Congregation in Conflict

Kripamoya Dasa

We all want to avoid conflict but life seems to thrust it at us in bucket-loads, so we might as well learn how to deal with it. Kripamoya Dasa's study of the manifestation of conflict in Nama Hatta groups and the steps he recommends to remedy this, based on his considerable experience and research, is important for all devotees.

John and Susan were a young married couple who had been reading Srila Prabhupada's books and Back to Godhead magazine for almost two years. They chanted japa seriously, although sometimes they struggled to achieve their minimum of eight rounds. Initiated devotees from a temple some distance away frequently visited John and Susan in their home and they felt very privileged to be able to offer their hospitality to such dedicated servants of Srila Prabhupada's movement. John was quite well known around town and over the period of a year managed to introduce quite a few of his friends to Krsna consciousness. A regular Nama Hatta group grew out of this, with strangers sometimes coming to watch an ISKCON video or have a discussion, followed by light prasadam. By the end of two years there was a small but flourishing group of ten devotees in various stages of spiritual commitment. The members of the group got on well and undertook various preaching projects in the town that were successful in attracting several new members. After some time, John felt the increasing need to deepen his commitment to spiritual life by staying as a resident in an ISKCON temple for a few months in order to associate with more spiritually advanced devotees. It was summer, and with holidays coming up John felt this was a good opportunity to do something he had thought about for some time.

However, Susan, was also working and her holidays fell at a different time. The household bills still had to be paid so Susan decided to remain at home while John went to live in the temple for a while. Because John had been the initial member of the local Nama Hatta group, the other members had always felt that John might want to go this way. They appreciated his natural enthusiasm for Krsna consciousness and the fact that he encouraged them in their practice. Although John had always been more committed, decisions within the group had been reached by consensus and everyone had been kept happy by taking part in discussions on the various activities the group had undertaken.

When John came back after five weeks in the temple, everyone noticed the difference in him. His chanting had increased and he was full of new ideas on what the members could do to preach ISKCON's message in the local area. During discussions, John made constant references to how 'things are done at the temple', and it was quite obvious that he had absorbed a lot during his time away. After a class by a visiting sannyasi, John had developed serious thoughts about the importance of initiation, and upon his return home placed a picture of this sannyasi on his home altar. Susan was not convinced of her readiness for initiation and she had never met the sannyasi who had so impressed John. She resented the fact that John had not consulted her about placing the sannyasi's picture on the home altar which naturally was shared by both of them. John became increasingly conscious of the need to bring his own personal spiritual standards up to the required level for initiation and although the members of the Nama Hatta group were fully supportive of his decision, he now noticed that their enthusiasm did not match his and they were not so interested in raising their standards. After a while John became Janardana Dasa and his enthusiasm seemed to increase even more. Now he always wore a dhoti to the Nama Hatta meetings and regularly gave the classes. However, his spiritual ambition seemed to be matched by an increased air of authority. Previously everyone in the group had taken part in decision-making. Now Janardana always wanted to have the last word in discussions and made constant reference to how ISKCON did things. He quoted Srila Prabhupada's statements to back up what many suspected was his own personal choice. The group members had a natural affection for Janardan but they didn't like to see how his personality and relationship with them had changed. He was now more like a priest talking to his congregation, a change which they felt unnecessary and in some ways unhelpful. Tension in the group meetings grew as several members expressed the view that their opinions were equally as valid as John's since they were sincerely practising Krsna consciousness to the level of their ability. Janardana responded by continuing to quote not only Srila Prabhupada, but also his own sannyasa guru, someone who the other group members had only heard about through Janardana or on lecture tapes. Janardana explained that as an initiated devotee, he was naturally capable of giving them guidance and they should all be looking to how they could now raise their standards of devotional practice.

