International Society for Krishna Consciousness

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By Krishna Maheshwari

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder Acharya of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was established in 1966 by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Srila Prabhupada). ISKCON has since developed into a worldwide confederation of 10,000 temple devotees and 250,000 congregational devotees.

Better known as the Hare Krishna movement, ISKCON is comprised of more than 350 centers, 60 rural communities, 50 schools and 60 restaurants worldwide.

The mission of this movement is to promote the well being of society by teaching the science of Krishna consciousness according to the Bhagavad-Gita and other Vaishnav scriptures.

Mission

Srila Prabhupada gave a clear mission statement for ISKCON, which is outlined in the following seven points:

  1. To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all people 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
  2. To propagate a consciousness of Lord Krishna, as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam
  3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Lord Krishna, thus enabling each soul to serve at Lord Krishna's holy feet
  4. To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy name of God, as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu
  5. To erect for the members and for society at large a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality of Krishna
  6. To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler, more natural way of life
  7. With a view towards achieving the aforementioned points, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings

Philosophy

   
International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
   
International Society for Krishna Consciousness

—The Hare Krishna Maha-mantra

The Vedic scriptures state that spiritual life begins when one inquires into the nature of the absolute truth, the Supreme Godhead. ISKCON belongs to the Gaudiya Vaishnava lineage started by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Gaudiya Vaisnavas are monotheists and recognize the personality of Godhead as Lord Krishna, the All-attractive. The ultimate goal of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is to develop a loving relationship with Lord Krishna.

The Vedas state that the understanding of the Self, as being non-material or spiritual by nature, is the preliminary stage of realization of the absolute truth. To understand the knowledge of self-realization, one must approach a genuine spiritual master, just as one learns the essence of any subject from a teacher or guide.

The congregational chanting of the maha-mantra, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, as promoted by Sri Caitanya, is accepted by the Vedas as the most effective means of self-purification in this age. The Vedas describe the mantra as a prayer to the Lord, "Please Lord, engage me in Your service".

Devotees may accept formal initiation into the chanting of the Holy Name vowing to abstain from intoxication, gambling, illicit sexual connections and the eating of meat, fish or eggs because indulgence in these activities disrupts physical, mental and spiritual well-being, and increases anxiety and conflict in society. At the time of initiation, devotees also agree to chant a prescribed number of mantras each day.

Structure

ISKCON is split between a set of loosely joined organizations governed by a Governing Body Commission and an independent publishing arm named the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Communities

Most ISKCON members practice Krishna consciousness in their homes and live and work in the general community. They also congregate in temples for worship.

Most temple-based members are in training, or serve as clergy engaged in ministerial and missionary work. Some members also help maintain ISKCON rural communities. ISKCON temples and communities are located in locations around the world[1].

Governing Body Commission

In 1970, Srila Prabhupada formed a Governing Body Commission (GBC) to help manage ISKCON. Before Srila Prabhupada left his body in 1977, he passed executive authority for ISKCON to this Commission. The GBC decides ISKCON's major strategies and guidelines by democratic voting and in consultation with Temple Presidents and other leaders.

Bhaktivedanta Book Trust

Srila Prabhupada established the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) to initially publish his books and the "Back to Godhead" magazine. Over 12 years, Srila Prabhupada wrote and BBT published over 70 volumes of books - translations of Vedic scriptures into English and extensive commentaries on them. Since then, the BBT has become the world's largest publisher and distributor of books on Hindu philosophy and religion.

To date, the BBT has published over 500 million books and magazines in more than 60 languages.

History

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness was founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1966. It belongs to the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition, a devotional tradition based on the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.

The precepts and practices of ISKCON were taught and codified by the 15th century saint and religious reformer Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his principle associates, the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana. Sri Caitanya, whom devotees revere as a direct incarnation of Lord Krishna, gave a powerful impetus for a massive bhakti movement based out of modern day West Bengal. Many devotees have followed in the line of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu including, Bhaktivinoda Thakura who brought Krishna consciousness to a modern audience. Bhaktivinoda's son, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami, became the guru of Srila Prabhupada and instructed him to spread Krishna consciousness to the West.

Guru Parampara (Disciplic Succession)

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness draws its legitimacy from its place in a long succession of spiritual teachers and disciples. ISKCON belongs to the Brahma Sampradaya, founded by Lord Krishna Himself. Of the many branches of this sampradaya, ISKCON belongs to the branch founded by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the 16th century.

The most prominent devotees in this lineage are accepted as acaryas: those who teach by example, who carry the line forward. Listed below are the acaryas starting from Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu:

Activities & Projects

ISKCON supports many different projects and activities. Due to its de-centralized organizational approach, there is no complete list of its activities. Below is a sampling of activities that devotees in ISKCON organize:

Back to Godhead 

The magazine of the Hare Krishna movement.

The Bhaktivedanta Archives 

Preserving and perpetuating the teachings and personal life of Srila Prabhupada.

Children of Krishna 

Supporting and protecting the educational, economic, emotional, and spiritual development of the children of the Hare Krsna movement.

ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry 

Facilitating and encouraging the maintenance and development of deity worship.

ISKCON Prison Ministry 

Bringing Krishna consciousness to prisons around the world, and providing opportunities for inmates to practice Krishna consciousness, and to guide inmates in their spiritual life.

Bhaktivedanta Library Services 

Widely distributing Srila Prabhupada's books and those of his disciples and followers, as well as related audio and video materials.

Vrindavana Institute for Higher Education (VIHE) 

Helping devotees fulfil the purpose for which Srila Prabhupada wanted them to visit Sri Vrindavana Dhama: to study his books in the association of senior devotees.

ISKCON Youth Forum (India) 

Establishing a youth group of spiritually strong students, who are genuine practitioners and representatives of Sanatana Dharma (Krishna consciousness).

Food for Life 

Food for Life, founded by Srila Prabhupada, is the largest vegetarian/vegan food relief organization in the world. It is now an independent non-profit organization born out of ISKCON. Food for Life is active in over 60 countries worldwide and has served more than 1,000,000 free vegetarian meals daily from free food restaurants, mobile kitchens, to schools and to disaster areas.

Related Articles

Notes & References

  • ISKCON.com, the homepage for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
  • List of ISKCON temples & communities