Prabhupada Centennial Survey

A Summary of the Final Report

E. Burke Rochford, Jr.

During the 1992 Mayapur meetings ISKCON’s GBC (Governing Body Commission) established the ISKCON Global Ministry for the Centennial Celebration to plan and coordinate activities for Prabhupada's centennial in 1996. The following year the GBC passed a resolution to conduct a worldwide survey of ISKCON's membership. As stated in the resolution, the survey was intended to provide one basis for building a stronger and more unified movement.

That the Centennial Ministry organise a global survey or audit of devotees living both within ISKCON communities and outside as well as those who have left the full-time practice of Krsna consciousness, in order to help understand the steps that can be taken to develop a strong and united ISKCON.

(From Project Unity: Uniting Prabhupada's Family and Strengthening ISKCON)


In the end, 1,996 devotees from 53 countries took part in the survey. As one might expect, the survey was more enthusiastically supported in some parts of the ISKCON world than others. Overall, however, the Prabhupada Centennial Survey proved a remarkable success. The survey was a massive undertaking requiring the cooperation of many many devotees around the world.

This paper provides a summary of the major findings and recommendations from the Prabhupada Centennial Survey Report submitted to the GBC in November, 1998. For readers interested in reading the report in its entirety it can be located on both the "Vaisnava News Network" ( and "Chakra" ( websites.

There were of course many topics that might have been considered in the report. In the end I chose four. I have done so because these issues were identified by survey respondents as significant concerns or "problem" areas across regions of the ISKCON world. Moreover, my own research has likewise revealed their importance to ISKCON's development over the past 10-15 years. The four topics considered were: (1) Family, women, and children; (2) Economic development and employment; (3) Leadership and governance; and, (4) Factors influencing devotees’ commitments to ISKCON. It should be clear that each of these in various ways, directly and indirectly, fit within the overarching framework of social development and the ongoing project of building an alternative social order capable of supporting a Krsna conscious lifestyle.

Before discussing the four substantive issues identified above, I will first provide the reader with some background information concerning the Prabhupada Centennial Survey.


Purposes and Goals

The Prabhupada Centennial Survey was meant to provide leaders — GBC and Temple Presidents — and devotees in general, with a comprehensive understanding of the movement's worldwide membership. This information promises to have a number of practical uses.

  1. Accurate information on the movement's membership can help guide the GBC and other leaders as they seek to formulate local, regional, and worldwide strategies and policies to shape the movement's future (e.g., economic development, preaching, education, involvement of congregational members).
  2. Given the diversity among devotees both between and within countries, the survey allows for identifying the concerns and issues that affect various constituencies of the movement's membership.
  3. By identifying those issues and concerns that most influence the spiritual and everyday lives of devotees, the survey's findings will help leaders to focus their collective attention on concerns most vital to the movement's present and future development. Too often, those holding strong views have been able to create or diffuse issues because leaders and others lack a comprehensive understanding of the movement's rank and file membership. The Prabhupada Centennial Survey affords an opportunity to gain an accounting of the views, attitudes, and life circumstances of devotees in and outside of institutional ISKCON.
  4. The survey serves an important symbolic purpose. The very act of conducting the survey communicates to all devotees that ISKCON's leadership is willing to engage the serious issues that confront the movement. The survey conveys that leaders are genuinely concerned with the health of Prabhupada's movement.

The findings presented in the report demand discussion and debate. Without it there can be little basis for constructive change and progress toward realising the potential of Prabhupada's movement for his many followers worldwide. I am pleased to say that these discussions are already well underway as suggested by recent Social Development Conferences, Women's Conferences, and the creation of GBC Ministries addressing social development, grhastha life, women, and youth. All of these efforts have sought in various ways to address aspects of ISKCON's social and cultural development. Of equal importance of course have been the many ongoing discussions among devotees about the state of the movement and how to bring about a greater sense of balance and harmony between their spiritual beliefs and practices, and other aspects of daily life. The issues that have emerged raise serious questions about the state of Prabhupada's movement, as indicated by a report released in 1998 from the ISKCON Commission for Social Development. The report begins with the following observations:

As the GBC concluded at its 1996 special meeting in Abentheur, "ISKCON’s house is on fire." The movement faces serious social problems. Devotees are dissatisfied, confused about their responsibilities and hampered in achieving their full potentials. Everyone is suffering, leaders as well as rank-and-file. Women, children and cows are unprotected and abused. Many who for years dedicated themselves to preaching and devotional service are now outsiders. Others are "hanging on" with diminishing hope of finding a secure, decent life in ISKCON. Others who should be free to be models of renunciation and spiritual leadership are perceived to be entangled with money and power.

