The above photo of Manonath and Tejomaya clutching bushel baskets of New Vrindaban fall produce has a lot of personal meaning for me. The three of us received Harinama initiation on a bitter cold November morning–Govardhana Puja Day 1974. They were New York street kids from Harlem. I was in charge of the organic gardens. What we had in common was hope–the hope that by learning to live, work and worship together, we could change the world. As Danakeli Dasi’s essay, Community by Design, masterfully points out, developing rural KC communities begins by recognizing where we’ve failed, what our options are and what Srila Prabhupada envisioned. It is in a spirit of gratitude for Danakeli’s timely research and analysis that we herein present Community by Design as a series of bite-sized forays into the future. We’ve taken the liberty of adding some graphics and an audacious foreword of our own.

Tapahpunja Dasa

Community by Design (Part One — Preface)

In the spring of 2014 a discussion amongst friends centered on how we would go about starting a rural community in the United States if a large sum of money happened to fall into our laps. We thought about the need for intentional design and considered the logistical reasons as to why community development has not yet happened successfully for ISKCON in America.

When, in the fall, devotees from an urban temple expressed their desire to start an ISKCON rural community someday, my thoughts precipitated as a four-page letter which was meant to express my initial, rough understanding as to why ISKCON in America, due to limitations inherent in its federal tax-exempt church status, could not be the entity to establish such communities. I also shared information about an alternative legal structure which potentially could work—one referred to by the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as “501(d),” or tax-exempt “Religious or Apostolic Association,” which, according to the Internal Revenue Manual, is for the purpose of operating a “religious community where the members live a communal life following the tenets and teachings of the organization.”

I later met devotees in several places who fortuitously engaged me in conversations about rural community development. I found, however, that when I tried to explain my thoughts and understandings regarding the 501(d) legal structure, many responded with blank stares, doubts or objections. I realize now that before someone can accept the 501(d) model as being worthy of consideration, one needs background information concerning the need for, the purpose of and the nature of community—particularly, the type of rural Kṛṣṇa conscious communities that Srīla Prabhupāda asked for, which he referred to as “our farms.” Thus, after further research, that original four-page letter has evolved into the form of this paper.

Although there are various types of communities that could be developed (e.g., “eco-villages” and the like), this paper only addresses the establishment of the type of communal farm projects which Srīla Prabhupāda specifically asked for, namely, examples of daiva-varṇāśrama-dharma (DVAD) communities. Many devotees sincerely wish to establish such DVAD communities pursuant to Srīla Prabhupāda’s desires. This paper was written particularly to dialogue with them. For such communes to manifest in America, this paper argues that the 501(d) legal model is the best suited. Those interested in establishing other styles of communities will likely not find the 501(d) model practical or attractive—quite understandably.

Did Srīla Prabhupāda want communal farms?

We find that when Srīla Prabhupāda spoke about revamping society so that people in general would be able to live a simpler, God-centered life, he consistently said things like, “Take some land from the government. You produce your food. Where is the difficulty? Keep some cows; you get milk,” [1] and, “Everyone should possess some land for growing food grains and some cows to take milk,” [2] and, “…if one man has got a cow and four acres of land, he has no economic problem…Let the people be divided with four acres of land and a cow, there will be no economic question. All the factories will be closed.” [3]

Notably, Srīla Prabhupāda found modern man’s employment in factories and the like to be detrimental to the mission of human life. Thus, he prescribed that “everyone” should possess land and cows so as to independently solve their economic needs.

However, when he spoke about “our farms,” Srīla Prabhupāda did not advocate that devotees get their own land and work independently, even if they were householders. Rather, he instructed that the devotees work communally and cooperatively on our farms:

Nityānanda: The householders on our farm, they should cooperate and produce the food centrally, or every householder should produce his own food independently?
Prabhupāda: No. Why they are living in a community centrally? Community means work everything for the community. [4]

And all who would reside on our farms would be equally provided for. “Anyone who comes to our Society we give shelter, we give food, we give instruction, we give dress, everything, without any condition. You please come and live with us. For such a nice building we have taken. Our farms are so nice, you can go and see how they are doing.” [5]

Devotees greet Srila Prabhupada at Bahulaban – New Vrindaban 1974

Bhagavān: So in our community, when we grow things, or we have need of someone’s services, how are these services distributed equally? Let’s say we grow cauliflower, we grow peas, we grow wheat. Is it that each family must be responsible and take only what he needs? How is it distributed?

But my question is, if the community produces… Some class of men produce vegetables and grains, some class produce cows, some class produce clothes, some class produce necessities for building. How are these things distributed equally?
Prabhupāda: Because we are community, we shall distribute whatever necessity for everyone.
Bhagavān: They will come and say, “I need this much cloth, I need this much milk.”
Prabhupāda: No, this much cloth… But if you become Kṛṣṇa conscious, then you will be satisfied with the minimum necessities of life. That is natural. You won’t demand.
Yogeśvara: So actually such a program can only be successful proportionately with the rise of Kṛṣṇa consciousness of the people.
Prabhupāda: Yes. That is the main basic principle. Without being Kṛṣṇa conscious, if you arrange like this, that will never be successful. [6]

Srīla Prabhupāda wanted us to show by example how to become freed from dependency on city life and satisfied with the village idea. “But we are not going to develop a competitive farming enterprise for making money. The basic principle is to become independent of artificial city life… Gandhi had this idea, the one defect was that there was no Krishna in the center. So the same idea of village organization, but keeping Krishna in the center should be introduced on our farm projects.[7]

Srīla Prabhupāda wanted us to show by example how to become freed from dependency on city life and satisfied with the village idea.

The purpose of this paper, Community by Design, then, is to churn discussion on Srīla Prabhupāda’s desire for devotees to establish communal farm communities which strive for self-sufficiency, sustainability and Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Herein we primarily want to address the aspect of design regarding American communities, for communes are indeed so by design, not by impersonal chance.

Click here to read the entire PDF of “Community by Design” by Danakeli Dasi


Click the footnote number to return to your reading spot, or click your browser’s back button.
[1] Lecture–Aug. 5, 1974
[2] Lecture–Feb. 6, 1975
[3] May 11, 1969
[4] Aug. 1, 1975
[5] July 14, 1976
[6] May 27, 1974
[7] Letter–Oct. 14, 1976


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