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What People Believe: The International Society of Krishna Consciousness

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Founded in India in 1965, The International Society of Krishna Consciousness has around 5,000 members worldwide. Devotees believe that by cultivating an authentic spiritual science, they will become free of anxiety and enter a state of pure, endless bliss. There is a belief that everyone is part of the powerful God Krishna and by chanting Hare Krishna a God consciousness can be achieved.

The International Society of Krishna ConsciousnessA key figure within the Society is His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanata Swami Prabhupada who translated the text The Bhagavad-Gita As It is.  In 1965, Prabhupada became convinced that it was his duty to spread the Krishna Consciousness, so he travelled to America. Prabhupada was spotted by a group of hippies chanting in Tomkins Park in New York’s Lower East Side and soon became a global phenomenon.

One year later Prabhupada had opened the first ISKCON centre and published a magazine called Back to Godhead. Now considered a guru, Prabhupada was embraced by figures such as Allen Ginsberg and would visit Haight Ashbury for various counterculture events.  

In the UK, George Harrison produced a single dedicated to Prabhupada and the Society called ‘Hare Krishn Mantra’ which reached number 12 in the charts.

It soon became increasingly common to see Hare Krishna monks in large Western cities. The monks would dress in flowing robes with shaved heads (leaving just a small lock of hair to grow at the back, in case the god Krishna grabbed it and took them to heaven) and would monks would chant ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare’ (O energy of the Lord, O all-attractive Lord, O Supreme Enjoyer, please engage me in your service).

Monks reside in temples and women are viewed as subservient to men. New members are expected to abandon close family ties and adhere to a strict diet. Meat, fish, eggs, tea, coffee and alcohol are all forbidden. As is sex,  (apart from procreative purposes within marriage) recreational drugs, tobacco and gambling. Members wear a necklace which has 108 beads, each bead representing the Hare Krishna mantra which is to be chanted in full. 1,728 Hare Krishnas are expected to be chanted during the day, amounting to two hours solid chanting.

Soon after Prabhupada’s death in 1977, the Society sparked controversy. The devotees appointed to act as successors to the deceased guru were linked to various scandals. In West Virginia, follower Keith Ham was given a 30 year jail sentence for racketeering, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit murder. James Immel, the leader in London was dismissed in 1986 after accusations of drug abuse and having sexual relations with female disciples.

Presently, devotees are continuing to re-build their image and can be seen feeding homeless people or selling books whilst spreading Krishna’s love.




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