For most New Yorkers, passing by the orange sari-clad, dancing and singing people in Union Square or on the subway grounds is a normal sight. For the unaccustomed, it comes across as a curious scene. The clanging of bells, the beat of the drum and the rising chant of Hare Krishna often stop people in their tracks. The chanting, however, is just a small part of these people’s search for Krishna— their God.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), more commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement, was founded by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda in New York City. The Hare Krishna movement is under the Gaudiya-Vaishnava sampradāya, a sect of Hinduism. Devotees follow strict rules, including a daily practice of Bhakti yoga, hours of chanting, vegetarianism, and chastity, in their worship of Krishna. The Hare Krishna chant is thought to free the soul and bring to light spiritual reality, thus connecting the soul to Krishna.
ISKCON beliefs are rooted in the Hindu Bhagavad Gita text, the “Song of the Lord”. Written around 250 BC, the Bhagavad Gita tells the story of the relationship between warrior Arjuna and Krishna. ISKCON is a monotheistic faith in that Krishna is the Supreme God over all demigods.
According to the ISKCON website, the seven purposes are:
(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 the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
(3) To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, and 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 Sankirtan movement of congregational chanting of the holy name 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.
Hare Krishna devotees worship and often reside in ashram temples. In New York, there are temples scattered across the five boroughs where members attend weekly prayer meetings. The Hare Krishna movement has developed a relatively high profile over the last few years, in part due to their public performances, which often draw crowds.
Today, devotees are not just cult followers, as many believe. Hare Krishna members come from different backgrounds and religions; many lead ‘normal’ lives with day jobs. In fact, the popular Doughnut Plant in New York City was founded by a Hare Krishna.
Hare Krishna devotees reject all forms of materialism, instead focusing on their daily practices to lift them up to a higher spiritual level. The end goal? To reach and receive constant gratification by being in touch with Krishna— their nirvana.