“Human life is simply awarded to a living entity so that he can realize his spiritual identity and his permanent source of happiness.”
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a denomination of the Gaudiya Vaishnava faith, a devotional tradition based on the teachings of Bhagavad-gita and the Bhagavat Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam). The tradition traces its roots back 5,500 years. The precepts and practices of the members of the present day ISKCON were taught and codified by the 15th century saint and religious reformer Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his principle associates, the six Goswamis of Vrindavana.
Sri Chaitanya, whom devotees revere as a direct incarnation of Lord Krishna, gave a powerful impetus for a massive bhakti (devotional) movement of Krishna followers throughout India. It was under his direction that hundreds of volumes on the philosophy of Krishna consciousness were compiled. The movement diminished somewhat until the 19th century, when a outstanding Vaishnava theologian, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, again revived Krishna consciousness. His son, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami, became the guru of Srila Prabhupada and instructed him to make the spreading of Krishna consciousness in the West the mission of his life.
After arriving at 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 opportunity, and gradually began to attract some small interest in his teachings.
In July of 1966, while still working alone from an obscure storefront in New York City’s Lower East Side, Srila Prabhupada nonetheless founded a spiritual society intended for worldwide participation. He called it the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON for short. At the time of incorporation, Srila Prabhupada had not attracted even one committed follower. Undeterred, he enlisted volunteers among the small group
of regular attendees at his evening lectures to act as ISKCON’s first trustees. That was then. Today, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness comprises more than 350 temples, farms, schools, and special projects throughout the world and maintains a congregation numbering in the millions.
The Vedic scriptures state that spiritual life begins when one inquires into the nature of the absolute truth, the Supreme Godhead. Gaudiya Vaisnavas are monotheists and know the personality of Godhead as Krishna, the All-attractive. But it is also recognised that the Supreme has unlimited names such as Rama, Buddha, Vishnu, Jehovah, Allah, etc. The ultimate goal of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is to develop a loving relationship with the Supreme Godhead.
The Vedas also tell us that the understanding of the self, as being non-material or spiritual by nature, is the preliminary stage of realisation of the absolute truth.
To understand knowledge of self-realisation one must approach a genuine spiritual masterThe Vedas also tell us that the understanding of the self, as being non-material or spiritual by nature, is the preliminary stage of realisation of the absolute truth.
To understand knowledge of self-realisation one must approach a genuine spiritual master, just as one learns the essence of any subject from a perfected practitioner.
The congregational chanting of the maha-mantra, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, as promoted by Sri Caitanya, is accepted by the Vedas as the most effective means of self-purification in this age. The Vedas describe the mantra as a prayer to the Lord, “Please Lord, engage me in Your service”.
Devotees may accept formal initiation into the chanting of the Holy Name vowing to abstain from intoxication, gambling, illicit sexual connections and the eating of meat, fish or eggs. ISKCON members believe indulgence in the aforementioned activities disrupts physical, mental and spiritual well-being, and increases anxiety and conflict in society. At the time of initiation devotees also agree to chant a prescribed number of mantras each day.