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Hare Krishna Symbol ISKCON History:

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is the religious organization for devotees of Krishna (also spelled Krsna). Their religion is commonly known as Hare Krishna, because of the first two words of their principle mantra:

"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare."

Krishna means "The All-Attractive," Hare addresses the energy of God, and Rama means "The Greatest Pleasure." These names of God and the Hare Krishna Mantra are derived from ancient Indian texts of knowledge called Vedas.

The image at the top of this page is of the Tilaka mark; it appears on the foreheads of all followers of Hare Krishna. The two stripes signify the lotus feet of Krishna; the leaf in the center represents holy basil, or Tulasi which traditionally adorns His feet.

ISKCON and Hinduism both trace their beginnings to the Vedas and to the Bhagavad-gita text. Whereas mainstream Hinduism regards Krishna to be the 8th incarnation of Vishnu (the Preserver and one of the Hindu trinity of deities), ISKCON regards Krishna to be the supreme Lord over all deities, including Vishnu. They are therefore a monotheistic faith group, one that stresses bhakti, the way of devotion.

The roots of the faith can be traced back to the advent of Krishna, 5000 years ago in a village in India called Vrindavana. The faith has been revived in recent history by the 16th Century Guru Caitanya Mahaprabu who is regarded by the Hare Krishnas as an incarnation of Krishna in the form of His own devotee. He taught that Lord Krishna was the principle deity, God Himself, and that everyone can regain a personal relationship with Krishna through sankirtana (congregational chanting of God's names, specifically the Hare Krishna Mantra). This tradition was continued by a line of Gurus including (early in this century) Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Gosvami Maharaj.

Abhay Charan De, a disciple of Bhaktisiddhanta, adopted the name Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, left India at the age of 69 and came to the United States to proselytize. Prabhupada (The Master) organized ISKCON in 1965. During its early years, it was largely financed through the sale of incense and Prabhupada's books published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. One of the "Beatles", George Harrison, donated a mansion near London and produced an album featuring the Hare Krishna Mantra. After 12 years of prolific writing and successful promotion of Krishna Consciousness, the Master died in 1977. His main writings were word-for-word translations and commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita ("The Song of God"), the Bhagavata Purana ("The History of God and His Devotees"), and the Caitanya Caritamrita ("The Life and Teachings of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.") Before his death, he appointed eleven commissioners (some sources incorrectly say 20) who were assigned to accept disciples and extend the organization into different countries of the world.

Their head office is in Los Angeles. They currently have a stable membership of over one million members worldwide. Their publish a magazine called Back to Godhead.

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ISKCON Beliefs:

Their beliefs share much with conventional Hinduism. Their sacred text is the Hindu poem Bhagavad-Gita which contains conversations between Lord Krishna and a soldier Arjuna. A common ISKCON expression is "We are not this body." That is, we are all spirit souls who are temporarily trapped in a material body and its cares and woes. Their goal is to break away from samsara (endless repetitive reincarnations) and return to the kingdom of God.

Their main differences from mainline Hinduism are:

bulletLiberation from samsara is attained through sankirtana, which is congregational singing of God's names, which leads to Krishna Consciousness.
bulletKrishna is worshipped as the Supreme God; they believe that one can attain a personal relationship with Him. Jesus Christ is recognized as a directly empowered representative of Krishna.
bulletHell as a temporary destination after death for people who have sinned greatly while on earth.
bulletDevotees need a spiritual master, who is in a line of succession from the guru Caitanya (or one of three other lines of disciple succession who worship Krishna as the Supreme God.)
bulletEating food prepared for and offered to God is an act of communion with Krishna. When such food is eaten, Krishna's energy purifies the body of the devotee.

Their "Nine Processes of Devotional Service" are:

  1. Hearing about God .
  2. Chanting the names of God .
  3. Remembering God by reading, associating with devotees .
  4. Serving the Lord Krishna in the temple.
  5. Worshiping God by preparation of food, decorating the Lord, bringing others to see Him.
  6. Praying to God.
  7. Encouraging others to chant the names of God.
  8. Develop a close personal and intimate relationship with God.
  9. Giving everything we have to God including our bodies.

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ISKCON Practices:

ISKCON is structured into two sectors: an order of monks and priests who live at a temple, and congregation members, who live outside. Male monks shave their heads, except for a central patch called a sikha. They receive a Sanskrit name (one of the many names of God) plus the suffix "dasa," which means "servant of...," and saffron colored robes, dhotis, to signify celibacy. Married monks wear white dhotis. Female residents of a temple wear traditional saris and do not shave their heads. All monks vow to abandon cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs, reject gambling, and follow a non-violent vegetarian diet. They also make a commitment to chant the names of God a prescribed number of times each day. They rise before sunrise and chant and pray at intervals during the day. Celibacy is preferred and is mandatory for single devotees; sexual activity for married couples is only for the purpose of procreation.

