ISKCON Centers Required to Receive Certificate of Readiness for Worship
At this year’s annual meetings in Mayapur, West Bengal from February 10th through 21st, ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission (GBC) passed a resolution requiring all ISKCON centers to prove their eligibility for a “Certificate of Readiness for Worship” before they can install or otherwise commence worship of Deity forms of God.
Prior to this, there were no formal requirements for centers to assess their ability to take care of Deities, apart from a brief 2002 ISKCON law that read only: “ISKCON centers shall consult with and take guidance from the Deity Worship Ministry before installing or beginning worship of any Deities.”
More recently, the GBC began to feel that a more elaborate procedure should be put in place. Of course, in the early days of ISKCON, this was not a concern as the society’s founder Srila Prabhupada always had the final say on whether Deities could be installed or not.
“But over the years [following his passing], Deity installations have occurred in which there was not sufficient consideration to establish the proper standards of worship or ongoing care,” says Nrsimha Kavaca Dasa, ISKCON Deity Worship Minister since 2005.
So this year the GBC passed the new resolution, which reads:
“It is resolved that:
Any ISKCON center wishing to install any Deities for public center worship or commence the worship of any Deity in an ISKCON center must first receive a “Certificate of Readiness for Worship” for the said Deities.
Centers may not make any commitments or agreements regarding procuring and/or worshiping Deities until the “Certificate of Readiness for Worship” is granted. This “Certificate of Readiness for Worship” applies only to the Deities for which it is granted and is not a generic permanent approval.
The readiness for worship will be assessed by a panel consisting of one local representative (either from the center concerned, the local GBC or a representative from the National Council or RGB, etc.), a GBC appointed by the GBC Executive Committee, and an ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry representative.
This law shall fully go into effect no later than Gaura Purnima (March 8th) 2012.
Any center that has already finalized plans for installation and publicly advertised the installation must consult the ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry, which will assist them in preparing for the worship of the Deities.”
Before being assessed for their readiness for worship by the GBC panel, centers may contact the Deity Worship Ministry to receive consultation as well as an eighteen-page document of guidelines. These guidelines are based on letters and instructions from Srila Prabhupada, and list the criteria that will be assessed.
First off, the document states, a center wishing to install Deities should do so for the right reasons. Commonly offered reasons that do not constitute sufficient cause to install Deities include: “There has been a Deity sitting in storage for many years;” “They came of Their own accord, so I figured it was Krishna’s will;” and “An important donor gave the Deities and we want to keep the donor happy.”
Another common reason given for the installation of Deities which the document addresses is “We want to install Deities to enliven the community.”
“It never works,” reads the document. “It is like having a baby to save a bad marriage.” Instead, the guidelines say, “Better the community becomes enlivened by hearing and chanting. Deities should not be worshiped so They will inspire us, but because we are inspired to take care of Them.”
Another important criteria, emphasized by Srila Prabhupada, is that ISKCON centers wishing to install Deities should own their property. According to Vedic culture, once worship has begun a Deity may not be moved. Owned, rather than rented, property lessens that risk.
Stability in other areas is also essential. A center applying for the Certificate of Readiness must be financially stable, in order to be able to facilitate the “georgeous worship” Srila Prabhupada requested for Deities in ISKCON. To prove this, the center is required to give its current monthly or annual income, current annual expenses, and cost projection of Deity worship to the assessing GBC panel.
The center should also have adequate facilities for Deity worship, as well as steady management. Applicants must submit a five-year-history of their center including management history, devotional history, and the number of steady, long standing devotees in the community.
Steady pujaris, or priests, are of course another essential element. Priests and cooks are required to be brahmana-initiated, and have a sincere service attitude. The center applying must say how many suitably qualified devotees are able to commit to the worship of the Deities on a regular basis. It must also provide an outline of what weekly service each devotee will do; an accurate assessment of how much commitment each devotee is able to make and how long they estimate they will be able to maintain that level of commitment.
The center should also have active outreach programs, which show that it has life and point towards a secure long term future. It must also inform the GBC assessment panel about the community’s spiritual practices or sadhana—for instance, how many devotees attend mangala arati, japa, and Srimad-Bhagavatam class at the center.
“If the devotees are enlivened by the process of hearing and chanting then they will take the process of Deity worship seriously,” the guidelines read.
The political and legal stability of the center is also assessed. An ISKCON center in a country like the UK that is properly incorporated, is a safer situation for Deity worship than a center that is not properly incorporated, in a country that has a volatile political situation.
Finally, the guidelines explain what Deities should be installed in ISKCON centers according to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions—the ISKCON founder favored Gaura Nitai, Radha Krishna, and Jagannath Baladeva and Subhadra, and strongly condemned any demigod worship.
The guidelines also list the standards required for each Deity: for Radha-Krishna, at least ten to twelve pujaris are required, and six offerings and aratis daily; for Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra, six to eight pujaris, three offerings and four aratis; and for Gaura-Nitai, three to four pujaris, two offerings and three aratis.
As the ISKCON Deity Worship Minister, Nrsimha Kavaca Dasa will communicate with local authorities and GBC about these requirements, and assist with preparation for the installation and ongoing daily worship when necessary.
Centers can also expect local help. “The ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry is steadily developing a network of regional representatives around the globe, who will also work with local management and GBC to assist the centers in their regions,” Nrsimha Kavaca says.
For further help in learning more about Deity worship and ISKCON worship standards, devotees can get essential pujari and brahminical training at the Mayapur Academy in Mayapur, West Bengal, which is about to enter its sixth year.
The Academy’s next Diploma of Archana program runs from November 6th, 2012 to February 23rd, 2013, while individual courses anywhere from one to three weeks long are also offered, such as the Temple Worship class from November 6th to 23rd. In the future, online courses will also be an option.
“Many of our classes involve the personal instruction of His Grace Jananivasa Prabhu, a senior ISKCON devotee who has been worshiping Sri Sri Radha Madhava in Mayapur for over forty years now,” says Nrsimha Kavaca. “He is the spiritual head and inspiration behind Mayapur Academy, and was instructed by Srila Prabhupada in the worship of Deities starting in 1971.”
Deity worship, of course, is a major part of the process of Krishna consciousness as taught by Srila Prabhupada.
“Engagement in such worship of the Deity, under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master, will greatly help the householders to purify their very existence and make rapid progress in spiritual knowledge,” Prabhupada writes in his purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.3.22. “Simple theoretical book knowledge is not sufficient for a neophyte devotee. Book knowledge is theoretical, whereas the archana process is practical. Spiritual knowledge must be developed by a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge, and that is the guaranteed way for attainment of spiritual perfection.”
Thus Nrsimha Kavaca feels that the latest steps to ensure Srila Prabhupada’s standard of Deity worship throughout ISKCON are extremely important.
“Centers will be better prepared to install and worship Deities according to the standards desired by Srila Prabhupada,” he says. “Thus the Lord will become more satisfied with the service we are offering.”