(Social Development Report, ISKCON Commission For Social Development February 1998)

Issues and Questions

The initial step undertaken was to gain a preliminary sampling of the views and insights of devotees from various parts of the world. This included identifying issues of concern for all devotees; grand disciples, uninitiated devotees, as well as disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Advice was sought from committed ISKCON followers as well as from more marginal devotees and even those estranged from ISKCON. Formal and informal discussions also took place with various members of the GBC and other ISKCON leaders.

Issues addressed on the survey were identified primarily through working groups of devotees from various parts of the world. Groups in North America, Western Europe, and India contributed detailed suggestions and even specific questions to include on the final questionnaire. Individual devotees also wrote to me directly offering their ideas. In addition, a group comprised of myself and eight devotees reworked a preliminary draft of the questionnaire at the Mayapur meetings in 1994. The questionnaire was subsequently revised still further, given the suggestions made by members of the GBC subcommittee for the Prabhupada Centennial Survey.

The following issues were identified by devotees as potential areas of inquiry for the Prabhupada Centennial Survey.

  • ISKCON's priorities for preaching
  • The role of ISKCON's gurus
  • New devotee relationships with Srila Prabhupada
  • Family life
  • The role of women in the movement
  • How to be responsive to the spiritual needs of congregational members
  • The need for varnasrama in ISKCON
  • The authority system and managerial role of the GBC
  • The rights of devotees and the system of justice
  • How to build and maintain a system of education
  • Relations with non-ISKCON Vaisnavas including the Gaudiya Math, Sridar Swami's followers, New Vrindaban's followers

These and other areas of inquiry were addressed in the Prabhupada Centennial Survey. The full range of topics and issues can best be discerned by reviewing the questionnaire itself (see Appendix 1 in the final report). I think it important to note that approximately 80% of the questions appearing on the final Centennial questionnaire were based on questions submitted by devotees in and outside of ISKCON.

The final questionnaire was translated into eight languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian, Polish, Italian, German, Czech). Translations of the questionnaire were completed either by native-speaking ISKCON devotees, or by language teachers at Middlebury College. The latter translations were checked by ISKCON members who spoke the language to be certain that translations were accurate and reflected devotee ways of speaking.


Sample and Sampling Procedures

Perhaps the most important yet most difficult part of the Prabhupada Centennial Survey was distributing the questionnaires throughout ISKCON's worldwide community. This proved a massive and at times difficult undertaking, requiring the good will and practical assistance of many devotees.

Distribution and sampling guidelines were provided to Temple Presidents and/or designated survey representatives along with a copy (or copies) of the questionnaire itself. Copies of each document were mailed to all of ISKCON's communities and preaching centres worldwide. The actual sampling and distribution guidelines are included in Appendix 2 of the complete report.

Despite efforts to ensure a degree of rigor in the sampling process, the results were uneven at best. Some communities did follow the guidelines carefully; others simply asked everyone in the community to complete the questionnaire; some only distributed the questionnaire to temple devotees; and, some communities failed to distribute the questionnaire at all. Given this pattern of distribution and the resulting sample, a few words about representativeness seem appropriate.

The data collected from the Prabhupada Centennial Survey can not be considered representative of the total ISKCON membership. Neither can the findings from a particular region or country be considered representative. Despite efforts to ensure a more or less representative sample, the final sample is not a probability sample. A basic principle of probability sampling is that "a sample will be representative of the population [in this case ISKCON's worldwide membership] if all members of the population have an equal chance of being selected in the sample" (Babbie 1998:200). Obviously this did not happen here for a number of reasons. Many ISKCON communities don't have accurate lists of their members. Moreover, the scale of the Prabhupada Centennial Survey hardly allowed for careful and precise sampling techniques. But even carefully selected samples are often less than perfectly representative. It is also fair to say that most surveys done in the social sciences are based upon less than representative samples. I don’t raise these issues here in order to dismiss the data and findings from the Prabhupada Centennial Survey, for the fact is that the information gathered is the most comprehensive ever collected on ISKCON or, for that matter, any worldwide religious organisation that I am aware of. However, it is important that the reader view the findings presented here as reasonable estimates, rather than precise figures.


