The International Society for Krsna Consciousness was founded in the United States of America in 1966. It was started by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in New York City (Bryant and Ekstrand 2). Though Bhaktivedanta is the sole leader of this movement, he “does not ever make a direct claim to God, only to being His representative on earth”(Daner 19). The mission of this movement is to bring western society the Vedic cult of Krsna worship (Daner 1). This society also seeks to accept the doctrine of bhakti yoga (Daner 6). The International Society for Krsna Consciousness is one of the most well known eastern religions in the Western hemisphere (Bryant and Ekstrand 1). Because this movement was started in America, it is mainly populated by so-called converts to Hinduism. As this is a fairly new movement in the Hindu tradition, their modes of worship and their beliefs are not well known to the rest of the world. Also, it is not fully understood by mainstream culture why this movement became so popular.
The International Society for Krnsa Consciousness, when it was first created, appealed mainly to the people who were disillusioned with American society (Daner 8). Larry D. Shin said that “…almost all had been in a state of crisis before they joined the movement. By ‘crisis’ I mean most often psychological crisis: a sense of identity confusion, not being quite sure where to place one’s values, search for meaning, religious crisis”(Gelberg 64). The people that joined the Hare Krsna movement were dissatisfied with the materialistic world, only because they had been so invested in it (Gelberg 65). Because the International Society for Krsna Consciousness was started in the sixties, most of the converts and followers were part of what became known as the counter culture. These people were mainly hippies (Daner 7). Because these people were dissatisfied with society, the fact that the International Society for Krsna Consciousness practices communal living is also enticing; it provides a way for them to have a sense of freedom from the society that they are so disenchanted with (Judah 174). What enticed these people to this movement, and still does, is the ideas and of the Hare Krsna movement. The converts to the International Society for Krsna Consciousness like the philosophy and ideas of this movement because it does not focus on society; it instead focuses on worshipping a personal God, therefore making it an extremely personal experience. Judah states that “[t]his need for the expression of love in worshipping and serving a personal, living deity is probably a predominant factor uniting all devotees of Krishna” (Judah 173). The converts to the International Society for Krsna Consciousness were also drawn to the movement because they enjoyed the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra and the sense of community and togetherness that is found among the devotees to Krsna (Judah 165).
As stated above, one of the main enticing factors to this movement is its beliefs. The beliefs of this movement focus on the Hindu deity Krsna. One of the foremost beliefs of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness is that of “theistic intimacy”(Bryant and Ekstrand 14). Theistic intimacy is the belief that you can have a relationship of uttermost love with a deity or member of a godhead. In the case of the Hare Krsna movement, this intimate relationship is with the Hindu deity Krsna. The followers of the Hare Krsna movement also practice what is known as bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is the idea of conceding one’s self to the deity Krsna, and improving your relationship with him (Judah 87). The International Society for Krsna Consciousness believe that in order to achieve bhakti they must achieve the eight preliminary aspects of bhakti (Daner 35). These aspects are: Recognizing the deity Krsna as refuge; serving a guru; reading the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam; singing praises to Krsna; thinking solely of the deity Krsna; serving and worshipping the deities; performing rites and rituals taught by the guru; and kneeling before the deity and the spiritual guru (Daner 35).
The International Society for Krsna Consciousness has a variety of ways of worshipping and showing their devotion to the deity Krsna. Many of these ways of worshipping are manifested in how they live their lives. Through living communally, the followers of the Hare Krsna movement show their devotion to Krsna and their desire to gain an intimate relationship with the deity. Another way that the members of the Hare Krsna movement worship is through the act of chanting. The mantra of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness is called the mahamantra, and it means the great mantra (Bryant and Ekstrand 35).
The mantra, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, is in public and in private, and is said to be the most important religious responsibility of the Hare Krsnas (Bryant and Ekstrand 35-36). Another way that the members of the Hare Krsna movement worship is through the aratrika ceremony in their temples. This ritual is a way in which Krsna is greeted, and it is performed six times daily (Daner 45). This ceremony begins with chanting, after which food is brought out on platters for the deities to eat. Next, incense is offered to the deities, followed by a lamp with five wicks. After that water in a conch shell is offered, then a handkerchief, and next a flower. After these a fan made out of peacock feathers is offered, and last a yak tail attached to a silver handle (Daner 46-47). Another way that members of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness worship and show their devotion is through festivals. One of the important festivals celebrated is Chaitanya’s birthday. Another important festival celebrated is the festival of Lord Jagannatha (Judah 96). There are many other festivals celebrated by the Hare Krsna movement, but these two are the most commonly celebrated.
The International Society for Krsna Consciousness is one of the most notable branches of the Hindu tradition. Because it originated in the United States of America in the 1960’s, it had a great impact on the generation that was a part of the counter culture.
References and Further Recommended Reading
Brooks, Charles R. (1989) The Hare Krishnas in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Bryant, Edwin F. And Ekstrand, Maria L. Ed (2004) The Hare Krishna Movement: The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant. New York: Columbia University Press.
Daner, Francine Jeanne (1976) The American Children of KRSNA: A Study of the Hare KRSNA Movement. Dallas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Gelberg, Steven J. Ed. (1983) Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna: Five Distinguished Scholars on the Krishna Movement in the West. New York: Grove Press, Inc.
Judah, J. Stillson (1974) Hare Krishna and the Counterculture. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Rochford, E. Burke Jr. (1995) Family Structure, Commitment, and Involvement in the Hare Krishna Movement. Oxford University Press.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
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Article written by Brittany Turner (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.