International Society for Krishna Consciousness

International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Iskon Temple, Vrindawan.jpg
ISKCON Temple in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India
AbbreviationISKCON
Formation13 July 1966 (53 years ago) (1966-07-13) India
FounderA. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
TypeReligious organisation
Legal statusFoundation
HeadquartersMayapur, West Bengal, India[1][2][3][4][5]
Location
  • 850 temples and centres
Coordinates23°16′N 88°14′E / 23°16′N 88°14′E / 23.26; 88.23

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement or Hare Krishnas, is a Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu religious organisation.[6] ISKCON was founded in 1966 in New York City by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.[7] Its core beliefs are based on the Hindu scriptures, particularly the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana, 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.[8]

The organization was formed to spread the practice of Bhakti yoga, the practice of love of God in which those involved (bhaktas) dedicate their thoughts and actions towards pleasing Krishna, the Supreme Lord.[9] 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.[10] The organization is banned in Singapore.[11]

The movement has been the subject of controversies. It has been labelled a cult by anti-cult organizations[by whom?]. In the 1990s ISKCON faced accusations of child abuse, and its leaders acknowledged physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children who were sent to live in the movement's boarding schools in the United States and India in the 1970s and 1980s.[12][13] Several safety regulations and subcommittees, such as ISKCON Resolve and the ISKCON Child Protection Office, have been developed since these allegations to ensure that legal rights as well as the health and safety of devotees are protected unconditionally.

History and belief

Pancha-Tattva deities: Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Nityananda, Advaita Acharya, Gadadhara and Srivasa, installed in a Gaudiya Vaishnava temple
ISKCON's Bhajan during Navratri Golu at Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India

ISKCON devotees follow a disciplic line of Gaudiya Bhagavata Vaishnavas and are the largest branch of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.[14] 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 Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who rapidly spread his form of ecstatic bhakti (devotion) throughout Bengal. He established Sankirtan, the practice of publicly expressing devotion to Lord 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.[15][16]

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought Chaitanya's Gaudiya Vaishnavism to the West in 1965. At 69 years old, he landed in New York without any money. Instead of preaching to New York's elite, he tapped into the 1960s 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.[16] 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".[17] The first Hare Krishna commune, New Vrindavan (West Virginia), was established by Prabhupada in 1968.[15] Since then, ISKCON has established more than 600 centers all over the world and has millions of followers.[17]

Key to the spread of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology in the Western world was Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's extensive writings and translations,[18] including the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, 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.[19]

ISKCON describes Krishna as the source of all the avatars of God.[20] 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.[21] It is a monotheistic tradition which has its roots in the theistic Vedanta traditions.[22]