Data and Data Processing

After collecting the nearly 2,000 completed questionnaires the data had to be entered onto the computer before analysis could begin. This task took many hundreds of hours of work and proved costly. The questionnaire was over 20 pages in length with over 300 variables having numerical information. There were also several open-ended questions where devotees wrote out answers to questions. Students from Middlebury College were paid to enter the data on the computer. This took one year to complete.(1)


Units of Analysis

The units of analysis for the report were: (1) Types of devotees, or ISKCON members (i.e., full-time ISKCON members, congregational members, former ISKCON devotees). As one might reasonably expect, the views, commitment, involvement, etc. of the three devotee groups varied on some, if not many issues. Where appropriate, I have given emphasis to these differences in the analyses presented in the report; and, (2) Region of the world (i.e., North America, Northern and Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the CIS, Latin America, Australasia, Africa, and Asia). Countries were placed into regions using the classification in "Centres Around the World" as found in Back To Godhead Magazine. I had expected to treat India as a separate region but the limited number of respondents did not warrant doing so. Table 1 reports on the number of respondents by country for each of the seven regions.

Number of returned centennial questionnaires
by country and region
North America

Canada 190

USA 404

Total 594
Northern & Western Europe

N. Ireland 18

Ireland 18

England 131

Germany 27

Italy 66

Sweden 8

Switzerland 50

Austria 18

Holland 6

Belgium 9

Spain 28

Portugal 15

Denmark 25

Finland 12

Norway 4

France 45

Total 480

Eastern Europe and CIS

Russia 61

Latvia 14

Czech Republic 45

Lithuania 24

Croatia 1

Poland 150

Slovenia 6

Bulgaria 4

Ukraine 56

Yugoslavia 3

Total 364
Latin America

Argentina 77

Peru 46

Mexico 2

Brazil 37

Uruguay 18

Paraguay 1

El Salvador 7

Colombia 13

Nicaragua 10

Guatemala 2

Ecuador 10

Bolivia 1

Trinidad, W, Indies 21

Total 245

Australia 54

New Zealand 26

Fiji 1

Total 81

South Africa 75

Nigeria 4

Mauritius 2

Kenya 1

Total 82

Thailand 3

Hong Kong 14

Nepal 2

India 114

Total 133

Iran 1
Missing Data 16
Total Number Collected Worldwide 1,996


Summary of Major Findings

The following represents a summary of the major findings presented in the Prabhupada Centennial Report. Interested readers should consult the final report for a detailed presentation of the findings — including both qualitative and statistical data.

    • There is a striking lack of trust between ISKCON members and the movement's leadership, as well as between devotees themselves. Survey respondents across regions expressed the view that there is a lack of honest and open communication between devotees; that impersonalism has been allowed to dominate devotee relations in place of friendship, respect, and caring. The findings presented also demonstrate that a lack of authority (and a related lack of trust) attributed to the gurus and/or the GBC institution has had major consequences for devotees' commitments to ISKCON (full-time, congregational, and former ISKCON members alike).

    • Many devotee respondents expressed the view that ISKCON suffers from poor management and that leaders are not always responsive to those they serve. There is reason to suspect that this only breeds mistrust and a sense that local as well as regional leaders are out of touch with the needs and lives of the average member.

    • A set of concerns expressed by devotees worldwide falls under the general heading of social development. As the data demonstrate conclusively, the nuclear family has effectively displaced communalism as the movement's foundational structure of social organisation in most parts of the world. Even in the newly formed ISKCON communities in Eastern Europe and the CIS, a sizeable percentage of householders are living and working outside the movement's communities. By favouring a renunciate-sectarian model organisationally in the face of an expanding grhastha asrama, ISKCON has generally failed to integrate families and family life into its communities. Until recent discussions of "social development," ISKCON has done little toward building an internal domestic culture capable of supporting householders and their children. Two elements of social development were given special attention by survey respondents:
(a) The lack of employment opportunities within ISKCON. As the findings demonstrate, a large portion of ISKCON's worldwide membership is working in conventional jobs. As sankirtana has become (and becomes) less of a source of revenue for ISKCON's communities, devotees have been forced to seek employment in the outside labour market. This has primarily affected householders. The result is that devotees working in non-devotee work environments are less involved in and committed to their religious beliefs and practices, and to ISKCON as a religious organisation. Of telling significance is that 80% of the respondents working outside of ISKCON say they would work within the movement, if employment was available allowing them to support themselves and/or their families.
The survey findings give further support to ongoing discussions concerning the urgency of developing varnasrama within ISKCON. Although varnasrama appears to mean different things to different devotees it nonetheless remains clear that there is a pervasive belief that something must be done to ensure that ISKCON members have the opportunity to work together, rather than in non-devotee jobs.

