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Hare Krishna ISKCON

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Hare Krishna ISKCON

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International Society for Krishna Consciousness

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as 'the Hare Krishna' movement, is one of many Vaishnava groups. [1] It was founded in 1966 in New York City by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.[2] While some classified it as a new religious movement, its core philosophy is based on scriptures such as the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and the Bhagavad-gītā,[3] both of which, they claim, date back more than 5,200 years. The distinctive appearance of the movement and its culture come from the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which has had adherents in India since the late 1400s and Western converts since the early 1930s.[4]

Non-sectarian in its ideals, [5] ISKCON was formed to spread the practice of bhakti yoga (devotion to God), in which aspirant devotees (bhaktas) dedicate their thoughts and actions towards pleasing the Supreme Lord, Krishna (seen as non-different from God).[6][7]ISKCON today is a worldwide confederation of more than 400 centres, including 60 farm communities some aiming for self-sufficiency, 50 schools and 90 restaurants. In recent decades the movement's most rapid expansions in terms of numbers of membership have been within Eastern Europe (especially, since the collapse of the USSR) and India.

Philosophy and history

For further information see: Achintya Bheda Abheda and Gaudiya Vaishnavism

Although Krishna is described as the eighth avatara of Vishnu, some Hindus believe that he is the avatari, or the source of all the other avatars.[10] Thus devotees in ISKCON worship Krishna as the highest form of God, svayam bhagavan, and often refer to him as "the Supreme Personality of Godhead" in writing, which was a phrase coined by Prabhupada in his books on the subject. Devotees consider Radha to be Krishna's divine female counterpart, the embodiment of love. An important aspect of their philosophy is the belief that the individual soul is an eternal personal identity which does not ultimately merge into any formless light or void as suggested by the monistic (Advaita) schools of Hinduism. Prabhupada himself never declared ISKCON to be a Hindu organisation, because he considered it to be a 'material designation' and not an appropriate name. Prabhupada most frequently offers Sanatana-dharma and Varnasrama-dharma as more correct names for the religious system which accepts Vedic authority.[11] It is a monotheistic tradition which has its roots in the theistic Vedanta traditions.[12]

Specifically, ISKCON devotees follow a disciplic line of Gaudiya, or Bengali, Bhagavata Vaishnavas which is the largest branch of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.[13] Vaishnavism means 'worship of Vishnu', and Gauḍa refers to the area where this particular branch of Vaishnavism is widely practiced, including Rajastan and Vrindavana. Gaudiya Vaishnavism has had a continuous following in India, especially West Bengal and Orissa, for the past five hundred years. Srila Prabhupada disseminated Gaudiya Vaishnava Theology in the Western world through extensive writings and translations,[14] including Bhagavad Gita[4], Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana)[5], Chaitanya Charitamrita[6] and other scriptures. These works are now available in more than seventy languages and serve as the canon of ISKCON. Many are now available online from a number of websites.[15] [16]

Early western conversions to monotheistic Krishna Vaisnavism or the Bhagavata Vaishnava line which forms the basis of the ISKCON philosophy were recorded by the Greeks and are reflected in the archaeological record.[17] [18

Seven purposes of ISKCON

 

When Srila Prabhupada first incorporated ISKCON in 1966, he gave it seven purposes:[20].

  1. To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples 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.
  2. To propagate a consciousness of Krishna, as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
  3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus to develop the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).
  4. To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy names of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
  5. To erect for the members, and for society at large, a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
  6. To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.
  7. With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.

