ISKCON congregations are an interesting mix of nationalities and backgrounds. A Sunday Feast crowd often includes Indian families, American college students, aspiring new bhaktas and bhaktins, senior Prabhupada disciples, destitute people in need of food and longtime friends of the temple. Here are some suggestions to stimulate green initiatives inside and outside the temple walls.
Start a temple garden. Size is irrelevant, although the bigger the garden the more facility to engage others. As recorded in Srila Prabhupada’s Lilamrta, after a long legal battle to secure the ISKCON Juhu Beach property in Bombay, Srila Prabhupada’s first instruction to the devotees who were camped out on the undeveloped property was to immediately create a beautiful garden in plain view of the public. “If they see a nice garden in the front the property,” Prabhupada pointed out, “They will know we are good people.” Whether you’re in Germantown, Philadelphia, inner-city Detroit, or rooftop-only Manhattan, gardens attract. Start small, engage the congregation, and for God’s sake, support the gardener! The sure fire way to lose your gardener is to invalidate their service by not making certain that the fruits of their labor — veggies, culinary herbs and flowers — make it to the altar.
Ask the congregation to help locate bhoga from sattvic sources, preferably locally grown fruits, veggies and grains. We should avoid offering bhoga that is the product of violence to the earth, violence to the people growing and picking it and violence to our own bodies. Why would we offer bhoga to our temple Deity that a conscientious parent would not feed their own child? Local sourcing of fresh commodities opens up networks of relationships with people and organizations leaning towards the mode of goodness, many of whom are favorable to devotees.
Within your local congregation, organize an ahiṃsa (non-violence) support group. Krishna conscious mothers and grandmothers naturally want to protect their children from meat-eating. Initiate the dialogue. Nurture the development of the group. What are the challenges for Indian youth? How can we protect them from peer pressure to eat non-veg.
Public perception about most city temples in ISKCON is that it’s a “religion for Indian people,” or that we are unconcerned with anything as mundane as recycling or climate change. Change the dynamic by embracing opportunities to interact with local environmental groups. Be eager to volunteer time. Put yourself in the association of people who are concerned for the state of the environment.
Indian and American families in America are looking for sustainable answers, especially where to find fresh organic produce and cruelty-free milk. Families can be encouraged to pool their food dollars into well-capitalized buying clubs. Locate a vegetable or dairy farmer on the metro-fringe who is looking for a niche market. If he’s willing to protect the herd from slaughter, including the newborn calves, secure a long-term contractual agreement to supply milk to the congregation.
Newsworthy events are happening throughout ISKCON’s network of city temples and farm communities. Keeping the congregation informed about farm field days, seasonal tours, group picnics, children’s activities, building projects and special harvests is a must do. The more communication, the stronger the bond between city and country congregations.