International Society for Krishna Consciousness

International Society for Krishna Consciousness
ISKCON Temple in Delhi, Dwarka, India
Abbreviation ISKCON
Formation 13 July 1966 (1966-07-13) New York City, New York, U.S.
Founder A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Type Religious organisation
Legal status Foundation
Purpose Educational, Philanthropic, Religious studies, Spirituality
Headquarters Mayapur, West Bengal, India[1][2][3][4][5]
  • 850 temples and centres worldwide
Coordinates 23°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
Affiliations Gaudiya Vaishnavism

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 known to his followers as Guru and spiritual master.[7] Its core beliefs are based on select Hindu scriptures, particularly the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana. ISKCON is a direct descendant of Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya.[8] The appearance of the movement and its culture come from the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which has had adherents in India since the late 15th century and American and European converts since the early 1900s in North America,[9] and in England since the 1930s.[10] In West Virginia, the Praphupada’s Palace of Gold is now a shrine for the founder, who died in 1977.[11]

ISKCON 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.[12][13] ISKCON as of 2017 is a worldwide confederation of more than 850 temples and centres, including 60 farm communities, some aiming for self-sufficiency, 50 schools, and 90 restaurants.[14] Its most rapid expansions in membership as of 2007 have been within India and, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe.[15]

History and belief

For further information see: Achintya Bheda Abheda and Gaudiya Vaishnavism

ISKCON devotees follow a disciplic line of Gaudiya Bhagavata Vaishnavas and are the largest branch of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.[16] 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. Bhaktivedanta Swami disseminated Gaudiya Vaishnava Theology in the Western world through extensive writings and translations,[17] 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.[18]

Krishna is described 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 any formless light or void as suggested 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]


The popular nickname of "Hare Krishnas" for devotees of this movement comes from the mantra that devotees sing aloud (kirtan) or chant quietly (japa) on tulsi beads. This mantra, known also as the Maha Mantra, contains the names of God Krishna and Rama.

The Maha Mantra:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

The founder, in his book, Krsna Consciousness: the Topmost Yoga System, states, "the transcendental vibration established by the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, is the sublime method for reviving our transcendental consciousness."[22]

Seven purposes of ISKCON

When Srila Prabhupada first incorporated ISKCON in 1966, he gave it seven purposes:[23]

  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 Krishna, as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The principle of reincarnation is accepted.
  3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, 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).
  4. To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy names of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya 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 and more natural way of life.
  7. With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.

Four regulative principles

Bhaktivedanta Swami prescribed four regulative principles, in relation to the four legs of dharma,[24] as the basis of the spiritual life:

  • No meat-eating, including fish or eggs;
  • No illicit sex;
  • No gambling;
  • No intoxicants.

The four legs of Dharma are:[24]

Preaching activities

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] Both of these activities are known within the movement as Sankirtan. Street preaching is one of the most visible activities of the movement. ISKCON street evangelists sometimes invite members of the public to educative activities, such as a meal with an accompanying talk.

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.

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.

Bhaktivedanta Institute

The Bhaktivedanta Institute (BI) is the scientific research branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Founded in 1976 by Bhaktivedanta Swami and Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami, it aims to advance 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 organised four international conferences and hundreds of panel discussions and talks and published over thirty books. Currently, there are a number of branches of BI, with one of the main branches in Mumbai. Ravi Gomatam is the director of BI in Berkeley and Mumbai.[29] The director of BI in Kolkata is Vrajapati Das.

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.[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 currently active in over sixty countries and serves up to 2 million free meals every day.[31] Its welfare achievements have been noted by The New York Times and other media worldwide.[32][33][34][35]

Management structure

Bhaktivedanta Swami spent much of the last decade of his life setting up the institution of ISKCON.[36][37]

The Governing Body Commission (or GBC) was created by him in 1970.[38] In a document Direction of Management written on 28 July 1970 Prabhupada appointed the following members to the commission, all of them non-sannyasi:[36]

  1. Śrīmān Gopal Krishna Adhikari
  2. Śrīmān Bhagavandas Adhikari
  3. Śrīmān Syamsundar Das Adhikari
  4. Śrīmān Satsvarupa Das Adhikari
  5. Śrīmān Karandhar Das Adhikari
  6. Śrīmān Hansadutta Das Adhikari
  7. Śrīmān Tamala Kṛṣṇa Das Adhikari
  8. Śrīmān Sudama Das Adhikari
  9. Śrīmān Bali Mardan Das Brahmachari
  10. Śrīmān Jagadisa Das Adhikari
  11. Śrīmān Hayagriva Das Adhikari
  12. Śrīmān Kṛṣṇadas Adhikar

The letter outlined the following 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.[36][39] It has continued to manage affairs since Prabhupada's death in 1977 although it is currently a self-elected organisation and does not follow Srila Prabhupada's instruction that members are to be elected by temple presidents.

Succession of teachings

ISKCON adheres 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.[40]

Influential leaders

See also: Principal disciples of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.

