International Society for Krishna Consciousness, also 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. ISKCON belongs to the Gaudiya-Vaishnava sampradaya, a monotheistic tradition within Vedic culture. 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 world with universal principles of self-realization and God consciousness so that they may derive the highest benefit of spiritual understanding, unity and peace. The Vedic literature recommend that in the present age of Kali-yuga the most effective means of achieving self-realization is 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 follows the teachings of the Vedas and Vedic scriptures, including the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam which teach Vaishnavism or devotion to God (Krishna) in His Supreme Personal aspect of Sri Sri Radha Krishna.
These teachings are received through the preceptorial line known as the Brahma-Madhav-Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya. ISKCON is part of 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, which denotes the eternal activity of all living beings – loving devotional service (bhakti-yoga) to Supreme Personality of Godhead.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was born in 1896 in Calcutta, India. He first met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, in Calcutta in 1922. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, a prominent devotional scholar and the founder of sixty-four branches of Gaudiya Mathas (Vedic institutes), liked this educated young man and convinced him to dedicate his life to teaching Vedic knowledge in the Western world. Srila Prabhupada became his student, and eleven years later (1933) at Allahabad, he became his formally initiated disciple.
At their first meeting, in 1922, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura requested Srila Prabhupada to broadcast Vedic knowledge through the English language. In the years that followed, Srila Prabhupada wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita and in 1944, without assistance, started an English fortnightly magazine.
Recognizing Srila Prabhupada’s philosophical learning and devotion, the Gaudiya Vaisnava Society honored him in 1947 with the title “Bhaktivedanta.” In 1950, at the age of fifty-four, Srila Prabhupada retired from married life, and four years later he adopted the vanaprastha (retired) order to devote more time to his studies and writing. Srila Prabhupada traveled to the holy city of Vrndavana, where he lived in very humble circumstances in the historic medieval temple of Radha-Damodara. There he engaged for several years in deep study and writing. He accepted the renounced order of life (sannyasa) in 1959. At Radha-Damodara, Srila Prabhupada began work on his life’s masterpiece: a multivolume translation and commentary on the 18,000-verse Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana). He also wrote Easy Journey to Other Planets.
After publishing three volumes of Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada came to the United States, in 1965, to fulfill the mission of his spiritual master. Since that time, His Divine Grace has written over sixty volumes of authoritative translations, commentaries and summary studies of the philosophical and religious classics of India.
In 1965, when he first arrived by freighter in New York City, Srila Prabhupada was practically penniless. It was after almost a year of great difficulty that he established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in July of 1966. Under his careful guidance, the Society grew within a decade to a worldwide confederation of almost one hundred asramas, schools, temples, institutes and farm communities.
In 1968, Srila Prabhupada created New Vrndavana, an experimental Vedic community in the hills of West Virginia. Inspired by the success of New Vrndavana, then a thriving farm community of more than one thousand acres, his students founded several similar communities in the United States and abroad.
In 1972, His Divine Grace introduced the Vedic system of primary and secondary education in the West by founding the Gurukula school in Dallas, Texas. The school began with three children in 1972, and by the beginning of 1975 the enrollment had grown to one hundred fifty.
Srila Prabhupada also inspired the construction of a large international center at Sridhama Mayapur in West Bengal, India, which is also the site for a planned Institute of Vedic Studies. A similar project is the magnificent Krsna-Balarama Temple and International Guest House in Vrndavana, India. These are centers where Westerners can live to gain firsthand experience of Vedic culture.
Srila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution, however, is his books. Highly respected by the academic community for their authoritativeness, depth and clarity, they are used as standard textbooks in numerous college courses. His writings have been translated into eleven languages. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, established in 1972 exclusively to publish the works of His Divine Grace, has thus become the world’s largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy.
In the last ten years of his life, in spite of his advanced age, Srila Prabhupada circled the globe twelve times on lecturetours that took him to six continents. In spite of such a vigorous schedule, Srila Prabhupada continued to write prolifically. His writings constitute a veritable library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature and culture.
Srila Prabhupada left us a veritable library of Vedic philosophy and culture. Highly respected by scholars for their authority, depth, and clarity, his books are used at colleges and universities around the world.
The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust publishes his works in over 50 languages.