What Is The International Society
for Krishna Consciousness?
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly known
as the Hare Krishna movement, is a worldwide association of devotees of Krishna,
the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is known by many names, according to His
different qualities and activities. In the Bible he is known as Jehovah (“the
almighty one”), in the Koran as Allah (“the great one”), and in the
as Krishna, a Sanskrit name meaning “the all-attractive one.”
The movement’s main purpose is to promote the well-being of human society by
teaching the science of God consciousness (Krishna consciousness) according to
the timeless Vedic scriptures of India.
Many leading figures in the international religious and academic community
have affirmed the movement’s authenticity. Diana L. Eck, professor of
comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard University, describes the
movement as “a tradition that commands a respected place in the religious life
1965, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, known to his followers as
Srila Prabhupada, brought Krishna consciousness to America. On the day he landed
in Boston, on his way to New York City, he penned these words in his diary: “My
dear Lord Krishna, I am sure that when this transcendental message penetrates
the hearts of the Westerners, they will certainly feel gladdened and thus become
liberated from all unhappy conditions of life.” He was sixty-nine years old,
alone and with few resources, but the wealth of spiritual knowledge and devotion
he possessed was an unwavering source of strength and inspiration.
“At a very advanced age, when most people would be resting on their laurels,”
writes Harvey Cox, Harvard University theologian and author, “Srila Prabhupada
hearkened to the mandate of his own spiritual teacher and set out on the
difficult and demanding voyage to America. Srila Prabhupada is, of course, only
one of thousands of teachers. But in another sense, he is one in a thousand,
maybe one in a million.”
In 1966, Srila Prabhupada founded the International Society for Krishna
Consciousness, which became the formal name for the Hare Krishna movement.
In the years that followed, Srila Prabhupada gradually attracted
tens of thousands of followers, started more than a hundred temples and ashrams,
and published scores of books. His achievement is remarkable in that he
transplanted India’s ancient spiritual culture to the twentieth-century Western
devotees of Krishna soon became highly visible in all the major cities around
the world by their public chanting and their distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s
books of Vedic knowledge. They began staging joyous cultural festivals
throughout the year and serving millions of plates of delicious vegetarian food
offered to Krishna (known as prasadam). As a result, ISKCON has
significantly influenced the lives of millions of people. In the early 1980’s
the late A. L. Basham, one of the world’s leading authorities on Indian history
and culture, wrote, “The Hare Krishna movement arose out of next to nothing in
less than twenty years and has become known all over the West. This is an
important fact in the history of the Western world.”
Five Thousand Years of Spiritual Wisdom
Scholars worldwide have acclaimed Srila Prabhupada’s translations
of Vedic literature. Garry Gelade, a professor at Oxford University’s Department
of Philosophy, wrote of them: “These texts are to be treasured. No one of
whatever faith or philosophical persuasion who reads these books with an open
mind can fail to be moved and impressed.” And Dr. Larry Shinn, Dean of the
College of Arts and Sciences at Bucknell University, wrote, “Prabhupada’s
personal piety gave him real authority. He exhibited complete command of the
scriptures, an unusual depth of realization, and an outstanding personal
example, because he actually lived what he taught.”
best known of the Vedic texts, the
Bhagavad-gita (“Song of God”), is the philosophical basis for the Hare
Krishna movement. Dating back 5,000 years, it is sacred to nearly a billion
people today. This exalted work has been praised by scholars and leaders the
world over. Mahatma Gandhi said, “When doubts haunt me, when disappointments
stare me in the face and I see not one ray of hope, I turn to the
Bhagavad-gita and find a verse to comfort me.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
“It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or
unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which
in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions
which exercise us.” It is not surprising to anyone familiar with the Gita
that Henry David Thoreau said, “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the
stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita.”
As Dr. Shinn pointed out, Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita
As It Is) possesses unique authority not only because of his erudition but
because he lived what he taught. Thus unlike the many other English translations
of the Gita that preceded his, which is replete with extensive
commentary, Srila Prabhupada’s has sparked a spiritual revolution throughout the
Lord Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad-gita
that we are not these temporary material bodies but spirit souls, or
conscious entities, and that we can find genuine peace and happiness only in
spiritual devotion to God. The Gita
and other well-known world scriptures recommend that people joyfully chant God’s
holy names, such as Krishna, Allah, and Jehovah.
A Sixteenth-Century Incarnation of Krishna
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna Himself in the role of His own devotee,
popularized the chanting of God’s names all over India in the early sixteenth
century. He constantly sang these names of God, as prescribed in the Vedic
literatures: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama,
Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This Hare Krishna chant, or
is a transcendental sound vibration. It purifies the mind and awakens the
dormant love of God that resides in the hearts of all living beings. Lord
Chaitanya requested His followers to spread the chanting to every town and
village of the world.
Anyone can take part in the chanting of Hare Krishna and learn the science of
spiritual devotion by studying the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. This easy and
practical process of self-realization will awaken our natural state of peace and
Hare Krishna Lifestyles
The devotees seen dancing and chanting in the streets, dressed in
traditional Indian robes, are for the most part full-time students of the Hare
Krishna movement. The vast majority of followers, however, live and work in the
general community, practicing Krishna consciousness in their homes and attending
temples on a regular basis.
Full-time devotees throughout the world number about 15,000, with 500,000
congregational members. The movement comprises 300 temples, 50 rural
communities, 40 schools, and 75 restaurants in 85 countries.
In order to revive their own and humanity’s inherent natural spiritual
principles of compassion, truthfulness, cleanliness, and austerity, and to
master the mind and the material senses, devotees also follow these four
1. No eating of meat, fish, or eggs.
2. No gambling.
3. No illicit sex.
4. No intoxication of any kind, including tobacco, coffee, and tea.
According to the
and other Vedic literatures,
indulgence in the above activities disrupts our physical, mental, and spiritual
well-being and increases anxiety and conflict in society.
A Philosophy for Everyone
The philosophy of the Hare Krishna movement (a monotheistic
tradition) is summarized in the following eight points:
1. By sincerely cultivating the authentic spiritual science presented in the
and other Vedic scriptures, we can become free from anxiety and achieve a
state of pure, unending, blissful consciousness.
2. Each of us is not the material body but an eternal spirit soul, part and
parcel of God (Krishna). As such, we are all the eternal servants of Krishna and
are interrelated through Him, our common father.
3. Krishna is the eternal, all-knowing, omnipresent, all-powerful, and
all-attractive Personality of Godhead. He is the seed-giving father of all
living beings and the sustaining energy of the universe. He is the source of all
incarnations of God, including Lord Buddha and Lord Jesus Christ.
are the oldest scriptures in the world. The essence of the
is found in the Bhagavad-gita, a literal record of Krishna’s words
spoken five thousands years ago in India. The goal of Vedic knowledge—and of all
religions—is to achieve love of God.
5. We can perfectly understand the knowledge of self-realization through the
instructions of a genuine spiritual master—one who is free from selfish motives,
who teaches the science of God explained in the
Bhagavad-gita, and whose mind is firmly fixed in meditation on Krishna.
6. All that we eat should first be offered to Lord Krishna with a prayer. In
this way Krishna accepts the offering and blesses it for our purification.
7. Rather than living in a self-centered way, we should act for the pleasure
of Lord Krishna. This is known as bhakti-yoga, the science of devotional
8. The most effective means for achieving God consciousness in this Age of
Kali, or quarrel, is to chant the holy names of the Lord: Hare Krishna, Hare
Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
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