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The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement, is one of the Hindu Gaudiya Vaishnava religious organizations. It was founded in 1966 in New York Citymarker by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Its core beliefs are based on traditional Hindu scriptures such as the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and the Bhagavad-gītā, both of which, according to traditional Hindu view, date back more than 5,000 years. The distinctive appearance of the movement and its culture come from the Vaishnava tradition, which has had adherents in India since the late 1400s and Western converts since the early 1930s.

Non-sectarian in its ideals, ISKCON was formed to spread the practice of bhakti yoga (devotion to God), in which aspirant devotees (bhaktas) dedicate their thoughts and actions towards pleasing the Supreme Lord, Krishna (seen as non-different from God). ISKCON today is a worldwide confederation of more than 400 centres, including 60 farm communities, some aiming for self-sufficiency, 50 schools and 90 restaurants. In recent decades the movement's most rapid expansions in terms of numbers of membership have been within Eastern Europe (especially since the collapse of the USSRmarker) and Indiamarker. In recent years the organisational and management structure of ISKCON is becoming less relevant to its members.

Philosophy and history

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For further information see: Achintya Bheda Abheda and Gaudiya Vaishnavism

Krishna is described to be the source of all the avatars. Thus devotees in ISKCON worship Krishna as the highest form of God, svayam bhagavan, and often refer to him as "the Supreme Personality of Godhead" in writing, which was a phrase coined by Prabhupada in his books on the subject. Devotees consider Radha to be Krishna's divine female counterpart, original spiritual potency and the embodiment of divine love. An important aspect of their philosophy is the belief that the individual soul is an eternal personal identity which does not ultimately merge into any formless light or void as suggested by the monistic (Advaita) schools of Hinduism. Prabhupada himself never declared ISKCON to be a Hindu organisation, because he considered it to be a 'material designation' and not an appropriate name. Prabhupada most frequently offers Sanatana-dharma and Varnasrama-dharma as more correct names for the religious system which accepts Vedic authority. It is a monotheistic tradition which has its roots in the theistic Vedanta traditions.

Specifically, ISKCON devotees follow a disciplic line of Gaudiya Bhagavata Vaishnavas and are the largest branch of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Vaishnavism means 'worship of Vishnu', and Gauḍa refers to the area where this particular branch of Vaishnavism is widely practiced, including Rajastanmarker and Vrindavanamarker. Gaudiya Vaishnavism has had a continuous following in India, especially West Bengalmarker and Orissamarker, for the past five hundred years. Prabhupada disseminated Gaudiya Vaishnava Theology in the Western world through extensive writings and translations, including Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana), Chaitanya Charitamrita and other scriptures. These works are now available in more than seventy languages and serve as the canon of ISKCON. Many are now available online from a number of websites.

Early western conversions to monotheistic Krishna Vaisnavism or the Bhagavata Vaishnava line which forms the basis of the ISKCON philosophy were recorded by the Greeks and are reflected in the archaeological recordmarker.

Maha Mantra

The popular nickname of "Hare Krishnas" for devotees of this movement comes from the mantra that devotees sing aloud or chant quietly on tulsi beads, called Japa mala. This mantra, known also as the Maha Mantra, contains the names of God Krishna and Rama. Devotees believe that the sound vibration created by repeating these names of God gradually revives a state of pure God-consciousness, or "Krishna consciousness."

The Maha Mantra:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare

Seven purposes of ISKCON

When Srila Prabhupada first incorporated ISKCON in 1966, he gave it seven purposes:.

  1. To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all people in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
  2. To propagate a consciousness of Krishna, as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
  3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus to develop the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).
  4. To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy names of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
  5. To erect for the members, and for society at large, a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
  6. To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.
  7. With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.

Four regulative principles

Srila Prabhupada prescribed four regulative principles, in relation to the four legs of dharma, as the basis of the spiritual life:
  • No eating of meat, fish or eggs (lacto-vegetarianism)
  • No illicit sex
  • No gambling
  • No intoxication (including alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and other recreational drugs).

