International Society for Krishna Consciousness
ISKCON Temple in New Delhi, India
|Formation||13 July 1966New York City, New York, U.S.|
|Founder||A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada|
|Headquarters||Mayapur, West Bengal, India|
|Governing Body Commission|
|Part of a series on|
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement or Hare Krishnas, is a Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu religious organisation. ISKCON was founded in 1966 in New York City by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada the Guru and spiritual master of the organization. Its core beliefs are based on the Hindu scriptures, particularly the Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam, and the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which has had adherents in India since the late 15th century and American and European devotees since the early 1900s in North America. In West Virginia, the Prabhupada's Palace of Gold is now a shrine for the founder, who died in 1977.
The organization was formed to spread the practice of Bhakti yoga, in which those involved (bhaktas) dedicate their thoughts and actions towards pleasing Krishna, their Supreme Lord. Its most rapid expansions in membership as of 2007 have been within India and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in Russia, Ukraine, and the rest of the ex-Soviet aligned states of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The movement has been the subject of controversies. It is labelled a sect by many anti-cult organizations, and some adepts have been accused and condemned of sexual abuse, including towards minors. The New York Times reported similar stories in 1990. ISKCON also faced multiple accusations of child abuse, that its leaders acknowledged. In 1977, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that it is a "bonafide religion".
- 1 Seven Purposes of ISKCON
- 2 History and belief
- 3 Practices
- 4 Preaching activities
- 5 Bhaktivedanta Institute
- 6 Food for Life
- 7 Management structure
- 8 Women in ISKCON
- 9 Litigation
- 10 In popular culture
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Sources
- 14 External links
Seven Purposes of ISKCON
- To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples 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.
- To propagate a consciousness of Krishna as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
- To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, and 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).
- To teach and encourage the Sankirtan movement of congregational chanting of the holy name of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
- To erect for the members, and for society at large, a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
- To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.
- With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.
History and belief
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 originated, in the Gauda region of West Bengal. Gaudiya Vaishnavism has had a following in India, especially West Bengal and Odisha, for the past five hundred years. Gaudiya Vaishnavism was founded by the saint Sri Krishna Chaitanya who rapidly spread his form of ecstatic devotion throughout Bengal. He established Sankirtan, the practice of publicly expressing devotion to Krishna, the Supreme God, through dance and song. This form of communal worship responded to rigid caste structures by engaging all people in worship regardless of caste and creed. Chaitanya emphasized chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra (the 'great mantra'). He is considered by Gaudiya Vaishnavas to be an incarnation of Krishna himself. 
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought Chaitanya's Gaudiya Vaishnavism to the West in 1965. At 70 years old, he landed in New York without money or contacts. Instead of preaching to New York's elite, he tapped into the 60's countercultural spirit by preaching and chanting in public parks and attracting hippies and the youth. His movement, then known as the "Hare Krishna Movement", grew even larger when he relocated to San Francisco a year later. When it spread to England, it gained publicity and financial backing from the Beatle George Harrison. He recorded several tracks with the Hare Krishnas and included the Mahamantra in his hit track "My Sweet Lord".  The first Hare Krishna commune, New Vrindavan (in West Virginia), was established by Prabhupada in 1968. Since then, ISKCON has established more than 600 centers all over the world and has millions of followers.
Key to the spread of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology in the Western world was Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's extensive writings and translations, including the 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 scriptures of ISKCON.
ISKCON describes Krishna as the source of all the avatars of God. Thus ISKCON devotees 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. To devotees, Radha represents Krishna's divine female counterpart, the original spiritual potency, and the embodiment of divine love. The individual soul is an eternal personal identity which does not ultimately merge into a non-dual consciousness (Brahman) as believed by the monistic (Advaita) schools of Hinduism. Prabhupada most frequently offers Sanatana-dharma and Varnashrama dharma as more accurate names for the religious system which accepts Vedic authority. It is a monotheistic tradition which has its roots in the theistic Vedanta traditions.
The most important religious practice within ISKCON and Gaudiya Vaishnavism is Japa, or the meditative practice of repeatedly chanting the names of Krishna. It's considered the only way for salvation for people in the current age. Prabhupada established a standard for devotees to chant sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna mahamantra a day. Each round requires chanting the mahamantra 108 times on prayer beads, with sixteen rounds being 1728 repetitions and taking around two hours.
