The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement, is a Hindu Gaudiya Vaishnava religious organization. It was founded in 1966 in New York City by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
It’s core beliefs are based on traditional Hindu scriptures such as the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and the Bhagavad-gītā, both of which, according to the traditional Hindu view, date back more than 5,000 years. The distinctive appearance of the movement and its culture come from the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which has had adherents in India since the late 15th century and Western converts since the early 1930s.
Non-sectarian in its ideals, ISKCON was formed to spread the practice of bhakti yoga (devotion to God), in which aspirant devotees (bhaktas) dedicate their thoughts and actions towards pleasing the Supreme Lord, Krishna(God).
ISKCON today is a worldwide confederation of more than 400 centres, including 60 farm communities, some aiming for self-sufficiency, 50 schools and 90 restaurants. In recent decades the movement’s most rapid expansions in terms of numbers of membership have been within Eastern Europe (especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union) and India.
Beliefs and history
For further information see: Achintya Bheda Abheda and Gaudiya VaishnavismISKCON devotees follow a disciplic line of Gaudiya Bhagavata Vaishnavas and are the largest branch of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Vaishnavism means ‘worship of Vishnu’, and Gauḍa refers to the area where this particular branch of Vaishnavism originated, in the Gauda region of West Bengal. Gaudiya Vaishnavism has had a following in India, especially West Bengal and Orissa, for the past five hundred years. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada disseminated Gaudiya Vaishnava Theology in the Western world through extensive writings and translations, including the Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana), Chaitanya Charitamrita and other scriptures. These works are now available in more than seventy languages and serve as the canon of ISKCON. Many are available online from a number of websites.
Early western conversions to monotheistic Krishna Vaisnavism or the Bhagavata Vaishnava line which forms the basis of the ISKCON philosophy were recorded by the Greeks and are reflected in the archaeological record.
Krishna is described as the source of all the avatars. Thus ISKCON devotees worship Krishna as the highest form of God, svayam bhagavan, and often refer to Him as “the Supreme Personality of Godhead” in writing, which was a phrase coined by Prabhupada in his books on the subject. To devotees, Radha represents Krishna’s divine female counterpart, the original spiritual potency, and the embodiment of divine love.
The individual soul is an eternal personal identity which does not ultimately merge into any formless light or void as suggested by the monistic (Advaita) schools of Hinduism; Prabhupada never declared ISKCON to be a Hinduorganisation, because he considered it to be a ‘material designation’, not an appropriate name.
Prabhupada most frequently offers Sanatana-dharma and Varnashrama dharma as more accurate names for the religious system which accepts Vedic authority. It is a monotheistic tradition which has its roots in the theistic Vedanta traditions.
Main article: Hare Krishna (mantra)
The popular nickname of “Hare Krishnas” for devotees of this movement comes from the mantra that devotees sing aloud (kirtan) or chant quietly (japa) on tulsi mala. This mantra, known also as the Maha Mantra, contains the names of God Krishna and Krishna’s brother, Balarama 
The Maha Mantra:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Seven purposes of ISKCON
Public street festivals are a significant part of ISKCONs outreach programmes.
When Srila Prabhupada first incorporated ISKCON in 1966, he gave it seven purposes:
- To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all people 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 the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
- To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus to develop 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 and more natural way of life.
- With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.
Four regulative principles
Srila Prabhupada prescribed four regulative principles, in relation to the four legs of dharma, as the basis of the spiritual life:
- No eating of meat, fish or eggs (lacto-vegetarianism)
- No illicit sex
- No gambling
- No intoxication (including alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and other recreational drugs)
The four legs of Dharma are:
- Daya: Mercy
- Tapas: Self-Control or Austerity
- Satyam: Truthfulness
- Śaucam: Cleanliness of body and mind
Many members of ISKCON worship at their local mandir, or temple, and practice Krishna consciousness at home with their families. Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON established the Krishna Balarama Mandir inVrindavan, India in 1975. According to the ISKCON website, the temple has three altars, and rest on the land that Lord Krishna inhabited nearly five thousand years ago.
It was in Vrindavan that Prabhupada decided to bring the message of Krishna Consciousness of the Bhagavatam to the United States. As stated by the founder of the society, “Vrindavana is the most sacred place within this cosmic universe, and people seeking to achieve spiritual emancipation by entering the kingdom of God may make a home at Vrindavana and become serious students of the six Gosvamis, who were instructed by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.” The temple functions as an international center for those seeking to further their devotion within ISKCON.
ISKCON is known for their energetic active preaching. Members try to spread Krishna consciousness, primarily by singing the Hare Krishna mantra in public places and by selling books written by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Both of these activities are known within the movement as Sankirtan.
A study conducted by E. Burke Rochford Jr. at the University of California found that there are four types of contact between those in ISKCON and prospective members. Those include: individually motivated contact, contact made with members in public arenas, contact made through personal connections, and contact with sympathizers of the movement who strongly sway people to join. According to the doctrine of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, one does not need to be born in a Hindu family to take up the practice of Vaishnavism.
There are ISKCON communities around the world with schools, restaurants and farms. In general, funds collected by ISKCON are treated as communal property and used to support the community as a whole and to promote the preaching mission. Many temples also have programs (like Food for Life Global) to provide meals for the needy. Also, ISKCON has recently brought the academic study of Krishna into western academia as Krishnology.
Food for Life
Main article: Hare Krishna Food for Life
ISKCON has inspired, and sometimes sponsored, a project called Food for Life. The goal of the project is to “liberally distribute pure vegetarian meals (prasadam) throughout the world”, as inspired by Prabhupada’s instruction, given to his disciples in 1973, “No one within ten miles of a temple should go hungry . . . I want you to immediately begin serving food”. A global charity, directed by Paul Turner and Mukunda Goswami, coordinates the project. Food for Life is currently active in over sixty countries and serves over 700,000 meals every day. Its welfare achievements have been noted by a number of journals worldwide.
ISKCON Youth Forum
ISKCON Youth Forum (IYF) is a forum for youth to bring into Krishna consciousness.IYF organises and runs festivals, retreats, music, dramas, discussions, presentations, debates, and more, to spread the message of Krishna Consciousness to youth.
The aim of IYF is very simple – to create a spiritual revolution. A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada created the ISKCON and IYF aims to spread the message of Krishna Consciousness to the youth.
More information here: http://www.krishna.com/krishna-consciousness