Probably you have already seen members of the Hare Krsna movement singing and dancing in the streets or you have been asked for donation for a book or a magazine. You could also see us in TV or read about us in newspapers. How many times have you asked yourselves: Who are they? Why do they dress in this way? What do they believe in? Why do they always sing? Who is Krsna?
To enable you to better understand us, we want to show you the Hare Krsna movement in detail and tell you who we are. You will be probably surprised by learning that to become a part of the Hare Krsna movement one does not need to wear traditional dress or change ones hairstyle or religion. You will discover that Krsna consciousness is much more than religion. It is a spiritual, universal, time-proven process enabling to achieve inner happiness, satisfaction and higher consciousness.
Hare Krsna movement makes spiritual reality and culture derived from it known to the widest public. This makes it unique. When you speak with a devotee from the Hare Krsna movement, eat spiritual food served in our restaurants, take part in the Sunday festival in a temple, read any of our books or chant Hare Krsna at least once, your consciousness will change. And this spiritual change of consciousness is the key to improvement of the quality of life on this planet.
Michael Grant (Mukunda Goswami)
Although the term Hare Krsna became established in the West, almost no one knows what it means. Is it just a repeated mantrum meant to hypnotize those who chant it? Is it maybe a way to escape reality? Or is it an authentic meditation really able to increase ones consciousness?
The transcendental vibration established by the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is the sublime method of reviving our transcendental consciousness. Krsna means the all-attractive person, Rama means the highest pleasure, and Hare refers to Krsnas internal pleasure potency known as Srimati Radharani. As living spiritual souls we are all originally Krsna conscious entities, but due to our association with matter from time immemorial, our consciousness is now polluted by the material atmosphere. The material environment, in which we are now living, is called maya, or illusion. Maya means that which is not. And what is this illusion? The illusion is that we are all trying to be lords of material nature, while actually we are under the grip of her stringent laws. When a servant artificially tries to imitate the all-powerful master, this is called illusion. In this polluted concept of life, we are all trying to exploit the resources of material nature, but actually we are becoming more and more entangled in her complexities. Therefore, although we are engaged in a hard struggle to conquer nature, we are ever more dependent on her. This illusory struggle against material nature can be stopped at once by revival of our Krsna consciousness. Chanting of the maha-mantra is the transcendental process of reviving of this original, pure consciousness. By chanting of this transcendental vibration we can cleanse our hearts of all impurities. Their basis is the false consciousness that I am the lord of all I survey.
Krsna consciousness is not an artificial imposition on the mind. This consciousness is the original natural energy of the living entity. Hare Krsna mantra, or the Great Chanting for Deliverance, is enacted from the spiritual platform, and thus this sound vibration surpasses all lower strata of consciousness namely sensual, mental, and intellectual. There is no need, therefore, to understand the language of the mantra, nor is there any need for mental speculation nor any intellectual adjustment for chanting this mantra. This simplest method of meditation is recommended for this age. Anyone, including the children, can take part in chanting without any previous qualification.
Loud chanting has the added benefit of allowing other living beings to hear the holy names. This fits well with one of the characteristics of real religion: everyone should benefit from its performance. The Vedas proclaim, sarve sukhino bhavantu: Let everyone be happy. More than any other religious process, harinama-sankirtana fulfills that need in human society.
Devotees in the Hare Krsna movement perform the traditional method of congregational chanting called kirtana. This group singing of Hare Krsna is accompanied by percussion instruments, such as gongs, drums (mrdanga), and cymbals (karatala). During kirtana, whether in the temple or outside, devotees usually stand or dance. One person leads the singing, and everyone else responds. Devotees hold kirtanas in the public places (so-called harinamas) so that others may benefit by hearing the Lords holy names. Krsna considers such unintentional hearing devotional service, and it entitles one to render more service in the future.
Sweets which we offer during harinamas come from the same source as many other ancient Indian specialties: our famous vegetarian restaurants Govinda. It is not just a food to fill ones stomach. Because it is also the spiritual food, called prasadam (mercy), it is meant for the purification of consciousness and the encouragement of the soul.
