International Society for Krishna Consciousness: Wikis


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International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Founder of ISKCON: A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Abbreviation ISKCON
Formation 1966
Type Religious
Headquarters Mayapur
Affiliations Gaudiya Vaishnavism

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement, is one of the Hindu Vaishnava religious organizations.[1] It was founded in 1966 in New York City by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.[2] Its core beliefs are based on traditional Hindu scriptures such as the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and the Bhagavad-gītā,[3] both of which, according to traditional Hindu view, date back more than 5,000 years. The distinctive appearance of the movement and its culture come from the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which has had adherents in India since the late 1400s and Western converts since the early 1930s.[4]

Non-sectarian in its ideals,[5] ISKCON was formed to spread the practice of bhakti yoga (devotion to God), in which aspirant devotees (bhaktas) dedicate their thoughts and actions towards pleasing the Supreme Lord, Krishna (seen as non-different from God).[6][7] ISKCON today is a worldwide confederation of more than 400 centres, including 60 farm communities, some aiming for self-sufficiency, 50 schools and 90 restaurants. In recent decades the movement's most rapid expansions in terms of numbers of membership have been within Eastern Europe (especially since the collapse of the USSR) and India.[8][9] In recent years the organisational and management structure of ISKCON is becoming less relevant to its members.[10]


Beliefs and history

Krishna and Radha with Gopis, image at ISKCON Mayapur temple
For further information see: Achintya Bheda Abheda and Gaudiya Vaishnavism

ISKCON devotees follow a disciplic line of Gaudiya Bhagavata Vaishnavas and are the largest branch of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.[11] Vaishnavism means 'worship of Vishnu', and Gauḍa refers to the area where this particular branch of Vaishnavism is widely practiced, including Rajastan and Vrindavana. Gaudiya Vaishnavism has had a continuous following in India, especially West Bengal and Orissa, for the past five hundred years. Prabhupada disseminated Gaudiya Vaishnava Theology in the Western world through extensive writings and translations,[12] including Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana), Chaitanya Charitamrita and other scriptures. These works are now available in more than seventy languages and serve as the canon of ISKCON. Many are now available online from a number of websites.[13][14]

Early western conversions to monotheistic Krishna Vaisnavism or the Bhagavata Vaishnava line which forms the basis of the ISKCON philosophy were recorded by the Greeks and are reflected in the archaeological record.[15][16]

Krishna is described to be the source of all the avatars.[17] Thus devotees in ISKCON worship Krishna as the highest form of God, svayam bhagavan, and often refer to him as "the Supreme Personality of Godhead" in writing, which was a phrase coined by Prabhupada in his books on the subject. To devotees, Radha represents Krishna's divine female counterpart, the original spiritual potency, and the embodiment of divine love. The individual soul is an eternal personal identity which does not ultimately merge into any formless light or void as suggested by the monistic (Advaita) schools of Hinduism; Prabhupada himself never declared ISKCON to be a Hindu organisation, because he considered it to be a 'material designation' and not an appropriate name. Prabhupada most frequently offers Sanatana-dharma and Varnasrama-dharma as more accurate names for the religious system which accepts Vedic authority.[18] It is a monotheistic tradition which has its roots in the theistic Vedanta traditions.[19]

Maha Mantra

The popular nickname of "Hare Krishnas" for devotees of this movement comes from the mantra that devotees sing aloud or chant quietly on tulsi beads, called Japa mala. This mantra, known also as the Maha Mantra, contains the names of God Krishna and Rama. Devotees believe that the sound vibration created by repeating these names of God gradually revives a state of pure God-consciousness, or "Krishna consciousness."[20]

The Maha Mantra:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

Seven purposes of ISKCON

Public street festivals are a significant part of ISKCONs outreach programmes. Seen here is a Ratha Yatra festival in central London.

When Srila Prabhupada first incorporated ISKCON in 1966, he gave it seven purposes:[21].

  1. To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all people 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 the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
  3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, 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 sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy names 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.

Four regulative principles

Srila Prabhupada prescribed four regulative principles, in relation to the four legs of dharma,[22] as the basis of the spiritual life:

  • No eating of meat, fish or eggs (lacto-vegetarianism)
  • No illicit sex
  • No gambling
  • No intoxication (including alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and other recreational drugs).

The four legs of Dharma are:[22]

  • Daya: Mercy
  • Tapas: Self-Control or Austerity
  • Satyam: Truthfulness
  • Śaucam: Cleanliness of body and mind

Congregational orientation

Hare Krishna devotees singing in Leipzig.

