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FAQ

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What is the Hare Krishna Movement?  (summary)
Who started ISKCON?
What is the purpose of ISKCON?
Where do the teachings come from?
Hare Krishna and Hinduism
What are the teachings?
What is reincarnation?
Do you meditate?
What is the Hare Krishna chant?
What are the Practices?
Why are you vegetarian?
Why do some Hare Krishnas look like Buddhist monks?
What do you do all day?
Why do you chant in the streets?
What else do you do?
I’m Interested in finding out more. What should I do?

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What is the Hare Krishna Movement?

The Hare Krishna movement is the popular name for the International Society
for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).  Founded in 1966 by His Divine
Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, ISKCON carries on in the modern
world a great ancient tradition rooted in the Bhagavad-Gita ,
the teachings Lord Krishna spoke five thousand years ago.  The Gita
and the other Vedic scriptures declare Krishna to be the original person,
God Himself, who appears periodically in this world to liberate all living
beings.

Only five hundred years ago, Krishna descended as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu
to teach the most sublime and effective means of meditation for the present
day: the chanting of the names of God, especially as found in the Hare
Krishna mantra.

Today, members of ISKCON continue Lord Caitanya’s movement by distributing
the teachings of Lord Krishna and the Hare Krishna mantra all over the
world.

 
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Who started ISKCON?

In 1965, an elderly monk, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
(1896-1977), traveled alone from India to establish the culture of Krishna
consciousness in the Western world. He single-handedly began a world-wide
confederation of over one hundred temples, farm communities, and institutes.

 
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What is the purpose of ISKCON?

When Srila Prabhupada began ISKCON, he defined seven purposes:

  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 Bhagavad-Gita
    and Srimad Bhagavatam.

  3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer
    to Krishna, the prime entity, thus developing 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 Caitanya
    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, more natural way of life.

  7. With a view toward achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish
    and distribute periodicals, books and other writings.

ISKCON Belfast has published a very good commentary
on these seven purposes by HH Satsvarupa dasa Goswami.

 
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Where do the teachings come from?

Although the Hare Krishna movement has only been established in the
West since 1966, its roots extend thousands of years into India’s past.
The lifestyle and philosophical beliefs are based on ancient scriptures
known as the Vedas. Originally preserved in the spoken word, the Vedas
were written down in the Sanskrit language 5000 years ago.

Sanskrit devanagari script

Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Vedas

Their compiler, Srila Vyasadeva, divided the work into various departments
of material and spiritual knowledge, entrusting his disciples with particular
sections. In this way, the scriptures developed into four principal Vedas,
including the Vedanta Sutra, 108 Upanishads, and 18 Puranas,
collectively known as the “fifth Veda.” The final Purana,
the Bhagavat Purana or Srimad Bhagavatam, contains the
essence of the Vedic wisdom in 18,000 verses. A further work was the Mahabharata,
which includes the well-known Bhagavad-Gita. The process described
in the Vedas is one of gradual elevation to the platform of God-realisation.
Vedic wisdom was then carefully preserved and passed down for centuries
through the tutorial vehicle of guru-parampara, a disciplic succession
of self-realised teachers.

In the early 16th century, a remarkable spiritual renaissance took place
within India. This was led by a brilliant philosopher, mystic and saint,
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534). He challenged the religious
leaders of his day whom he felt were stifling the teachings of Vedic knowledge.
Caste-conscious priests alone had access to the Vedas and considered spiritual
life the prerogative of an educated minority. Taking religion out of the
temples and amongst the people, regardless of their caste, Sri Caitanya
Mahaprabhu propagated devotion to Lord Krishna and pioneered a massive
movement which swept the subcontinent, gaining a following of millions.

The ancient wisdom of the Puranas and Upanishads, through
the practical teachings of Sri Caitanya are now finding expression outside
India in the Hare Krishna movement.

 
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Hare Krishna and Hinduism

The terms Hare Krishna and Hinduism are intimately connected,
yet not synonymous.