Although one candle kindles unlimited numbers of other candles, each with the same intensity as the first, there yet remains the original candle. Similarly, although the Supreme Personality of Godhead expands Himself in unlimited forms, He yet remains the original cause of all causes. In the Vedas, that supreme original cause is known by the name Krsna because He possesses unlimited transcendental qualities, which can attract all living beings.
Five hundred years ago, that same supreme cause, Lord Sri Krsna, appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and declared that the chanting of His holy names Hare Krsna, Hare Rama would spread beyond the shores of India to every town and village in the world. Hundreds of years passed, and Lord Caitanyas faithful followers were left wondering just how and when His bold prediction would come true.
Then, on August 13, 1965, just a few days before his sixty-ninth birthday, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami philosopher, scholar, and saint set out for America to see what could be done. Begging passage from a local steamship company, he traveled as the only passenger on board a small weathered cargo ship named the Jaladuta. In his possession were a suitcase, an umbrella, a supply of dry cereal, about seven dollars worth of Indian currency, and several boxes of books.
When the Jaladuta arrived in New York harbor thirty-seven days later, Bhaktivedanta Swami was utterly alone. He had come to America knowing no one, with absolutely no visible means of support, and with only the meager handful of possessions he had carried on board the ship. He had no money, no friends, no followers, not his youth, good health or even a clear idea of how he would accomplish his far-reaching objective to present the spiritual knowledge of the Vedas to the entire Western society.
In a poem written in Bengali just after his arrival, Bhaktivedanta Swami expressed his humble faith in Lord Sri Krsna and the special instruction of his own spiritual master, who had intended him to spread the teachings of Krsna consciousness throughout the English-speaking world:
My dear Lord Krsna. How will I make them understand this message of Krsna consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified, and the most fallen. Therefore I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them, for I am powerless to do so on my own. I am sure that when this transcendental message penetrates their hearts they will certainly feel engladdened and thus become liberated from all unhappy conditions of life.
This poem was written on September 17, 1965. Just twelve years later, on November 14, 1977, Bhaktivedanta Swami passed away in India at the age of 81. What happened in those twelve years? What was Bhaktivedanta Swami able to accomplish during this brief period, having begun with nothing, and at an age when most are ready to retire? The list of accomplishments is striking by any standard.
In short, between the years 1965 and 1977, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, or Srila Prabhupada, as his followers affectionately came to know him, had spread the teachings of Krsna consciousness to every major city in the world, and had formed an international society comprising thousands of dedicated members. He had established 108 temples, with magnificent estates spread across six continents, and had circled the globe twelve times to personally guide the membership of his broadening mission.
As if this were not enough accomplishment for a person proceeding from his 70th to his 82nd year, Srila Prabhupada had also translated, written, and published 51 volumes of books in 28 different languages, tens of millions of which had been distributed throughout the world. He had delivered thousands of lectures, written thousands of letters, and taken part in thousands of conversations with followers, admirers, and critics alike. And he had won the esteem of hundreds of prominent scholars and social figures, who had genuine appreciation for Srila Prabhupadas contributions to religion, philosophy, and culture.
The astonishing story of how Srila Prabhupada achieved such a marvelous result in twelve short years is far beyond the scope of this pamphlet. But the remaining pages will provide you with a glimpse into his remarkable teachings and achievements.
Now I can see that it is a miracle. Otherwise, how could one old man, with only a few books to sell for barely getting food, introduce a God conscious movement in a materialistic society?
I have come here in this old age neither for sightseeing nor for personal interest. It is for implementing the science of Krsna which will actually make people happy.
After arriving in New York City in September 1965, Srila Prabhupada struggled alone for the first year to establish his God conscious movement. He lived simply, lectured whenever and wherever he got the opportunity, and gradually began to attract some small interest in his teachings.
In July of 1966, while still working alone from an obscure storefront on New York Citys Lower East Side, Srila Prabhupada nonetheless founded a spiritual society intended for worldwide participation. He called it the International Society for Krsna Consciousness, or ISKCON for short.