Meanwhile Susan was getting a little worried. She told one of the other girls at the meeting: 'Ever since John got initiated he's been throwing his weight around in the house - telling me to do lots of little extra things because "that's the way it's done in the temple."'During the next Nama Hatta meeting the crunch came. Janardana announced publicly that he felt there should be a minimum standard regarding preparation of prasadam for the programme. Mary, the girl to whom Susan had confided her concerns about her husband's behaviour, fell below this standard and blurted out what Susan had told her in confidence. A heated argument erupted during which opinions about Janardana, which had been withheld for many months, were expressed. Janardana left the meeting feeling devastated and took his feelings out in a flaming row with Susan later that evening.

The following week, only a handful of members showed up for the regular meeting. The others met in the home of Mary, whom they felt had been treated unfairly. There were a few bitter telephone conversations that week during which Janardana expressed his dismay that the others had not agreed to follow his natural authority. He felt that his position as a senior devotee had been challenged and that this indicated a lack of surrender on the group's part. Janardana still has meetings at his home, so does Mary who lives only four miles away. They have still not been able to resolve the conflict that exists between them. Janardana insists that 'his' Nama Hatta is the official group for the city, whilst Mary's is separatist and not committed to ISKCON.Newer members, extremely puzzled as to how a spiritual organisation could have such unhealthy disputes, have now distanced themselves from the group until such time as their faith in Krsna consciousness as a process of peace and harmony has been restored.

Conflict has always occurred within religious organisations and ISKCON is certainly no exception. We are fortunate that others have already made their well-documented mistakes and have in part analysed and dealt with them. Can we learn from their studies and thereby not repeat history? I think so. An examination of conflict between members of ISKCON would reveal that we suffer from the same classic weaknesses of human nature, albeit with different dress, language, literature and theology.

The above story is a composite of many events that have actually happened here in the UK. Many of you reading this essay will be able to recognise at least part of it. With the assistance of some helpful books on the subject, I want to write about how conflict arises within ISKCON congregations and what we can all do to lessen its harmful effects.

Conflict comes in many disguises but it is the ineffective management of it, rather than its presence, that leads to disaster. We need conflict and the healthy resolution of it in order to fully understand each other and grow together as mature individuals. The ability of people with differences to work together as a group for a common goal, is a mark of maturity and no easy task. Peaceful cooperation between ISKCON members was one of the last wishes of Srila Prabhupada and it is obvious from many of his statements that it was a goal to aspire to rather than something that would be naturally achieved simply by everyone agreeing on a common doctrine. The real difficulty of resolving the conflicts that threaten ISKCON's unity is that presenting problems often mask underlying issues and if we are to resolve conflict effectively, we must discover what causes it in the first place.

Conflict situations are often brought about by changes within a group that affect members in various ways. The chief areas of conflict, especially within religious organisations, are:

  1. Conflicting needs
  2. Conflicting theology
  3. Conflicting leadership styles
  4. Conflicting emotions
  5. Conflicting values

If we examine the above story in the light of all of these, it may be seen how the rather complicated conflict arose, how it was disguised, and how it could have been averted.

Let's look at conflicting needs first of all.

1) Conflicting needs

People have existing needs that they wish to fulfill by joining an organisation like ISKCON (and indeed Krsna himself categorises the four principle needs which motivate a person to come to Him). People join ISKCON because they feel that something in our message or organisation satisfies their inner desire for spiritual life; they have intellectual needs to be met, and want to have their questions answered; they have a genuine need to feel that they are making spiritual progress that is not only tangible to them but recognised by others; they need to feel their service, whether it be great or small, is appreciated, and they want the acceptance and love of other members of the group as well as a certain amount of status within it. We must distinguish here between what people merely 'want' and what they genuinely need. For instance, to eat every day is a genuine 'need', but to desire luxurious dishes is a 'want'. People have a genuine need for status within a group. When members of ISKCON become 'the group', then a member will not only require acceptance by this group but will also need to feel he/she is valued by it. Coupled with this is the need for emotional support and that the individual feels he/she has trusted and committed friends within the group. In our story, Mary felt that her contribution as a member of the group was devalued by Janardan's insistence that her cooking was 'not up to standard'. By taking away her contribution to the other members, he deprived her of status. She was now a second-class devotee, rather than someone with high standards fit for Krsna's approval. In many situations of course, it is not a question of who is right or wrong, but whose needs are being impinged upon by the person who is introducing change. This is the real issue.