Four regulative principles

Srila Prabhupada prescribed four regulative principles, in relation to the four legs of dharma[21] , as the basis of the spiritual life:

The four legs of Dharma are:[21]

  • Daya, Mercy
  • Tapas, Self-Control or Austerity
  • Satyam, Truthfulness
  • Śaucam, Cleanliness of body and mind

Congregational orientation

Many members of ISKCON worship at their local mandir, or temple, and practice Krishna consciousness at home with their families.[22]

Preaching activities

ISKCON is actively evangelistic. Members try to spread Krishna consciousness, primarily by singing the Hare Krishna mantra in public places and by selling books written by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.[23] Both of these activities are known within the movement as Sankirtan. According to the doctrine of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, one does not need to be born in a Hindu family to take up the practice of Vaishnavism. There are ISKCON communities around the world with schools, restaurants and farms. In general, funds collected by ISKCON are treated as communal property and used to support the community as a whole and to promote the preaching mission.[24] Many temples also have programs (like Food for Life Global) to provide meals for the needy. Also, ISKCON has recently brought the academic study of Krishna into western academia as Krishnology.

 Food for Life

Main article: Food for Life

ISKCON has inspired, and sometimes sponsored, a project called Food for Life. The goal of the project is to "liberally distribute pure vegetarian meals (prasadam) throughout the world", as inspired by Prabhupada's instruction, given to his disciples in 1974, "No one within ten miles of a temple should go hungry . . . I want you to immediately begin serving food".[25] A global charity, directed by Paul Turner and Mukunda Goswami,[26] coordinates the project. Food for Life is currently active in over sixty countries and serves over 700,000 meals every day.[26] Its welfare achievements have been noted by a number of journals worldwide.[27][28][29][30]

 Management structure

Srila Prabhupada spent much of the last decade of his life setting up the institution of ISKCON. As a charismatic leader, Srila Prabhupada's personality and management had been responsible for much of the growth of ISKCON and the reach of his mission.[31][32]

The Governing Body Commission (or GBC) was created by Prabhupada in 1970. In a letter written on 28th July 1970 Prabhupada appointed the following members to the commission, all of them non sannyasi: [31]

The letter outlined the following purposes of the commission: 1) improving the standard of temple management, 2) the spread of Krishna consciousness, 3) the distribution of books and literature, 4) the opening of new centers, 5) the education of the devotees. [33] GBC has since grown in size to include 48 senior members from the movement[34] who make decisions based on consensus of opinion rather than any one person having ultimate authority. It has continued to manage affairs since Prabhupada's passing in 1977.[31]

Influential leaders since 1977

Before his death, Prabhupada appointed eleven of his closest disciples to serve as gurus.[35][36] Upon Prabhupada's death on November 14, 1977, these eleven western gurus were chosen to succeed as spiritual heads of ISKCON.[37] Satsvarupa dasa Goswami [38], Jayapataka Swami [39], Hridayananda dasa Goswami, Tamal Krishna Goswami [40], Bhavananda Goswami, Hansadutta Swami, Ramesvara Swami, Harikesa Swami, Bhagavan dasa Adhikari, Kirtanananda Swami, and Jayatirtha dasa Adhikari.

Of these eleven, the first three have remained prominent leaders within the movement, as was Tamal Krishna Goswami until his death in a car accident in March 2002. Bhavananda no longer holds the post of an initiating guru but is still involved with preaching activities. Ramesvara and Harikesa resigned as spiritual leaders in 1987 and 1999 respectively and the remaining four were all expelled from the movement by the Governing Body Commission during turbulent times in the 1980s.[41] Of Prabhupada's disciples, who number some 5,000 in total,[42] approximately 70 are now acting as diksha gurus within ISKCON.[43]

As of March 2008, Ramai Swami is the chairman of ISKCON's Governing Body Commission. [44]

For further information see: Disciples of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.

Internal problems and controversy

In the years following Prabhupada's death in November 1977, a number of theological controversies arose:[45]

Origin of the soul

Srila Prabhupada explains that the soul falls from the spiritual world to this material world and that the supreme objective of the human life is to become Lord Krishna conscious to be able to return "Back to Godhead" (also the title of the official ISKCON magazine). However, some Sarasvata Gaudiya Vaisnavas also teach that the soul has never been in the spiritual world. Discussions about these apparently contradictory views are available in the book Our Original Position published by GBC Press and the article "Where Do the Fallen Souls Fall From?" [46]