The four legs of Dharma are:

Congregational orientation

Many members of ISKCON worship at their local mandir, or temple, and practice Krishna consciousness at home with their families. Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON established the Krishna Balarama Mandir in Vrindavanmarker, India in 1975. According to the ISKCON website, the temple has three altars, and rest on the land that Lord Krishna inhabited nearly five thousand years ago. It was in Vrindavan that Prabhupada decided to bring the message of Krishna Consciousness of the Bhagavatam to the United States. Hopkins, Thomas J., "ISKCON's Search for Self-Identity: Reflections by a Historian of Religions." The Hare Krishna Movement p.181, L.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2007, New York As stated by the founder of the society, “Vrindavana is the most sacred place within this cosmic universe, and people seeking to achieve spiritual emancipation by entering the kingdom of God may make a home at Vrindavana and become serious students of the six Gosvamis, who were instructed by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.” The temple functions as an international center for those seeking to further their devotion within ISKCON.

Preaching activities

ISKCON is known for their energetic active preaching. Members try to spread Krishna consciousness, primarily by singing the Hare Krishna mantra in public places and by selling books written by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Both of these activities are known within the movement as Sankirtan. A study conducted by E. Burke Rochford Jr. at the University of California found that there are four types of contact between those in ISKCON and prospective members. Those include: individually motivated contact, contact made with members in public arenas, contact made through personal connections, and contact with sympathizers of the movement who strongly sway people to join. Rochford, E Burke, Jr.Recruitment Strategies, Ideology, and Organization in he Hare Krishna Movement Social Problems Vol.29, No 4 1982 According to the doctrine of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, one does not need to be born in a Hindu family to take up the practice of Vaishnavism. There are ISKCON communities around the world with schools, restaurants and farms. In general, funds collected by ISKCON are treated as communal property and used to support the community as a whole and to promote the preaching mission. Many temples also have programs (like Food for Life Global) to provide meals for the needy. Also, ISKCON has recently brought the academic study of Krishna into western academia as Krishnology.

Food for Life

ISKCON has inspired, and sometimes sponsored, a project called Food for Life. The goal of the project is to "liberally distribute pure vegetarian meals (prasadam) throughout the world", as inspired by Prabhupada's instruction, given to his disciples in 1974, "No one within ten miles of a temple should go hungry . . . I want you to immediately begin serving food". A global charity, directed by Paul Turner and Mukunda Goswami, coordinates the project. Food for Life is currently active in over sixty countries and serves over 700,000 meals every day. Its welfare achievements have been noted by a number of journals worldwide.

Management structure

Srila Prabhupada spent much of the last decade of his life setting up the institution of ISKCON. As a charismatic leader, Srila Prabhupada's personality and management had been responsible for much of the growth of ISKCON and the reach of his mission.

The Governing Body Commission (or GBC) was created by Prabhupada in 1970. In a document Direction of Management written on 28 July 1970 Prabhupada appointed the following members to the commission, all of them non sannyasi:

  1. Sriman Rupanuga Das Adhikary
  2. Sriman Bhagavan Das Adhikary
  3. Sriman Syamsundar Das Adhikary
  4. Sriman Satsvarupa Das Adhikary
  5. Sriman Karandhar Das Adhikary
  6. Sriman Hansadutta Das Adhikary
  7. Sriman Tamala Krsna Das Adhikary
  8. Sriman Sudama Das Adhikary
  9. Sriman Bali Mardan Das Brahmacary
  10. Sriman Jagadisa Das Adhikary
  11. Sriman Hayagriva Das Adhikary
  12. Sriman Kṛṣṇadas Adhikary

The letter outlined the following purposes of the commission: 1) improving the standard of temple management, 2) the spread of Krishna consciousness, 3) the distribution of books and literature, 4) the opening of new centers, 5) the education of the devotees. GBC has since grown in size to include 48 senior members from the movement who make decisions based on consensus of opinion rather than any one person having ultimate authority. It has continued to manage affairs since Prabhupada's passing in 1977 although it is currently a self-elected organization and does not follow the provision where Srila Prabhupada instructs that members be elected by temple presidents.

Influential leaders since 1977

See also: Principle disciples of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
Before his death, Prabhupada "deputed" or appointed following eleven of "his closest disciples to serve as gurus" or to continue to direct the organization: Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, Jayapataka Swami, Hridayananda dasa Goswami, Tamal Krishna Goswami, Bhavananda Goswami, Hansadutta Swami, Ramesvara Swami, Harikesa Swami, Bhagavan dasa Adhikari, Kirtanananda Swami, and Jayatirtha dasa Adhikari. These eleven "Western Gurus were selected as spiritual heads" of the ISKCON after 1977, however "many problems followed from their appointment and the movement had since veered away from investing absolute authority in a few, fallible, human teachers", however of these eleven, the first three have remained prominent leaders within the movement, as was Tamal Krishna Goswami until his death in a car accident in March 2002. Bhavananda no longer holds the post of an initiating guru. Ramesvara and Harikesa resigned as spiritual leaders in 1987 and 1999 respectively and the remaining four were all expelled from the movement by the Governing Body Commission during turbulent times in the 1980s. Of Prabhupada's disciples, who number some 5,000 in total, approximately 70 are now acting as diksha gurus within ISKCON. ISKCON currently has a total of 85 sannyasi gurus (see List of current ISKCON sannyasis).

