The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a religious movement that also identifies itself as The Hare Krishna Movement™. ISKCON belongs to the Gaudiya-Vaishnava sampradaya, a monotheistic tradition within the Vedic and Hindu cultural traditions.
It is based on the Bhagavad-gita, the spiritual teachings spoken by Lord Krishna. According to many writings, this sacred text is over 5,000 years old, and it documents the conversation between Lord Krishna and his close friend and disciple, Arjuna.
The term “Hare Krishna”, or The Hare Krishna Movement™ Organization, formally The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), is the orthodox core of Hinduism. It was registered in the West (in New York) in July 1966, but dates back over 5000 years. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1532) popularized the movement all over India. Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion with over 900 million adherents, second to Christianity and Islam (according to various leading encyclopedias, websites and almanacs). The principal scriptures are The Bhagavad-gita (The Song of God and an widely read theistic science), and the Shrimad Bhagavatam (the story of the Personality of Godhead Shri Krishna Bhagavan).
Purpose of ISKCON
Kolkata-born A.C. Bhakitivedanta Swami (1896-1977), also known as Shrila Prabhupada, who founded The Hare Krishna Movement™ in New York in 1966, wrote a statement that was used in the religion’s initial incorporation.
- 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.
- To propagate a consciousness of Krishna (God), as it is revealed in the great scriptures of India, especially Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. We accept the principle of transmigration of the soul (reincarnation).
- To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus developing the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).
- 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.
- To erect for the members and for society at large a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality of Krishna.*
- To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler, more natural way of life.
- With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings that help realize these purposes.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (Shrila Prabhupada) in the West in 1966. ISKCON belongs to Gaudiya (refers to Bengal) Vaishnavism, a devotional tradition based on the teachings of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The precepts and practices of ISKCON were taught and codified by the 15th century saint and religious reformer Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1532), his brother Nityananda Prabhu and six of his principle associates, the Goswamis of Vrindavana (Sanatana, Rupa, Jiva, Gopal Bhatta, Raghunatha Dasa and Raghunatha Bhatta.
The Bhagavad-gita was first put into writing about 5000 years ago. The Gita is the principal scripture of The Hare Krishna Movement™ Organization. Its origins are more than 5000-years-old.
Sri Chaitanya, whom devotees recognize as a direct incarnation of Krishna, gave a powerful impetus for a massive bhakti (devotional) movement throughout India. Under his direction hundreds of volumes on the philosophy of Krishna consciousness were compiled. Many devotees followed in the preceptorial line of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu including, in the 19th century an outstanding Vaishnava theologian, Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838-1914) who brought Krishna consciousness to a modern audience.
Bhaktivinoda’s son, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami (1874- 1937), became the guru of Shrila Prabhupada (1896-1977) and instructed him to spread Krishna consciousness in the West.
ISKCON’s history includes a disciplic succession (sampradaya or guru parampara). It draws its legitimacy from its place in a succession of spiritual teachers and disciples (parampara). There are four major disciplic successions, and ISKCON belongs to the Brahma-Gaudiya-Madhva (referring to Madhvacharya [A.D. 1239-1319]) sampradaya, founded by Lord Krishna Himself. The other three are called the Shri (referring to the goddess Laksmi) Sampradaya, the Rudra (referring to the god Shiva) Sampradaya and the Kumara (referring to the four Kumaras [celibate sages] Sampradaya.
There are many branches to the Brahma Sampradaya. ISKCON belongs to the Brahma-Gaudiya-Madhva lineage founded by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the 16th century.
What is the Hare Krishna chant?
Devotees of Krishna chant the Hare Krishna mantra:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
because the Vedas refer to it as the maha – mantra or “Great Mantra”. This sixteen-word mantra is especially recommended as the easiest method for self-realization in the present age.
Krishna is a Sanskrit name of God meaning “all attractive”, and Rama is another name meaning “reservoir of pleasure”. The divine energy of God is addressed as Hare. Vedic knowledge teaches that since we are all constitutionally servants of God, the chanting of His names is not an artificial imposition on the mind but is as natural as a child calling for its mother. There are two ways to chant the maha mantra: group chanting (kirtan) and softly saying the mantra to oneself (japa). The latter is done by using a string of 108 wooden prayer beads to enhance concentration. In both methods there are no hard and fast rules, and anyone can chant with good results.