The Hare Krishna Movement, or ISKCON1 to give it its proper name, is a sect of Vaishnava Hinduism based on the demonstration of intense love for Krishna2, or God. The movement was introduced into the West by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada3.

As well as a devout, unfaltering, love for Krishna (also known as bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion), members also believe that by chanting the maha mantra4 and by meditating on it ("japa" meditation), that they may in their lifetime achieve enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of birth and death, or reincarnation. Members live ascetic lives, abstaining from meat, fish and eggs, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and other drugs, gambling, and illicit sex. They believe that sexual relationships should only take place within marriage and solely for procreation. Hence members often live in commune-type ashramas, where they may also engage in deity worship (arati), and group chanting (kirtana).

Scripture: While their holy books include mainstream Hindu scriptures, such as the Bhagavad Gita5, ancillary upanishads, puranas, etc., their main scriptures are:

  1. the Srimad Bhagavatam, which they often study daily;
  2. the Bhagavad Gita;
  3. the Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, the biography of Sri Caintanya Mahaprabhu; and
  4. others such as Sri Isopanisad, Sri Upadeshamrita (both noded), and Sri Brahma Samhita, but always in the translation/commentary of one of their parampara (see Disciplic Succession).

People are often under the misassumption that the Hare Krishna movement is only a western phenomenon. Indeed, the movement originated in India as part of the Gaudiya Matha, and ISKCON have a great number of centres in India (most notably Krishna-Balaram Mandir in Vrindavana, Sri Mayapura City in West Bengal, and Hare Krishna Land at Juhu in Bombay) -- use with the country as India and you will get a partial listing, or consult the back of one of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust's books to get a full listing.

If you walk down a crowded road here (Scotland) for an hour you probably wouldn't notice the Hare Krsnas either. As blessedangel alludes to, people no longer wear their faith on their sleeves. Also, sadly, their presence is very much more low key than it was in the 1970s. The movemement today is becoming increasingly fragmentary with allegations that Srila Prabhupada was murdered in 1977, problems with ritvikism, apasiddhantic sectarianism, and increasing dissatisfaction with the "GBC".

I myself, was/am a member of this movement, and found the peace and serenity I gained from it to be the most profound I have ever experienced. In my teenage years I left the movement after I was unable to balance its views on sexuality with my own, and after I realised the bigotry that existed in it towards other religions that I thought they would not have had (e.g. Buddhism).

In 2001 I finally met some gay Vaishnavas via eGroups' successor...! I moved to America, got dumped (finding that these things cross all faiths), came excommunicated from ISKCON, but kept involved, but eventually lefty in 2003...).

1 - The International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The name Hare Krishna is derived from their popular chant, the maha mantra.
2 - An incarnation of the god Vishnu.
3 - (1896-1977)
4 - A Sanskrit mantra made up of four names for Krishna:

hare krishna hare krishna
krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama
rama rama hare hare

5 - Itself a part of the epic Mahabharata.

Followers of the Hare Krishna movement have the following restrictions on lifestyle habits:

"These so-called sense gratificatory acts are a sign of degradation below the human level. The scriptures therefore advise four regulative principles to keep us on the human level. They directly counteract the four pillars of sinful life and uplift us to the stage from which we can approach spiritual life."

The Four Pillars of Sinful Life

1) No Meat-eating

"To many people being a vegetarian means being a fruitcake, but reality shows that meat-eating has caused global problems that make one wonder whether those who favor it should not be considered nuts. For instance, research and comparative studies over the past twenty-five years show that a meat-based diet is the number one cause of heart disease and cancer. More than 25 billion animals and a much bigger amount of aquatics are mercilessly slaughtered for food yearly -- hardly a claim of civilized humanity. It makes us merciless and devoid of compassion for all that lives, humans included. "

Hare Krishnas are non-violent, and they see every living creature as a spiritual being, not to be harmed. And in doing so, it disturbs the karmic cycle. In other words, Instant Karma's gonna get you

2) No Illicit Sex

"We seem to have liberated ourselves from the foolish and primitive shackles of sexual restraint. Yet serious problems have caught up with our progressive march toward newer and stranger sexual practices. A plague of sexually transmitted disease claims ever-increasing victims. Most prominent and difficult to handle, is AIDS. Now an estimated 12 million adults and 1 million infants are infected and the expectations for the year 2000 are an estimated total of 30-40 million. So far a steady 40% of the cases have proven fatal..... Why this nightmare? Why can't we just enjoy a full and healthy sex life? Perhaps we have the wrong idea about the purpose of sex. Sex is meant for having children -- the natural result of sexual union. But we try to avoid nature's arrangement with contraceptives and abortions and thus spoil society. Then if nature tries to tell us that unrestricted sexuality is unnatural, we complain or blame a merciless God. The idea is not to give up sex altogether but to follow its real purpose...... Therefore we don't find unwanted children, abortion or contraception in ISKCON. We only indulge in sex within marriage, and then only to have children that will be raised in Krishna consciousness. By following the original purpose of sex, nature does not retaliate."