Before his death, Prabhupada appointed the following eleven of his disciples to serve as gurus[41][42] or to continue to direct the organisation:[43] Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami,[44][45] Jayapataka Swami,[46] Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, Tamal Krishna Goswami,[47] 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",[48] 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.[49] Of Prabhupada's disciples, who number 4,734 in total,[50] 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

Gender equality

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.[51] 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.[52][53]

Srila Prabhupada rebuked several of his male followers for discriminating against women. 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".[54]

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.[55] 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[56], other leaders, such as Bhakti Vikasa Swami, condemn these views as an undesirable influence of secular feminism within ISKCON.[57]

Procreation and marriage

Within ISKCON, both men and women can advance spiritually by chanting Hare Krishna, studying the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, the Srimad Bhagavatam, Caitanya Carita Marta, 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.[54]

Problems and controversies

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 so-called "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.[58][59][60]


The elder sannyasi Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Goswami was a disciple of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami's sannyasa guru and was long a well-wisher of ISKCON. A small group of prominent ISKCON leaders were closer to his association and Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana made no effort to conceal his relationship with them, which as time went on became increasingly intimate. His emphasis on gopi-bhava, the mood of Krishna's cowherd lovers, particularly disturbed his ISKCON audiences since Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami had stressed that the path of spontaneous devotion was only for liberated souls. At the annual GBC meeting in 1993, members questioned their affiliation with Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Goswami. Those involved minimized the seriousness of the relationship, though for some it had been going on for as long as five years. By the next annual meeting, the GBC forced the involved members to promise to greatly restrict further association with their new teacher. Though adhering externally, their sympathies for Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana's teachings were unabated. In 1995, GBC's position was firm and the controversy was first on the 1995 annual meeting's agenda. A week of thorough investigation brought the implicated members in line. Asked to suggest what they might do to make amends, the leaders involved with the controversy tendered their resignations, which the GBC promptly refused. They further volunteered to refrain from initiating new disciples or visiting Vrindavana until their case could be reassessed the following year and at the March 1996 meeting GBC insisted on maintaining most of the restrictions.[61]

The capitulation of the GBC members previously following Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaj did not prevent the departure of devotees who felt unable to repose full faith in the ISKCON Governing Body Commission authority.[48][61]

Other controversial issues within the society

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.[62] ISKCON has also been scrutinised by some anti-cult movements.[63][64][65]


Brainwashing cases

In a landmark 1976 case, People vs. Murphy, the Supreme Court of NY found that “'the Hare Krishna religion is a bona fide religion with roots that go back thousands of years.” Although the parents of two Hare Krishna members claimed ISKCON had brainwashed their children, the court found they hadn’t and that their children had freely followed the tenets of their chosen faith.[66][67]

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.[68]

Murder cases

Kirtanananda Swami, or Swami Bhaktipada, a leader of ISKCON expelled from the organisation in 1987 for various deviations,[69] 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.[70][71][72]

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.[73]

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 '80s.[74][75] ISKCON had to later file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.[76] Known as the Turley Case, the eventual 2008 settlement was $15 million.[77]

In 1998, ISKCON published an expose 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.[75]

The Child Protection Policy and Procedure Guidelines was revised and ratified by the GBC in June 2012. This document is ecclesiastical in nature.[78]

The Hare Krishna mantra appears in a number of famous songs, notably in former Beatle George Harrison's 1970–71 hit "My Sweet Lord".[79][80] John Lennon also included the phrase "Hare Krishna" in his lyrics to "Give Peace a Chance" and the Beatles' 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. Later Paul McCartney produced a single with a picture of Krishna riding on a swan on the cover, although there was no chanting of Krishna's names inside.

Of the four Beatles, only Harrison fully embraced Krishna Consciousness; he also provided financial support for ISKCON's UK branch[81] and enjoyed a warm friendship with Swami Prabhupada,[82][83] who provided the inspiration for Harrison songs such as "Living in the Material World".[84] After he posthumously received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2009, his son Dhani Harrison uttered the phrase "Hare Krishna" during the ceremony.[85] The contemporary Broadway musical Hair also included a song (credited as "Be-In") that included the mantra.

One song from 1969 by Radha Krishna Temple (London), produced by Harrison and simply titled "Hare Krishna Mantra", reached number 12 on the UK singles chart,[86] resulting in ISKCON devotees twice appearing on the music show Top of the Pops.[87] The single was similarly successful in Germany, Czechoslovakia and other countries.[86] Less well-known but equally relevant to fans of pop music culture are recordings of the Hare Krishna mantra by The Fugs on their 1968 album Tenderness Junction (featuring poet Allen Ginsberg) and by Nina Hagen.[88]

See also


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  38. Cole & Dwyer 2007, pp. 181–183; 30: "Out of some of his most committed disciples, Srila Prabhupada created ISKCON's international Governing Body Commission (GBC)"
  39. 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."
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