Internal problems and controversy

In the years following Prabhupada's death in November 1977, a number of theological controversies arose:

Origin of the soul

Srila Prabhupada explains that the soul falls from the spiritual world to this material world and that the supreme objective of the human life is to become Lord Krishna conscious to be able to return "Back to Godhead" (also the title of the official ISKCON magazine). However with translations of important Vaishnava texts began to appear they seemed at variance with these teachings; the controversy arose. Discussions about these apparently contradictory views are available in the book Our Original Position published by GBC Press and the article "Where Do the Fallen Souls Fall From?"


The elder sannyasi Bhaktivedanta Narayana was a disciple of Prabhupada's sannyasa guru and was long a well-wisher of ISKCON. A small group of prominent ISKCON leaders were closer to his association and Bhaktivedanta Narayana made no effort to conceal his relationship with them, which as time went on became increasingly intimate. His emphasis on gopi-bhava, the mood of Krishna's amorous cowherd lovers, particularly disturbed his ISKCON audiences. Prabhupada had stressed that the path of spontaneous devotion was only for liberated souls. At the annual GBC meeting in 1993, members questioned their affiliation with Bhaktivedanta Narayana. Those involved minimised the seriousness of the relationship, though for some it had been going on for as long as five years. By the next annual meeting, the GBC forced the involved members to promise to greatly restrict further association with their new teacher. Though adhering externally, their sympathies for Bhaktivedanta Narayana's teachings were unabated. In 1995 GBC position was firm and the controversy was first on the 1995 annual meeting's agenda. A week of thorough investigation brought the implicated members in line. Asked to suggest what they might do to make amends, the leaders involved with the controversy tendered their resignations, which the GBC promptly refused. They further volunteered to refrain from initiating new disciples or visiting Vrindavana until their case could be reassessed the following year and at the March 1996 meeting GBC insisted on maintaining most of the restrictions.

While the capitulation of the GBC members previously following Bhaktivedanta Narayana has certainly demonstrated GBC solidarity it was insufficient to prevent a continued exodus of devotees who feel unable to repose full faith in some ISKCON authority.

The Guru and the Parampara

ISKCON adheres to the traditional system of paramparā, or disciplic succession, in which teachings upheld by scriptures are handed down from master to disciple, generation after generation. A minority of people who express faith in Srila Prabhupada's teachings say that Srila Prabhupada, in contrast to the tradition, intended that after his physical demise he would continue to initiate disciples through ceremonial priests, called ritviks. One version of this idea is espoused by a group calling itself the ISKCON Revival Movement. ISKCON's Governing Body Commission has rejected all such ideas.

Issues within the society

ISKCON also experienced a number of significant internal problems, the majority of which occurred from the late seventies onwards, and especially within the decade following Prabhupada's death.

In 1976 a case involving allegations of "brainwashing" involving a minor named Robin George and her parents went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker. In 1983, a California jury awarded the family more than $32 million in damages for false imprisonment and other charges, which was reduced to $485,000 in 1993.

Also ISKCON has been subject matter of discussion in some anti-cult movements. The ISKCON was described by academics as "the most genuinely Hindu of all the many Indian movements in the West", and as to its fortieth anniversary in America, as "having being successful on the basis of longevity", having "undergone changes to its goals and identity".

Stories of child abuse at the society's boarding schools in India and America began to emerge in the 1980s, with cases dating back from the mid-1970s onwards. Some of these cases later appeared in print, such as in John Hubner and Lindsay Gruson's 1988 book Monkey on a Stick. In 1998 an official publication produced by ISKCON detailed the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children at the society's boarding schools in both India and the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s. Later ISKCON was sued by 95 people who had attended the schools. Facing the fiscal drain likely to ensue from this legal action, the ISKCON centers involved declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This allowed them to work out a settlement of US$9.5 million, meant to compensate not only the former students who had brought the suit but also any others who had undergone abuse but had not sued.