Many members of ISKCON worship at their local mandir, or temple, and practice Krishna consciousness at home with their families.[23] Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON established the Krishna Balarama Mandir in Vrindavan, India in 1975.[24] According to the ISKCON website, the temple has three altars, and rest on the land that Lord Krishna inhabited nearly five thousand years ago. It was in Vrindavan that Prabhupada decided to bring the message of Krishna Consciousness of the Bhagavatam to the United States.[25 ] As stated by the founder of the society, “Vrindavana is the most sacred place within this cosmic universe, and people seeking to achieve spiritual emancipation by entering the kingdom of God may make a home at Vrindavana and become serious students of the six Gosvamis, who were instructed by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.”[26] The temple functions as an international center for those seeking to further their devotion within ISKCON.

Preaching activities

ISKCON is known for their energetic active preaching. Members try to spread Krishna consciousness, primarily by singing the Hare Krishna mantra in public places and by selling books written by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.[27] Both of these activities are known within the movement as Sankirtan. A study conducted by E. Burke Rochford Jr. at the University of California found that there are four types of contact between those in ISKCON and prospective members. Those include: individually motivated contact, contact made with members in public arenas, contact made through personal connections, and contact with sympathizers of the movement who strongly sway people to join.[28] According to the doctrine of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, one does not need to be born in a Hindu family to take up the practice of Vaishnavism. There are ISKCON communities around the world with schools, restaurants and farms. In general, funds collected by ISKCON are treated as communal property and used to support the community as a whole and to promote the preaching mission.[29] Many temples also have programs (like Food for Life Global) to provide meals for the needy. Also, ISKCON has recently brought the academic study of Krishna into western academia as Krishnology.

Food for Life

ISKCON has inspired, and sometimes sponsored, a project called Food for Life. The goal of the project is to "liberally distribute pure vegetarian meals (prasadam) throughout the world", as inspired by Prabhupada's instruction, given to his disciples in 1974, "No one within ten miles of a temple should go hungry . . . I want you to immediately begin serving food".[30] A global charity, directed by Paul Turner and Mukunda Goswami,[31 ] coordinates the project. Food for Life is currently active in over sixty countries and serves over 700,000 meals every day.[31 ] Its welfare achievements have been noted by a number of journals worldwide.[32][33][34][35]

Management structure

Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami (left) one of the original members of the Commission, in 1970 known under alias Sriman Satsvarupa Das Adhikary, with his disciple Yadunandana Swami (right), principal of Bhaktivedanta College

Srila Prabhupada spent much of the last decade of his life setting up the institution of ISKCON. As a charismatic leader, Srila Prabhupada's personality and management had been responsible for much of the growth of ISKCON and the reach of his mission.[36][37]

The Governing Body Commission (or GBC) was created by Prabhupada in 1970.[38] In a document Direction of Management written on 28 July 1970 Prabhupada appointed the following members to the commission, all of them non sannyasi:[36]

  1. Sriman Rupanuga Das Adhikary
  2. Sriman Bhagavan Das Adhikary
  3. Sriman Syamsundar Das Adhikary
  4. Sriman Satsvarupa Das Adhikary
  5. Sriman Karandhar Das Adhikary
  6. Sriman Hansadutta Das Adhikary
  7. Sriman Tamala Krsna Das Adhikary
  8. Sriman Sudama Das Adhikary
  9. Sriman Bali Mardan Das Brahmacary
  10. Sriman Jagadisa Das Adhikary
  11. Sriman Hayagriva Das Adhikary
  12. Sriman Kṛṣṇadas Adhikary

The letter outlined the following purposes of the commission: 1) improving the standard of temple management, 2) the spread of Krishna consciousness, 3) the distribution of books and literature, 4) the opening of new centers, 5) the education of the devotees. GBC has since grown in size to include 48 senior members from the movement who make decisions based on consensus of opinion rather than any one person having ultimate authority.[36][39] It has continued to manage affairs since Prabhupada's passing in 1977 although it is currently a self-elected organization and does not follow the provision where Srila Prabhupada instructs that members be elected by temple presidents.

Influential leaders since 1977

See also: Principle disciples of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.