At the time of incorporation, Srila Prabhupada had not attracted even one committed follower. Undeterred, he enlisted volunteers from among the small group of regular attendees at his evening lectures to act as ISKCONs first trustees.
That was then. Today, the International Society for Krsna Consciousness comprises more than 300 temples, farms, schools, and special projects throughout the world and maintains a worldwide congregation numbering in the millions.
Krsna consciousness is more than another sectarian faith. It is a technical science of spiritual values that is fully described in the Vedic literature of ancient India. The aim of the Krsna consciousness movement is to acquaint all people of the world with these universal principles of God-realization so that they may derive the highest benefits of spiritual understanding, unity, and peace.
The Vedas recommend that in the present age the most effective means for achieving self-realization is to always hear about, glorify, and remember the all-good Supreme Lord, who is known by many names. One of these names is Krsna, which means He who is all-attractive, another is Rama, which means He who is the reservoir of all pleasure, and Hare indicates the Lords inconceivable energy.
Following the Vedic recommendation, the members of ISKCON are always seen chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This sublime chanting puts us directly in touch with the Supreme Lord through the sound vibration of His holy names and gradually awakens us to our original relationship with God.
ISKCONs primary mission is thus to encourage all members of human society to devote at least some portion of their time and energies to this process of hearing and chanting about God. In this way they will gradually come to realize that all living beings are spirit souls, eternally related to the Supreme Lord in service and in love.
Distributing Spiritual Food
Along with teaching Vedic knowledge and spreading the chanting of the Lords holy names, ISKCON also freely distributes spiritual food throughout the world. Like the philosophy and the chanting, vegetarian food that has first been offered to the Lord purifies the heart and mind. Thus it assists in the process of gradually uncovering ones original awareness of God. ISKCONs distribution of spiritualized food, therefore, through its program known worldwide as Food for Life, is beneficial for the body as well as the soul of each recipient.
Human life is simply awarded to a living entity so that he can realize his spiritual identity and his permanent source of happiness.
Of all his various contributions, Srila Prabhupada considered his books most important. In fact, he would often describe his work of translating and explaining the ancient Vedic texts as his very life and soul. In 1970, Srila Prabhupada founded the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT), now the worlds largest publisher of Vedic literature. Over seventy titles of his books are published in seventy-six languages, from Arabic to Zulu. Through its work over the last quarter century, millions of people have read at least one of Srila Prabhupadas books and have felt their lives genuinely enriched. These books constitute the real basis of the Hare Krsna Movement. Here is a brief introduction to the spiritual knowledge you will find within those books.
Srila Prabhupadas Books Highlight the Importance of the Human Form of Life
There are many forms of life on this planet. There are immovable forms such as trees and plants, and a vast array of aquatic, insect, bird, beast, and mammalian forms as well. Our human form is also one among these varied forms of life, yet even a casual observer would have to agree that we human beings are endowed with unique capacities that distinguish us from all other forms of life. What exactly are those unique capacities?
We can begin answering this question with another. What is it that distinguishes a living form from a nonliving form? The answer is consciousness, or awareness. All living forms display this symptom of consciousness to one degree or another. That is why we call them living rather than dead. Even the small microbial germ or the common houseplant show signs of consciousness, whereas our dining table and chairs do not.
It is also evident that different forms of life display different degrees and levels of consciousness, and the human form represents the highest development of consciousness that we know. It is this greater development of consciousness, then, that distinguishes the human being from all other forms of life on the planet.
But what is it about our consciousness that makes it so different from that of the insect, the bird, the beast, or even the monkey? These creatures eat and we also eat; they sleep and we also sleep; they reproduce and we reproduce; they defend themselves and so do we. That we can perform these functions with greater sophistication may be one indicator that we possess higher consciousness, but it does not fully explain our excellence above all other forms of life.