On the other hand, our needs change throughout our lives, and John or Janardana is an example of this. He'd already obtained the acceptance and support from other members of his Nama Hatta group, but now aspired to receive the same level of acceptance from temple devotees, who he considered to be more spiritually advanced. After initiation, he needed this personal security to carry out his vows just as his spiritual master had requested him to. He felt that this need was challenged by the other members of the group staying as they were and not, like him, aspiring for initiation. He also had a greater preaching vision to fulfill and felt he could not please his spiritual master if others were not prepared to help him with equal seriousness. Both Janardana and Mary had good arguments to support their position. However, in a conflict situation, it is important to become aware of our real motives. In that way, we can stop disguising our real needs and begin to talk about them.

People should not feel guilty about meeting their real needs. If they don't reveal their minds honestly then they will, by definition, be dishonest. This will result in group members being superficially 'nice' with each other, but never truthful. Not a good situation for a group of people who aspire to make spiritual advancement together. So how can we avoid conflict when members of a group have different needs? Here are some suggestions:

1) Have written policies to refer to so from the very beginning people know what needs to be done.

2) Be as honest as possible about how group decisions affect you. List the advantages of doing things one way that and then another.

3) Prioritise the objectives the group is trying to achieve.

4) See if there is a way that everyone's needs can be met.

5) Remember that without differences of opinion there can't be progress - everybody will be just 'yes' men and women. We should value individual diversity ― it is creative and can help the group to be an attractive body of men and women who will appeal to all different types of newcomers.

2) Conflicting theology

Just as new devotees join our congregation with different needs, so they also join with their own concepts of God based upon their proposed fulfillment of those needs. Some will see Krsna as the loving Father, others as a judge who apportions punishment for bad karma. Some will prefer to see Krsna as Caitanya Mahaprabhu, revolutionising society with a simple message and taking on all comers. Others will see Him as the creator of the varnashrama system and therefore of divisions within society. Some will prefer to think of the Lord as the mystical inner guide or Paramatma. Of course, all these concepts are equally philosophically sound, and Krsna can satisfy everyone because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the description of Krsna killing Kamsa, we see that everyone's concept of Him is different.

But how does this produce conflict? When people who see Krsna in different ways choose to work together, it can often produce styles of activity where an individual's actions represent the facet of Krsna that is most attractive to them. In addition to this, members of a group may have only partial understanding of scripture that may further create separate visions of how Krsna exists and accepts their service. We are fortunate in that the Krsna Consciousness Movement has a very broad theology where all these concepts can exist side by side. We are also fortunate that Srila Prabhupada has spelled out very carefully those aspects of Krsna consciousness that are most helpful for us in our present position. However, this broad-based theology can also create divisiveness if a leader chooses to try to persuade his congregation to accept his own personal view of Krsna consciousness. Everybody's position can be backed up by the relevant scriptural extracts and quotes from Srila Prabhupada and this can, and usually does, lead to a great deal of conflict which, at times, disguises the real issue at hand. For instance, some who see Krsna as the cosmic lawmaker will consider that becoming absolutist slaves to rules and regulations constitutes the perfection of devotion, whereas others may give themselves more license if they see Krsna as a fatherly guide. Those who see Krsna in His form as Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu will stress preaching and castigate those who do not share their enthusiasm, generally using scriptural quotes to do so. Others who view Krsna as the mystical, omnipresent Lord of the heart, will often see supernatural ways for Krsna to reveal Himself in signs, visions, dreams, etc. and will try to manipulate the congregation through this. In our story, the major point of theological conflict was Janardana felt that due to his new status of initiation, Krsna had singled him out of the congregation and this in itself made him qualified to be the overall leader of the group. Up until the point when he began to assert his authority and have the last word in all issues, the group had not discussed this theological principle and consequently the change was too much for them to tolerate. To those who saw Krsna as Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the fact that Janardana had singled himself out as the 'priest' conflicted with their own understanding that Caitanya Mahaprabhu's movement had no divisions between priesthood and laiety, and all were simply 'devotees' before his magnanimous gaze.