The Guru and the Parampara

ISKCON adheres to the traditional system of paramparā, or disciplic succession, in which teachings upheld by scriptures are handed down from master to disciple, generation after generation.[47] A minority of people who express faith in Srila Prabhupada's teachings say that Srila Prabhupada, in contrast to the tradition, intended that after his physical demise he would continue to initiate disciples through ceremonial priests, called ritviks. One version of this idea is espoused by a group calling itself the ISKCON Revival Movement.[48] ISKCON's Governing Body Commission has rejected all such ideas.[49]

Issues within the society

ISKCON also experienced a number of significant internal problems, the majority of which occurred from the late seventies onwards, and especially within the decade following Prabhupada's death.[50]

In 1976 a case involving allegations of "brainwashing" involving a minor named Robin George and her parents went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1983, a California jury awarded the family more than $32 million in damages for false imprisonment and other charges, which was reduced to $485,000 in 1993.[51][52].

Also ISKCON has been subject matter of discussion in some anti-cult movements.[53][54][55]

Currently, except in a few countries (such as some in the Islamic world), the Hare Krishna movement is accepted by the academics as "the most genuinely Hindu of all the many Indian movements in the West".[56]

Stories of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children at the society's boarding schools in India and America began to emerge in the 1980s, with cases dating back from the mid-1970s onwards.[57] Some of these cases later appeared in print, such as in John Hubner and Lindsay Gruson's 1988 book Monkey on a Stick. In 1998 an official publication produced by ISKCON detailed the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children at the society's boarding schools in both India and the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s.[58] The group received praise for its candor but later was sued by 95 people who had attended the schools.[citation needed]

Facing the fiscal drain likely to ensue from this legal action, the ISKCON centers involved declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This allowed them to work out a settlement of US$9.5 million, meant to compensate not only the former students who had brought the suit but also any others who had undergone abuse but had not sued.[59] About 430 such people responded to newspaper advertisements seeking to identify them. Individual victims are expected to receive between $6,000 and $50,000, depending on the nature and duration of their abuse.[citation needed]

To guard against further abuses, ISKCON has established a child protection office with teams worldwide, meant to screen out actual or potential abusers, educate children and adults on child abuse, and encourage due vigilance.[60] A petition circulating (as of July 2006) among ISKCON members calls for "zero tolerance" for past offenders.[61]

In 1990 US Courts pronounced Kirtanananda Swami, the leader of the 'New Vrindavan' religious community (which was expelled from ISKCON for ten years between 1988-1998) [62] guilty on charges of racketeering and conspiracy to murder for his role in the death of two devotees (Steven Bryant and Charles Saint Denis) who had threatened his control of the community. Kirtanananda was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the racketeering charge, but was released in June 2004 for health reasons.[citation needed]

In response to the need to establish transparency and accountability among its members, ISKCON encouraged the establishment of an ombudsman organization, ISKCON Resolve.[63] This Integrated Conflict Management System (ICMS) also provides facilitators, arbitrators, and conflict analysis experts to help ISKCON members deal with internal disputes and concerns. The Resolve organisation states that its aims are to give all members of ISKCON a voice and to bring the ISKCON leadership to higher levels of transparency and accountability.[citation needed]

 Rath Yatra controversy

ISKCON organises Rath Yatra festivals in different countries around the world, including India. Although held once annually in each location, these festivals occur on different dates throughout the summertime, which is marked difference from the Rath Yatra as held at the Jagannatha temple in Puri (where the festival originates). At this temple, the Rath Yatra festival is held once each year on a specific date in July, and complaints have recently been made regarding ISKCON's having their international festivals at significantly different times to this.[64] On December 20, 2007 the Puri priests held a demonstration demanding a ban on entry of ISKCON monks and alleging "a number of foreigners under the cover of ISKCON were trying to enter the temple", which is not allowed as per temple tradition (only ethnic Hindus are traditionally allowed into the temple).[65]. The validity of this temple policy has been questioned in the media on a number of occasions,[66][67] with one case in November 2007 notably involving members of ISKCON.[68]

Notable disciples of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Listed by date of first initiation:

 

Notable grand disciples of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

 

 Members & patrons in popular culture and the media