The Sad and Troubled History of ISKCON Moscow

BY: JAYA MADHAVA DAS (ACBSP) - 24.5 2018

 In a new letter from H.H. Bhkati Vijanana Goswami, he washes his hands of the mess he and many many others created for ISKCON Moscow Russia.

Introduction:

The thing that really hurts me when reading Bhakti Vijnana Goswami's letter, below, is Bhakti Vijnana Goswami and his followers' utter stubborn attitude to do as they want with the money that was collected for building the Moscow Temple, which never got built.

Time is running out for Moscow ISKCON. Soon the RENTED building which is Moscow Temple will be closed again.

My heart breaks at the gross mismanagement and impersonalism here. Russian devotees deserve better leaders and Krsna conscious leaders who follow strictly HDG Srila Prabhupada's instructions for Krsna consciousness and management of ISKCON.

The Temple and land purchased for a Temple (outside Moscow)

Land was purchased here several years ago, yet no accountability from the devotees who were put in charge of this land and the failed project, They answer to 'No One'.

Money collected for the Moscow Temple was used to make separate Brahmacari Ashrams which have nothing to do with the Moscow Temple. It Un-united the yatra.

The Russian devotee's (including me) have no voice whatsoever on this issue. The devotees here have NO IDEA what the hell is going on! What is this?

Worse, after Bhakti Vijnana Goswami's disciples purchased this land several years ago, it was later found to be farm land and not zoned for building anything! Land outside Moscow worth $2 Million dollars which sits idle for a so-called concoction of an "Educational Center' to be built… but with money collected for building the Moscow Temple.

I don't agree at all and Russian devotees are losing faith.

The Future Moscow Temple Plan

Independently of that group, Moscow ISKCON recently purchased an old dilapidated Soviet factory, which needs millions of dollars of renovation. The trouble is, they don't have that money and will be kicked out soon.

Rent for the current Moscow Temple is a staggering $50,000 USD a month. The land and the money is tied up by Bhakti Vijnana Goswami's disciples, and worse, they refuse to cooperate and give it to ISKCON Moscow so it can be sold to repair the old dilapidated factory, which is huge in size. (I took a tour of that building.)

Bhakti Vijana Goswami in this new letter thanks the devotees and Radhanath Swami (who is a deviant in ISKCON). Frankly, Radhanath Swami is no example of how to follow HDG Srila Prabhupada.

Very unnecessary hassles were created for Moscow ISKCON, which soon will be homeless again due to the fact the owners of the building they now rent are selling it in one year's time. It's a very serious situation… bad management and no accountability for the money by the devotees. NONE whatsoever! WHY?

Once again, why won't Russian devotees who control the land they bought OUTSIDE Moscow to build a temple (which won't get built) simply just be humble and surrender to Krsna and Prabhupada – GIVE IT BACK TO ISKCON Moscow to sell, so they can use the money for repairing the recent old factory purchased.

This building is to be the future Moscow Temple, and millions of $$$ is needed to fix it. We don't need any Educational Center. We need a proper temple for ISKCON Moscow. ASAP!

Instead of UNITING the Moscow Yatra, it was split up, and the Brahmacari ashram is no longer with the Moscow Temple. It's too independent – THIS IS DISGRACEFUL. The former GBC created this MESS and he is the only one who can fix it now. Forget about your Educational Center – give up this idea.

This new letter from former GBC Guru H.H. Bhakti Vijnana Goswami was dated March 17, 2018. He has abandoned his responsibility to fix this situation he caused, and holds onto his own ideas. Plus, he installs his devotees, who are unaccountable to the GBC or Moscow Temple President. What a MESS!

I'm sad that such nonsense management was done. I DEMAND that the land be given to ISKCON Moscow for renovation of its future Temple.

$$$ FINANCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY in ISKCON NOW!!!

 

BHAKTI VIJANANA GOSWAMI'S NEW LETTER 
HISTORY OF MOSCOW ISKCON 
May 2018

 

Hare Krishna, dear Vaisnavas! Please accept my obeisances! All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

As you know, in April 2017 I left Moscow, thinking that my departure won't be for long, but the condition of my health didn't allow me to come back to Moscow. It was caused by the stress of the last few months and the last few years.