(b) Inadequate educational alternatives within ISKCON. Findings from the survey suggest that children, like their parents, are spending a good portion of their daily lives associating with non-devotees while attending schools outside of ISKCON's communities. As the evidence presented suggests, parents report that their children often grow up having few commitments to ISKCON and, more often than not, remain more or less uninvolved in the practice of sadhana-bhakti. While such a finding is hardly unusual, as many young people become estranged from their religious faith in adolescence, it still raises questions about ISKCON's future given the paucity of new adult recruits to the movement in at least some parts of the world. In the case of young devotee children who attend public/state-supported schools there is another force at work which differs from the average non-devotee young person who withdraws from his or her faith during adolescence. As I have shown elsewhere (Rochford 1999), attending public/state-supported schools for devotee youths tends to erode their collective identity as ISKCON members; although many hold to their identity as devotees of Krsna. In seeking social acceptance from their new non-devotee peers, devotee young people have essentially felt the need to subvert their ISKCON identity to avoid the stigma attached to being a Hare Krsna.

Without adequate schools to train ISKCON's children spiritually and academically one can only expect that more and more parents will choose to educate their children outside the movement. While most survey respondents suggest a preference for asrama-based gurukulas one wonders if such a view continues to hold given recent revelations about child abuse within the asramas during the 1970s and 1980s (See Bharata Shrestha Dasa 1998; Rochford 1998a). It may be that the asrama-based schools are seen as a viable alternative because some parents express general dissatisfaction with the spiritual and academic training provided by their local ISKCON community day-school. Also, of course, Prabhupada established these schools with the spiritual interests of the children in mind.

  • Both women and men recognise that (mis)treatment of women within the movement over the years has negatively affected women's sense of self-esteem and limited their ability to make spiritual progress. Most also agreed that the climate toward women within ISKCON has improved in recent years. Men and women supported the idea that women's roles should be expanded within ISKCON and that women, being the spiritual equals of men, should have the same opportunities for devotional service where performance, not gender, is the determining criteria. As was true during the early days of the movement (see Jyotirmayi Devi Dasi 1997) respondents tended to agree (with some gender variations) that men and women should worship on different sides of the temple (rather than women at the back), chant japa collectively in the temple (slightly less than a majority of men support this idea), that women should be able to lead public kirtanas in the temple, give classes, and serve as Temple Presidents when qualified. Fewer men and women supported the idea of women serving as gurus.

  • Of critical importance to the stability of ISKCON has been the erosion of traditional religious authority in the face of scandal and controversy involving ISKCON's gurus and sannyasis (see Rochford 1985,1998b; Tamal Krsna Goswami 1997). These very scandals have served to promote ritvik ideas, both within ISKCON's communities and among dissidents outside ISKCON's ranks. But even among devotees who reject the ritvik philosophy there still has been an effort to further elevate Prabhupada as the primary source of religious authority within ISKCON. In sum, the authority of the present gurus has been openly questioned and Srila Prabhupada has become the source of legitimate religious authority within ISKCON and the broader movement.

    Because of continuing scandal involving gurus, survey respondents expressed a desire to place strong bureaucratic controls on qualifications for becoming an ISKCON guru, and on the behavior and lifestyle of the gurus. Many respondents offered the view that the reform movement of the mid-1980s did not go far enough in placing adequate controls on the independent authority and power of ISKCON's gurus.

  • Related to the demise of religious authority has been the apparent decline of GBC authority among some portions of ISKCON's membership. Many congregational members for example expressed the belief that they have been left with little input in how ISKCON is governed. As a result many felt that the GBC had little real relevance to their lives as devotees. This is perhaps most pronounced in the area of the GBC's failure to address the needs of householders and their children. A sizeable percentage of ISKCON's congregational members believed that a representational form of government would help broaden the variety of viewpoints found on the GBC. Full-time members, congregational members and former ISKCON devotees alike expressed the view that the GBC had not gone far enough in its efforts to control the gurus and the guru institution.

As the statistical analyses presented in the report demonstrate, member commitment to ISKCON is most influenced by views about the GBC and ISKCON's gurus (among a number of other variables, see Tables 12-14 in the report). For full-time members the authority placed in the GBC had a strong influence on ISKCON commitment. Those full-time respondents who viewed the GBC favorably (having a high level of authority) were also most likely to be highly committed to ISKCON. Conversely, those who saw the GBC as having little authority were more likely to have less commitment to ISKCON. Interestingly, guru authority was not a significant predictor of ISKCON commitment for initiated full-time ISKCON members. For congregational members the authority of the GBC had a significant influence on commitment to ISKCON; yet the strongest influence for initiated congregational members was the authority of the gurus. The pattern among former ISKCON members parallels the findings for full-time members. The authority of the GBC had by far the greatest influence on ISKCON commitment with the authority of the gurus having no significant effect.



