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International Society for Krishna Consciousness

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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]

International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Iskon Temple, Vrindawan.jpg
ISKCON Temple in Vrindavan, India
Formation13 July 1966 (53 years ago) (1966-07-13) New York City, New York, U.S.
FounderA. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
TypeReligious organisation
Legal statusFoundation
HeadquartersMayapur, West Bengal, India[1][2][3][4][5]
  • 850 temples and centres
Coordinates23°16′N 88°14′E / 23.26°N 88.23°E / 23.26; 88.23Coordinates: 23°16′N 88°14′E / 23.26°N 88.23°E / 23.26; 88.23
Area served
Main organ
Governing Body Commission
AffiliationsGaudiya Vaishnavism

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 movement has been the subject of controversies. It has been labelled a cult by anti-cult organizations. 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.[11][12]

History and beliefEdit

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.[13] 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.[14][15]

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.[15] 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".[16] The first Hare Krishna commune, New Vrindavan (West Virginia), was established by Prabhupada in 1968.[14] Since then, ISKCON has established more than 600 centers all over the world and has millions of followers.[16]

Key to the spread of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology in the Western world was Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's extensive writings and translations,[17] 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.[18]

ISKCON describes Krishna as the source of all the avatars of God.[19] 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.[20] It is a monotheistic tradition which has its roots in the theistic Vedanta traditions.[21]


Statue of Srila Prabhupada founder of ISKCON

The most famous and publicly recognizable ISKCON practice is kirtan, or sankirtan, a congregational chanting or 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 gather in public, in streets and parks, to sing the mantra accompanied by instruments like the mridanga, hand cymbals, and the harmonium. During the 1970s 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 a less confrontational manner.[22]

Other important religious practice within ISKCON and Gaudiya Vaishnavism is japa, or the meditative practice of repeatedly chanting the names of Krishna on a rosary. It's considered the only way for salvation for people in the current age. Prabhupada established a standard for initiated devotees to chant sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna a day.[23] Each round requires chanting the mahamantra 108 times on prayer beads, with sixteen rounds being 1728 repetitions and taking around two hours.[24]

Another important practice in ISKCON is arati (also called puja). In arati, 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 arati and serving the murti, devotees aim to deepen their relationship with Krishna.[22]

During initiation (diksha) ISKCON devotees vow to follow four basic rules and regulations,[22] They vow to follow lacto-vegetarian diet; not to consume any intoxicants (alcohol, cigarettes or drugs); not to gamble and not to engage in 'illicit sex'.[24]

Preaching activitiesEdit

Hare Krishna Ratha-Yatra through the streets of Boston, Massachusetts.

ISKCON advocates preaching.[25] Members try to spread Krishna consciousness, primarily by singing the Hare Krishna mantra in public places and by selling books written by the founder.[26]

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.[27] 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.[28] 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.

Bhaktivedanta InstituteEdit

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.[29]

Food for LifeEdit

Member of Food for Life Russia giving food

ISKCON founded a project called Food for Life, which it has also sponsored in the past.[30] The goal of the project is to distribute vegetarian meals.[30] The international headquarters known as Food for Life Global, established by Paul Rodney Turner and Mukunda Goswami,[31] coordinates the project. Food for Life is active in over sixty countries and serves up to 2 million free meals every day without doing any publicity and without asking for any reward.[31]

Management structureEdit

Hare Krishna devotee.
ISKCON Mayapur Main Gate

Bhaktivedanta Swami spent much of the last decade of his life setting up the institution of ISKCON.[32][33]

The Governing Body Commission (or GBC) was created by him in 1970.[34] 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.[32] 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.[32][35]

Succession of teachingsEdit

ISKCON's founder A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada claimed to belong to the traditional system of paramparā, or disciplic succession, in which teachings upheld by scriptures are handed down from master to disciple, generation after generation.

Influential leadersEdit

Before his death, Prabhupada appointed the following eleven of his disciples to serve as gurus[36][37] or to continue to direct the organisation:[38] Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami,[39][40] Jayapataka Swami,[41] Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, Tamal Krishna Goswami,[42] 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",[43] 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.[44] Of Prabhupada's disciples, who number 4,734 in total,[45] 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[clarification needed] Prabhupada disciples who act guru in ISKCON.

Women in ISKCONEdit

Malati Devi Dasi is the first woman appointed to the ISKCON Governing Body Commission (GBC)

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.[46] While some of its leaders advocate that women should take public leadership roles,[47] other leaders disagree, and maintain that "traditional" roles for women are more appropriate. They fear an undesirable influence of secular feminism within ISKCON.[48]

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.[49] 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.[50][51]

Since mother is the most respected position in Vedic culture, women within the Hare Krishna community are all viewed as mothers, especially by 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".[52]

After years of discussion and reforms, a general consensus emerged to accept women as leaders and initiators in ISKCON. In 1998 Malati Devi Dasi became the first woman appointed to the GBC.[53] The second woman leader, Dina Sharana, was selected in 2009.[54]

Problems and controversiesEdit

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.[55] ISKCON has also been scrutinised by some anti-cult movements.[56][57][58] In 2002, ISKCONResolve was established, offering ombudsman and mediation services to help deal with conflicts that arise in ISKCON.[59][60]