When I was in relaive isolation, I thought a lot about what I was doing before and what I should do in the future. My age is ripe to make some conclusions. If not final conclusions, then definitely some intermediary conclusions. And since starting from 1994 I made most of my efforts in serving in Moscow, my thoughts again and again were coming back to the Moscow community and to the building of the temple. Some people claim that this project was a complete failure. And they blame me in many mistakes: real and imaginary. Quite often they are distorting the facts while doing that. These accusations are very hurtful to me. In the end, I invested about 20 years of my life in this service. Many devotees laboured together with me in this project, putting their hearts and their efforts into it. At least for them I consider it necessary to briefly describe the story of this project to show the facts and give my report about what the Moscow and the Russian community of Vaisnavas acquired as a result of our work on this project. I would also like to ask your forgiveness for the mistakes I made and thank all the Vaisnavas who were working side by side with me.

Many of you weren't there at the time when I would like to start my story. The direct responsibility of the development of Moscow yatra fell on my shoulders in 1998. It was one of the most difficult stages of life for the Moscow yatra and for the whole Russian society for Krishna consciousness. This year Harikesha Swami suddenly left his service. He regected his sannyasa and rejected his position of a guru. His personal contribution to the development of preaching in the former Soviet Union is immense! Practically all the first devotees in the Soviet Union were his disciples. That's why his departure from ISKCON was very painful to all the devotees. A lot of devotees left the movement at the time. Some of them followed him, while others were just disappointed, while still others went to other Vaisnava organizations.

And it so happened that the full burden of responsibility fell on me. And this burden was very heavy. As a result of all these events, the devotees were left with a temple on the "Begovaya" subway station. It was in a very ban condition and was designated for demolition. We had another temple in a boyscout (pioneers) camp in Sukharevo, in the suburbs of Moscow. And the third building was for Russian BBT, and it was plundered. Both of the temples were in a short-term lease. So when I hear complaints that we lost the temples on "Begovaya" and in Sukharevo, and that late we also lost the temple on the "Dinamo" subway station, I want to reply that strictly speaking none of these three buildings ever belonged to us, so we couldn't lose them. We were just moving from one rented place to another. At the time we practically had no money. We could hardly pay the rent for the temple on "Begovaya". The temple in Sukharevo several times was on the verge of closing down. Book distribution was almost completely stopped. The spirit of devotees was broken, and the seeds of doubt were sown in their minds.

But in spite of all these difficulties, by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, the devotees would gradually recover our movement from the ashes. They were able to maintain its unity and bring it to the new level. The history of the Moscow temple project started soon after these events - in 2002 and 2003. I should emphasize from the very beginning that although this project demanded a lot of efforts and was very visible, it was still only one of the directions of our service in recovering the Moscow yatra. We shouldn't forget about all the other directions, otherwise we wouldn't be able to objectively appreciate what was done and what was the role of this specific project, because woking on this project helped us develop many othe spheres in the mission of Srila Prabhupada.

So, in 2003 the government of Moscow started making insisting demands that we evacuate this building on the "Begovaya" subway station that was designated for demolition. By doing that they were practically depriving us of a foothold in the capital. We started working on trying to maintain and preserve our presence in the most important city in Russia. We didn't have any resources of our own, and we hoped that some of our friends would help us buy a building in Moscow as our property. Devideva Prabhu, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, promised to help us. We found a few very good options, but it wasn't meant to come true, althoug we did a huge work from our side.

In the end, we could only accept the offer of the government of Moscow. They offered to give us a piece of land in the center of the city, close to the "Dinamo" subway station instead of the building that we were renting at the "Begovaya" station. Everybody realized the difficulties of this from the very beginning. We knew that we were taking big risks, but we only had two options: either to completely reject the help of the government of Moscow and vanish from the map of the city for a long time, or accept this offer with all its consequences. In essence, when we started on this path, we deprived ourselves of the possibility to take time for thinking and we abandoned any other options. Our movement resempbled that of a train going downhill, which is committed to only move straight, the rails wouldn't let it move any other way, and its speed would make any kind of a safe stop impossible.

