International Society for Krishna Consciousness

A global Hindu religious movement known for its chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra and its mission to promote the teachings of Lord Krishna.


Overview

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement, is a Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu religious organization. It was established on July 13, 1966, in New York City by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Its main headquarters are now located in West Bengal, India.

Core Beliefs and Practices

ISKCON is based on monotheistic Hindu scriptures, particularly the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana. It is considered the largest and most significant branch of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, with historical roots in India dating back to the early 16th century. The movement’s followers, known as bhaktas, focus their worship on Krishna, whom they consider the Supreme Lord Godhead. Other Hindu deities are regarded as secondary.

The practice of Bhakti yoga is central to ISKCON’s religious life. Devotees dedicate their thoughts and actions towards pleasing Krishna, embracing principles such as vegetarianism. The most visible aspect of the movement is the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, a form of devotion and meditation.

Global Expansion and Membership

ISKCON has experienced significant growth, particularly in India and post-Soviet states in Eastern Europe. As of recent reports, it has around 10 million followers worldwide and consists of over 500 temples, centers, communities, schools, and restaurants.

Governance and Mission

To maintain spiritual standards and preserve unity within the society, Srila Prabhupada established a Governing Body Commission. ISKCON’s mission includes promoting the well-being of society by teaching the science of Krishna consciousness, as outlined in the Bhagavad-gita and other ancient scriptures.

Social and Cultural Impact

ISKCON’s approach to spreading its teachings includes various cultural and social activities. These range from arts, education, and music (kirtan) to environmental initiatives and food relief programs. The movement has a significant presence at global events, like the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, advocating for sustainable living and spiritual solutions to contemporary issues.

Criticisms and Challenges

Like many religious movements, ISKCON has faced its share of controversies, including allegations of cult-like behavior in the past. However, the movement continues to evolve and address these challenges, focusing on its core mission of spreading Krishna consciousness.