Another key practice in ISKCON is aarti (also called puja). In aarti, devotees offer water, incense, a fire lamp, and flowers to a murti, a sacred statue or image of Krishna. This is accompanied by prayers and devotional songs called bhajans. Practitioners may perform aarti at their own home or congregate at a temple to join in the ceremony. Along with this worship, devotees will bathe the murti, dress it, offer it food, and even put it to sleep. By doing aarti and serving the murti, devotees aim to deepen their relationship with Krishna. 
There are four main regulative principles in ISKCON that prohibit certain activities, each of which can be interpreted at varying levels of strictness. An ISKCON devotee vows to follow these rules during the ceremony of diksha (initiation into the tradition).
- It is prohibited to eat meat, fish, and eggs, and at the strictest level to eat any food not first offered to Krishna.
- It is prohibited to consume any intoxicants, ranging from alcohol to milder substances like coffee or tea.
- It is prohibited to gamble.
- It is prohibited to engage in 'illicit sex', which encompasses premarital sex and at its strictest any sexual intercourse not intended for procreation (even within marriage).
Lastly, one of the most famous and publicly recognizable ISKCON practices is sankirtan, or communal devotional singing of the Hare Krishna mantra. It's both a way to express devotion to God and a way to attract newcomers to the movement. Devotees will gather in public, in streets and parks, to sing the mantra accompanied by instruments like the mridanga, hand cymbals, and the harmonium. There is also often preaching and distribution of ISKCON literature. During the 70's in its early days, ISKCON entered the public eye because of this practice. Devotees would sing, distribute books, and proselytize in airports and other public areas, often obtrusively. Sankirtan continues throughout the world today, but in in a less confrontational manner.
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 are individually motivated contact, contact made with members in public areas, contact made through personal connections, and contact with sympathizers of the movement who strongly encourage people to join. According to the doctrine of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, one does not need to be born in a Hindu family to take up the practice. 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) to provide meals for the needy. In addition, ISKCON has recently brought the academic study of Krishna into eastern academia as Krishnology.
The ISKCON Ministry of Education regulates educational activities within ISKCON and oversees the operation of primary, secondary, tertiary, and seminary schools and centres of education. The Ministry of Education also oversees education for religious and sastric study, developed and monitored by the UK-based Vaisnava Training and Education organisation.
The Bhaktivedanta Institute (BI) is the research branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. It was founded in 1976 by Bhaktivedanta Swami and Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami with the aim of advancing the study of the nature and origin of life, utilising Vedic insights into consciousness, the self, and the origin of the universe. The institute's motto, in the Sanskrit language, is "Athato Brahma jijnasa," which translates as "One should inquire into the Supreme." Under the directorship of Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami, the BI has organised four international conferences and hundreds of panel discussions and talks, and has published over thirty books. One of the main branches is in Mumbai; Ravi Gomatam is the director of BI in Berkeley and Mumbai.
Food for Life
ISKCON founded a project called Food for Life, which it has also sponsored in the past. The goal of the project is to distribute vegetarian meals. The international headquarters known as Food for Life Global, established by Paul Rodney Turner and Mukunda Goswami, coordinates the project. In 2009, ISKCON stated that Food for Life was active in over sixty countries and serves up to 2 million free meals every day.
The Governing Body Commission (or GBC) was created by him in 1970. In a document Direction of Management written on 28 July 1970 Prabhupada appointed twelve members to the commission, all of them non-sannyasi, including Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, Hansadutta Swami, and Tamala Krishna Goswami. The letter outlined the purposes of the commission: improving the standard of temple management, the spread of Krishna consciousness, the distribution of books and literature, the opening of new centers and 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.
Succession of teachings
Before his death, Prabhupada appointed the following eleven of his disciples to serve as gurus or to continue to direct the organisation: Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, Jayapataka Swami, Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, Tamal Krishna Goswami, Bhavananda Goswami, Hansadutta Swami, Ramesvara Swami, Harikesa Swami, Bhagavan Dasa, Kirtanananda Swami, and Jayatirtha Dasa. 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, Bhagavan and Harikesa resigned as spiritual leaders in 1985, 1987 and 1999 respectively and the remaining three were all expelled from the movement by the Governing Body Commission during the 1980s. Of Prabhupada's disciples, who number 4,734 in total, approximately 90 are diksha gurus within ISKCON. As of April 2011, ISKCON had a total of 100 sannyasis, most of whom were acting as gurus. Also, there are 2 Grastha Prabhupada disciples who act guru in ISKCON.
Women in ISKCON
According to the essay "Women in ISKCON in Prabhupada's times" written by Jyotirmayi Devi Dasi, women are renowned within ISKCON and regarded as completely equal in regards to spirituality. Prabhupada in his original writings encouraged the complete equality of women in the eye of Krishna based on the teachings of Bhagavad Gita that soul does not have any gender and everybody is eligible for spiritual liberation.
