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ISKCON Life Membership. What is it, and how can I become a member?

Question: 
ISKCON Life Membership. What is it, and how can I become a member?

Answer: In the early 1970s, Srila Prabhupada, the Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), started the Life Membership program to provide opportunities for people to support ISKCON financially, especially to help fund the construction of temples in India.

In exchange, Life Members received copies of ISKCON books, free room and board at ISKCON temples worldwide for three days a year, and the satisfaction of supporting Srila Prabhupada's movement. The Life Membership program raised money to build temples in Mumbai, Vrindavan, and Mayapur, all glorious achievements.

The program worked well when ISKCON had just a few dozen temples and a relatively small number of Life Members. But as the years passed, the number of temples increased and included many small centers run out of devotees' homes. The number of Life Members grew as well.

Some temples, while promoting Life Membership drives to raise funds for their local projects, continued to promise free room and board at temples in faraway places. But the temples often did not have the facilities to match the demand.

To this day, temples in places like New York, Toronto, London, and Los Angeles receive many requests every day from Life Members who want to visit and stay at the temple. But they're often disappointed to learn that there's a long wait time, perhaps as long as six months. Temples are generally unable to live up to the Life Members' expectations.

Therefore, some of the benefits of ISKCON Life Membership as they were conceived in the early 1970s are no longer practical. Members still reap the spiritual benefit of offering charity to ISKCON to support its many programs – Deity worship, book distribution, prasada distribution, festivals, and so on – but they cannot be assured of being able to stay in ISKCON guesthouses.

Recognizing this, most temples, especially those outside India, where temples are smaller and have fewer guest facilities, have transitioned from Life Membership to local donor and annual member programs. For example, you can become a Patron Member of Bhaktivedanta Manor in London and receive benefits at that temple. Most temples in North America stopped offering Life Memberships twenty years ago.

While some temples continue to promote Life Memberships, most have toned down their benefit claims, with wording such as "free room and board at temples with Life Member facilities, when available."

Given that few temples have extensive guest facilities, and considering the long waiting lists for many temples, we advise devotees and friends who want to support ISKCON to do so through monthly or annual donor programs in your local area, and to not depend on reciprocal gifts from other parts of the ISKCON world.