(International Society for Krishna Consciousness)
Founder: Lord Krishna
The International Society for
Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is the religious organization for devotees of
Krishna. Their religion is commonly known as Hare Krishna, because of the first
two words of their principle mantra:
"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,
Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare."
Krishna means "The
All-Attractive," Hare addresses the energy of God, and Rama means
"The Greatest Pleasure." These names of god and the Hare Krishna
Mantra are derived from ancient Indian texts of knowledge called Vedas.
ISKCON and Hinduism
both trace their beginnings to the Vedas and to the Bhagavad-Gita text. Whereas
mainstream Hinduism regards Krishna to be the 8th incarnation of Vishnu (the
Preserver and one of the Hindu trinity of deities), ISKCON regards Krishna to be
the supreme Lord over all deities, including Vishnu. They are a
monotheistic faith group, one that stresses bhakti, the way of devotion.
The roots of the faith can be traced
back to the advent of Krishna, 5000 years ago in a village in India called
Vrindavana. The faith has been revived in recent history by the 16th Century
Guru Caitanya Mahaprabu who is regarded by the Hare Krishnas as an incarnation
of Krishna in the form of His own devotee. He taught that Lord Krishna was the
principle deity, god Himself, and that everyone can regain a personal
relationship with Krishna through sankirtana (congregational chanting of god's
names, specifically the Hare Krishna Mantra).
Abhay Charan De, a disciple of
Bhaktisiddhanta, adopted the name Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, left India at
the age of 69 and came to the United States to proselytize. Prabhupada (The
Master) organized ISKCON in 1965. During its early years, it was largely
financed through the sale of incense and Prabhupada's books published by the
Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. One of the "Beatles", George Harrison, donated a
mansion near London and produced an album featuring the Hare Krishna Mantra.
After 12 years of prolific writing and successful promotion of Krishna
Consciousness, the Master died in 1977. Before his death, he appointed eleven commissioners
who were assigned to accept disciples and extend the organization into different
countries of the world.
ISKCON is structured into two sectors:
an order of monks and priests who live at a temple, and congregation members,
who live outside. Male monks shave their heads, except for a central patch
called a sikha. They receive a Sanskrit name (one of the many names of God) plus
the suffix "dasa," which means "servant of...," and
saffron colored robes, dhotis, to signify celibacy. Married monks wear white
dhotis. Female residents of a temple wear traditional saris and do not shave
their heads. All monks vow to abandon cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs,
reject gambling, and follow a non-violent vegetarian diet. They also make a
commitment to chant the names of God a prescribed number of times each day. They
rise before sunrise and chant and pray at intervals during the day. Celibacy is
preferred and is mandatory for single devotees; sexual activity for married
couples is only for the purpose of procreation.
Congregation members wear regular
clothing and work regular jobs. Many live near a temple, follow a vegetarian
diet, do some prayer and chanting at home, and come to the temple at least once
a week, usually for the "Sunday Feast." ("Sunday Feasts" are
held at Hare Krishna temples around the world, where anyone can come and
participate in the chanting, dancing, and feasting on vegetarian food offered to
Hare Krishnas developed a high profile
through their appearance in airports and other public places, dressed in saffron
colored robes, chanting, playing drums and finger cymbals, selling their
literature, and proselytizing.
Their "Nine Processes of
Devotional Service" are:
Hearing about God .
Chanting the names of God .
Remembering God by reading,
associating with devotees .
Serving the Lord Krishna in the
Worshiping God by preparation of
food, decorating the Lord, bringing others to see Him.
Praying to God.
Encouraging others to chant the
names of God.
Develop a close personal and
intimate relationship with God.
Giving everything we have to God
including our bodies.
Their beliefs share much with
conventional Hinduism. Their sacred text is the Hindu poem Bhagavad-Gita which
contains conversations between Lord Krishna and a soldier Arjuna. A common
ISKCON expression is "We are not this body." That is, we are
all spirit souls who are temporarily trapped in a material body and its cares
and woes. Their goal is to break away from samsara (endless repetitive
reincarnations) and return to the kingdom of God.
Their main differences from mainline
Liberation from samsara is attained
through sankirtana, which is congregational singing of God's names, which
leads to Krishna Consciousness.
Krishna is worshipped as the Supreme
God; they believe that one can attain a personal relationship with Him.
Jesus Christ is recognized as a directly empowered representative of
They believe hell is a temporary destination
after death for people who have sinned greatly while on earth.
They believe devotees need a spiritual master,
who is in a line of succession from the guru Caitanya (or one of three other
lines of disciple succession who worship Krishna as the Supreme God.)
They believe eating food prepared for and offered
to God is an act of communion with Krishna. When such food is eaten,
Krishna's energy purifies the body of the devotee.