The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement, is a spiritual society founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in July 1966 in New York.
Today, ISKCON comprises of more than 400 temples, 40 rural communities, and over 100 vegetarian restaurants. It also conducts special projects throughout the world, such as “Food for Life”, the only free vegetarian relief program in the world.
The aim of ISKCON is to acquaint all people of the world with universal principles of self-realization and God consciousness so that they may derive the highest benefit of spiritual understanding and love. The Vedic literature recommend that in the present age of Kali-yuga the most effective means of achieving self-realization is to always hear about, glorify, and remember the all-attractive Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. Therefore, it recommends the chanting of the Holy Names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. This sublime chanting puts the chanter directly in touch with the Supreme Lord through the sound vibration of His Holy Name.
ISKCON belongs to a monotheistic tradition within Vedic culture, rooted in the disciplic succession which started with Lord Krishna Himself and continued with Srila Vyasadeva, Srila Madhavacharya, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and in the present day His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his followers.
ISKCON’s teachings are non-sectarian, following the principle of sanatana dharma or eternal religion—based on the teachings of Vedic scriptures, including the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam—which denote the eternal activity of all living beings is loving devotional service (bhakti-yoga) to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In ISKCON’s incorporating document, Srila Prabhupada imparts the “Seven Purposes of ISKCON”:
(1) 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.
(2) To propagate a consciousness of Krishna as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
(3) To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, and 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).
(4) To teach and encourage the Sankirtan movement of congregational chanting of the holy name of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
(5) To erect for the members, and for society at large, a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
(6) To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.
(7) With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acharya of ISKCON, was born Abhay Charan De, on the 1 September 1896, in Calcutta. In 1922 he met His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddanta Sarasvati Thakur, Founder of Gaudiya Math, who requested Abhay to broadcast Vedic knowledge in the English medium. In 1933, at Allahabad, Abhay was formally initiated and made it his life ambition to expound the Vedic conclusion that real freedom means liberation from the miseries of material life: birth, death, old age and disease, a state that can be permanently attained by awakening one’s pure love for God, or Krishna-prema.
In the ensuing years Abhay Charanaravinda (his initiated name), wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita. In 1944 he started the Back to Godhead magazine, which to this day is being continued by his disciples.
In recognition of his philosophical knowledge and devotion, the Gaudiya Vaishnava Society honored him with the title Bhaktivedanta in 1947. Following his retirement from married life, A.C. Bhaktivedanta traveled to Vrindavan where he lived in the humble surrounding of the Radha Damodar temple. In 1959 he took the sannyasa order of life and, as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, started his work on the multi-volume translation and commentary of the 18,000 verse Srimad Bhagavatam. In 1965, at the mature age of 69, he went to the United States to fulfill the mission of his spiritual master and founded ISKCON.
He brought to the West the divine teachings of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu who taught the public glorification of Hare Krishna mantra. Srila Prabhupada, (as he is affectionately called by his followers), taught on a non-sectarian level that every living being is an eternal servant of Lord Krishna with a dormant natural propensity to experience the eternal bliss of pure love of God.
Srila Prabhupada was not ‘just another swamji starting ‘just another movement’. The standard of purity and dedication he demanded of his followers testifies to his genuineness, as well as his unwillingness to compromise for the sake of having many admirers.
By 1977 when Srila Prabhupada left this world in Vrindavan he had completed over 70 volumes of authoritative translations and commentaries including the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Caitanya-caritamrita and several Upanishads. These literary contributions are today highly respected by the academic community for their authoritativeness, depth and clarity. His works have been translated into all major languages of the world and are used as standard textbooks in college courses.
Srila Prabhupada continues to live up the reputation as an unprecedented spiritual revolutionist and foremost ambassador of Vedic science who instilled in many millions krsna-prema, or love of God).