To guard against further abuses, ISKCON has established a child protection office with teams worldwide, meant to screen out actual or potential abusers, educate children and adults on child abuse, and encourage due vigilance. A petition circulating (as of July 2006) among ISKCON members calls for "zero tolerance" for past offenders.

In response to the need to establish transparency and accountability among its members, ISKCON encouraged the establishment of an ombudsman organization, ISKCON Resolve.

In Hartigan v International Society of Krishna Consciousness [2002] NSWSC 810 the society was found to have unduly influenced the plaintiffs into selling their farm to the society. The society was quick to on-sell the property and use the proceeds to discharge a debt with Westpac. As such the plaintiffs would not be entitled to rescission of the contract; however, the New South Wales Supreme Court turned to pecuniary rescission, and the Society was ordered to pay the plaintiffs the value of the farm.

Rath Yatra controversy

ISKCON organises Rath Yatra festivals in different countries around the world, including India. Although held once annually in each location, these festivals occur on different dates throughout the summertime, which is marked difference from the Rath Yatra as held at the Jagannatha temple in Purimarker (where the festival originates). At this temple, the Rath Yatra festival is held once each year on a specific date in July, and complaints have recently been made regarding ISKCON's having their international festivals at significantly different times to this. On December 20 2007 the Puri priests held a demonstration demanding a ban on entry of ISKCON monks and alleging "a number of foreigners under the cover of ISKCON were trying to enter the temple", which is not allowed as per temple tradition (only ethnic Hindus are traditionally allowed into the temple). The validity of this temple policy has been questioned in the media on a number of occasions, with one case in November 2007 notably involving members of ISKCON.

Popular culture

The Hare Krishna mantra appears in a number of famous songs, notably those sung by The Beatles (and solo works of John Lennon, George Harrison [notably on his hit "My Sweet Lord"] and Ringo Starr). There is a reference to singing kirtan of Hare Krishna mantra in The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus" (the line "Elementary penguins singing Hare Krishna"). Ringo Starr's song "It Don't Come Easy" contains the words "Hare Krishna!" and was written with the help of George Harrison. Later Paul McCartney produced a single with a picture of Krishna riding on a swan on the cover, although there wasn't any chanting of Krishna's names inside. Of the four Beatles members, only Harrison was actually Hindu, and after he posthumously received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker in 2009, his son Dhani Harrison uttered out the phrase "Hare Krishna" during the ceremony.

The mantra also appears in The Pretenders' Boots of Chinese Plastic. One song from 1969 by the Radha Krsna Temple, simply entitled Hare Krsna Mantra reached no. 17 in the UK music chart and appeared on the music show Top of the Pops. It also made the no.1 slot in both German and Czechoslovakian music charts. Less well-known but equally relevant to fans of pop music culture are recordings of the Hare Krishna mantra by The Fugs on their 1968 album Tenderness Junction (featuring poet Allen Ginsberg) and by Nina Hagen. Also, certain members of the hardcore bands The Cro-Mags, Shelter and 108 were vocal Hare Krishna supporters in the 1980s and 1990s.

Placebo produced a Hare Krishna mantra track on their 1996 36 Degrees single, featuring traditional Eastern instruments.

George Harrison put a Hare Krishna sticker on the back of the headstock of Eric Clapton's 1964 Gibson ES-335. The sticker also appeared on Gibson's 2005 reproduction of the guitar.

Kula Shaker, Boy George, Members of the Rubetts have done music tracks about Krishna Consciousness.

At the 2008 VMA Awards, the host, English Comedian Russell Brand ended the ceremony by saying Hare Krishna.

The Washington D.C. Production duo Thievery Corporation Releases a track on the 2008 album entitled, "Hare Krishna".

In the Seinfeld episode The Subway, a patron in Monk's restaurant yells, "Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!" when he sees George walk in wearing bedsheets, to which George replies "How would you like a Hare Krishna fist down your throat you little punk!?"

In the Russian army-themed grotesque satire DMB, several young men about to be conscripted arrive at the draft office wearing monastic garb and chanting "Hare Krishna, hare Rama", striving for conscientious objector status to dodge the draft. The draft officer replies that these must be some hardy lads, for few could manage to chant "Hare Rama" for three hours straight, and that while their 'Krishna stuff' sounds rather fake, they came with shaved heads already and are a perfect fit for an Anti-Chemical Warfare unit. Note that the film depicts the drafting of people feigning religious objections, not the authentic faithful.



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