New Vrindaban Congregational Department Fans the Spiritual Spark

By Madhava Smullen

Bhakta Josef Lauber clearly loves his service. It comes through in his voice, as the words tumble out in a colorful torrent, filled with emotion.

And why wouldn’t he? As head of ISKCON New Vrindaban’s Congregational Development Department, he is constantly guiding newcomers in Krishna consciousness, watching them learn, seeing their enthusiasm and their love for God build.

Josef reaches out to the 25,000 Westerners and Indian immigrants who visit New Vrindaban every year, giving many of them instructions on how to chant Hare Krishna, and sending them home with japa beads and Srila Prabhupada’s books.

“I love sitting down with visitors who drove six to ten hours from Washington, New York, Chicago, Toronto, and beyond, reading and reciting the Bhagavad-gita with them and seeing them soak it all up,” he says. “And then seeing how they start reading and chanting, taking Bhagavad-gita and Bhakti Sastri courses by phone conference call, and even how some of them eventually get initiated.”

Bhakta Josef on the Govardhan Parikrama

Bhakta Josef on the Govardhan Parikrama

Josef has also revived the Govardhana parikrama that Varshana Swami created to scale according to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. And every Sunday morning, he takes guests on a two-hour tour of replicas of the sacred hill and the lakes Kusum Sarovara, Manasi Ganga, Lalita Kunda, and Radha Kunda, while narrating Krishna’s pastimes.

“After two hours of singing the Holy Name, hearing Krishna Katha, breathing the fresh air, and seeing the untouched beauty of nature in New Vrindaban, you can see how they revive their spiritual selves, and become happy,” he says.

Pilgrims tour Govardhan.

Pilgrims tour Govardhan.

Another of Josef’s favorite activities is his outreach program, in which he and other members of the Congregational Development Department visit friends of New Vrindaban, invite them for a return visit, give them books and encourage them in their Krishna consciousness.

“Sometimes we’ll do a house-warming ceremony, or try to accommodate whatever else is happening in their lives,” he says. “Going to their homes, and seeing their devotion — how they center their lives around their home Deities and chant on their beads every morning, despite the struggles of everyday life — really touches my heart.”

Another element of Josef’s service is raising the large amount of funds needed to keep New Vrindaban running every year. With three years of experience as a fundraiser for Greenpeace, and ten running his own fundraising consulting company for non-profit organizations, he’s an expert, inspiring many to donate towards the community’s cow protection and other needs.

While it’s predominantly Indian congregation members who donate and participate in the above programs due to their natural attraction to Krishna consciousness, Josef is also involved in a number of efforts specifically targeted at reaching out to a Western audience.

Chief of these is his service as promoter for Srila Prabhupada’s Palace, known as The Palace of Gold to tourists. Rated one of “8 Religious Wonders to See in The US” by CNN Travel as recently as 2012, the Palace is still New Vrindaban’s ace, and Josef knows it.

Through local TV and newspaper ads, flyers in nearby hotels, and collaborations with local tourist agencies, he has already significantly increased the number of non-Indian visitors since last year. And he attracted major interest from Lenzner, one of the biggest bus tour operators in the US, when 25 of the company’s managers visited New Vrindaban in late April.

“The Palace of Gold is an asset that has potential to revive New Vrindaban as a place of pilgrimage, just like Srila Prabhupada wanted,” he says.

Josef is also a firm believer in the Festival of Colors, introduced in 2012, as a major way to attract Westerners to Krishna consciousness. Last year, over three-and-a-half thousand people, mostly young students from nearby universities, attended the event at New Vrindaban, with nearly twice as many expected this year.

And the first Pittsburgh Festival of Colors, put on by New Vrindaban devotees on April 19th this year, drew between five and six thousand students from three universities.

To achieve success in all these projects, it’s essential for the New Vrindaban Congregational Development Department to work as a team, one of the most important things that Josef has brought to it.

“I’m trying to cultivate a Vaishnava-like atmosphere of helping each other and an enlivening team spirit where everybody feels welcome and accommodated,” he says.

Josef has many more improvements he hopes to implement in the future. He hopes to grow his team from three active preachers to six or seven, further refine his database of contacts, build a solid base of monthly donations, and upgrade Radha-Vrindabanchandra’s swan boat.

Gaurnatraj, an enthusiastic devotee in the CD Dept.

Gaurnatraj, an enthusiastic devotee in the CD Dept.


Parampara and Venkat, other enthusiastic devotees on the team.

Parampara and Venkat, other enthusiastic devotees on the team.

Sudevi dasi and Jayasri dasi work behind the scenes.

Sudevi dasi and Jayasri dasi (next photo) and Manasa Ganga dasi  work behind the scenes.


With New Vrindaban’s Palace Lodge already beautifully refurbished, he hopes to repeat the process with the cabins by the lake for more quality accommodation, and to renovate the Palace of Gold, a ten-year, multi-million-dollar project.

Meanwhile on the spiritual side, he hopes in the future to see a more systematized way of preaching in the form of an academy where the congregation can study the scriptures and receive Bhakti Sastri diplomas.

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