The findings presented in the report document the ongoing change of ISKCON as a religious organisation. It points to the existing and building tensions between a monastic, high commitment, and communal form of social organisation and one characterised by independent householders whose religious and organisational commitments are often less intense and whose involvements are more irregular and segmental. These findings are compatible with other studies of ISKCON in North America (Rochford 1995b, 1997) and in Western and Eastern Europe (Rochford 1995a, forthcoming). With the decline of communalism many devotees — especially householders and their children — spend much of their everyday lives within mainstream cultures, either working outside jobs and/or attending state-supported or other non-ISKCON schools. As devotees have moved outside the movement's communal structure to establish independent households, ISKCON has lost its previous control over the lives and behavior of its membership (Rochford 1995b). Communal control has been vastly reduced and individual devotees freely make choices about how they wish to live their lives and raise their children. ISKCON, as this implies, can be characterised as an increasingly pluralistic movement comprised of members with strikingly different commitments and levels of involvement. Given this pattern of change the question of paramount importance is how will ISKCON go about the task of integrating this increasingly diverse congregation into its communities? Perhaps more to the point, is it the position of the leadership that families should be, in fact, more fully integrated into ISKCON and its communities? But this question raises a broader one that I think must be answered by leaders and anyone else who claims either membership in ISKCON, or to be a follower of Prabhupada.

What is your image of what ISKCON should be. What should it aspire to in the future? Is the ideal ISKCON you hold in your mind's eye tied largely to the movement's past; communities of devotees living communally, members dedicated first and foremost to missionary activity, a membership with high levels of commitment to and involvement in ISKCON and Krsna consciousness, sannyasis with considerable political as well as spiritual authority and power? Or, is your image of ISKCON one that more reflects ISKCON as we see it today in the West, and increasingly in other parts of the world; a congregation of people holding varying levels of commitment to ISKCON and their Krsna conscious beliefs and practices, where members are as much or more involved in the conventional world as with ISKCON?

I raise these questions only because the meaning that readers give to the findings presented in the report relate directly to their visions of ISKCON and what Prabhupada's movement "should be." Just as obviously, any person's recommendations about what must be done to make ISKCON a better instrument for Prabhupada's movement will also be derived from these at least somewhat idiosyncratic images. To someone committed to a life of renunciation, preaching, and communalism, ongoing changes in the direction of pluralism and congregationalism can only been seen as trends that lead ISKCON away from its true purposes. For others, these very same changes reflect the building strength of the movement because it is increasingly reaching into conventional societies in more diverse and perhaps influential ways.

As a sociologist, my own images of ISKCON are seen through lenses shaped by theory and research in the sociology of religion. I assume that change is an inevitable part of the development of any religious organisation or community; though, it is true, that some groups have remained far more resistant to change than others. Yet there is a clear tendency in the social science of religion to attend to the social forces that push religious groups and movements in the direction of secularisation (accommodation to the conventional secular culture and its values and way of life). I believe, for example, that the inability to integrate family life within ISKCON's communities has been a (if not the) major force giving rise to growing congregationalism (Rochford 1995a, 1995b, 1997). The widespread concern throughout the movement today with issues of social development suggests that many devotees share such a point of view. For, in fact, social development as presently being discussed in ISKCON is largely about families and family life.

I offer the following recommendations for no reason other than to help guide the leadership as it considers the question of ISKCON's social development and the broader future of the movement. I am not trying to tell the leaders what to do, although at times it may seem like it. Rather my intention is to suggest what could be done and what areas represent the most immediate problems requiring attention.

In the most general terms, it is time for ISKCON's leaders to move beyond the crisis mode. Most well informed members or observers of ISKCON realise that ISKCON's leaders have spent the last 20 years "putting out fires" of one sort or another. While this has been a necessary stance it has made it impossible for the leadership to address the fundamental needs of ISKCON's membership. In fighting battles of one sort or another, be they internal (e.g., guru issues) or external (e.g., lawsuits), the fact is many devotees, most particularly householders, have come to believe that the leadership has failed to vigorously address their needs. ISKCON has evolved as a religious movement, but that evolution, more often than not, has been unplanned and spontaneous. As the findings presented here suggest, members often feel estranged and powerless because they believe that the leadership is generally unresponsive to their needs for devotee-based employment, education for their children, fair-minded and efficient management, and the like. Please understand I am talking perception. But this perception has ultimately eroded the fundamental trust between those who lead and ISKCON's membership. I believe that one result of this is that many devotees are aligning themselves with the ritvik movement and other challenging groups not out of any conviction about what Prabhupada intended for the guru system, but because they are frustrated and even angry that ISKCON's leadership has not responded constructively as they struggle to raise their families in Krsna consciousness. I think it time for the leadership to dedicate itself (even in the midst of present and future "fires") to making progress on a few specific issues that will benefit ISKCON's membership. In saying this I realise that progress has been made on a number of fronts such as child protection and education. But more could be done and this should be made an institutional priority and not one that grows out of an immediate problem that must be fixed. Think and plan pro-actively. There is both real and symbolic value in such an approach. Devotees' needs will be better served and, in time, the membership will come to trust that the leaders have their interests squarely in mind.