Brainwashing allegation casesEdit

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.[61][62]

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.[63]

Murder allegationsEdit

Kirtanananda Swami, or Swami Bhaktipada, a leader of ISKCON, was expelled from the organisation in 1987 for various deviations,[64] 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.[65][66][67]

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.[68]

Child abuse casesEdit

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.[69][70] ISKCON had to later file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.[71] Known as the Turley Case, the eventual 2008 settlement was $15 million.[72]

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.[70]

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 Training 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.[73]


  • In 2006, a bomb blast occurred in the Iskcon Imphal in Manipur by Muslim fundamentalist group. In the bomb blast 5 devotees died and further 50 injured.[74][75]
  • In 2016, the Iskcon Sylhet in Bangladesh was attacked by Muslims and at least ten people were injured in that attack.[76][77]

In popular cultureEdit

The Hare Krishna mantra appears in some famous songs, such as former Beatle George Harrison's 1970 hit "My Sweet Lord".[78][79] 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,[80] and enjoyed a warm friendship with Swami Prabhupada,[81][82] who provided the inspiration for Harrison songs such as "Living in the Material World".[83]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "ISKCON Headquarters – among the world's most visited sacred places". Archived from the original on 14 July 2018. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  2. ^ "Second Largest ISKCON Temple in the World to Open in Kanpur".
  3. ^ "Hare Krishna Movement Celebrates 50th Anniversary in 2016". Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  4. ^ "Mayapur (West Bengal) ISKCON, India - Directory". Archived from the original on 14 July 2018. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  5. ^ "ISKCON's World Headquarters Devastated Yet Again By Mother Ganges -".
  6. ^ Gibson 2002, p. 4
  7. ^ Gibson 2002, p. 6
  8. ^ Bharati, Baba Premanand Archived 1 October 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2013-07-26.
  9. ^ Beck 2005, p. 39, "According to Orthodox Gaudiya. Krishna's svarupa, or true form manifests in three ways. His svayam-rupa or transcendent form is self-existent, not dependent on anything. His tadekatma rupa is identical in essence to his true form, though it differs in appearance (and would include such forms of Krishna as Narayana and Vasudeva). His avesa form has Krishna appearing though in varying degrees of possession"
  10. ^ Cole & Dwyer 2007, p. 38
  11. ^ "Sex abuse case could ruin Hare Krishnas". The Independent. 14 June 2000. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  12. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (9 October 1998). "Hare Krishna Movement Details Past Abuse at Its Boarding Schools". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Bryant & Ekstrand 2004, p. 34
  14. ^ a b "Hare Krishna". ReligionFacts. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  15. ^ a b "Influences". Retrieved 24 June 2019.
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  17. ^ A Hinduism, Page 8, Lynne Gibson, 2002
  18. ^ "Bhaktivedanta Vedabase Online". Bhaktivedanta Vedabase Online.
  19. ^ Gibson 2002, p. 18
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  33. ^ Knot, Kim "Insider and Outsider Perceptions of Prabhupada" in ISKCON Communications Journal Vol. 5, No 1, June 1997: "In an evaluation of the nature of the guru, Larry Shinn, a scholar of religions, utilised Max Weber's analysis of charisma in order to understand Prabhupada and the issue of leadership in ISKCON. He noted that 'Prabhupada profited from two intertwined sources of authority' (1987:40), the traditional authority of the disciplic lineage, parampara, inherited from his own guru, and his own charismatic authority, derived from his spiritual attainment and presence ... (49) Shinn offered an analysis based on sociological rather than spiritual (Vaishnava) authority in order to make sense of the role of guru in ISKCON and the unique qualities of Prabhupada." See also Larry D. Shinn (1987), The Dark Lord: Cult Images and the Hare Krishnas in America. Philadelphia: The Westview Press.available online
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  35. ^ Maria Ekstrand; Bryant, Edwin H. (2004). The Hare Krishna movement: the postcharismatic fate of a religious transplant. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 205. ISBN 0-231-12256-X.A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Letter of 28 July 1970. "As we have increased our volume of activities, now I think a Governing Body Commission (hereinafter referred to as the G.B.C.) should be established. I am getting old, 75 years old, therefore at any time I may be out of the scene, therefore I think it is necessary to give instruction to my disciples how they shall manage the whole institution. They are already managing individual centers represented by one president, one secretary and one treasurer, and in my opinion they are doing nice. But we want still more improvement in the standard of Temple management, propaganda for Krishna consciousness, distribution of books and literatures, opening of new centers and educating devotees to the right standard."
  36. ^ Smith, Huston; Harry Oldmeadow (2004). Journeys East: 20th century Western encounters with Eastern religious traditions. Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom. p. 272. ISBN 0-941532-57-7. Before his death Prabhupada appointed eleven American devotees as gurus
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  38. ^ Rhodes, Ron (2001). Challenge of the Cults and New Religions. Zondervan. p. 179. ISBN 0-310-23217-1. Before Prabhupada died in 1977, he selected senior devotees who would continue to direct the organization.
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External linksEdit