Before his death, Prabhupada "deputed"[40] or appointed following eleven of his disciples to serve as gurus[41][42] or to continue to direct the organization:[43] Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami,[44][45] Jayapataka Swami,[46] Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, Tamal Krishna Goswami,[47] Bhavananda Goswami, Hansadutta Swami, Ramesvara Swami, Harikesa Swami, Bhagavan Dasa Adhikari, Kirtanananda Swami, and Jayatirtha Dasa Adhikari. These eleven "Western Gurus were selected as spiritual heads" of the ISKCON after 1977, however "many problems followed from their appointment and the movement had since veered away from investing absolute authority in a few, fallible, human teachers",[48] however of these eleven, the first three have remained prominent leaders within the movement, as was Tamal Krishna Goswami until his death in a car accident in March 2002. Bhavananda no longer holds the post of an initiating guru. Ramesvara and Harikesa resigned as spiritual leaders in 1987 and 1999 respectively and the remaining four were all expelled from the movement by the Governing Body Commission during the 1980s.[49] Of Prabhupada's disciples, who number some 5,000 in total,[50] approximately 70 are now acting as diksha gurus within ISKCON. As of April 2008, ISKCON had a total of 85 sannyasis, most of whom were acting as gurus (see List of current (notable) ISKCON sannyasis).

Internal problems and controversy

In the years following Prabhupada's death in November 1977, a number of theological controversies arose:[51]

Origin of the soul

Srila Prabhupada explains that the soul falls from the spiritual world to this material world and that the supreme objective of the human life is to become Lord Krishna conscious to be able to return "Back to Godhead" (also the title of the official ISKCON magazine). However with translations of important Vaishnava texts began to appear they seemed at variance with these teachings; the controversy arose. Discussions about these apparently contradictory views are available in the book Our Original Position published by GBC Press and the article "Where Do the Fallen Souls Fall From?"[51][52]


The elder sannyasi Bhaktivedanta Narayana was a disciple of Prabhupada's sannyasa guru and was long a well-wisher of ISKCON. A small group of prominent ISKCON leaders were closer to his association and Bhaktivedanta Narayana made no effort to conceal his relationship with them, which as time went on became increasingly intimate. His emphasis on gopi-bhava, the mood of Krishna's amorous cowherd lovers, particularly disturbed his ISKCON audiences since Prabhupada had stressed that the path of spontaneous devotion was only for liberated souls. At the annual GBC meeting in 1993, members questioned their affiliation with Bhaktivedanta Narayana. Those involved minimised the seriousness of the relationship, though for some it had been going on for as long as five years. By the next annual meeting, the GBC forced the involved members to promise to greatly restrict further association with their new teacher. Though adhering externally, their sympathies for Bhaktivedanta Narayana's teachings were unabated. In 1995 GBC position was firm and the controversy was first on the 1995 annual meeting's agenda. A week of thorough investigation brought the implicated members in line. Asked to suggest what they might do to make amends, the leaders involved with the controversy tendered their resignations, which the GBC promptly refused. They further volunteered to refrain from initiating new disciples or visiting Vrindavana until their case could be reassessed the following year and at the March 1996 meeting GBC insisted on maintaining most of the restrictions.[51]

While the capitulation of the GBC members previously following Bhaktivedanta Narayana has certainly demonstrated GBC solidarity it was insufficient to prevent a continued exodus of devotees who feel unable to repose full faith in some ISKCON authority.[51]

The Guru and the Parampara

ISKCON adheres to the traditional system of paramparā, or disciplic succession, in which teachings upheld by scriptures are handed down from master to disciple, generation after generation.[53] A minority of people who express faith in Srila Prabhupada's teachings say that Srila Prabhupada, in contrast to the tradition, intended that after his physical demise he would continue to initiate disciples through ceremonial priests, called ritviks. One version of this idea is espoused by a group calling itself the ISKCON Revival Movement.[54] ISKCON's Governing Body Commission has rejected all such ideas. [55]

Issues within the society

ISKCON also experienced a number of significant internal problems, the majority of which occurred from the late seventies onwards, and especially within the decade following Prabhupada's death.[56]

In 1976 a case involving allegations of "brainwashing" involving a minor named Robin George and her parents went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1983, a California jury awarded the family more than $32 million in damages for false imprisonment and other charges, which was reduced to $485,000 in 1993.[57][58]

Also ISKCON has been subject matter of discussion in some anti-cult movements.[59][60][61] The ISKCON was described by academics as "the most genuinely Hindu of all the many Indian movements in the West",[62] and as to its fortieth anniversary in America, as "having being successful on the basis of longevity", having "undergone changes to its goals and identity".[63]

Stories of child abuse at the society's boarding schools in India and America began to emerge in the 1980s, with cases dating back from the mid-1970s onwards.[64] Some of these cases later appeared in print, such as in John Hubner and Lindsay Gruson's 1988 book Monkey on a Stick. In 1998 an official publication produced by ISKCON detailed the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children at the society's boarding schools in both India and the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s.[65] Later ISKCON was sued by 95 people who had attended the schools. Facing the fiscal drain likely to ensue from this legal action, the ISKCON centers involved declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This allowed them to work out a settlement of US$9.5 million, meant to compensate not only the former students who had brought the suit but also any others who had undergone abuse but had not sued.[66]

