International Society for Krishna Consciousness
(ISKCON)
(est. 1966)
   The International Society for Krishna Conscious-ness (ISKCON) was founded in 1966 by the Krishna devotee and Vedic scholar Swami Prabhupada BHAKTIVEDANTA (1896–1977). He entered New York City at age 69 in 1965, when the U.S. quotas on immigration from Asia were abolished, and quickly attracted a following of young men and women by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra (Hare Krishna / Hare Krishna / Krishna Krishna / Hare Hare, / Hare Rama / Hare Rama / Rama Rama / Hare Hare).
   The first ISKCON temple was established in a tiny New York storefront at 26 Second Avenue, and from here the movement spread quickly, first throughout North America, London, and Ham-burg, and then all over the world. In just over a decade Bhaktivedanta Swami had established 108 Krishna temples and published 70 volumes of books, more than 100 million copies of which were distributed by his disciples, who in the late 1970s numbered in the thousands.
   ISKCON’s teachings are based exclusively on Bhaktivedanta Swami’s translations and explana-tions of classical Hindu scripture, particularly the BHAGAVAD GITA and the BHAGAVATA PURANA. ISK-CON sees itself theologically as representing the monotheistic central core of Hinduism. According to this position the absolute truth is a supremely powerful being, KRISHNA, and all individual souls are of the same spiritual nature as Krishna, but never equal to him. By chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, which was introduced 500 years ago by Sri Krishna CHAITANYA (1486–1533), believed to be an incarnation of Krishna, the individual soul can reawaken its dormant love for God and at the time of death return to the spiritual realm to serve Krishna eternally in full bliss and knowledge. All other Hindu deities are seen as either subservient demigods, such as DURGA, SHIVA, and BRAHMA, or direct expansions of Krishna, such as VISHNU and Narayana.
   Members of ISKCON are strict lactoveg-etarians and offer their food to Krishna before eating. Such offered food is called prasadam or the Lord’s mercy. Practitioners living in temple ashrams are expected to rise early for religious observances (known as aratis) in the temple, the first starting at 4:30 A.M. During these ceremonies devotees sing Sanskrit songs while dancing before elaborately decorated forms of Krishna and his consort, Radha. After chanting the Hare Krishna mantra on beads and worshipping a form (or murti) of Bhaktivedanta Swami, the morning pro-gram ends with a class based on a verse from the Bhagavat Purana. Ceremonies and observances are standardized in all temples throughout the world.
   ISKCON grew rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s but has seen a recent decline in membership, attributed by some observers to the controversies surrounding the leadership succession after Bhak-tivedanta’s death and the creation of subsequent reform movements.
   Further reading: Swami A. C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhu-pada, Bhagavad-Gita As It Is (New York: Bhaktivedanta Trust, 1972); ———, KRSNA, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, 3 vols. (New York: Bhaktivedanta Trust, 1970); ———, The Science of Self-Realization (New York: Bhaktivedanta Trust, 1977); Steven J. Gelberg, ed., Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna (New York: Grove Press, 1983); J. Stillson Judah, Hare Krishna and the Counterculture (New York: Wiley, 1974).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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