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Hare Krishna
(International Society for Krishna Consciousness)

Founder: Lord Krishna

Overview:
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 the Lord.)

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:

  1. Hearing about God .

  2. Chanting the names of God .

  3. Remembering God by reading, associating with devotees .

  4. Serving the Lord Krishna in the temple.

  5. Worshiping God by preparation of food, decorating the Lord, bringing others to see Him.

  6. Praying to God.

  7. Encouraging others to chant the names of God.

  8. Develop a close personal and intimate relationship with God.

  9. Giving everything we have to God including our bodies.

Cult Beliefs:

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 Hinduism are:

  • 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 Krishna.
     

  • 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.

 

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