Given this perhaps overly bold preamble, allow me to raise a few specific issues that are candidates for immediate attention. Some will take long-term planning and involve considerable resources. Others could be done rather quickly given the will of the GBC. I begin with economics, because I think a number of other things rest on building an adequate economic infrastructure to support devotees and ISKCON's communities.


(1) Building an Economic Infrastructure. As this report has amply demonstrated, devotees — especially householders — have been forced to seek employment outside of ISKCON's communities. The results of this trend have not always been beneficial to ISKCON or to the spiritual lives of devotees themselves. ISKCON members working outside are less likely to remain as involved in their religious practices, are less involved in and committed to ISKCON, are more involved in the outside conventional culture, and less committed to a Krsna conscious worldview.

But the unavailability of movement/devotee-based employment has other implications for ISKCON and its membership. Over the last few years greater attention has been focused on education within ISKCON. This has involved educating new adult members to the movement as well as children growing up in ISKCON. While most people would applaud these efforts it remains the case that, even should ISKCON build a laudable system of education, a serious problem remains. Even if ISKCON were able to build a gurukula system that was "ideal" (however defined), it still remains the case that young men and women who complete their secondary education have little or no future within ISKCON's communities. This is because there are few paying jobs that would allow devotees to be self-supporting, especially if they have families. However educated ISKCON's young adults become, they ultimately have few viable options open to them except to seek employment in the conventional labour market. This very fact suggests that ISKCON's social needs must be considered holistically. It is not enough to "fix" one part of ISKCON's social system without addressing the system as a whole. Prabhupada, and many of his followers, have suggested that varnasrama provides such a holistic solution.(2)

Leaders have to think of sankirtana primarily in terms of preaching, rather than in terms of the financial resources it brings. Without question sankirtana has brought large sums of money into ISKCON and has bankrolled ISKCON's worldwide expansion (Rochford 1985). Yet in every case that I am aware of, sankirtana revenues begin to diminish in time, most often at the very moment when householder life expands and the need for resources increases. Sankirtana should be considered a short-term economic strategy; one that can help finance other types of entrepreneurial activity supportive of ISKCON's membership and ISKCON itself. Without a stable financial base ISKCON's communities have fragmented and devotees have in various ways lost the social supports that encouraged their spiritual pursuits and goals for self-realisation.

I recommend that the GBC immediately establish regional economic committees comprised of devotees who have proven themselves productive businessmen and businesswomen and/or economic strategists. I say regional because I expect that while a movement-wide economic strategy might be possible, it is more likely that economic plans will vary by region, country, and perhaps even by community. These planning committees should be given authority to develop economic proposals, raise funds to launch businesses, and maintain a degree of autonomy that allows for working without being compromised by political considerations. I think the goal of these committees should centre foremost on employment for devotees, not raising money per se. Entrepreneurial activity that is labour intensive and capable of employing large numbers of people should be favoured. Computer businesses may be profitable for example but they are usually incapable of employing significant numbers of people. Work, not profit, should be the fundamental goal.

(2) Restoring Trust in the Leadership. This report has shown conclusively that the authority (or lack thereof) of ISKCON's gurus and the GBC represent the most significant predictors of member commitment to ISKCON. Quite simply, it is clear that many ISKCON members (temple devotees, congregational members) and former members alike place minimal trust in ISKCON's leadership. Child abuse, the mistreatment and abuse of women, the neglect of householders, guru scandals, etc., all have eroded the trust that binds devotees to Prabhupada's movement. In organisational terms as well as spiritual ones, ISKCON at its core is in the midst of a crisis of trust. As Seligman argues, the "existence of trust is an essential component of all enduring social relationships" (1997:13) and is indeed necessary for the continuation of any social order. Leaders can only be effective when followers have faith in those entrusted with positions of leadership. This is not uniformly the case in many portions of the ISKCON world. Now, with the demise of Harikesa Dasa, there is reason to believe that this crisis has grown deeper.