The word ‘Hindu’ was first used by Persians to denote ‘those South of
the Indus river’. It has come to include the many diverse strands of Indian
and Vedic culture which make up Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion,
with over 600 million practitioners worldwide. As such, ‘Hinduism’ describes
not a single, monolithic religion, but a vast spectrum of spiritual paths,
many tracing their origins to particular branches of the Vedas.

The word ‘Veda‘ literally means knowledge, and refers to the original
Vedic Shastra (scriptures) and civilization, dating back many thousands
of years. Several of these shastras, in particular the Bhagavad Gita
and Srimad Bhagavatam, form the philosophical and theological basis
of the the Hare Krishna Movement; the Bhagavad Gita is often referred
to as ‘The Bible of Hinduism’.

Hare Krishna is a major monotheistic tradition, known academically as
vaishnavism or sanatana dharma, ‘the eternal religion’. The core
practice is bhakti (devotion) to Krishna, the Supreme Personality
of Godhead, particularly through the chanting of His names. Although seen
as a major strand of Hinduism, it is a transcendental and non-sectarian
process of devotional yoga that can be harmonised with any theistic religious
practice.

 
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What are the teachings?

It is often assumed that the final goal of Indian spirituality is nirvana
the extinguishing of individual existence and the simultaneous absorption
into an amorphous Absolute. Bhagavad-Gita reveals that this is
only the preliminary stage of self-realisation. Beyond this is the awakening
of the soul’s eternal consciousness of Krishna, the personal form of the
Absolute Truth.

In brief, the Gita explains as follows:

  1. We are not our bodies, but eternal spirit souls (atma), parts and
    parcels of God (Krishna). Although we are essentially spiritual (brahman),
    we have temporarily forgotten our true identity.

  2. Having lost touch with our original, pure consciousness we are trying
    to achieve permanent happiness within a temporary world. Our attempts
    produce karmic reactions which cause us to remain within this world
    for repeated lifetimes (samsara).

  3. By sincerely learning and following a genuine spiritual science (dharma)
    under the guidance of a self-realised teacher, we can be free from
    anxiety and come to a state of pure, blissful enlightenment in this
    lifetime.

  4. Krishna is eternal, all-knowing, omni-present, all-powerful and all-attractive.
    He is the seed-giving father of all living beings and He is the sustaining
    energy of the entire cosmic creation.

  5. Our dormant relationship with Krishna can be reawakened by the practice
    of bhakti-yoga, the science of spiritualising all human activities
    by dedicating them to the Supreme. This ancient yoga system gradually
    frees us from the entanglement of karma, and thereby the cycle
    of birth and death.

 
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What is reincarnation?

The Bhagavad-Gita states that life does not begin at birth nor
end with death. It is eternal. The soul is constantly transmigrating from
one body to another according to its desires and quality of activities
(karma). The Vedas further explain that the soul in the material
world moves through a cycle of 8,400,000 forms of life. The human form,
however, is the only birth which affords one the chance for self-realisation.
Lower-than-human species are not endowed with sufficient intelligence
to understand the self as different from the body.

 

 
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Do you meditate?

Members of the Hare Krishna movement practise mantra meditation.
In Sanskrit, manah means “mind” and tra means “freeing”.
So a mantra is a combination of words that is meant to relieve
the mind of anxieties arising from worldly entanglement. Vedic literature
compares the mind to a mirror, and our present state of spiritual forgetfulness
to a mirror which has accumulated dust. Mantra meditation clears
the dust from the mirror of the mind so that we can see our original self.
When our spiritual nature is inwardly perceived, then the anxieties caused
by illusion cease, and we experience spiritual happiness.

 
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What is the Hare Krishna chant?

Devotees of Krishna chant the Hare Krishna mantra:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare

– because the Vedas refer to it as the maha – mantra or “Great
Mantra”. This sixteen-word mantra is especially recommended as the easiest
method for self-realization in the present age.