3) Conflicting leadership/follower styles

A Nama Hatta group is a different kind of Krsna conscious life from the rather more monastic style practised in ISKCON ashrams. Yet most congregational group leaders receive something of a leadership blueprint in their temple training and try to apply it to the Nama Hatta group. This approach may fail due to the different living situations and levels of surrender, but also because different styles of leadership and the different ways in which leaders can be followed have not been taken into consideration. If we analyse these then we will be able to avoid common causes of conflict in groups. It should also be borne in mind that there are correlations between particular leadership styles and theological understanding.

There are basically three types of leaders:

  1. Authoritarian - a leader with a legitimate leadership role such as a temple president and one who has a tendency to make, or want to make, all the decisions
  2. Enabling - gives power away. Other members of the community are allowed to influence decisions and to carry out many of leadership functions within that community
  3. The non-directive leader - uses little or no power to influence the community. Leadership and initiative, as well as decisions and ways of working, have to come from others.

Naturally, some leaders may be fall between two designations or may change according to whom they are dealing with. Group members also have different ways of following leaders:

  1. The deferential follower sees the leader as the expert with the 'vision' and the answers.
  2. The distancing follower does not want to be influenced by the leadership, but rather wants to maintain some kind of authority over his own life.
  3. The independent follower is a thinker. He looks and weighs everything up, is more concerned with questions than answers and usually moves onto the next question before resolving the previous one. This type of follower is normally an intellectual.
  4. The collegiate follower is one who prefers to be regarded as a co-worker, probably because of his own professional vocation.
  5. The performance follower judges success or achievement by quantity, usually in a very simplistic way, seeing the group as needing more study, harinamas, and book distribution.

All kinds of clashes are possible between different leadership and follower styles. An authoritarian will do very well with deferential followers, but perhaps conflict will arise if he tries to deal with professional people who naturally expect some 'skilled' enabling leadership. They will look for efficiency from their leader, but will be turned off at meetings if he requires too much submission. A group of young people may want direction from an authoritarian leader, but will also resent anything that seems like bureaucratic procedure. No one leadership style will suit everyone in a community and it is up to individuals to decide which style they have and to learn how to relate to others accordingly. Much of what is labelled as a 'personality clash' is conflicting leadership and follower styles.

In our story, Janardana had gone from two years of being an enabling leader involving everyone in decision-making, to a much more authoritarian leadership style. This can be successfully employed in a monastic community such as an ISKCON temple, but can rarely work with skilled professional people who may view the Nama Hatta leader as committed but inept in some areas of leadership. At the final stage of our story, Janardana was left with the more deferential followers who felt comfortable with his new style, whilst others formed a other more collegiate Nama Hatta group which was deprived of the benefits of Janardana's enthusiasm and scriptural knowledge. These clashes, which eventually led to disaster for this Nama Hatta group, could have been predicted and thereby avoided if an analysis of leadership styles had been done and a consensus arrived at. Janardana was guilty of changing his leadership style without referring to the one that the members of his group wanted to follow. It should be mentioned here that a group always has a leader. Leadership is something that naturally emerges according to the task a group sets itself and may often change, even though the group may have only one elected or appointed leader.

