International Society for Krishna
Consciousness (ISKCON)
Hindu bhakti yoga religious group. The International Society
for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was founded in 1966
by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896–1977), who
migrated to the United States at the age of 70, soon after the
passing of new immigration laws allowing the migration of
Asians into America. During his adult life as a businessman,
Prabhupada was initiated into Krishna Consciousness as a
member of the Guadiya Matha Mission in Calcutta. Krishna
Consciousness is a popular term given the revival movement
founded by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534), who taught
intense devotion to the deity Krishna. Devotional activity was
centered upon public dancing and chanting and temple worship
before the statues of Krishna. Most characteristic of the
movement was the repetition of the Hare Krishna mantra
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Hare Hare, Krishna Krishna
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Hare Hare, Rama Rama.
In traditional Hindu teachings, Krishna and Rama are avataras,
or incarnations of the god Vishnu, and those who worship
Vishnu as their primary deity are called Vaishnavas (one of the
three large religious groups in India). Bhakti yoga is the name
given to the practice of following a path to God primarily
through devotional activity.
Prabhupada was told by his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
Goswami, to prepare himself to take Krishna devotion to the
West. Krishna Consciousness had actually been introduced into
the United States soon after the beginning of the twentieth cenEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. International Society for Krishna Consciousness
tury by another teacher from Bengal, Baba Bharati, but his organization
died out soon after he returned to India. Soon after
his arrival, Prabhupada began anew the task of introducing
Krishna Consciousness to Westerners. He settled in New York
City and soon established a following among young people,
many of whom had flocked to New York as part of the social
upheaval of the sixties. He had already published translations
of the first three volumes of the Bhagavad Purana, and soon
after he developed a following he published other important
books of the tradition, the Bhagavad-gita As-It-Is and the Caitanya-caritamrita.
The groups became well known in the early 1970s. Members
adopted Indian garb and attracted attention on the street,
dancing, chanting, and distributing literature. As the anticult
movement developed in the mid-1970s, they became a major
target of deprogrammings.
In the early 1970s Prabhupada appointed a governing body
commission (GBC) to manage his growing international society
and to oversee ISKCON after his death. The GBC was made up
of the initiating gurus who had been installed in the various
areas to which the movement had spread, as well as other
prominent leaders. Through the 1980s it had to deal with attacks
on the movement from outside as well as internal disputes
over successorship. Several top leaders of the society, who were
serving as gurus after Prabhupada’s death, gave up their vows
which caused significant turmoil within ISKCON as well as public
embarrassment. The guru of a large Krishna community in
West Virginia, Kirtananda Swami, was excommunicated from
ISKCON for ethical and religious violations in 1986, and was
later jailed for federal crimes.
In the early 1990s the community had a multimillion dollar
judgment (awarded at the height of the anticult struggles) overturned
and then settled out of court. The judgment in the
Robin George case had threatened to close several temples in
the US and Canada. In the meantime, the movement spread
internationally and now has centers in more than eighty countries.
In the United States it has three thousand core members,
full-time Krishna devotees, but is also supported by many thousands
of congregational members, approximately half of whom
are within the Indian American community.
Nominal headquarters from what has become a decentralized
movement is at the ISKCON International Communications
Office, 10310 Oaklyn Dr., Potomac, Maryland, 20854. Its
primary magazine, Back to Godhead, can be reached at P.O. Box
430, Alachua, Florida, 32616. Website
Gelberg, Steven, ed. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. New York
Grove Press, 1983.
Knott, Kim. My Sweet Lord. Wellingsborough, England
Aquarian Press, 1986.
Prabhupada, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Bhagavad-Gita As
It Is. New York Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1972.

Previous articleHmana Zena
Next article‘‘Imperator’’