Hare Krishnas only have sex to procreate. They believe having sex for pleasure is wrong and distracts us from what really matters: God.

3) No Intoxication

"Intoxication refers to taking into the body substances that are not required for bodily sustenance and have altering effects on the mind and body. Vedic scriptures therefore include as intoxication everything from tea, coffee and tobacco to liquor, heroin and other more powerful drugs..... Such habits have destructive results. Besides the huge cost and resultant crime, addiction and loss of bodily and mental health eventually ends in disease, premature aging, and the inability to fix the mind intelligently and steadily on any subject or problem. Thus such habits impede spiritual advancement. Beyond this, the use of stronger and stronger intoxicants gradually destroy austerity and cleanliness, which the living conditions of drug-dependent persons confirm....."

Again, the philosophy here is that material things distract from the divine. One fixed in God consciousness stays high forever.

4) No Gambling

"Five thousand years ago, when the personality of Kali asked Maharaja Pariksit to designate where he could live, the King gave Kali four places -- places of gambling, drinking, prostitution and meat-eating. Where there is gambling, the other prominent symptoms of this age of quarrel and hypocrisy automatically appear. They used to open treatment centers for heroin addicts, now they open them for the compulsive gamblers. Compulsive gamblers run into enormous financial difficulties -- borrowing or even stealing from others. Heavy debt is a constant factor of their lives. They sleep poorly, usually drink a lot, and are tense, irritable, and indifferent toward eating and affection. They often think of suicide, but always think of the next bet... Any gambler thinks that with his manipulative ways he can get rich and enjoy. But certain laws defy these dreams, like the laws of nature, which are controlled by the Supreme Lord. These laws are not subject to gambling."

Again, drawing away from the divine.

For more on Hare Krishna/ISKCON, check above nodes.

All Quotes were taken from

ISKCON is a huge movement in India, contrary to what one of the WUs have to say. Close to my hometown of Calcutta or Kolkata (if you want to use its new name), they have one of their centres known as Mayapur. It's a very popular tourist destination, and a vast majority of those who visit it everyday are Indians, not foreigners. I think we in India like branding some of these movements as 'Western fads' but it would be foolish not to see the roots that they have in India. The movement, incidentally has quite a large following in Bengal and eastern India and a large number of the Bengali middle class will flock to Mayapur to pay their homage to the god Krishna. My own aunts make frequent day trips to Mayapur for prayers, or a day of solace. I've never been there, but their banana bread, which they make and sell commercially is fantastic! A possible reason for its immense populariy in Bengal could be the fact that the founder of the movement Prabupada was a Bengali from Calcutta.

There are some who would see the sect as a minority one, irrelevant within the broader religous pluralism that exists in India. I would disagree. It is a misconception to see ISKCON followers as all wearing saffron robes with a tiny pigtail and a shaved head. Not all wear their faith so prominently. And so there is really little logic in saying that if you don't see people dressed as the stereotypical Hare Krishna followers, they don't exist. I think that a number of us Indians, look down upon foreigners who try to find out about our country, or are interested in. We see them as 'India-junkies' who smoke pot, hob-nob with a few Himalayan rishis (sages} and spout spurious Hindu philosophy. That's not entirely incorrect, there many like that. But there are also many genuine India lovers, who try to understand and absorb as much as they can, of a particularly bewildering country. Perhaps we should stop gaping and gawking at foreigners and develop a healthier attitude towards them.

Interestingly, what none of these WUs talk about is the immense controversy that ISKON has found itself in, in recent years. There have been repeated allegations of child sexual abuse and in 2001, 79 former devotees who were enrolled as children at the ISKCON gurukul filed a $400 million suit claiming damages for sexual abuse in the boarding schools. The victims' case, filed last year in Texas federal court, is boldly prosecuting the group under the civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute--a legal cudgel usually reserved for the Mafia. Their high-profile lawyer, Windle Turley, is also taking the Catholic Church to task for the sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by priests. The result of these controversies has been that the ISKCON movement's reputation was tarnished in the West, but in India, it continues to flourish.

Finally of course, for those who think the Hare Krishna phrase sounds familiar, it's because the Beatles popularised it. The phrase is used in the John Lennon song 'Give Peace A Chance' and is also used repeatedly in the chorus of 'Within you, Without you' from the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. George Harrison was an ISKCON devotee, perhaps their most high profile devotee ever and after his death at the age of 58, his ashes were immersed in the river Ganga in India by his wife and son.

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