Krishna is a Sanskrit name of God meaning “all attractive”, and Rama
is another name meaning “reservoir of pleasure”. The divine energy
of God is addressed as Hare. Vedic knowledge teaches that since
we are all constitutionally servants of God, the chanting of His names
is not an artificial imposition on the mind but is as natural as a child
calling for its mother. There are two ways to chant the maha mantra:
group chanting (kirtan) and softly saying the mantra to
oneself (japa). The latter is done by using a string of 108 wooden
prayer beads to enhance concentration. In both methods there are no hard
and fast rules, and anyone can chant with good results.

 
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What are the Practices?

There are four simple practices in Krishna consciousness.

    Reading (Shravanarn)

    Reading provides the intellectual satisfaction that is essential to
    developing faith in any spiritual practise. Without a comprehensive
    body of philosophical knowledge, any religious tradition can easily
    become a system of unfounded beliefs and rituals. Vedic literature offers
    logical answers to profound questions, and when carefully studied, books
    like Bhagavad-Gita will allow the inquisitive reader an opportunity
    to explore many new ideas and concepts.

    The books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada are
    translations and commentaries upon India’s timeless spiritual classics,
    written over a period of twenty years. His writings comprise a complete
    course of study in bhakti-yoga, and are the basis of the
    spiritual lives of Hare Krishna members around the world.

    Studies usually begin with Bhagavad-Gita, Isopanishad, Srimad Bhagavatam
    and The Teachings of Lord Caitanya. Devotees study
    at least a few minutes daily, reserving a quiet period when they can
    read without disturbance.

     

    Chanting (Kirtanam)

    Recitation of the Hare Krishna mantra is the essential
    practise of Krishna consciousness. Devotees may spend from 10 minutes
    to 2 hours per day chanting japa. Once around the circle of 108 beads
    is called a “round” and devotees will chant anywhere between one and
    sixteen “rounds” per day as their time and inclination permits. Chanting
    is done either sitting or walking, usually in the morning. At first
    the language of the mantra may feel strange but as the profound
    nature of the sound vibration is experienced any feelings of awkwardness
    disappear.

    Anyone who chants with sincerity, pronouncing the words distinctly
    and listening attentively, will become peaceful and experience a sense
    of happiness. One who continues the process becomes advanced in the
    techniques of mantra meditation and enjoys an awakening of the soul’s
    natural, original qualities of eternity, knowledge, and bliss.

     

    Friendship (Sat-sangam)

    Our friendships have tremendous influence upon the way we think
    and act. We may enthusiastically take to a more spiritual way of life,
    but if our friendships with others are not similarly transformed, our
    personal development may become checked. Associating with others who
    are spiritually inclined is therefore one of the most important and
    rewarding aspects of the Hare Krishna way of life.

    New members of ISKCON usually start off by linking up with others in
    the same town or county. Regular meetings now take place in many parts
    of the world, even where there is no proper temple, in hired rooms or devotee’s
    homes. People are often surprised when they come to these meetings to
    find themselves developing very gratifying friendships.

    Apart from local meetings, members cultivate friendships with others
    through correspondence, or by hosting visits, from traveling teachers.
    large events like the yearly London Chariot Festival (Rathayatra)
    are social and spiritual gatherings where thousands of members meet
    up both to celebrate and enjoy each others company. The network of Krishna
    centres, meetings, shops and temples, is steadily growing. As it does,
    many more people are discovering the personal benefits of being part
    of a spiritual community.

     

    Remembering (Smaranam)

    The aim of Krishna consciousness is to cultivate a constant flow of
    awakened states of consciousness wherein we remember our spiritual identity
    and our relationship with Krishna. Vaishnavas therefore begin the day
    with a combination of practices, which help to focus the mind spiritually.
    Rising early, bathing, japa meditation and study, all purify the mind
    from its sleepiness and create a mental state suitable for an entire
    day of spiritual progress.

    The Vedic literature teaches that our daily actions should lead us
    to develop valuable personal qualities such as peacefulness, tolerance,
    honesty and compassion. To this end, members also adopt regulative principles
    like vegetarianism as part of their personal lifestyle. In this way,
    even our most basic daily function of eating, can be an integral part
    of our spiritual path.

 
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Why are you vegetarian?

