Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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One of the most successful and conspicuous of the new or Eastern-import religions springing out of the counterculture, often known as the "Hare Krishna" movement.

It was brought to the West in 1965 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta (1896-1977), who arrived in New York City and began to attract participants in the kirtan of chanting the HARE KRISHNA mahamantra . Srila Prabhupada, as he is called by the devotees, was a former manager for a pharmaceutical company in India and a translator of ancient Vedic scriptures into English. Upon his retirement, his guru charged him with bringing Krishna consciousness to the West. The movement attracted youthful members of the counterculture disillusioned with drugs and hippie utopian ideals. Initiates recited four vows—renouncing meat, drugs, illicit sex, and gambling—were given sanskrit names, and promised to chant 16 rounds of the HARE KRISHNA mantra, which requires two and a half hours daily. Members donated their assets to the temple and, until recently, lived communally. By the time of his death, Prabhupada had initiated about 10,000 devotees worldwide and established temples throughout the world.

ISKCON might be described as a sect or denomination of Hinduism, as it is rooted in the bhakti tradition and venerates its sixteenth-century founder, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Evangelical methods include preaching, distributing books and the Back to Godhead magazine, public chanting of the HARE KRISHNA mantra, and offering free feasts on Sundays.

ISKCON is administered by the Governing Body Commissioners, who are responsible for the different geographic zones. Since Prabhupada's death, the spiritual leadership resides in the initiating gurus, who counsel their individual chelas . Local parishes are tended by a temple president. Only men can hold leadership positions. The movement has been beset with schisms and controversies since the guru's death, mainly at the large dairy-farming commune in West Virginia, New Vrindavan, where a murder investigation focused on Swami Kirtananda, who claimed to be Prabhpada's successor in the Indian tradition of disciplic succession. Charges were eventually dropped, and ISKCON appears to be adopting a more accommodating stance toward society. The communal structure and monastic life are declining in favor of family-centered communities and neighborhoods.

Social scientific literature focuses on ISKCON's historical roots and beliefs (see Judah 1974, Gelberg 1991); for ISKCON's later history and organizational changes, see Rochford (1985) and Gelberg (1992).

Susan J. Palmer


D. G. Bromley and L. D. Shinn (eds.), Krishna Consciousness in the West (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1989)

D. G. Bromley and A. Shupe, Jr., Strange Gods (Boston: Beacon, 1981)

F. Daner, American Children of Krishna (New York: Holt, 1976)

S. J. Gelberg, The Hare Krishna Movement (New York: Garland, 1991)

S. J. Gelberg, "The Call of the Lotus-Eyed Lord," in When Prophets Die , ed. T. Miller (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992): 149-164

G. Johnson, "The Hare Krishna in San Francisco," in The New Religious Consciousness , ed. C. Glock and R. Bellah (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976): 34-51

S. Judah, Hare Krishna and the Counterculture (New York: Wiley, 1974)

E. B. Rochford, Hare Krishna in America (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1985)

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