I'm often asked: "Why did you trust the Moscow authorities?" It's quite a speculative question. What else could we do? Besides, we had quite good grounds to trust them. All the agreements to build Krishna's temple in Moscow were signed on the level of top officials of the country and the city. The question of building such a temple in Moscow was raised by the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Vajpai, when he was talking to the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, in May 2003. And the agreement to build the temple of Krishna was one of the agreements between the mayor of Moscow, Mr. Luzhkov, and the main minister of the government, factually, the mayor of Delhi, Mrs. Dikshit. This question was discussed by the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh on his meeting with Vladimir Putin in 2005, and it was also discussed at the meeting of the ambassador of India, Mr. Shukla with the mayor of Moscow, Mr. Luzhkov, in 2008. All that gave us some hope.

At the same time we were labouring very hard, trying to get permissions and official confirmations. We were in a state of constant dialogue with the government. In all these years we received dozens, even hundreds of authorization documents, permits and expert reviews. We went through endless authorities and satisfied a huge number of their demands. The documentation that we received through all that constituted several heavy volumes of paperwork. And each of those papers required a lot of labor. In terms of governmental decrees alone, we had five of those. In other words, we satisfied all their demands and we had good grounds to believe that the goverment of Moscow will likewise fulfill the obligations that they took upon themselves. We were one step away from starting the construction, when the resolution of the Urban Planning and Land Commission of Moscow came on the 4th of April 2016. After 10 years of working on this project, we were told that putting a temple complex on this plot of land given to us by the Moscow government was "inexpedient". Nobody even took the trouble to explain to us why this project suddenly became inexpedient.

We have always understood that this can happen. At the same time, we were hoping for the best, following Srila Prabhupada's advice to get the most benefit out of a bad bargain. We were labouring in a lot of different directions, and we reached good results in many of them:

1) By accepting the offer of the government of Moscow, we were able to remain in the center of the city for 10 years: from 2004 - to 2014 on that plot of land that was given to us, although officially it was taken from us in 2005. Thanks to this we were able to continue our missionary activities, hold big festivals and celebrations, where thousands of people came. The Moscow community didn't just successfully overcome its spiritual crisis, but was able to grow substantially. The pandal that we built on the plot of land in the center, given to us by the government, gathered more than a thousan people for the Sunday programs. And up to ten thousand came for Janmastami. In the temporary temple on the "Dinamo" subway station we continued to serve the deities, and all the programs of Srila Prabhupada were going on. The Moscow community held several big festivals to celebrate the anniversary of ISKCON coming to Russia. It was here that such programs as Harinamas, "Food for Life" and others reached a completely new level.

2) Under the guidance of Dayavan Prabhu we were able to form a full-fledged brahmacari asrama and maintain the main program of Srila Prabhupada - distributing his books. We should point out that after 1998 practically all the brahmacaris disappeared from Moscow, but now this asrama is flourishing and developing. About 50 people are living there, they hold sankirtana festivals, brahmacaris from all around Russia are coming here to share their experience. The asrama functions as the central asrama of sankirtana in Russia. They have already distributed more than 200,000 books of Srila Prabhupada. They are shipping the books all around Russia and the CIS countries as official BBT representatives. And they are also teaching others on-site and online how to do sankirtana. Plus, they are maintaining the sankirtanam.ru website.