4) Conflicting emotions

Devotees, and those who are influenced by the ISKCON culture, do not often talk about their emotions. Perhaps it has something to do with being in control of one's mind - 'off the mental platform'. However, it may also have a lot to do with the tendency of spiritually immature people to imitate the symptoms of advanced souls, the proof of which is that devotees have the same emotional conflicts as others in religious walks of life. If feelings and emotions were not involved in conflict situations everything would be straightforward. We could all get on with the business of rationally discussing our different viewpoints and come to some form of agreement. However, emotions do get involved whether we admit to them or not. In fact, not admitting to emotions experienced in conflict situations can, in itself, be the most destructive part of the whole process. Things would be far less destructive if we could all acknowledge these, first of all to ourselves and then to others in the group. If, out of a desire to appear mentally controlled, in deference to a 'senior devotee', or out of fear of creating vaishnava aparadha, we cover up our emotions, the result is a superficial relationship where suppressed emotions are channelled in other more destructive directions.

The two dominant emotions in any conflict are fear and anger, both of which often become suppressed in spiritual groups. As devotees, we may feel that we are not supposed to become angry with each other, and this resulting suppression may result in an uncontrollable explosion during a meeting or a silent withdrawal from the group, often resulting in loss of membership. All of us fear losing values, assumptions, traditions, or practices that we have grown accustomed to. We are afraid of losing an argument or face, especially in front of other people. Fear, in particular, can paralyse our rational processes so that we stop hearing what another devotee is saying. Feelings are irrational, and we have to recognise them as such.

Sometimes emotions are masked by appeals to a higher authority. In other words, instead of admitting that some proposal has challenged us and made us fearful or angry, we will say something like: 'Srila Prabhupada wouldn't have wanted it done that way,'.or 'Where does it say that in sastra? Prove it to me!'

In our story, there was frustration on the part of Janardana when he discovered, to his dismay, that the other members of his Nama Hatta group were not willing to make the commitment necessary for initiation as rapidly as himself. His frustration at their not providing the supportive association he felt he now required, led to anger that he vented towards them in the guise of an appeal for "higher standards'. Mary, unfortunately, took the full brunt of this anger and her feelings were deeply hurt. Her self-esteem took a battering, particularly because she perceived that Janardana's comments were unjust. She also felt powerless when Janardana quoted scripture to prove his point. She couldn't defeat his position and felt helpless and confused. Therefore, instead of becoming angry, her fear made her withdraw and she stopped coming to the group. Unfortunately, after this situation had gone on for some weeks, each member of the group had become emotionally involved in the conflict, and no one was left to play a conciliatory role and help Janardana and Mary communicate.

Sometimes in the context of a Nama Hatta group, the members will feel "we're here to have kirtan, study, and have worship, not to reveal our emotions to one another'. Therefore, if an emotional conflict arises no one will feel that they have the right or the position to help other members relate to each other. If true emotions are never revealed, however, there is no opportunity for members to really get to know each other and achieve greater levels of fellowship and community. Genuine friendship will never take place in such a group and members will ultimately come together mechanically simply to hear some scripture, take part in a kirtan, and go home. Certainly there won't be much activity going on outside the regular meetings, and thus the group will stay small. If a group stays small and there are no new faces then existing members will ultimately lose enthusiasm, stop coming, and the group will wind up its activities. We have seen this happen many times in the past. Therefore, time must be put aside to get to know each other better, and exercises can be performed to facilitate this.

Whichever devotee is performing the function of chairperson, leader or facilitator within the group, needs to be able to bring out of people's true feelings - especially the silent ones! Philosophical doubts need to be expressed and should be encouraged, not immediately dispensed with by preaching points and quotes. This will lead to suppression which will come out in other forms later as even graver doubts. Any doubt or philosophical point should be discussed thoroughly to the full satisfaction of whoever has raised it. No one should be made to feel afraid of asking a question. Another occasion when fear and anger may arise is when members feel that they have been left out of something the rest of the group has done or decided upon. Things are often communicated badly or not communicated at all, and this can breed resentment that will lead to conflict. Groups should have a system of communication so that everyone knows what's going on, even those members who cannot, or perhaps do not, attend every week. The only way they will feel included in the group is by receiving effective communication. Open, straightforward, regular communication will prevent conflict before it happens.

