Popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is a worldwide confederation of more than 400 temples, 100 vegetarian restaurants, and a wide variety of community and agrarian projects.
ISKCON belongs to the spiritual lineage (sampradaya) of the Gaudiya Vaishnava - a monotheistic tradition within the ancient Vedic culture preserved in India. ISKCON traces its lineage directly to Lord Krishna, as it is philosophically based on His divine words, the Bhagavad Gita - "The Song of God" - in Sanskrit, which is more than 5000 years old. In this sacred book, Lord Krishna reveals his divinity as Bhagavan – the Original Supreme Person.
More recently, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 -1534), a divine incarnation of Lord Krishna, has propagated the chanting of the Holy Names - the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra - as the most effective way in this age to attain spiritual realization and pure love of God.
In 1965 at the age of 70 years, His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada (1896-1977), an illustrious successor of Sri Chaitanya, traveled alone from India to America, to propagate the pure teachings of Lord Krishna and also introduce the chanting of His Holy Names. And in July 1966, Srila Prabhupada officially inaugurated his mission by incorporating the "International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)" in New York. From this humble beginning, the Hare Krishna movement then swept for the next decade all around the globe. Srila Prabhupada was thus able to guide his more than 5,000 followers to establish worldwide about 108 temples / Hare Krishna communities, before leaving in 1977.
The mission of the Hare Krishna Movement is to promote the welfare of the global society by educating mankind on the principles of theistic life enshrined in the Vedas. Through this science of Krishna consciousness, we can achieve the greatest potential of love of God. And it is for this purpose that Srila Prabhupada had established the mission of ISKCON.
ISKCON bases its philosophy on the ancient Vaishnava culture of the Vedas, as preserved in the sacred literatures of the Bhagavad-Gita, the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam), and the Sri Caitanya-caritamrita. The study of these sacred writings occurs daily in ISKCON temples, as well as during the devotional festivals every Sunday.
The Vedas teach that the true identity of every soul is as an eternal soul, and not as material bodies. God is our original common Father, and thus all beings (regardless of their different forms or bodies) are inter-connected. In the Vaishnava tradition, God is known by many names, but mostly by the name "Krishna" which defines Him as the "All attractive Supreme Person." And that the same God is worshiped in all the major scriptures of the world with different aspects and approaches.
ISKCON teaches that the purpose of life is to develop love of God, which is the essence of every soul. And love of God is realized through the practice of bhakti-yoga: the science of devotional service. This ancient system of yoga teaches the art of spiritualizing all human activities by offering them with devotion to God. And to better attain Krishna consciousness, we should meditate on the holy names of Lord Krishna:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare;
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Practices and principles
In the daily practice of bhakti, ISKCON members participate in regular worship, study of the scripture, sharing sanctified vegetarian meals, and also cultivate the friendship between the other Krishna devotees.
Devotees of Krishna should also practice the four "pillars of religion": compassion, truthfulness, cleanliness and austerity. To maintain these principles, designed to concentrate the mind and senses in their spiritual activities, the devotees also follow these basic rules of conduct: to be strictly vegetarian (no meat, fish or eggs) to refrain from intoxication (no smoking, drinking or taking drugs), no gambling, and no sex out of wedlock.
ISKCON has more than one million members worldwide. While some members live in the temples and ashrams (monasteries) as monks and nuns, the majority work or go to school and practice Krishna consciousness in their homes; they also go to the temple on a regular basis. Participation is open to anyone, regardless of race, sex or ethnicity.
Before his death in 1977, Srila Prabhupada established a Central Board of Directors (Governing Body Commission - GBC) to oversee the activities of his international society. This central ecclesiastical council consists of senior Krishna devotees who work together as a body to guide the worldwide organization. Each ISKCON temple is individually incorporated and conducts its spiritual activities through the local leadership.