The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), otherwise known as the Hare Krishna movement, includes five hundred major centers, temples and rural communities, nearly one hundred affilated vegetarian restaurants, thousands of namahattas or local meeting groups, a wide variety of community projects, and millions of congregational members worldwide. Although less than fifty years on the global stage, ISKCON has expanded widely since its founding by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda in New York City in 1966.
ISKCON belongs to the Gaudiya-Vaishnava sampradāya, a monotheistic tradition within the Vedic or Hindu culture. Philosophically it is based on the Sanskrit texts Bhagavad-gītā and the Bhagavat Purana, or Srimad Bhagavatam. These are the historic texts of the devotional bhakti yoga tradition, which teaches that the ultimate goal for all living beings is to reawaken their love for God, or Lord Krishna, the “all-attractive one”.
God is known across the world by many names including Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Rama, etc. ISKCON devotees chant God’s names in the form of the maha-mantra, or the great prayer for deliverance: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
ISKCON’s founder, Srila Prabhupada, has drawn appreciation from scholars and religious leaders alike for his remarkable achievement in presenting India’s Vaishnava spiritual culture in a relevant manner to contemporary Western and worldwide audiences.
Members of ISKCON practice bhakti-yoga in their homes and also worship in temples. They also promote bhakti-yoga, or Krishna Consciousness, through festivals, the performing arts, yoga seminars, public chanting, and the distribution of the society’s literatures. ISKCON members have also opened hospitals, schools, colleges, eco-villages, free food distribution projects, and other institutions as a practical application of the path of devotional yoga.
History of the Hare Krishna Movement
In 1965, at the age of 69, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada boarded the steamship ‘Jalduta’ from Mumbai on his way to United States. At an age when most people think of retiring Srila Prabhupada undertook this arduous journey to fulfil the mission of Lord Caitanya and follow the instructions of his spiritual master Bhaktisiddanta Saraswati Thakur to carry out the message of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam to the Western world. After arriving in New York City in September 1965, Srila Prabhupada struggled alone for the first year to establish his Krishna conscious movement. He lived simply, lectured whenever and wherever he got the opportunity and gradually began to attract some small interest in New York City’s Lower East Side, Srila Prabhupada nonetheless founded a spiritual society intended for worldwide participation. He called it the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON for short, and thus began the Hare Krishna movement in America.
At the time of incorporation, Srila Prabhupada had not attracted even one committed follower. Undeterred, he enlisted volunteers from among the small group of regular attendees at his evening lectures to act as ISKCON’s first trustees. That was then. Today, ISKCON comprises of more than 500 temples worldwide, 40 rural communities and over 100 vegetarian restaurants. It also conducts special projects throughout the world, such as “Food for Life’, a free vegetarian relief program in the world.