5) Conflicting values

'Values' is a word that is frequently used, but which has different shades of meaning. Contained within it is the idea that if a concept and/or practice is important to, or even prized by, an individual it constitutes a value, though not necessarily for others. Some values are partially adopted by an individual, and others are adopted fully. The term 'full values' is defined as those values that are chosen freely by an individual after careful consideration of the alternatives, with which he is both publicly and privately happy.

Coming to Krsna consciousness presents a whole range of new ideas and experiences, and correspondingly an entire new set of values, to an individual. However, it is important for the preacher to remember that people only change or extend their value system very gradually. They don't 'buy in' to the Krsna conscious culture overnight. When it appears that someone has had a dramatic conversion to Krsna consciousness, embracing every value, it is often because they wish to be fully embraced as a member of the group. This can especially occur where the relationship between preacher and congregation fosters dependency. Instead of values being freely chosen and therefore becoming 'full values', they can be often imposed and therefore only partially accepted. Assumptions about the value systems of others can lead to problems later on. People may affirm these values in conversation, but their day-to-day behaviour does not bear this out.

In our story, John had a certain set of values. At the outset, however, he was simply one member of a group that came together to explore Krsna consciousness and share each others' realisations. Voting was done democratically, and as a congregational member, John didn't feel that he had any right to impose his strongly-held opinions on any one else. After spending some time in the temple, however, and particularly following initiation, he felt that as a more knowledgable person, it was correct for him to consider himself a 'priest' and perhaps even a guru figure in the eyes of his friends. John had embraced a value system present in one type of ISKCON community, essentially a monastic culture with a defined hierarchical structure, and had taken that system back to his Nama Hatta group. His previously expressed value of 'shared leadership' had been tested and ultimately supplanted by another value system. He assumed his friends would go along with this change in values, but nothing was ever discussed.

We should explore the extent to which we have adopted Krsna conscious values as 'full values' in our lives. If there are things we aren't happy endorsing, then these should be discussed. It will save conflict later on and prevent false assumptions being made. For example, vegetarianism may be easy to adopt as a full value and for many people is the first starting point. However, other Krsna conscious values and the way these are played out in daily life, should also be openly discussed. For example, giving a percentage of one's income to ISKCON, public sankirtan or preaching, sexual behaviour and marriage, the role of the spiritual master and accepting the decisions of the GBC, are all areas where members may only have assumed partial values. Discussion may not change individual value systems, but at least it will help everyone to understand where each member is actually situated.


Introduce change into a group and conflict is inevitable! In conflict situations, change is almost always the trigger: someone proposes a change, someone resists! Wherever you have a few people meeting regularly as a group, you have in effect an organisation. People who study the way organisations work, whether they are as small as a Nama Hatta group, or as big as a national religious body, have pointed out that it contains six facets: people, systems, and a structure, followed by goals, resources and a culture. All these facets can be changed, but it should be borne in mind that that making a change to any one of these six facets will affect the other five. In one sense, religious organisations such as ISKCON never like to change anything at all. We are in the business of preserving the unchangeable - the eternal message of God. Yet we have an organisation that is growing, and as more people join so the other five aspects of ISKCON are changing to accommodate them. This often results in a conflict between the unchangeable instructions given by Srila Prabhupada, and the way they are applied, which may be changeable according to how the Society develops. Srila Prabhupada himself said that his disciples should not change anything, and that he had given everything in his books. However, he also said that we should use our brains 'to expand the sankirtan movement more and more'. Given these two instructions, there are any number of possible conflict situations!

It is the way that change is handled that causes problems. Often changes are proposed and made too fast for members of a group to handle. Everyone should feel as secure as possible while the change is being discussed and implemented. Even if the change is completely Krsna conscious, without due care and preparation there will be disagreement. Members may resist change but its proposer should never make them feel that they are standing in the way of preaching if they fail to see the validity of such changes. Indeed, those proposing change would be wise to bear in mind that success is not always guaranteed from change, and more harm may be done by pushing it forward. A devotee who proposes change should ideally talk over the proposition with two others with whom he has a secure relationship. He should ask them to test the validity of the proposed change by asking difficult questions and to explore his motivations and reasons for wanting change. If changes are then agreed upon, two distinct groups of people within the group have to be identified and special attention given to them. These are: 1) those who will be most affected by the change, and 2) those who are most respected and listened to, and will help others make adjustments to those changes.