3) Besides that, another brahmacari asrama appeared in Moscow. It's the Bhaktivedanta asrama, where spiritual education and training is in the center of the brahmacaris' life. It is specifically meant for young people who didn't decide what's their purpose in life yet. Here they can get the spiritual experience that will be valuable for them in the future. They are worshiping the Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai Deities from our former Sukharevo temple in the Bhaktivedanta asrama. This center plays a very important role in the Moscow community. Devotees from this Bhaktivedanta asrama are holding the Bhakti-sastri and other educational programs, spiritual retreats for grihastha men, and they are also responsible for a few other asramas in Russia. Besides that, this asrama served as a template (example) for some asramas in Russia (Krasnodar, Omsk, and Tyumen). Those who graduate from the Bhaktivedanta asrama become the leaders of our society and take more and more responsibility in various spheres. And yet for me the most important and interesting result here is the experience of binding together education and mentorship. This allows the students to get real spiritual experience in real Vaisnava relationships.

4) We gradually formed a big, united, and very professional team around the project of building this temple in Moscow. The efforts of this very team give legal, expert, and managerial support to our current projects. This is especially important in light of the law on "missionary activity", which was recently passed in Russia. The Moscow community has never had such good documentation procedures.

5) Our financial capacity grew a lot during our work on this project. The number of our friends grew considerably, even outside Moscow. We started with nothing, but in that time we were able to not only create the material base for 2 brahmacari asramas (both of the buildings are in our property). After the termination of the project, we were able to acquire a good plot of land measuring 2.5 hectares in close vicinity of the city, where the sankirtana asrama is already active. The building is about 750 square meters. To compare, the government of Moscow gave us only 1 hectar of land for construction in Molzhaninovo, and another plot that they gave was right under the high-voltage power transmission lines. That plot of land was given to us for development, and it's situated farther from the Moscow ring road. It's also very important that now we can legally designate this land for any purpose that we see fit. The question of what to do with this land is still open. A group of Vaisnavas continues to develop the project of an educational retreat center called "Gita-Nagari". Moscow Vaisnavas, as well as the Vaisnavas from all around Russian need an educational center near Moscow for on-site Vaisnava education like Bhakti-sastri and Bhakti-vaibhava. Otherwise the Vaisnavas from Russia need to go to Mayapur or Vrindavana to get it. This center can also develop such practical educational programs in Srila Prabhupada's mission as Deity worship, book distribution, raising children, agricultural communities, devotee care.

6) The third asrama was opened near Moscow. This is the achievement of Bhakti Ananta Krishna Maharaja, Akincana Krishna Prabhu, and Yasomatinandana Prabhu, who initially created the second Moscow temple, and later transferred its activities to the new asrama building in Korgashino. At the same time, our temple project was providing their project with organizational and legal support.

7) The most important result is that thanks to our efforts in gathering resources, developing relationships with friends and parthners, and also thanks to the big donation of Mataji Gandharvika, we were able to purchase another building in Moscow. We used the money that was left from the temple in Molzhaninovo, and then we broke all the records in gathering the remainig sum to complete this purchase. Few people know what efforts we had to make to accomplish this. But now the Moscow community has something that Vaisnavas were dreaming about all these long years. They have their own conveniently located building. It consists of one big structure 2,900 square meters, and another technical structure of 70 square meters. After the reconstruction its useful area can be increased 1.5 times. Plus, there is 800 square meters of land around the building. It is only 500 meters away from the "Nagornaya" subway station, which itself is only 3 stations away from the belt-line of Moscow subway. There are no housing constructions, schools, etc. within the line of sight or the hearing vicinity of this building. It is very important, because otherwise the use of this building would have been seriously limited. The building is conveniently desighed, so we can make a big temple room, and plan all the other rooms according to our needs. Its market value is already substantially higher than what we paid for it, and it will keep increasing as we develop the site, and as the area around the building develops.

8) The final conclusion of this whole saga is probably the law suit against the government of Moscow that we lodged following the advice of our lawyers. We demand the govermnent to compensate our expenses for making the project of the new temple. It's around 2.3 million dollars or 140 million rubles according to the current exchange rate. The lawyers say that this law-suit has a good chance of success, because all the works were made according to the order of the government of Moscow. Personally, I don't believe much in the success of this endeavor, but it's a logical step and all the key sponsors of the project agreed to make it.

