Frequently Asked Questions
What is Hare Krishna movement ?
The Hare Krishna movement is the popular name for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Founded in 1966 by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, ISKCON carries on in the modern world a great ancient tradition rooted in the Bhagavad-Gita , the teachings Lord Krishna spoke five thousand years ago. The Gita and the other Vedic scriptures declare Krishna to be the original person, God Himself, who appears periodically in this world to liberate all living beings.
Only five hundred years ago, Krishna descended as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to teach the most sublime and effective means of meditation for the present day: the chanting of the names of God, especially as found in the Hare Krishna mantra.
Today, members of ISKCON continue Lord Caitanya’s movement by distributing the teachings of Lord Krishna and the Hare Krishna mantra all over the world.
Who started ISKCON ?
In 1965, an elderly monk, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), travelled alone from India to establish the culture of Krishna consciousness in the Western world. He single-handedly began a world-wide confederation of over one hundred temples, farm communities, and institutes.
What is Purpose of ISKCON ?
When Srila Prabhupada began ISKCON, he defined seven purposes:
To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
To propagate a consciousness of Krishna, as it is revealed in Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus developing the idea within the members and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).
To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy names of God, as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
To erect for the members and for society at large, a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler, more natural way of life.
With a view toward achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, books and other writings.
Why are you vegetarian ?
The Vedic scriptures establish non-violence (ahimsa), as the ethical foundation of vegetarianism. According to the Vedas, God is the Supreme Father of all creatures, not just humans. Therefore, the slaughter of innocent animals is considered equivalent to killing one’s brother or sister.
Hare Krishna devotees follow a wholesome diet, which excludes meat, Fish and eggs. Although it may be argued that vegetarians are guilty of killing vegetables, vegetarian foods such as fruits, nuts, milk, and grains do not require killing. But even when a plant’s life is taken, the pain it experiences is dramatically less than that of a highly sensitive animal such as a cow or lamb.
According to the law of karma, nature’s law of action and reaction, human beings must suffer for any kind of killing that is against God’s laws. For this reason, as well as to show recognition and appreciation for the Supreme Proprietor and supplier of all foodstuffs, devotees prepare vegetarian meals as devotional offerings to Krishna. Such spiritualised food is then called prasadam (‘the mercy of Krishna’), which can be fully enjoyed.
What is Hare Krishna chant ?
Devotees of Krishna chant the Hare Krishna mantra:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
– because the Vedas refer to it as the maha – mantra or ‘Great Mantra’. This sixteen-word mantra is especially recommended as the easiest method for self-realization in the present age.
Krishna is a Sanskrit name of God meaning ‘all attractive’, and Rama is another name meaning ‘reservoir of pleasure’. The divine energy of God is addressed as Hare. Vedic knowledge teaches that since we are all constitutionally servants of God, the chanting of His names is not an artificial imposition on the mind but is as natural as a child calling for its mother. There are two ways to chant the maha mantra: group chanting (kirtan) and softly saying the mantra to oneself (japa). The latter is done by using a string of 108 wooden prayer beads to enhance concentration. In both methods there are no hard and fast rules, and anyone can chant with good results.
Why do you chant in the streets ?
Most scriptures of the world, and particularly the Vedas, extol the chanting of God’s names as a powerful means of spiritual realisation. Someone who enjoys their spiritual life naturally feels inclined to share it with others. This enthusiasm caused the founder of ISKCON to not only teach Krishna consciousness, but to organise his early students as a formal society for the purpose of teaching others. Devotees of Krishna, therefore will often be found in public places performing sankirtana, by chanting with musical instruments, as introduced by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu 500 years ago.
Why these unusual Dress (shaven head and tilaka)?
Shaven heads and orange robes . In Vedic culture a person dressed according to his or her social and spiritual position. Simple robes, although external, have traditionally been worn to help cultivate humility and freedom from vanity.
In keeping with this reasoning, the Hare Krishna Movement has retained certain elements of Vedic tradition wherever practical. Following this principle, women in Hare Krishna communities wear the traditional saree, while men wear robes known as dhotis.
Young men who have gone forward to observe a celibate student life and train as monks wear saffron coloured robes; married men wear white. Most choose to shave their heads leaving a single lock of hair in the back called a sikha. This is done as a sign of renunciation and surrender to Krishna, as well as for cleanliness and simplicity. The U-shaped marking of clay on the forehead is known as tilak, and is made with a yellow clay from the banks of sacred rivers in India. Together with these traditional ascetic practices, fully committed devotees of Krishna, whether residing in a temple community or not, also abstain from all types of intoxication, and do not gamble or have sexual relationships outside of marriage.
