls to the path of Bhakti such that they do not go astray into some impersonal influence after their interest in the Yoga path has been awakened.
For second initiation the criteria should be quite strict to make sure that actually only fully practicing devotees take the Brahminical vows and become true satellites of transcendental transmission.
The happiness of all is the first duty of the Temple President and of all senior devotees. If they are actually concerned with that than automatically the devotees will be happy and the transcendental family will grow. The Temple President has to also take care that the new devotees know how to relate to the Spiritual Master and to other senior visitors of the temple, in accordance with Vaisnava etiquette.
The Temple President has to be careful not to become proud and independent in his service as an authority over others. He should never forget that he derives that authority exclusively from the fact that he surrenders to the spiritual master, and the fact that the devotees in the temple love and trust him as a true servant of Krishna. It is a fact that being the Temple President is a very high service and he is very dear to Krishna and the spiritual master, but he has to be very careful not to abuse his position. He has to be very anxious to please all the members of his community. We never graduate from humility or service to all others who cross our path.
It is true even though it is not perfect that new devotees usually have a hard time accepting anyone besides their initiating spiritual master as their full authority. Just to get someone to accept the principle of spiritual authority is so difficult. In Vrindavan, the Land of Gurus, the great souls see everyone as their Guru. But for the newcomer to accept the Guru and his representatives is not easy. Often the disciples will search out a direct contact with their Guru because somehow the Temple President and his decisions could not please them in their conditional position. That is natural and the Temple President should never be upset with that. It is the right and the need of the disciple to search out his Guru whenever he feels the need for that. The Temple President should encourage that connection; and automatically he will be trusted also in an increased way. Love means to be capable of forgiving. In relationships of this type it is easy for misunderstandings or mistakes to sneak in. Taking care of the disciples of your Guru or another Vaisnavas disciples requires a lot of love. Don't easily become disturbed. During the struggle to advance everyone commits mistakes. Since we love each other though, we should not be so eager to judge or reject someone. This applies to all sides. As long as the sincerity of the Temple President is trusted, all problems can generally be resolved.
The Temple President and Sannyasis
This topic is very important. Sannyasis are a great inspiration for all members of Society. We should accommodate within our heart that there are many empowered persons in this world who deserve our help and should not be envied. Actually Mahaprabhu requested all of us to adopt the lifestyle and internal development of someone who is worshipable, who protects others and only delivers the truth. Not only Sannyasis are to receive honor. All genuine Vaisnavas are spiritual masters of a kind. The Temple President himself is also a spiritual master, otherwise how can he give spiritual directives in the daily life of so many Sadhakas? But we must be careful not to eliminate the divisions of the social orders, which were created by Krishna in order to give continual guidance and ideals to all the members of human society. And last but not least, the Sannyasis' life is the highest welfare activity and also the goal of everyone on his way home, back to Godhead.
There is an important verse in the Caitanya Caritamrta which states that it is the natural symptom of spiritual advancement that a devotee feels that he has not a drop of love for Krishna. And naturally we should never forget that a devotee should be ready to honor all others without expecting anything in return. It is not easy to harmonize these two considerations if you are dealing basically with newcomers to Vedic culture. Therefore we sometimes experience Temple Presidents who are not very respectful to Sannyasis or Sannyasis who do not behave very humbly.
It is not the Sannyasis' job to create any disturbance for the Temple President, but sometimes he may visit a place which is already very disturbed. Naturally in such a situation many may approach him for help. Pride on any side will ultimately create a disturbance. Therefore we have to educate the new devotees (what to speak of the older one's), how such relationships are properly conducted. We should not be afraid to show honor to the spiritual master and to his representatives. That is natural and good in a civilized spiritual culture. When people see that we love, trust and honor our elders it will give them hope and faith very easily. Who can be enthusiastic when he notices politics and party business in a spiritual community?
Sannyasis have a duty to listen to the problems of those trying to take shelter of them. Many times the advice the Sannyasi gives will not coincide with the way the Temple President would have advised. That is human and natural. Impartial vision is required to see things properly. But the Sannyasi should remember that he must give help to the local preacher he visits. That is top priority. Otherwise why visit some Vaisnava, if you do not respect his service. Sannyasis should council devotees, but consult personally and private with the Temple President before making any decisions or giving any definite guidance to the members of that community.