A more satisfactory explanation is found in our ability to question our existence, reflect upon our selves, and inquire into our own nature and the nature of God. We can create languages, ponder the meaning of life, and puzzle in wonderment over the nighttime sky. Such an endowment is not present in any other form of life.
The Vedas therefore advise that in this human form of life we should be inquisitive to know who we are, what the universe is, what God is, and what the relationship is between ourselves, the universe, and God. We should inquire about the solution to the ultimate problems of life, namely birth, death, old age, and disease. Such questions cannot be asked by the cats and dogs, but they must arise in the heart of a real human being.
Srila Prabhupadas Books Reveal the Perfect Knowledge of the Vedas
If we can accept the importance of this type of inquiry, our next consideration will naturally be where to find authoritative answers to such questions. Clearly, if perfect knowledge concerning questions of the self, the universe, and God, exists at all, it would have to be of a standard higher than just your opinion or my opinion, or for that matter Freuds or Einsteins or anyone elses opinion.
Because all of us have imperfect senses and because we are all prone to make mistakes, our relative opinions about matters beyond our experience can supply neither valid nor reliable information.
Thus our attempt to approach such matters empirically will be fraught with various imperfections and ultimately fail. Therefore, so-called truths established exclusively on the basis of mental speculation cannot help us understand the Absolute Truth, which is beyond the reach of the imperfect senses and mind.
The Vedas explain that if we want to know about things beyond the jurisdiction of our experience beyond the limitations of human perception and cognition the process is to hear from one who knows. The transcendental knowledge of the Vedas was first uttered by the Supreme Lord Himself. The Lord, the supremely powerful being, cannot fall under the influence of any other force. As a logical consequence, His knowledge must be perfect. And anyone who transmits that knowledge without change gives the same perfect knowledge. We need only accept this proposition theoretically to progress in our understanding of Vedic thought.
The idea is that the perfect knowledge of the Vedas has been preserved over time by transmission through an unbroken chain of spiritual masters. Srila Prabhupada represents one such disciplic chain or succession. That succession goes back thousands of years to Lord Krsna Himself. Thus the knowledge found within Srila Prabhupadas books is nondifferent from that which was originally imparted by the Supreme Lord. Srila Prabhupada did not manufacture truths. He merely delivered the timeless teachings of the original Vedas without addition, deletion, or change.
The writings of Srila Prabhupada are represented mainly by three Vedic texts the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Caitanya-caritamta. Together these works of literature comprise more than 25 volumes of detailed information constituting the original Vedic science of God realization, or bhagavata-dharma. Their translation into the English language, along with elaborate explanations, constitutes Srila Prabhupadas most significant contribution to the spiritual, intellectual, and cultural life of the world.
Srila Prabhupadas Books Present a Universal Science of God Realization
The Vedic teachings presented in Srila Prabhupadas books can be summarized under three general headings, known in Sanskrit as sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana. Sambandha means our relationship with God, abhidheya means acting in that relationship, and prayojana means the ultimate goal or perfection. These three divisions of understanding represent universal principles common to all religious teachings of the world.
The knowledge described in Srila Prabhupadas books enables anyone to advance in his or her understanding of God without having to change current religious, national, or cultural affiliations. The science of how to understand God, how to understand ones relationship with God, and how to develop love for God has nothing to do with sectarian faiths. These are objectives no religion in the world could deny. They are, in other words, the essence of religion universal features by which all religions may be understood.
Preferences regarding Gods holy name may differ from one religion to another, modes of worship may differ, and details of ritual and doctrine may differ as well. But the test is how much the practitioner actually develops knowledge of God and love for God. Real religion means to learn to love God. And how to love God is the sum and substance of the teachings found in Srila Prabhupadas books.
Srila Prabhupadas Books Explain the Difference Between the Self and the Body
Without exception, all material phenomena have a beginning and an end. A most prominent idea of modern culture is that consciousness is another such material phenomenon. Thus it is believed that consciousness (or the self) also ends with the death of the material body. This point of view, however, remains only an assumption. It has not been proven true by any scientific observation or experiment.
