The concluding day of the ILS started with a presentation on the position of Srila Prabhupada by Akrura Das.
“Srila Prabhupada is our Founder Acharya, and the pre-eminent siksha guru for all disciples of ISKCON for all times to come,” he said. “Pre-eminent means one who is very distinguished and surpasses all others. All gurus in ISKCON derive their teachings from Prabhupada. The Foundational document released by the Srila Prabhupada Position Committee broadens our collective understanding and appreciation of Prabhupada’s unique position and role in ISKCON.”
Bhaktivaibhava Swami encouraged temples to ensure that Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa puja celebrations were celebrated with the importance they deserved. “I believe that we can significantly improve the way by which we celebrate Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa puja,” he explained. “You can visit our website www.founderacharya.com to download a Vyasa Puja pack that has resources and best practices for celebrating Prabhupada’s appearance day. It contains high resolution pictures, Vyasa Puja books, quotations and posters.”
While introducing an initiative called ‘Sabda’, Gauranga Das from ISKCON Chowpathy and Govardhan Eco Village described several training courses designed to ‘lead ISKCON with tradition and intelligence’. The courses covered various areas such as temple development and administration, knowledge management, devotee care and database management under the aegis of the GBC College of Management.
“Our dream is that through the GBC College we can create courses for leaders at every level,” he said. “We would like to inculcate best practices by making devotees aware, acquire knowledge and attain expertise.”
Rasamandala Das, Director of ISKCON Educational Services, made a presentation on devotee care at the plenary session. Earlier, he had delivered several seminars on devotee care, many of which had proved highly popular with the international audience. He felt that the ILS offered a chance to air new ideas, become innovative and deal with things as they were happening.
"We need to be able to relate shastra to real life experiences of devotees," he said. "In a sense it is about getting real."
Several devotees walked up to Rasamandala after his sessions on devotee care and told him they felt grateful someone was actually talking about such an important topic.
"This is very relevant to ourselves," he concluded. "And we do need to talk about it more. The vision for our devotee care initiative is to ensure that every devotee is spiritually happy, materially well-situated, and positively identifies ISKCON as a caring society.”
Jagat Udharana Nitai Das who leads several youth outreach programmes in Coimbatore feels excited about the broader view he has gained after attending the ILS.
“It was fantastic to see so many leaders under one tent,” he commented. “I learnt so much in the last eight days that I don’t know where to begin. We learnt how to engage volunteers, about the importance of Srila Prabhupada’s position, marketing, engaging with communities and so much more. I was grateful to learn about the three attributes of a good leader: that they have impeccable and visible sadhana; they always associate with happier devotees; and they actively empower other devotees.”
Jagat Udharana wants to bring many more emerging leaders from his city to the next ILS.
“Our new leaders need to learn about the ‘real’ ISKCON and have the same upbeat experience I had,” he said.
The President of the Kanpur temple, Prema Harinama Das appreciated the association of devotees and the feeling of ‘togetherness’ he had experienced at the ILS.
“This was a powerful event and an excellent opportunity for learning and sharing,” he explained. “Many devotees informed me that this was the first time they had been able to observe a single area of service from different angles and perceptions.”
The ILS had a special youth meeting every day, attended by 25 young people from around the world.
“We had a few of us delivering a seminar called ‘Youth in Action’, and met every day afterwards at 5.00 pm for a special youth meeting with senior devotees,” explained Kishan Paun, Vice President of the Pandava Sena, ISKCON UK’s youth group. “One of the most memorable moments for us was a special boat ride on the river Ganges for the 25 members of the Youth ILS in the company of Mother Shruti Rupa Devi Dasi. She told us different stories about Prabhupada on our 2-hour ride, which was highly appreciated by all of us.”
Krishna Kirtan Das, President of the Warsaw temple in Poland found that the ILS offered him an opportunity to rethink his approach and gain new skills.
“After listening to many senior vaishnavas, I’ll go back with a firm resolve to study Srila Prabhupada’s books more deeply,” he explained. “The seminars have helped us develop a holistic vision for preaching that can be relevant to modern times.”
At the concluding plenary session in the evening, Gopal Bhatta Das thanked several devotees who had contributed to the success of the ILS. He thanked Devakindandan Das, Regional Secretary for Western India for a donation of $18,000, and the TOVP team for their donation of $50,000. He also thanked several other devotees including Bhaktibhushan Swami, Rasakrida Das, Shruti Rupa Devi Dasi and the Education Committee for their donations ranging between $500 and $2000.
Gopal Bhatta Das presented the results of a survey on reading habits of devotees. Around 259 people had responded, and they had been in the movement for an average span of 19 years. The average normalised times they had read the Bhagava-gita was 4 times, while the average normalised times they had studied the first canto of the Bhagavatam was 1.96 times. They had studied the Chaitanya Charitamrita around 0.92 times.
“This is worrying. Srila Prabhupada has clearly instructed us to study his books very scrutinizingly,” said Gopal Bhatta Das. “The gift we have been given is the most fantastic one in the history of humankind. Let us not lose it one after another so that our generations are secure in the service of Gauranga.”
In the concluding plenary session, Badarinarayana Swami recollected his first meeting with Prabhupada in 1969. After narrating several stories about Prabhupada, he said, “We have the most important message in the world. But we should also have the best delivery system. Part of the idea of the ILS is to give all of you the tools to use in the most important mission of the world.”
While delivering the closing address of the ILS, Radhanatha Swami reminded everyone that Srila Prabhupada had wanted devotees and leaders of ISKCON to come together in Mayapur to truly establish the principles of unity in diversity.
“Maya is trying to kill us spiritually,” declared Radhanatha Swami. “None of us can survive on our own. Srila Prabhupada has given us the Vaishnava community of ISKCON for us to associate, and cultivate an attitude for gratitude. At the ILS, we have come together with all our diversity to focus on the unity all of us share.”
Radhanatha Swami stressed the importance of Mayapur as the holy place established by Prabhupada for all his disciples to come together.
“We have to chant together and dance together in a spirit of unity in diversity to overcome all the quarrels and challenges that Kali-yuga is certain to put on our plates,” he said. “We should not take differences seriously, but we should certainly take our unity seriously. Srila Prabhupada has spoken to us in many ways about the emergency and urgency of spreading Krishna consciousness. Let us take with us the blessings and grace of Prabhupada, let us share with each other, and let us empower each other to expand this movement.”
ISKCON Communications screened a special 50th Anniversary film at the end of the closing plenary session called "Hare Krishna: 50 Years of Service & Joy." The film which was produced and directed by Krishna Lila Devi Dasi (Krisztina Danka, Ph.D.) showcases the history and achievements of ISKCON in an informative manner. It was received enthusiastically by ISKCON leaders, many of whom clamoured to the stage to get a copy they could screen in their local temples. ISKCON centers or leaders who want a copy of the film for a local screening can contact Krishna-lila dasi by email at email@example.com. Click here for more information about the film, which will be released publicly on YouTube and other social media platforms on Gaura Purnima day (March 23, 2016).
The ILS 2016 concluded with a four-hour kirtan festival in the evening led by many senior disciples of Srila Prabhupada.
While some delegates were getting ready to go back to their respective countries, many others were preparing for the Kirtan Mela and the Gaura Purnima festival that will follow.
“Being in Mayapur with so many wonderful vaishnavas and learning so many new skills at the ILS was like looking through a window into the spiritual world,” smiled Sachi-suta Das from Guyana. “Truly, every step was a dance, and every word was a song.”[ gbc ] [ ils ] [ mayapura ]