How can an organization balance between maintaining structure and providing independence to its members?
Transcriber: Sharan Shetty
Edited by: Keshavgopal Das
Question: How can an organization balance between maintaining structure and providing independence to its members?
Answer: Certainly, a balance is required everywhere in life. In anything which requires collective endeavour, we need a balance between organisation and structure. The exact balance will depend firstly on the nature of the organisation and secondly, the nature of the individual and thirdly, the link between the organisation and the individual. For example, if it is a military organisation or a hospital, then the chain of commands has to be performed very precisely since it can be a matter of life and death for somebody but if the organisation is about sales or script writing or play writing, there is much more room for creativity. Therefore, at one level, as per the nature of the organisation, the organisation and structure will be decided.
Secondly, when it comes to nature of the individual, some may work best with a team and some people work best alone. Depending on the nature of the individual, if a person who works best alone is made to work with a team then their creativity may get sapped and they will not be able to function. Many companies have special facilities for people who are mavericks. These people can sometimes come up with an idea that can change the industry, but they cannot work in a very structured environment. Of course, most companies need to have a structure, but in a team, there are some individuals who need freedom and space to feel creative.
Thirdly, the organization and structure depends on the nature of the relationship between the individual and the organisation. If it is a voluntary organisation then the extent to which the organisation can force something on their volunteers is extremely limited since people can just go away. If a person is paid and is very much dependent on the job, then the boss can have the attitude of “My way or the highway”. Overall, if we apply these principles to our Krishna Consciousness movement, we will see that the way Srila Prabhupada started it in a very traditional way. At the same time, when devotees came up with some idea to creatively share Krishna Consciousness, Prabhupada was very appreciative about it. In many letters Srila Prabhupada has mentioned to his disciples, “Because you are sincerely trying to serve Krishna, he has gifted you with intelligence from within the heart.” Srila Prabhupada was very particular about some philosophical points and some individual practices but on the issue of management of the movement, Prabhupada was not a believer in micro-management and did not even want the GBC to do that.
At one time, when the GBC decided to centralise all the finances, Prabhupada had the GBC suspended and saw to it that all the temple presidents correspond directly with him until the issue was resolved. Srila Prabhupada was against too much centralisation and believed that the main purpose of the leadership is to fan the service attitude, the enthusiasm, the desire to serve among devotees. Srila Prabhupada did give abundant room for individual expression and his vision largely sets the parameters of how the movement really functions.
As far as individuals are concerned, we see that in principle one is asked to be submissive and surrendered to the spiritual master. However, the spiritual master is not usually available as an authority figure on a basis of regular guidance especially with respect to practicalities. Also, for any person to become a devotee, they need to be strong minded which means they need to stand up to the world and swim against the current. Krishna Consciousness is not so easy and only when one has the strong-minded spirit to practice it despite opposition from family members, relatives, social circle will they be able to perform it with determination. Such devotees will need to be given space without which they will not be able to function.
It is true that Srila Prabhupada said – Krishna Consciousness will spread through organization and intelligence. Organization is important in order to have some over-arching structure, but intelligence also has to be there which means we have to consider what kind of structure will work where.
In the history of religion, especially Gaudiya Vaishnavism, there can be seen three organizational structure – hardcore, medium core and softcore. Originally, Gaudiya Vaishnavism began as a very softcore organization. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu did not appoint any successor, did not write any will, and did not start an organization because there was broad devotional faith in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as the savior and in the process of hari nama-sankirtan. When Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami’s wrote the Caitanya Caritamrita (combining Caitanya Lila with Caitanya Tattva) that Gaudiya Vaishnavism became softcore. Otherwise earlier it was softer than softcore.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur was the first one to bring some medium core level structure in the organization. There was a broad theological agreement about what we believe and there was a general monitoring of what was being done but that was left to individual creativity to some extent.
Hardcore organizational structure is where “what we believe” and “what we do” is rigidly monitored. This becomes exhausting both for the overseers and the overseen.
Overall, Srila Prabhupada seems to have favored medium core model of organization and because we are all volunteers, we need to ensure that devotees do not feel choked. They should feel inspired to serve Krishna and we need to see that according to their individual natures they feel comfortable in rendering service. Sometimes, when devotees are overseen, they see that as an expression of care and sometimes they see that as too much oversight, too much interference or lack of trust.
If communication is proper (i.e. the authorities and the subordinates are able to express themselves well enough) then the best balance between structure and independence will evolve naturally and gradually.
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