Nonetheless, the idea that the self ends with the body remains one of the great articles of faith of modern materialistic thought, and most of us have been educated from early childhood to think of ourselves in terms of such beliefs. Few of us, however, have thought through the philosophical implications of this type of thinking, which draw us unconsciously toward voidistic and nihilistic styles of life.
The most basic of the Vedic teachings stands in direct opposition to the modern scientific view of consciousness and life. According to that teaching, individual consciousness is not at all dependent upon neurobiological functions but permanently exists as an independent reality.
The presence within the material body of a conscious observer who remains ever present throughout changing bodily and mental states indicates the existence of two energies the spiritual energy (represented by the conscious self) and the material energy (represented by the temporary body). The Vedas explain that this spiritual energy, symptomized by consciousness, continues to exist even after the material body is finished.
If each of us is an eternal soul covered only by different temporary bodily dresses, we can reasonably conclude that the highest welfare activity for all of human society is that which awakens us to our true spiritual identity and our dormant relationship with God. That activity is called Krsna consciousness.
Just as there is neither glory nor profit in saving the dress of a drowning man, there is neither glory nor profit in humanitarian efforts aimed exclusively at improving conditions for the temporary material body, which in the end is destined to grow old, become diseased, and die.
As Srila Prabhupada himself notes in Srimad-Bhagavatam: The actual self is beyond the gross body and subtle mind. He is the potent, active principle of the body and mind. Without knowing the need of the dormant soul, one cannot be happy simply with the gratification of the body and mind. The spirit souls needs must be fulfilled. Simply by cleansing the cage of the bird, one does not satisfy the bird.
There is dormant affection for God within everyone. Therefore we have to engage ourselves in activities that will evoke our divine consciousness. This is possible only by hearing and chanting the divine activities of the Supreme Lord. Thus any occupational engagement which does not help one to achieve attachment for hearing and chanting the transcendental message of God is said to be simply a waste of time.
The Vedas are not compilations of human knowledge. Vedic knowledge comes from the spiritual world, from Lord Krsna.
As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change. (Bhagavad-gita chapter 2, text 13)
An explanation by Srila Prabhupada
In the modern age, people are so uneducated that they cannot understand that the body is changing at every moment and that the ultimate change is called death. In this life one may be a king, and in the next life one may be a dog, according to karma. The spirit soul is in a deep slumber caused by the force of material nature. He is put into one type of condition and again changed into another type. Without self realization and knowledge, conditional life continues, and one falsely claims himself a king, a cat, or a dog. These are simply transformations brought about by the supreme arrangement.
The scientists say life arose from matter. But they cannot actually demonstrate this in their laboratories.
According to the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, the soul within transmigrates from one body to another. Ones situation in the next life depends upon his activities in this life. Thus one is sometimes elevated to a higher form and sometimes degraded to a lower form. This is called the law of karma.
Scholarly Appreciation of Srila Prabhupadas Teachings
Srila Prabhupada often noted that although modern colleges and universities had many departments of understanding, there was no department that taught scientific knowledge of the self and God. By presenting the original Vedic science of God realization through his books, Srila Prabhupada filled the gap and met this vital educational need. Over the years, hundreds of scholars who either personally met Srila Prabhupada or read his books have expressed keen appreciation for both his personal qualities and the contribution his teachings have made to humanity.
For example, Harvey Cox, world-renowned professor of religion at Harvard University, describes how he gradually recognized the value of Srila Prabhupadas contribution:
When I first met the Hare Krsnas, I can remember how surprised I was, and I wondered what this meant. The costumes, the chanting, and the shaved heads appeared a little strange to me. But as I came to know the movement, I came to find that there was a striking similarity in the essence of what they were teaching and in the original core of Christianity that is, living simply, not trying to accumulate worldly goods, living with compassion toward all creatures, sharing, loving, and living joyfully. I am impressed with how much the teachings of one man and the spiritual tradition he brought have impacted themselves into the lives of so many people. In my view Srila Prabhupadas contribution is a very important one and will be a lasting one.
