International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)

Doctrines ISKCON is in many respects a traditional Hindu movement, although it has gradually become more Westernized in the West, particularly since its founder's death. Its theology is traditional, derived largely from the Vaishnava Hinduism from which it claims its lineage. Scriptural authority therefore rests in the Bhagavad Gita, which Prabhupada translated (along with about 70 other books of translation and Vedic commentary), and which is studied by devotees. The practice is largely devotional, based on bhakti yoga, primarily the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, often accompanied by a simple dance. Devotees do two hours of chanting every day. The lifestyle is ascetic, requiring early rising, a daily cold shower, and vegetarian diet. The sannyasins (monks) are celibate, while other full-time devotees are married and required to be monogamous.

History ISKCON traces its origins back to the Vaishnava Hindu tradition founded by the sixteenth-century Indian mystic Chaitanya. It therefore rejects the label of NRM, although the Society itself was founded in New York in 1966 by the former professor of philosophy Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977). It attracted extensive media attention in the 1970s, partly because of its influence on various celebrities, in particular the Beatle George Harrison who used Hare Krishna chants in his music and donated a large house which became the movement's present British headquarters. Controversy followed Prabhupada's death, when some of the 11 gurus he had appointed as his successors were accused of abusing their authority. About half these gurus have now left or been expelled from ISKCON, which claims to have reformed itself since these scandals. It is now managed by a Governing Body Commission, which meets annually to guide the worldwide confederation of over 100 temples, centres and schools. ISKCON is an evangelical movement, and proselytization through the distribution of literature is a widespread activity in Western cities. ISKCON is widely accepted as authentically Hindu within the Western and Indian Hindu communities, and is a member of the European Council of Hindu organizations.

Symbols Hindu iconography is a major influence on ISKCON, and images of the Hindu gods decorate its temples and publications, particularly Krishna. Devotion to Krishna is expressed through chant, mainly the 16-word 'Hare Krishna, Hare Rama' chant, representing the names of God. The Veda calls this the supreme mantra, and it is used to counteract the negative effects of the present Kali Yuga, the last and lowest age of the world. The mantra clears the dust from the mirror of the mind so that the practitioner sees their original consciousness. Chanting is also a means to become servants of God, and an expression of pure love for God which enables the soul to become fully manifest. Malas (necklaces of 108 wooden beads) are also used in their devotional practice.

Adherents ISKCON officially claims around 3000 full-time members worldwide with an additional 200,000 'congregational' members and approximately 300,000 sympathizers within the Hindu community.

Main centres
 Bhaktivedanta Manor, Letchmore Heath, Hertfordshire WD2 8EP, UK
International Ministry of Public Affairs: 1030 Grand Avenue, San Diego, CA 92109, USA.