Don't forget that people look to a spiritual group for the stability they often do not experience in a rapidly changing world. It is therefore not unnatural for members of such a spiritual group to resist change. On the other hand, a group needs to adapt to changing circumstances in order to be of increased service to its members. The group leader should allow members to make suggestions, and by investing their own ideas into the proposed change, increasingly 'own' it themselves. He should deal gently with those who are resistant; rather than demolishing their arguments, he should try to discern what their real difficulty is and give attention to that. Resistance comes from fear of change, and it is this fear that needs exploring and addressing. Authoritarian style leaders may find this process very difficult. Effectiveness of communication in any organization is often the test of organisational health. People will need preparation and training for any change of role they are being asked to make. Therefore real communicators take training seriously.


If the appropriate people within a group fail to communicate, then someone else will. People often find answers to their questions or information about what is going on from other sources. However, grapevine information may be distorted, exaggerated and omit significant information. Leadership therefore needs a system of communication that, like the grapevine, reaches all parts of the group. The members of the group have to work out a communications policy - what is being communicated, who does it and most importantly, how it is to be done. The issues within ISKCON that are most often subject to grapevine interpretation - and therefore in need of proper communication - are current and proposed changes in leadership and structure and the reasons behind it, history and development, vision and goals, financial situation, relationships with other groups and local community, views on current issues, specific policies and philosophical points. The message members should receive when they are communicated with is 'because this information concerns the Movement it also concerns you'.

Information is communicated upwards as well as downwards. Although ISKCON is an educational movement where training and knowledge moves downwards to newcomers, it is also extremely important for the Society to listen to any information from its newest members. Examples of 'downward' communication are meetings, notices, posters, newsletters, annual reports, personal letters and exhibitions. 'Upward' communication can include suggestion boxes, and responses to questionnaires, telephones and letters. It can also be said that a certain type of information is being conveyed through lateness, absenteeism and loss of membership.

The preacher should always consider what methods of learning people prefer or dislike. A fundamental skill in communication is not talking or writing but listening. When listening, give full attention by looking at the speaker, try to follow their reasoning carefully, and look for the feelings underlying the words. Don't immediately interrupt as soon as you hear something you don't agree with. Consider the speaker's point of view before you respond. Be willing for them to have the last word. Skilful listening makes the speaker feel valued because he feels he is being heard.


Practically all the devotees involved in a local Nama Hatta group will be volunteers. Most of these will lack the skills to do the job they've volunteered for, simple as it may be. Training makes sure the job is done well and values the person, making him or her more likely to succeed and feel good about doing it. Leading groups, speaking from sastra, preaching, leading kirtan, cooking for prasadam, visiting newcomers to devotional service, are all skilled activities in which volunteers are invited to take part, but activities for which ISKCON presently offers little, if any, training. Perhaps this is a reflection of how little training is valued in ISKCON. Only a few new devotees will bring professional skills with them. If they do, please make the most of them.

Conflict can occur when people are appointed to a specific task then fail to perform it adequately. Most jobs in ISKCON have no job description and a person's failure to fulfill the role may be because some part of it was not even known. Failure can be deeply upsetting for an individual and may affect self-esteem to such a degree that withdrawal from the group takes place. There should be a natural family spirit of friendship in a Nama Hatta group, but at the same time everyone with a job needs to know exactly what is involved, what both sides expect and the level of support and supervision on offer. Where there is a mismatch in expectations there is a potential for conflict. Group members must feel some practical success is being achieved. Plan goals that can be easily accomplished, as a feeling of achievement can really boost group motivation.