Articles

Seeding ISKCON’S Rural Future

Foreword

I cannot think of any devotee whom I know, or have heard of, who is not contributing in some way to the destruction of the environment–myself included. I own two farm trucks, three tractors and a small flotilla of oil gulping farm-related equipment–all of it in pursuit of chasing the dream of plain living and high thinking.

I’ve often considered that living undestructively in an economy that is overwhelmingly destructive might mean morphing into a vegetarian version of the Amish. We would have to divorce ourselves completely, and yet responsibly, from the technologies and powers that are destroying the planet.  Easier said than done, Prabhus.

In the formative years of ISKCON, those of us privileged to spend most of our young adult years living in the ashram never thought much about these taxing issues. We cruised through our daily service as book distributors, fundraisers, preachers and temple functionaries under the protection of a comprehensive insurance policy called the yukta-vairagya principle, the idea that everything–cars, computers, etc.–can and should be used in Lord Krishna’s service. At least that’s how we explained our embrace of modern conveniences to new people.

Well, times have changed. Young people are circumspect about adopting any philosophy whose followers fail to “walk the talk.” They want to see plain living in motion. They want proof that plain living leads to higher thinking. Do ISKCON farm projects provide that example? Do we offer an alternative approach to cut throat capitalism? Do we honor and care for our senior devotees? Do we supply most of our own food calories? Do young people see a future?

Central to all these queries is whether or not ISKCON’s current organizational structure as a 501(c)3 non-profit church is capable of providing real life answers to these questions.

And that, dear readers, is precisely why Danakeli Dasi’s second installment of Community by Design is a must read. Her research and analytical breakdown of these issues deserves our attention. She puts the options on the table for all–beginner and seasoned veteran–to contemplate and act on. Please read on.

Tapahpunja Dasa

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Rural KC Communities: The Need, the Purpose and What Srila Prabhupada Asked For

Foreword

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. Continue reading “Rural KC Communities: The Need, the Purpose and What Srila Prabhupada Asked For”

Eggplant Dharma Refuted: A Bunch of Kids Build a Palace for Srila Prabhupada

Bhakta John (left) and Bhakta Steve (right) standing before a wagon full of uprooted Japanese eggplants at the Small Farm Training Center’s farm site. We plucked the plants out of the field before freezing weather set it. Another sober reminder that the whole show is temporary…

The Venue: Srimad Bhagavatam class, 1975, in New Vrindaban Farm Community. It’s 5:30 AM on a chilly morning. The temple room is packed with curious New Vrindaban residents — hardly anyone over 25 years old — eager to hear the visiting American sannyasi who has been successfully preaching in India.

Acyutananda Swami wasted no time. His fiery takedown of Mayavada philosophy was highlighted by his experiences in India with wit, candor and righteous indignation. Acyutananda roasted the heralded 19th century Indian monk, Swami Vivekananda, who reportedly said, ”Why worship the Tulasi plant? Better to worship the eggplant! At least you get an edible fruit from the eggplant!”

Continue reading “Eggplant Dharma Refuted: A Bunch of Kids Build a Palace for Srila Prabhupada”

Edible Seed Oil Breakthrough

One of Srila Prabhupada’s direct instructions to the pioneer residents of New Talavan Community in 1975 was to grow castor beans. Traditionally. in India, castor is grown for its multiple medicinal values as well as for lamp oil and that’s specifically why Prabhupada wanted it grown: to harness a renewable source of lighting. Finally, in 2014 Radha Maha Laksmi Devi Dasi donated the funds to purchase a Swedish designed state-of-the-art seed oil press capable of extracting fine oil out of any seed. The press was so expertly engineered that the initial efforts to master its use all failed. Finally, Croatian born Nanda-suta Dasa tinkered with the machine and made it function properly. He and Dvi Bhuja Dasa, the founder of Blue Boy Herb Co., immediately pressed a batch of okra seeds only to yield a beautiful flow of golden green okra oil. Okra oil is known as the ghee of Africa. In 2018, New talavan residents are teaming up to plant a one acre plot of castor beans in pursuit of Srila Prabhupada’s 1975 order. Better late than never.

Vegan Reality Check

We composed ‘Vegan Reality Check’ spontaneously after viewing the documentary ‘Cowspiracy’ in our mini-movie theatre. In fact, showing ‘Cowspiracy’ to new farm apprentices is part of the curriculum. Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, the producers and directors of ‘Cowspiracy,’ did a great job exposing the hypocrisy of the well healed, well funded green organizations who deliberately go mum on the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. But (there’s always a but), the film’s demonization of cows and milk products was a real shocker, an indicator that neither Anderson nor Kuhn understand or respect the historical and traditional import of cows and bulls in human society. So, we slapped together a quick script and the rest is history. Sorry, PETA, but there’s another side to the story.