The Hare Krishna movement is another name for the organization called “The International Society for Krishna Consciousness”, or ISKCON for short.
They believe that the Hindu deity Krishna represents the supreme manifestation of God, who has been incarnated at various times in history, including the Rama and the Buddha. Most recently, he came as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who taught salvation through devotion.
Members of ISKCON express their love for Krishna by worship practices that include public dancing and preaching. They also do so by repeating a 16-word mantra taken from the Hindu Upanishads, and which begins “Hare Krishna”. Hare refers to the energy of God.
Through such activities, the law of karma and the cycle of reincarnation will be overcome. However, the ordinary devotee must remain under the guidance of a recognized guru within the movement, and moral precepts must be followed.
The words of Krishna are believed to be recorded in the Bhagavad Gita. Adherents consider that the purest translation into English was made by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in the United States in 1966.
ISKCON is noted for providing free meals, both as a charitable act for the needy and to promote the virtues of vegetarianism, and for its mass distribution of literature.
Followers of the Hare Krishna movement believe that sincere devotion to Krishna expressed through chanting, service, and right living will lead to God-consciousness.
Despite its conservative moral strictures and patriarchy, the International Society’s first appeal was to members of the 1960’s counter culture, most famously George Harrison.
However, following the death of the Prabhupada, the organization experienced scandals involving gurus who were expelled for engaging in illicit sex and using drugs. While Prabhupada regarded the religion in universal terms, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness places greater stress on its Hindu background. Now, many non-society member Hindus are known to attend ISKCON temples for worship.
Today, the Hare Krishna movement is a worldwide confederation. There are more than 550 centers, including 60 farm communities with some aiming for self-sufficiency, 50 schools, and 90 restaurants. In recent decades, the most rapid expansion in members has been within Eastern Europe, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, and India.