What are the practises?
There are four simple practices in Krishna consciousness.
Reading provides the intellectual satisfaction that is essential to developing faith in any spiritual practise. Without a comprehensive body of philosophical knowledge, any religious tradition can easily become a system of unfounded beliefs and rituals. Vedic literature offers logical answers to profound questions, and when carefully studied, books like Bhagavad-Gita will allow the inquisitive reader an opportunity to explore many new ideas and concepts.
The books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada are translations and commentaries upon India’s timeless spiritual classics, written over a period of twenty years. His writings comprise a complete course of study in bhakti-yoga, and are the basis of the spiritual lives of Hare Krishna members around the world.
Studies usually begin with Bhagavad-Gita, Isopanishad, Srimad Bhagavatam and The Teachings of Lord Chaitanya. Devotees study at least a few minutes daily, reserving a quiet period when they can read without disturbance.
Recitation of the Hare Krishna mantra is the essential practise of Krishna consciousness. Devotees may spend from 10 minutes to 2 hours per day chanting japa. Once around the circle of 108 beads is called a ’round’ and devotees will chant anywhere between one and sixteen ’rounds’ per day as their time and inclination permits. Chanting is done either sitting or walking, usually in the morning. At first the language of the mantra may feel strange but as the profound nature of the sound vibration is experienced any feelings of awkwardness disappear.
Anyone who chants with sincerity, pronouncing the words distinctly and listening attentively, will become peaceful and experience a sense of happiness. One who continues the process becomes advanced in the techniques of mantra meditation and enjoys an awakening of the soul’s natural, original qualities of eternity, knowledge, and bliss.
Our friendships have tremendous influence upon the way we think and act. We may enthusiastically take to a more spiritual way of life, but if our friendships with others are not similarly transformed, our personal development may become checked. Associating with others who are spiritually inclined is therefore one of the most important and rewarding aspects of the Hare Krishna way of life.
New members of ISKCON usually start off by linking up with others in the same town or county. Regular meetings now take place in many parts of the world, even where there is no proper temple, in hired rooms or devotee’s homes. People are often surprised when they come to these meetings to find themselves developing very gratifying friendships.
Apart from local meetings, members cultivate friendships with others through correspondence, or by hosting visits, from travelling teachers. large events like the yearly London Chariot Festival (Rathayatra) are social and spiritual gatherings where thousands of members meet up both to celebrate and enjoy each others company. The network of Krishna centres, meetings, shops and temples, is steadily growing. As it does, many more people are discovering the personal benefits of being part of a spiritual community.
The aim of Krishna consciousness is to cultivate a constant flow of awakened states of consciousness wherein we remember our spiritual identity and our relationship with Krishna. Vaishnavas therefore begin the day with a combination of practices, which help to focus the mind spiritually. Rising early, bathing, japa meditation and study, all purify the mind from its sleepiness and create a mental state suitable for an entire day of spiritual progress.
The Vedic literature teaches that our daily actions should lead us to develop valuable personal qualities such as peacefulness, tolerance, honesty and compassion. To this end, members also adopt regulative principles like vegetarianism as part of their personal lifestyle. In this way, even our most basic daily function of eating, can be an integral part of our spiritual path.
Hare krishna and Hinduaism ?
The terms Hare Krishna and Hinduism are intimately connected, yet not synonymous. The word Hindu was first used by Persians to denote ‘those South of the Indus river’. It has come to include the many diverse strands of Indian and Vedic culture which make up Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion, with over 600 million practitioners worldwide. As such, ‘Hinduism’ describes not a single, monolithic religion, but a vast spectrum of spiritual paths, many tracing their origins to particular branches of the Vedas.
The word ‘Veda’ literally means knowledge, and refers to the original Vedic shastras (scriptures) and civilisation, dating back many thousands of years. One of these shastras, the Bhagavad Gita, forms the philosophical and theological basis of the Hare Krishna Movement, and is often referred to as ‘The Bible of Hinduism.’
Hare Krishna is a major monotheistic tradition, known academically as vaishnavism or sanatana dhama, ‘the eternal teaching’. The core practice is bhakti (devotion) to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is both a major strand of Hinduism, and a transcendental, non-sectarian and inclusive process applicable to any religious culture such as Christianity, Buddism, Judaism or Islam, all of which include devotional practices and branches.