The Vedic scriptures establish non-violence (ahimsa), as
the ethical foundation of vegetarianism. According to the Vedas, God is
the Supreme Father of all creatures, not just humans. Therefore, the slaughter
of innocent animals is considered equivalent to killing one’s brother
or sister.

Hare Krishna devotees follow a wholesome diet, which excludes meat, Fish
and eggs. Although it may be argued that vegetarians are guilty of killing
vegetables, vegetarian foods such as fruits, nuts, milk, and grains do
not require killing. But even when a plant’s life is taken, the pain it
experiences is dramatically less than that of a highly sensitive animal
such as a cow or lamb.

 According to the law of karma, nature’s law of action and reaction,
human beings must suffer for any kind of killing that is against God’s
laws. For this reason, as well as to show recognition and appreciation
for the Supreme Proprietor and supplier of all foodstuffs, devotees prepare
vegetarian meals as devotional offerings to Krishna. Such spiritualised
food is then called prasadam (“the mercy of Krishna”), which can
be fully enjoyed.

 
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Why do some Hare Krishnas look like Buddhist monks?

Shaven heads and orange robes actually pre-date Buddhism by many centuries.
In Vedic culture a person dressed according to his or her social and spiritual
position.  Simple robes, although external, have traditionally been
worn to help cultivate humility and freedom from vanity.

In keeping with this reasoning, the Hare Krishna Movement has retained
certain elements of Vedic tradition wherever practical. Following this
principle, women in Hare Krishna communities wear the traditional sari,
while men wear robes known as dhotis.

Young men who have gone forward to observe a celibate student life and
train as monks wear saffron coloured robes; married men wear white. Most
choose to shave their heads leaving a single lock of hair in the back
called a sikha. This is done as a sign of renunciation and surrender
to Krishna, as well as for cleanliness and simplicity. The U-shaped marking
of clay on the forehead is known as tilak, and is made with a yellow
clay from the banks of sacred rivers in India. Together with these traditional
ascetic practices, fully committed devotees of Krishna, whether residing
in a temple community or not, also abstain from all types of intoxication,
and do not gamble or have sexual relationships outside of marriage.

 
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What do you do all day?

The activities of the members of ISKCON are as varied as their
strikingly diverse lifestyles. For instance, although most members are
naturally vegetarian, all other practices are a matter of their personal
choice and commitment. Thus one member of ISKCON lives in a religious
community, rises at 4 o’clock in the morning, and leads a strict monastic
life, while another cares for a young family or works in a busy office.
The circumstances may vary greatly but the basic aim is the same.

 
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Why do you chant in the streets?

Most scriptures of the world, and particularly the Vedas, extol the chanting
of God’s names as a powerful means of spiritual realisation. Someone who
enjoys their spiritual life naturally feels inclined to share it with
others. This enthusiasm caused the founder of ISKCON to not only teach
Krishna consciousness, but to organise his early students as a formal
society for the purpose of teaching others. Devotees of Krishna, therefore
will often be found in public places performing sankirtana, by
chanting with musical instruments, as introduced by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu
500 years ago.

 
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What else do you do?

Too much to mention in this brief space!

However, to summarise some of ISKCON’s activities in the UK and Ireland:

Apart from twenty-two communities, projects include: -

  • Residential training courses in the theology, philosophy, history
    and practices of Vaishnavism

  • Two small primary schools
  • “Hare Krishna Festival” teams who introduce large audiences to Vaishnava
    culture through music, art, dance, theatre, film and food

  • Food distribution schemes for the homeless (Hare Krishna Food for
    Life) in London, Manchester and Glasgow

  • A book publishing department and warehouse
  • Mail-order service supplying literature, videos, audio-tapes, posters,
    incense and health products

  • Vegetarian restaurants and television programmes on vegetarian cooking
  • Speaking engagements and demonstrations at schools and universities
  • Numerous local meetings, centres, shops and the associated activities

 
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I’m Interested in finding out more. What should I do?

 

Page last updated

17 January, 2008

© 2005 International
Society for Krishna Consciousness
Founder-Acharya His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

 

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