To guard against further abuses, ISKCON has established a child protection office with teams worldwide, meant to screen out actual or potential abusers, educate children and adults on child abuse, and encourage due vigilance.[67] A petition circulating (as of July 2006) among ISKCON members calls for "zero tolerance" for past offenders.[68]

In response to the need to establish transparency and accountability among its members, ISKCON encouraged the establishment of an ombudsman organization, ISKCON Resolve.[69]

Rath Yatra controversy

An ISKCON Rath Yatra festival in New York City, USA

ISKCON organises Rath Yatra festivals in different countries around the world, including India. Although held once annually in each location, these festivals occur on different dates throughout the summertime, which is marked difference from the Rath Yatra as held at the Jagannatha temple in Puri (where the festival originates). At this temple, the Rath Yatra festival is held once each year on a specific date in July, and complaints have recently been made regarding ISKCON's having their international festivals at significantly different times to this.[70]

On December 20, 2007 the Puri priests held a demonstration alleging "a number of foreigners under the cover of ISKCON were trying to enter the temple", which is not allowed as per temple tradition (only ethnic Hindus are traditionally allowed into the temple).[71] The validity of this temple policy has been questioned in the media on a number of occasions,[72][73] with one case in November 2007 notably involving members of ISKCON.[74]

Popular culture

The Hare Krishna mantra appears in a number of famous songs, notably those sung by The Beatles (and solo works of John Lennon, George Harrison [notably on his hit "My Sweet Lord"] and Ringo Starr). There is a reference to singing kirtan of Hare Krishna mantra in The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus" (the line "Elementary penguins singing Hare Krishna"). Ringo Starr's song "It Don't Come Easy" contains the words "Hare Krishna!" and was written with the help of George Harrison. Later Paul McCartney produced a single with a picture of Krishna riding on a swan on the cover, although there wasn't any chanting of Krishna's names inside. Of the four Beatles members, only Harrison was actually Hindu, and after he posthumously received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2009, his son Dhani Harrison uttered out the phrase "Hare Krishna" during the ceremony.[75]

The mantra also appears in The Pretenders' Boots of Chinese Plastic.[76] One song from 1969 by the Radha Krsna Temple, simply entitled Hare Krsna Mantra reached no. 17 in the UK music chart and appeared on the music show Top of the Pops. It also made the no.1 slot in both German and Czechoslovakian music charts. Less well-known but equally relevant to fans of pop music culture are recordings of the Hare Krishna mantra by The Fugs on their 1968 album Tenderness Junction (featuring poet Allen Ginsberg) and by Nina Hagen.[77] Also, certain members of the hardcore bands The Cro-Mags, The Dicks, Inside Out, Youth of Today, Shelter and 108 were vocal Hare Krishna supporters in the 1980s and 1990s.

Placebo produced a Hare Krishna mantra track on their 1996 36 Degrees single, featuring traditional Eastern instruments.

George Harrison put a Hare Krishna sticker on the back of the headstock of Eric Clapton's 1964 Gibson ES-335. The sticker also appeared on Gibson's 2005 reproduction of the guitar.

Kula Shaker, Boy George, Members of the Rubetts have done music tracks about Krishna Consciousness.

At the 2008 VMA Awards, the host, English Comedian Russell Brand ended the ceremony by saying Hare Krishna.

The Washington D.C. Production duo Thievery Corporation Releases a track on the 2008 album entitled, "Hare Krishna".

In the Seinfeld episode The Subway, a patron in Monk's restaurant yells, "Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!" when he sees George walk in wearing bedsheets, to which George replies "How would you like a Hare Krishna fist down your throat you little punk!?"

In the Russian army-themed grotesque satire DMB, several young men about to be conscripted arrive at the draft office wearing monastic garb and chanting "Hare Krishna, hare Rama", striving for conscientious objector status to dodge the draft. The draft officer replies that these must be some hardy lads, for few could manage to chant "Hare Rama" for three hours straight, and that while their 'Krishna stuff' sounds rather fake, they came with shaved heads already and are a perfect fit for an Anti-Chemical Warfare unit. Note that the film depicts the drafting of people feigning religious objections, not the authentic faithful.


