What Is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness?
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement, is a worldwide association of devotees of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
God is known by many names, according to His different qualities and activities. In the Bible He is known as Jehovah (“the almighty one”), in the Koran as Allah (“the great one”), and in the Bhagavad-gita as Krishna, a Sanskrit name meaning “the all-attractive one.”
The movement’s main purpose is to promote the well-being of human society by teaching the science of God consciousness (Krishna 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 Srila Prabhupada, brought Krishna 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 Krishna, 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, “Srila Prabhupada harkened to the mandate of his own spiritual teacher and set out on the difficult and demanding voyage to America. Srila Prabhupada 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, Srila Prabhupada founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which became the formal name for the Hare Krishna movement.
In the years that followed, Srila Prabhupada 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 Krishna soon became highly visible in all the major cities around the world by their public chanting and their distribution of Srila Prabhupada’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 Krishna (known as Prasada). 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 Krishna movement arose 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.”
Five Thousand Years of Spiritual Wisdom
Scholars worldwide have acclaimed Çréla Prabhupäda’s translations of Vedic literature. Garry Gelade, a professor at Oxford University’s Department of Philosophy, wrote of them: “These texts are to be treasured. No one of whatever faith or philosophical persuasion who reads these books with an open mind can fail to be moved and impressed.” And Dr. Larry Shinn, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Bucknell University, wrote, “Prabhupada’s personal piety gave him real authority. He exhibited complete command of the scriptures, an unusual depth of realization, and an outstanding personal example, because he actually lived what he taught.”
The best known of the Vedic texts, the Bhagavad-gita (“Song of God”), is the philosophical basis for the Hare Krishna movement. Dating back 5,000 years, it is sacred to nearly a billion people today. This exalted work has been praised by scholars and leaders the world over. Mahatma Gandhi said, “When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face and I see not one ray of hope, I turn to the Bhagavad-gita and find a verse to comfort me.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.” It is not surprising to anyone familiar with the Gétä that Henry David Thoreau said, “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita.”
As Dr. Shinn pointed out, Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita (titled Bhagavad-gita As It Is) possesses unique authority not only because of his erudition but because he lived what he taught. Thus unlike the many other English translations of the Gita that preceded his, which is replete with extensive commentary, Srila Prabhupada’s has sparked a spiritual revolution throughout the world.
Lord Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad-gita that we are not these temporary material bodies but spirit souls, or conscious entities, and that we can find genuine peace and happiness only in spiritual devotion to God. The Gétä and other well-known world scriptures recommend that people joyfully chant God’s holy names, such as Krishna, Allah, and Jehovah.