Community Dialog Covers Village Association, Rover Pipeline, and NV50

By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON New Vrindaban Communications

On the afternoon of March 25th—after hearing inspiring news from ISKCON New Vrindaban and ECO-Vrindaban’s various department heads—Board members and Village Association members settled in for a lively community dialog on some important topics.

Village Association Foundational Document

The first was the presentation of a foundational document for the New Vrindaban Village Association. The Association defines itself as “A loving family of Krishna devotees, spiritual aspirants and friends” whose aim is “to empower and assist devotees to happily live in, or contribute to New Vrindaban.”

The Association also votes to elect members of a Village Council, through which New Vrindaban residents can participate in the governance of their community. The first vote, which elected the first Council, was carried out in November 2016.

Council member Gaura Bhakta Das presented the foundational document. It consisted primarily of rights Village Association members are entitled to, and matching responsibilities that create a good balance of reciprocation between the individual member and the group.

These included the right to spiritual guidance / responsibility to provide spiritual guidance; right to contribute freely / responsibility to focus on what we want; right of respectful disagreement / responsibility to speak up; right of involvement / responsibility to be informed; and others.

The essence of the Village Association was also boiled down to three recommendations: aim in good faith to be spiritually conscious; be a contributing community member; and be aware of Srila Prabhupada’s intents and purposes for New Vrindaban.

After Gaura Bhakta’s presentation, there was some discussion on the meaning and implications of the rights and responsibilities. Some expressed concerns that the document may be too idealistic. Gaura Bhakta responded that the Village Association needed to develop a starting point – however the document is a living one, which can evolve with community feedback.

Success in Re-Routing Rover Pipeline

Next, Gopisa Das reported on the recent legal struggles with the Rover Pipeline and success in getting it re-routed to avoid specific sacred places in New Vrindaban.

The Rover Pipeline is a 713-mile long multi-state project, starting in West Virginia and travelling through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan before ending in Canada. It will deliver gas for distribution throughout the Midwest, Northeast, East Coast, and Gulf Coast.

Rover first contacted New Vrindaban residents two years ago saying that they were seeking eminent domain – a federal right to use private property for public use – to run one of their tributary pipelines through the community.

The route they wanted to take would have passed close to Prabhupada’s Palace and directly across Madhuban hill, where previously there was a Jagannath temple and a house Srila Prabhupada stayed in during his 1972 visit. It would have then cut right through the yard of the original Vrindaban farmhouse, where Prabhupada stayed for one month during his first visit to New Vrindaban in 1969.

Devotees met with Rover over the next couple of years but could not convince them to consider re-routing the pipeline. In February 2017, with no warning, the company announced that it had acquired eminent domain from the Federal Government, and that devotees were summoned for a federal district court hearing.

That meant ISKCON New Vrindaban and ECO-Vrindaban had just days to put together a full case against the $4.2 billion dollar project. To make matters even more daunting, Rover turned out to actually be Energy Transfer Partner (ETP), the same company that ran the Dakota Pipeline through sacred Native American land.

On the morning of the hearing, devotees organized a Harinama Sankirtana protest outside the court house in Wheeling, which was filmed by Channel 7 and Channel 9 News. Vrindavan Das also gave interviews to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Wheeling News Register.

Gopisa and INV President Jaya Krsna Das first testified, explaining that the specific areas ETP wanted to build through were sacrosanct to Vaishnavas because of Prabhupada’s presence there. They were then directed by the judge to work out an agreement with ETP’s lawyers.

The result was that ETP agreed to re-route the pipeline away from the designated sacred spots despite having full federal support and approval. Gopisa credited this to the power of chanting the Holy Name outside the courthouse, and said it was likely that ETP did not want to face more of the kind of negative media attention that they received with the Dakota pipeline.

During Gopisa’s report, a proposal – first suggested by INV Board Director Ananga Manjari –  was made that a portion of the funds INV and ECO-V receive from ETP could be used to construct a new Community Center. A majority of those participating in the discussion warmly embraced the proposal; and a decision was made to form a Community Center planning committee consisting of Village Association, INV & ECO-V members.

“We also negotiated an agreement with ETP that they would deliver to us all the trees they cut for use in building the Community Center, as well as fixing the old Vrindaban farmhouse,” Gopisa added.

Work on the pipeline is likely to start this spring.

NV 50 Plans and New Jagannath Altar

Rounding off the afternoon, Jaya Krsna Das presented plans for New Vrindaban’s 50th anniversary next year.

NV 50 themes will be integrated into every festival throughout 2018, and there will be a major celebration at the end of September 2018. There will also be a VIP event, and an Open House day for neighbors and the local community.

Meanwhile Sankirtan Das is interviewing many New Vrindaban devotees for an oral history project so that their experiences, challenges, successes and realizations can be secured for the benefit of future generations. There are plans to create both a video and book from these interviews, along with a shorter souvenier booklet with lots of photos.

Another major offering for the 50th anniversary will be that of a new altar for Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra at the front of the temple room next year. The reasoning was that devotees currently do not get darshan of Lord Jagannath when facing the main altar during aratis, and show their backs to the Lord during gurupuja.

The move was decided based on a straw vote by residents and support from the ISKCON New Vrindaban board, GBC and ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry. The new altar will be in the spot the six Goswamis currently occupy, and will be an ornate wooden affair covered with gold and silver leaf.

Previously, Jaya Krsna promised devotees they would receive news of the move during this Spring’s weekend gathering, and the announcement was an auspicious and uplifting way to wrap up the Community Dialog.


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