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  5. ^, August 22, 1976 Conversation "ISKCON, which is a worldwide nonsectarian movement dedicated to propagating the message of the Vedas for the benefit of mankind."
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  27. ^ Krishna Consciousness in the West - David G. Bromley, Prof. Larry D. Shinn, 1989, Page 149
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  31. ^ a b "About Food for Life Global". Retrieved 2009-10-01.  
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  37. ^ Knot, Kim "Insider and Outsider Perceptions of Prabhupada" in ISKCON Communications Journal Vol. 5, No 1, June 1997: "In an evaluation of the nature of the guru, Larry Shinn, a scholar of religions, utilised Max Weber's analysis of charisma in order to understand Prabhupada and the issue of leadership in ISKCON. He noted that 'Prabhupada profited from two intertwined sources of authority' (1987:40), the traditional authority of the disciplic lineage, parampara, inherited from his own guru, and his own charismatic authority, derived from his spiritual attainment and presence...(49) Shinn offered an analysis based on sociological rather than spiritual (Vaishnava) authority in order to make sense of the role of guru in ISKCON and the unique qualities of Prabhupada." See also Larry D. Shinn (1987), The Dark Lord: Cult Images and the Hare Krishnas in America. Philadelphia: The Westview Press.available online
  38. ^ Cole, Richard; Dwyer, Graham (2007). The Hare Krishna Movement: Forty Years of Chant and Change. London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 181–183; p.30. ISBN 1-84511-407-8.  
  39. ^ Maria Ekstrand; Bryant, Edwin H. (2004). The Hare Krishna movement: the postcharismatic fate of a religious transplant. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 205. ISBN 0-231-12256-X.  A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Letter of 28th July 1970. "As we have increased our volume of activities, now I think a Governing Body Commission (hereinafter referred to as the G.B.C.) should be established. I am getting old, 75 years old, therefore at any time I may be out of the scene, therefore I think it is necessary to give instruction to my disciples how they shall manage the whole institution. They are already managing individual centers represented by one president, one secretary and one treasurer, and in my opinion they are doing nice. But we want still more improvement in the standard of Temple management, propaganda for Krishna consciousness, distribution of books and literatures, opening of new centers and educating devotees to the right standard."
  40. ^ AC Bhaktivedanta Swami (1977). Room conversation October 18, 1977. Vrindavana, India: Bhaktivedanta Archives. ""Prabhupāda: ...One Bengali gentleman has come from New York? Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Yes. Mr. Sukamal Roy Chowdury. Prabhupāda: So I have deputed some of you to initiate. Hm? Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Yes. Actually… Yes, Śrīla Prabhupāda. Prabhupāda: So I think Jayapatākā can do that if he likes. I have already deputed. Tell him. Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Yes. Prabhupāda: So, deputies, Jayapatākā’s name was there? Bhagavān: It is already on there, Śrīla Prabhupāda. His name was on that list. Prabhupāda: So I depute him to do this at Māyāpura, and you may go with him. I stop for the time being. Is that all right? Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Stopped doing what, Śrīla Prabhupāda? Prabhupāda: This initiation. I have deputed the, my disciples. Is it clear or not? Girirāja: It’s clear.""  
  41. ^ Smith, Huston; Harry Oldmeadow (2004). Journeys East: 20th century Western encounters with Eastern religious traditions. Bloomington, Ind: World Wisdom. p. 272. ISBN 0-941532-57-7. "Before his death Prabhupada appointed eleven American devotees as gurus."  
  42. ^ Rochford, E. Burke (1985). Hare Krishna in America. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press. p. 222. ISBN 0-8135-1114-3. "In the months preceeding his death Srila Prabhupada appointed eleven of his closest disciples to act as initiating gurus for ISKCON"  
  43. ^ Ron Rhodes (2001). Challenge of the Cults and New Religions. Zondervan. p. 179. ISBN 0-310232171. ""Before Prabhupada died in 1977, he selected senior devotees who would continue to direct the organization.""  
  44. ^ Rodney Stark (1985). Religious movements. Paragon House Publishers. p. 100. ISBN 0913757438. "Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, one of the eleven initiating gurus Bhaktivedanta appointed to succeed him..."  
  45. ^ S.G.Goswami. "". Retrieved 2009-10-01.  
  46. ^ Jayapataka Swami
  47. ^ "Tamal Krishna Goswami homepage". Retrieved 2009-10-01.  
  48. ^ Flood, G.D. (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. p. 272. ISBN 0521438780.  
  49. ^ The Perils of Succession: Heresies of Authority and Continuity In the Hare Krishna Movement by Tamal Krishna Goswami
  50. ^ "Srila Prabhupada Disciple Database". Retrieved 2009-10-01.  
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  53. ^ See the brief essay From Master to Disciple by Jayadvaita Swami.
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External links

Simple English

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is a newer religious movement based on Hinduism. It is also known as 'the Hare Krishna' movement. It was founded in 1966 in New York City by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The organization's core beliefs are based on two Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam.

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