Since mother is the most respected position in Vedic culture, women within the Hare Krishna community are all viewed as mothers, especially for celibate male members Brahmacharis. "Mother is a term of respect for women in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and is often prefixed to the Sanskrit name they receive in initiation. Even unmarried women are referred to as mothers".
Women's roles are a controversial issue within ISKCON, and its members have strongly divergent opinions regarding the interpretation of Srila Prabhupada's teachings on gender roles. While some of its leaders, such as Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, advocate that women should be allowed to join the workforce and take public leadership roles, other leaders, such as Bhakti Vikasa Swami, condemn these views as an undesirable influence of secular feminism within ISKCON.
Procreation and marriage
Within ISKCON, both men and women can advance spiritually by chanting Hare Krishna, studying the Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is, the Srimad Bhagavatam, Caitanya-Caritāmṛta, and other Vaisnava literature and rendering devotional service to the spiritual master and Krishna. Marriage is highly recommended and married women can also "advance through motherhood and devotion to their husbands in the tradition of stri dharma, the wifely duty of submission to the husband and the bearing of sons" but is not entirely accepted.
ISKCON has 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. ISKCON has also been scrutinised by some anti-cult movements.
Food For Life controversy
Some Food for Life programs have suffered severe criticism from ISKCON leaders and devotees who believe them to be a major deviation from Srila Prabhupada's original preaching mission by their promotion of mundane welfare activities. According to these opponents, Srila Prabhupada was strongly opposed to food distribution done without chanting of the names of Krishna and without preaching.
In a landmark 1976 case, People vs. Murphy, the Supreme Court of New York found that "'the Hare Krishna religion is a bona fide religion with roots in India that go back thousands of years." Although the parents of two Hare Krishna members claimed ISKCON had brainwashed their children, the court found they had not and that their children had freely followed the tenets of their chosen faith.
A brainwashing lawsuit filed by an Orange County mother and daughter, Robin George, in 1977 led to numerous appeals reaching the Supreme Court. In a long-awaited ruling on religious liberty, the state appeals court dismissed a claim that the Hare Krishna sect brainwashed a 15-year-old girl. In addition to the brainwashing claim, the 4th District Court of Appeal dismissed claims that they intentionally caused Robin George emotional distress and libeled her.
Kirtanananda Swami, or Swami Bhaktipada, a leader of ISKCON, was expelled from the organisation in 1987 for various deviations, pleaded guilty before his 1996 retrial to one count of racketeering and after serving 8 years of a 20-year prison sentence was subsequently released in 2004. Previously in 1991 the jury found him not guilty on charges of conspiracy to commit the murders-for-hire of two devotees, but found him guilty of racketeering and mail fraud. These convictions were later overturned on appeal, only to result in the later retrial.
The case placed a spotlight on New Vrindaban, which by then had nearly 500 members, making it the largest and most famous Hare Krishna community in the United States at that time.
Child abuse cases
A suit for $900 million was filed in Texas State Court by alleged victims of abuse in the temples' schools in the 1970s and 1980s. ISKCON had to later file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Known as the Turley Case, the eventual 2008 settlement was $15 million.
In 1998, ISKCON published an exposé of widespread physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children in the group's boarding schools in the United States and India. The Hare Krishna monks and young devotees caring for the children had no training in the task and often resented having to perform it, the report said. At a meeting in 1996, former Krishna pupils testified that they had been regularly beaten at school, denied medical care, and sexually molested and raped.
The ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection was established by the GBC in 1997, and in 2005, released its first official Child Protection Policy and Procedure Guidelines. The CPO has provided Child Protection Information Trainings to over 500 child care providers within the organization internationally and continues to file and review reports on local Child Protection Teams. The Child Protection Policy and Procedure Guidelines was revised and ratified by the GBC in June 2018.
In popular culture
The Hare Krishna mantra appears in some famous songs, such as former Beatle George Harrison's 1970–71 hit "My Sweet Lord". John Lennon included the phrase "Hare Krishna" in his lyrics to "Give Peace a Chance" and the Beatles's 1967 track "I Am the Walrus", as did Ringo Starr in his 1971 hit "It Don't Come Easy", written with the help of Harrison. Of the four Beatles, only Harrison fully embraced Krishna Consciousness; he also provided financial support for ISKCON's UK branch, Bhaktivedanta Manor, and enjoyed a warm friendship with Swami Prabhupada, who provided the inspiration for Harrison songs such as "Living in the Material World".
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