9) The difficulties with the temple hepled the new leaders manifest and come forward. These new leaders took a lot of responsibility. Thus, thanks to the efforts of Sadhu—Priya Prabhu we now have an opportunity to continue our service to Sri Sri Doyal Nitay Sacisuta without decreasing the standards, and maintain various spiritual programs. I think that the fact that we have this place is part of Krishna's plan.

10) To finish the whole picture, we should enumerate the successful educational programs that appeared as a result of our work on the project of the Moscow temple. We realized that the future temple would need to be filled with educated preachers and interesting programs. That's why such long-term educational programs as "Bhakti-lata", "the School of Japa Meditation", "Big Vedic Practicum", "the School of Bhakti" were created.

11) Besides that, the work of the BBT publishing houst was restored during that time. It reached the level of work it had before the crisis, and even improved on it. Devotees all around Russia and the CIS are distributing Srila Prabhupada's books in millions. The material and technical facilities of BBT were restored. Even more, the work of this publishing house is now organized better than ever before.

12) And the last point is that as the result of all these events, the Regional Council was formed. It consists of mature devotees, who accepted responsibility for many directions of our activities. This is probably the most representative collegial governing body of all that we ever had in Moscow.

So, now the actual property of the Moscow community consists of 3 buildings suitable for living, and several technical buildings in the suburbs of Moscow, one big plot of land, and one big building not far from the central part of the city. The total floor space of all these buildings is more than 5,000 square meters. I want to emhasize again that, to my mind, it was the project of the new temple in Moscow that directly or indirectly helped all these projects to start and to develop, to become firm. Of course, it would be unfair to enumerate all the achievements of the Moscow yatra that were made at that time, and finish at that, without saying anything about the mistakes that we made. I sincerely think that the credit for all these victtories is mostly not mine but other Vaisnavas', who were developing the mission of Srila Prabhupada in all these aspects. While the responsibility for all the mistakes, expecially for the temple project, is personally on me. At least because at the time I was actually leading this project, and in the consciousness of devotees I personified it. Without analyzing these mistakes and learning our lessons, we cannot close this page. So, here are some of them:

1) When we started this project, of course, in all respects, we were not prepared for such a big one. We had practically no financial basis, we had no qualified professional team, we had no experience in handling such large-scale projects. And, although we grew a lot as we were working, it was, strictly speaking, not intelligent to start such a big and expensive project in those conditions. Yes, we had to do it, but in the future we need to be much more sober in evaluating our capacities.

2) The temple that we were going to build on the land given to us by the government of Moscow would factually mean that the society for Krishna consciousness is at last officialy accepted. We didn't just want to build a temple, we wanted to develop a signature line of our society, our own landmark that would fix our presence in the consciousness of Russians. That's why we dared to take a shot at such a big temple. At the same time, we became too dependant on the city authorities, and we were deprived of the freedom we needed. We had to act in very strict circumstances regarding time and other demands. It was the source of constant stress for all the members of our team.

3) Looking back, I can understand that it would have been better to not aim at building such a big temple. We factually could create a building around 2,000 square meters, and then the resistance of our ill-wishers could have been less. It would take us less time to complete the desigh-work, and the project itself would require fewer investments and would be more realistic.

4) As a sannyasi, I shouldn't have been directly involved in the day-to-day management of the project and its finances. Even more, I should have insisted on the independent financial audit of the project from the very beginning. The inner financial audits that we made turned out to be insufficient and gave grounds to doubts in their results.

5) The project took too much of my time and efforts. It required sustaining tremendous pressure. As a result, other spheres of my service suffered. I just didn't have enough resources for many other spheres.