Congregation members wear regular clothing and work regular jobs. Many live near a temple, follow a vegetarian diet, do some prayer and chanting at home, and come to the temple at least once a week, usually for the "Sunday Feast." ("Sunday Feasts" are held at Hare Krishna temples around the world, where anyone can come and participate in the chanting, dancing, and feasting on vegetarian food offered to the Lord.)

Hare Krishnas developed a high profile through their appearance in airports and other public places, dressed in saffron colored robes, chanting, playing drums and finger cymbals, selling their literature, and proselytizing (although book sales at airports was curtailed after 1992 when the US Supreme Court decided that individuals who were soliciting money could be banned from airports and other public places.)

They have many centers throughout North America, in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boise, Boston, Boulder, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Gainesville, Hartford, Honolulu, Houston, Laguna Beach (CA), Lansing, Long Island, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal, Ottawa, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Regina, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tallahassee, Topanga (CA), Toronto, Towaco (NJ), Tucson, Vancouver, Walla Walla, and Washington. They also operate a Vedic School in Coral Springs, FL, and many farm communities and restaurants.

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Child abuse claims:

A $400 million dollar lawsuit was filed in U.S. district court in Dallas, TX on 2000-JUN-12. Forty-four students who attended private religious schools operated by the Hare Krishnas in India and the U.S. allege that they were subjected to sexual, physical and emotional torture. Attorney Windle Turley said that the case involved "the most unthinkable abuse and maltreatment of little children we have seen." The suit alleges that ISKCON transferred students from U.S.-based "gurukulas" (boarding schools) to India, "In a conscious effort to avoid policing and scrutiny by U.S.A.  child protection agencies."  [In India] "ISKCON managed at least two profoundly abusive boarding schools for boys ... The Indian schools were among the worst offenders and abusers of minor boys, and many of the Indian school teachers and leaders were also teachers, leaders and abusers in United States schools." ISKCON spokespersons acknowledged that abuse did occur in the schools and that they have been trying to locate and help the victims. Anuttama Dasa, the sect's communications director admitted: "Abuse happened at our schools. Morally, it's one of the principles in our religion that children are to be protected.  It's not possible to change things that might have happened in the past...

The lawsuit attempted to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). This law had originally been created to tackle drug dealers and their organizations. It had been used with some success against violent anti-abortion groups. If it were successfully applied it in this case of alleged child abuse, then churches and other religious institutions across the U.S. would be vulnerable to federal lawsuits. The National Council of Churches, United States Catholic Conference, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, and American Jewish Congress filed an Amicus Curiae ("Friends of the Court") brief opposing the use of the RICO act in this case.

On 2001-SEP-28, the Honorable Sam A. Lindsay, Judge of the United States District Court in Dallas, TX, dismissed the case.

"An independent organization, Children of Krishna, was formed in 1996 to provide grants for education and counseling for Krishna youth. In 1998, a professionally staffed Child Protection Office (CPO) was established to investigate all allegations of abuse, to provide assistance for youth, and to assure that Krishna communities comply with requirements for child safety and abuse prevention." 1

It has since been re-filed in state courts. There are now 94 alleged victims of abuse involved in the court case.

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Internet References:

Additional information on ISKCON is at:

bulletIskcon.com is the official website of the International Socieity for Krishna Consciousness at: http://www.iskcon.com/ The site includes sections on their founder,  ISKCON structure and goals, literature, art gallery, a listing of ISKCON groups world-wide, FAQ, etc. A mirror site is at http://www.iskcon.org/
bulletIskcon UK and Ireland is a "gateway and/or host for all Hare Krishna temples, projects and devotee websites in the UK and Ireland." See: http://www.iskcon.org.uk/ 
bulletThe New Zealand Hare Krishna spiritual resource network is at: http://welcome.to/
bulletJagannatha's Chakra is a web site featuring "open-minded, inclusive, and compassionate Krishna conscious news, views and discussions." See: http://www.chakra.org/
bulletGraciouskrishna.com is a website dedicated to Shri Krishna and his lovers all around the world. See: http://www.graciouskrishna.com/ The site contains information, images, a forum, a Krishna shop, etc.
bulletThe Hare Krishna News Network features many free MP3 downloads and news items. See: http://www.krishna.org/
bulletKrishna.com has thousands of audio, video, text, and image downloads, as well as a calendar. See: http://www.krishna.com/
bulletRadhadesh is a Hare Krishna spiritual community located in a chateau in the Belgian Ardennes. They give guided tours to about 20,000 visitors a year. See: http://www.radhadesh.com/

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Reference used:

  1. "$400 Million Suit against Hare Krishna Dismissed," ISKCON Communications, at:  http://chakra.org/articles/2001/10/03/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-MAR-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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