Such a situation is also a great opportunity for the Temple President to exercise his own humility, service attitude and to reflect on the validity of his service. Generally the Temple President is surrounded by young devotees, who without being critical will go along enthusiastically with his plans. The critics within themselves may not have had the capacity to bring up their misgivings to him personally or in the Temple meetings such as the Isthagosti or the Managing Board.
Now, with the presence of a visiting Sannyasi, the Temple President has the duty and opportunity to show himself as the servant of the Culture he is preaching every day. He will possibly have to hear how many members are dissatisfied with his performance, and he may thus have to realize that he is not reaching all the hearts he wants to reach. No doubt, that is a difficult moment in his service, but very beneficial. At the same time he has the opportunity to discuss his service ideas with someone who may have more experience and who can give some solutions and fresh ideas. All in all it is a reason to be happy and advance.
Even if the Sannyasi is younger in experience than the Temple President, still some recognition must be given to him just as we would give recognition to a favorable God brother of the spiritual master. We should be eager to show respect, not to withhold it. For such occasions one should always have special seating arrangements in the temple and also for the Prasadam service. This is the Vedic Culture for any visitor, what to speak of receiving someone worshipable. If you have a Board meeting you can invite the guest to come and listen to all the plans of the temple and to get to know all the responsible devotees who are there in your community. The more you trust, the more you will be trusted. In case you feel that the relationship with some particular Sannyasi is a disturbance to your community, it is necessary and urgent to discuss that matter with your spiritual master or with the spiritual master of the devotees in your community. To participate in politics against any active preacher is a very dangerous Vaisnava aparadha and both the Temple President as well as the Sannyasi can easily fall into this mistake, if they are not careful.
In the same way, if a Sannyasi feels that the local Temple President is disqualified for his service, he must be very sensitive. It is easy to kick someone out, but to improve someone is difficult and the real victory, Srila Prabhupada taught us. But sometimes there is a limit. What is that limit? When the devotees in a community suffer due to the wrongdoing of a Temple President, such a situation needs to be studied by all senior devotees involved and connected to the project. How the temple was founded is also to be considered, as well as who did the service to get it where it is now. But it is beyond discussion. Noone has the right to make other devotees unhappy by his own deviations. Temple Presidents and Sannyasis are supposed to be great examples. It is the most difficult job. It is service meant only for those who want to become pure devotees in this lifetime.
Since even the best of us still have a long way to go, many improvements can and should be underway. We should not feel discouraged by the fact that someone sees our mistakes. We will need the help of the Sannyasis, the Temple President, the senior devotees and in short- of all Vaisnavas.
Since we preach simple living and high thinking, how can we explain that the spiritual master or other senior preachers are presented in a mood of reverential worship in our programs? The reason we worship someone is due to his connection with divinity. To help the people to focus their attention on a Vaisnava, on a holy place, a holy book etc., we present them with an elevated and decorated seat, offer a flower garland etc. This is not for us. But if the beauty and opulence is not given to God with great attention, then everyone will want to have these things for themselves. After the ceremonial part of worship, we should also give the example of simplicity. There are no hard rules for that- we have to judge a tree by his fruits.
One of my God brothers was able to enthuse many Africans to chant the holy name. They honored him like a Chief of their tribe by carrying him in a palanquin and dressing him in their most respected dress. He accepted this in order to conquer their hearts for Krishna. So we should not be ready to quickly dismiss some preacher, just because he may use some ways which are new or look strange to us. We have to give Vaisnavas always at least the benefit of the doubt. Only when we are firmly convinced that they are going against our spiritual master's teachings will we disassociate ourselves from them.
It is highly recommended for Householders living in your community to invite the visiting Sannyasi to their home. That should be taught. Every Vaisnava should be personally eager to worship seniors by cooking for and hearing from them. Without this our children will not know what is right or wrong and will worship Superman instead.
VRINDAVAN INSTITUTE FOR VAISNAVA CULTURE AND STUDIES