6) We were too much engaged in the project, and being constantly under the pressure of the circumstances, we, to some degree, forgot of our main value - the people who were coming to us. Of course, we were trying to somehow or other make investments in this sphere, to develop various programs of spiritual care, but my over-engagement with this too big of a project didn't allow me to put more of my efforts where I actually needed to put them. I'm looking at the example of Srila Radhanatha Maharaja, who is developing very big projects, but all of them are appearing naturally when there are enough resources and when there are enough qualified people. Unfortunatelly, we put the cart in front of the horse. We were trying to find people and resources to match this very ambitious project, which, on the one hand, stimulated and inspired the people, but on the other hand, pressured and suppressed them by the sheer size of it. Of course, now I would have acted differently, not so rash and reckless. Yes, we should have been more precise in evaluating our capacities, but history knows no givens. Krishna manifested his perfect plan through us, people who are prone to mistakes. I am grateful to Him and to Srila Prabhupada that I was able to engage my energy in my service to them, no matter how imperfect this service was. Speaking about the final result, I can say one thing for sure: If we didn't aim for such a big temple, we wouldn't have all that we have now. We were able to achieve all that as a result of our efforts. We chose a very high goal, and that's why even though we missed it, we got a much bigger result than we would have gotten if we initially planned for a modest project. The main thing is that now Moscow Vaisnava community has a coneniently located building with huge potential as our property. We have a big plot of land in the suburbs of Moscow for development. We have brahmacaris, missionary and educational programs. And the most important of all is our enthusiasm. Now the leaders and the whole community of Vaisnavas in Moscow need to decide what to do with all that, and how to keep developing the mission of Srila Prabhupada in Moscow.

I took a lot of lessons from this story. First of all, I realized that I shouldn't take the position of a formal leader. I was doing that because of the circumstances, but I can be much more useful if, as a sannyasi, I have nothing to do with the day-to-day management and finances, trying to dedicate more time to the spiritual practice insted, taking care of my disciples, preaching, books, and education. Last year, in September, I resigned from the GBC, and I left all my official engagements. It is my final decision. There is no turning back.

A lot of new leaders developed since then, and they have already proved their competence. In particular, Acyutatma Prabhu shared the responsibility of developing the mission in Moscow with 2 other GBCs: Srila Niranjana Maharaja, and Srila Gopal Krishna Maharaja. Srila Prabhupada wanted to change the world for the better. And we, as his followers, should help him in that. But each of us has his own place and his own role. That's why when we were making this decision about the purchase of the building for the new Moscow temple, I was the only one who abstained from voting. I didn't do it because I doubted of the necessity of this project. I did it to emphasize my position for the future. Of course, I'll keep coming to Moscow when I have more strength, and when the doctors allow me long distance travels. In the future, when my health stabilizes, I'm planning to take care of my disciples as much as I can, to work in education and to help the brahmacari asramas. In all that time, I almost finished writing one book, I prepared small seminars and participated in several educational projects. I also realized that I shouldn't allow any project stand in the way of my relationships with the devotees. Especially those devotees who are spiritually close to me. There is nothing more valuable in this world than relationships based on love. Developing them requires time, strength, and energy. In my attempts to build a big temple, I lost my relationships with several devotees. Willingly or unwillingly, I cause pain to some people. I didn't pay enough attention to other, didn't spend enough time with them. I didn't live up to some people's expectations. I sincerely regret all that, and I beg all these people for their forgiveness. I'm full of hope that I can still serve all of you.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the devotees who were labouring together with me on this project. The team that was formed around it achieved a lot. The results of their labour didn't go in vain. They have already brought their fruits and will still bring more in the future. I can't thank enough each of those people. That's why I can only praby Krishna about their spiritual well-being and happiness. I also want to express my gratitude to all our critics, who helped me personally and our whole team to not relax and to take valuable lessons in all the spheres of our lives. Thanks to them, we made fewer mistakes than we could have made.

Anothe big lesson for me is that any project that we're starting should correspond to our capacities. A project is a way to engage the energy of the devotees, to help them get purified and to strengthen their enthusiasm. But a project should not become a goal in itself. Now there are many important projects in Moscow. The project of the new temple, the functioning temple, three brahmacari asramas, the "Gita Nagari" educational center, the Harinamas center, Bhakti-vriksas, Food for Life. All of them give a lot of new opportunities for the development of the mission. Experienced leaders are in charge of these projects, and I hope that they don't become projects for the sake of projects, but will actually serve people, helping them change their hearts.

With gratitude and love, 
Your servant, 
Bhakti Vijnana Goswami