The newest influx of recruits to the area Hare Krishna temple are eager and willing to do any service at all for the pleasure of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna and the devotees. However, they’re in a holding pattern until they can be placed on the temple’s payroll.
Typically, this waiting period is 2-3 business days, the time it takes for temple treasurer Nandakumar Gupta to prepare the papers for the IRS and accountant, Larry Spigman.
“Usually we are very quick,” says Gupta from behind a stack of W-4 forms. “But now Larry is busy with so many things. We are very quickly searching for new accountant.”
The arrival of new devotees was at an all-time low, until the temple board decided to hire full time sankirtana workers. These full time employees, many who were out-of-work TV commercial actors, work 40 hours a week chanting, dancing and distributing books on the corner of Maple and High Streets. The results of their labor are obvious.
“Normally, we’d get one or two new bhaktas a month, but now we get four or five a week,” said bhakta leader Balanga das, adding, “It’s really hard to keep up with all the paperwork.”
In the past month, the temple has taken on over 20 new bhaktas. Nearly all of these bhaktas are awaiting the processing of their work papers.
“I just want to mop a floor or clean some pots,” says new convert, Bhakta Todd, “I can’t wait to get in there and do some real seva.”
Bhakta Joe, who joined up with Bhakta Todd, agreed, “I don’t get it, why can’t we clean the temple or a bathroom or two?”
Some congregational members suggested that the temple pay the new bhaktas “under the table.” But, according to temple authorities, working “under the table” (the practice of paying a worker without reporting it to the IRS) is something that the temple would never do. “It is simply wrong,” say Gupta, “for a bhakta to earn wages and not report, it is robbery, he is criminal.”
Another problem addressed at an emergency temple board meeting is that if the rate of new bhaktas does not soon decrease, the temple will be unable to pay the new adherents, even after the paperwork is sorted out.
“We are given only so much laxmi for payroll,” say Gupta, “we are now having to turn new devotees away, we have no more positions to fill.”
The temple board has also placed a hiring freeze on new bhaktas. The sankirtan workers can still go out to collect laxmi, but for now they are not allowed to bring back any new recruits.
“I just don’t know what to do,” said a visibly upset Jason Marsh, who has been studying Srila Prabhupada’s books, classes and conversations for over a year, “I wanted to join the temple, be in the association of devotees, to do some service.”
When Marsh was told about the hiring freeze, he asked the sankirtana manager, “Hiring freeze? Didn’t Srila Prabhupada say that temple devotees shouldn’t get salaries? I just want to do service, I don’t want to get paid, I just want to do it for free.”
The sankirtana manager replied by saying, “Prabhu, you can quote Srila Prabhupada all you want, but to work at the temple, you have to be on payroll. Anything else just isn’t practical.”
Back at the temple, the new bhaktas have been told to read from Srila Prabhupada’s books until the paperwork can be processed, however, even that practice has been called into question.
“Srila Prabhupada says that even reading his books is devotional service,” says temple board member Ravi Patel, “how can a devotee perform devotional service when not on the temple payroll?” Adding, “you are asking for big, big lawsuit.”