I recommend that the GBC immediately form a committee whose purpose is to consider how the movement's leadership can restore the trust of ISKCON's membership as well as among those who have chosen to leave the movement. The committee's work should not be about how to strategically defend ISKCON against its critics. Rather it should focus on how to honestly address the concerns of devotees who have been mistreated and abused directly, or by the policies of ISKCON's leadership. As an act of good faith, the committee should consider the possibility of including a limited number of devotees who have been critical of the leadership. Obviously such persons, like all other members of the committee, would be required to affirm his or her commitment to the committee's goals and purposes.

(3) Re-enfranchising ISKCON Women. It is clear that both women and men see the need to expand women's spiritual and material roles within the movement. As the findings demonstrate, there is considerable support for women playing a more active and equal role in ISKCON's spiritual and community life. Men and women overwhelmingly agree that Prabhupada viewed his male and female disciples as spiritual equals. And there is evidence that Prabhupada implemented policies and procedures that were meant to be inclusive of women. It seems clear that the majority of the devotees surveyed want women to have rights and responsibilities as given to them by Srila Prabhupada before a backlash against women occurred in the early and mid-1970s (see Ravindra Svarupa Dasa 1994; Jyotirmayi Devi Dasi 1997; Radha Devi Dasi 1998).

While ISKCON has an obligation to protect women (Executive Committee Letter 1998), leaders also have a responsibility to keep ISKCON a functioning organisation able to preach and meet the spiritual needs of its membership. Given the manpower shortages that exist in many temples, ISKCON can ill-afford to disenfranchise a large portion of its membership. While wrong theologically (Jyotirmayi Devi Dasi, 1997), and with respect to fundamental human rights (Radha Devi Dasi 1998), it is also simply foolish as an organisational strategy. While many regions of the ISKCON world are in desperate need of human capital to deal with the day-to-day functioning of temple communities, it remains the case that women and women's contributions too often remain under-valued and under-utilised. Organisationally ISKCON can't afford such a position and in fact there are growing numbers of women serving as Temple Presidents and holding other significant management and administrative positions (Rochford 1998c).

I recommend that ISKCON leaders immediately move to restore the rights and responsibilities afforded women by Srila Prabhupada. Men should be educated accordingly. (A good start for everyone would be to read the articles by Jyotirmayi Devi Dasi 1997, and Radha Devi Dasi 1998.)(3) Guru and non-guru leaders should teach respect for women; women should again be viewed as capable devotees in the service of Prabhupada's movement rather than as temptresses or other such derogatory characterisations. To do so would immediately increase the self-esteem of women and make them more productive members of ISKCON. By acknowledging women's value and worth as human and spiritual beings it will also make the movement more attractive to potential members who view ISKCON's position on women as antiquated and morally objectionable.

(4) Education and Children. ISKCON is slowly losing its most significant resource for the future: its children. A startling percentage of the movement's children are leaving ISKCON or are choosing to remain marginal to it (see Kraybill 1989, on the retention of Amish children into adulthood). Friendships and ties with parents often have more holding power on ISKCON's second generation than ties to ISKCON, or even to the practice of Krsna consciousness. Certainly, child abuse has directly and indirectly affected a significant portion of ISKCON's now young-adults, but this is only one part of the story. For the fact is that ISKCON has yet to find an adequate replacement to the asrama system of schooling. Many parents in the survey express the view that the ISKCON day-school in their community is not adequately meeting the spiritual and academic needs of children. Teachers too often feel that ISKCON has not done nearly enough to support them in their efforts to create better schools.

Over the past two years ISKCON's leadership has committed itself to improving education within the movement both for adult members and children. From what I can tell, a substantial start has been made on this front. Yet this initiative has recently been hampered by the defection of Harikesa Dasa and the loss of resources he had committed to educational projects. Yet ISKCON must begin to build for the future, and like any society that prospers, education must become part of the equation that produces that prosperity. Here I mean education in the broadest sense of the word. Parents, with the assistance of ISKCON, must educate their children, but this education must be centred on goals and purposes that are distinct to ISKCON as a religious organisation. Because of this, ISKCON has a central role to play in the socialisation and education of the movement's youngest members. In doing the job well, ISKCON promises to reap the benefits of a core of young, enthusiastic devotees wanting to push forward Prabhupada's movement. To fail means that ISKCON has essentially squandered its most vital resource and the basis of its future. One only has to stand to the back of any temple in North America to see that there is a clear "graying of the Hare Krsnas." (This too will likely be an issue of significance in the immediate future.)