We are purchasing such big, big houses. Why? Just to give people the opportunity to hear about Krsna.
Srila Prabhupadas main program for revitalizing the Vedic teachings in India was the construction of major temples. By the time of his passing away in 1977, he had already seen to the construction of temples in Bombay and Vrindaban. Today, forty-one temples are spread throughout India, with a nationwide congregation of millions.
As already mentioned, ISKCON currently has more than three hundred temples, farms, schools, and special projects throughout the world. At each center members teach daily classes, perform chanting, and provide individual instruction on the science of Krsna consciousness. Each center also holds a weekly festival and vegetarian feast, as well as programs on festive occasions throughout the year. All programs are open to the public.
Our grand spiritual masters desire was that the Westerners would come here and develop this place, and chant and dance along with the Indians.
International Society for Krsna Consciousness (ISKCON) was established by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, its founder-acarya. International Society for Krsna Consciousness is usually known as Hare Krsna movement and it is authentic, historically authorized, natural and transcendental, because it is based on Bhagavad-gita, the most authorized book about spiritual science. In Bhagavad-gita Krsna repeatedly says, that we should worship Him, offer Him our obeisances and then come to Him. Bhagavad-gita clearly points out the absolute necessity of Krsna consciousness and it is accepted as an essence of Vedas and Upanisads. From the historical point of view it has no equal. Calculations based on archeological evidence show that Krsna spoke Bhagavad-gita on the battlefield called Kuruksetra more than five thousand years ago. From the historical point of view this Krsna consciousness movement is five thousand years old. Gradually it is becoming the most popular movement in the world, especially among young generation. It becomes more and more interesting also to the older generation, especially among scholars.
It is a widespread misconception that the Krsna consciousness movement is a Hindu religion. In fact it does not present any belief or religion competing with other beliefs or religions. It is an educational and cultural movement for the benefit of all and it does not identify with any specific sectarian belief. Main goal of this movement is to teach people about the basic principles of spiritual life. Krsna consciousness movement educates intelligent people to be able to control their mind and senses, to learn truthfulness, internal and external purity, to become wise, to be able to apply their knowledge in practical life and to achieve God consciousness.
Bhagavad-gita is usually published as an independent work, but originally it is an episode in Mahabharata, sanskrit epic from ancient history of the world. Mahabharata describes events preceding the present age called Kali. At its beginning, about five thousand years ago, Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, spoke Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, His friend and devotee. Their talk one of the most significant philosophical and spiritual dialogues in history immediately preceded the battle on the battlefield of Kuruksetra near modern New Delhi. All world armies gathered there to end a long-lasting argument for a throne between its rightful heirs, five sons of King Pandu, and their cousins, envious and wicked sons of King Dhritarastra, in the most drastic way. Arjuna, the most famous of five Pandavas, faced very difficult decision: to fight against ones own relatives and friends and kill them, or leave the battlefield and renounce his right and duty. Careful reader will surely be thrilled by the perfection of Sri Krsna, who by perfect logic, knowledge about karma and souls reincarnation, description of different yoga practices and ultimately the highest yoga system bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to the Supreme Lord explains why should Arjuna fight. Arjuna enlightened by knowledge therefore decides to fight to fulfill his ksatriya duty and to please Krsna.
Goals of ISKCON
When Srila Prabhupada established in July 1966 in New York Krsna consciousness movement (ISKCON), he set its seven goals:
1. To systematically spread spiritual knowledge in the whole society and educate all people in principles of spiritual life to check the imbalance of life values and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
2. To spread Krsna consciousness in the way it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
3. To bring together members of the movement and lead them to Krsna, the original person, and in this way develop in them and the whole humanity the idea that every soul is part and parcel of God (Krsna).
4. To teach and support sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy names of God, as it is revealed in the teaching of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
5. To develop places of pilgrimage related to the pastimes of Lord Krsna for the benefit of members and the whole society.
6. To associate members for the purpose of teaching more simple and natural way of life.
7. To print and spread periodical publications, books and other literature to fulfill above-mentioned goals