What is ISKCON?
The “International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly known as the Hare Krsna movement, is a worldwide association of devotees of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is known by many names, according to His different qualities and activities. In the Bible, he is know as Jehovah (“the almighty one”), in the Koran as Allah (“the great one”), and in the Bhagavad-gita as Krsna, a Sanskrit name meaning “the all-attractive one.”
The movement’s main purpose is to promote the wellbeing of human society by teaching the science of God-consciousness (Krsna consciousness) according to the timeless Vedic scriptures of India
Many leading figures in the international religious and academic community have affirmed the movement’s authenticity. Diana L. Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard University, describes the movement as “a tradition that commands a respected place in the religious life of humankind.”
In 1965, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, known to his followers as SrilaPrabhupada, brought Krsna consciousness to America. On the day he landed in Boston, on his way to New York City, he penned these words in his diary: “My dear Lord Krsna, I am sure that when this transcendental message penetrates [the hearts of the westerners], they will certainly feel gladdened and thus become liberated from all unhappy conditions of life.” He was sixty-nine years old, alone and with few resources, but the wealth of spiritual knowledge and devotion he possessed was an unwavering source of strength and inspiration.
“At a very advanced age, when most people would be resting on their laurels,” writes Harvey Cox, Harvard University theologian and author, “SrilaPrabhupada harkened to the mandate of his own spiritual teacher and set out on the difficult and demanding voyage to America. SrilaPrabhupada is, of course, only one of thousands of teachers. But in another sense, he is one in a thousand, maybe one in a million.”
In 1966, SrilaPrabhupada founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which became the formal name for the Hare Krsna movement.
In the years that followed, SrilaPrabhupada gradually attracted tens of thousands of followers, started more than a hundred temples and ashrams, and published scores of books. His achievement is remarkable in that he transplanted India’s ancient spiritual culture to the twentieth-century Western world.
New devotees of Krsna soon became highly visible in all the major cities around the world by their public chanting and their distribution of SrilaPrabhupada’s books of Vedic knowledge. They began staging joyous cultural festivals throughout the year and serving millions of plates of delicious vegetarian food offered to Krsna (known as prasadam). As a result, ISKCON has significantly influenced the lives of millions of people. In the early 1980’s the late A. L. Basham, one of the world’s leading authorities on Indian history and culture, wrote, “The Hare Krsna movement rose out of next to nothing in less than twenty years and has become known all over the West. This is an important fact in the history of the Western World.”
The Philosophy of the Vedas
The Sanskrit term ‘Veda’ literally means ‘knowledge’, specifically the knowledge which is transcendental to the contamination of three modes of material nature (goodness, passion and ignorance) – knowledge descending from the pure spiritual plane, originating from the Supreme Lord Krishna. Such knowledge can release one from suffering in the clutches of the material world, and re-establish one in his constitutional position of being an eternal loving servitor of Sri Krishna. Compiled 5,000 years ago by the great sage SrilaVyasadeva, originally the ‘Vedas’ were one. He divided them into four (Rg, Sama, Yajur and Atharva), summarised them in the ‘Vedanta-sutra’, and wrote a commentary on that entitled ‘Srimad Bhagavatam’ – or the Science of God. His epic history of ancient India the ‘Mahabharata’, is considered the fifth Veda, and the crown-jewel within that is ‘Bhagavad Gita’ – Krishna’s instructions to His disciple Arjuna on the process of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. He also compiled the ‘Puranas’, or histories, and 108 ‘Upanisads’ further explaining transcendental knowledge.
Many supplementary literatures (smrti sastras) have also been compiled by great scholars in the disciplic-succession, such as Rupa Goswami’s ‘Nectar of Devotion’ and ‘CaitanyaCaritamrita’ by KrishnadasKaviraja Goswami, which are considered to be equally authoritative. SrilaPrabhupada has translated the topmost of such books into English, and added commentaries to assist in the understanding of such great works. As well as writing many smaller introductory books, he considered the essence of Krishna Consciousness to be contained in the four books above.