I believe that the movement has to continue in its efforts to acknowledge the mistreatment of second generation devotees in the 1970s and 1980s. It also has to do whatever possible to respond to the real needs of these young men and women. Certainly "Children of Krsna" is precisely such an initiative. But ISKCON's leaders must continue to work with and provide resources to teachers and schools if the movement is to nurture the development of its children.

I recommend that recent efforts to improve education within ISKCON continue at full-pace. The education committee now in place must continue to receive the financial and other means of support it needs to promote education in ISKCON. Of equal importance, the leadership must not waver in its commitment to education and thereby to ISKCON's future hope. Educators and children must be seen as the keepers of ISKCON's future, not simply as parties who make demands on scarce resources. The sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark, writes that any new religion which hopes to succeed must "find important things for young people to do on behalf of their faith" (1987:25). It is time that ISKCON provides the training and support its children need in order to meet the challenges that lie ahead for ISKCON in the twenty-first century.






(1) I would like to express my appreciation to Middlebury College for providing substantial funding so that this project could be completed.

(2) I have consciously avoided any discussion of varnasrama in the report. I did so largely because this is an ongoing discussion and there are varied ideas about what varnasrama is and how ISKCON should implement it. I will make only one comment: It is important to understand that "simple living and plain thinking" in the context of a land-based agricultural society does not fit the character and background of many Western devotees and others. Moreover, devotees are now working in a great variety of positions in and outside of ISKCON. Whatever version of varnasrama that comes to the fore must consider who might be pushed out under such a system as well as how the system should work. Remember, "time, place, and circumstance;" the wisdom of this, sociologically, can not be overstated.

(3) I am aware that some leaders and other devotees believe that the essays by Jyotirmayi Devi Dasi and Radha Devi Dasi do not accurately, or fully, represent Prabhupada's position on women in ISKCON. Should the GBC remain split on this question, a research group should be commissioned to investigate the issue further. Of course even this is a tricky proposition since Prabhupada's views are inevitably "frozen in time" and, therefore, we lose a sense of "time, place, and circumstance." Much has happened in the past 21 years and it is impossible to know what Prabhupada's views on the "women's question" might be in the present. Of course the theological significance of the problem I am pointing to goes well beyond debates about women's roles within ISKCON.



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Bharata Shrestha Dasa. 1998. "ISKCON's Response to Child Abuse: 1990-1998." ISKCON Communications Journal. 6(1):71-79.

Jyotirmayi Devi Dasi. 1998. "Historical Report on Women in ISKCON in Prabhupada's Time." Priti-laksanam (also presented at the first annual ISKCON's Women's Conference, Los Angeles, 1997).

Kraybill, Donald. 1989. The Riddle of Amish Culture. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Radha Devi Dasi. 1998. "Participation, Protection and Patriarchy: An International Model for the Role of Women in ISKCON." ISKCON Communications Journal 6(1):31-41.

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Rochford, E. B., Jr. 1995a. "Crescita, Espansione e mutamento nel movimento degli Hare Krishna." Religioni e Sette nel monde 1(1):153-80.

Rochford, E. B., Jr. 1995b. "Family Structure, Commitment, and Involvement in the Hare Krishna Movement." Sociology of Religion 56(2):153-75.

Rochford, E. B., Jr. 1997. "Family Formation, Culture, and Change in the Hare Krishna Movement." ISKCON Communications Journal, 5(2):61-82.

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Rochford, E. B., Jr., 1998b. "Reactions of Hare Krishna Devotees to Scandals of Leaders' Misconduct." Pp. 101-117 in A. Shupe (Ed.), Wolves Within the Fold. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Rochford, E. B., Jr. 1998c. "Women's Collective Voices and the Mobilization of Women in ISKCON." Presented at the second annual ISKCON Women's Conference, Alachua, Florida, October.

Rochford, E.B., Jr. 1999. "Education and Collective Identity: Public Schooling of Hare Krishna Youth." Pp. 29-50 in S. Palmer and C. Hardman (Eds.), Children in New Religions. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Rochford, E. B., Jr. forthcoming (2000). "Demons, Karmies and Non-devotees: Culture, Group Boundaries, and the Development of the Hare Krishna in North America and Europe." Special Issue on Indian Religions in the West, Social Compass.

Seligman, A. 1997. The Problem of Trust. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Social Development Report. 1998. ISKCON Commission for Social Development, February. (no author specified)

Stark, Rodney. How New Religions Succeed: A Theoretical Model." Pp. 11-29 in David Bromley and Phillip Hammond (Eds.), The Future of New Religious Movements. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

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Letter from the Executive Committee of the GBC, approximate date, June 1998, (signed by Harikesa Prabhu).