His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada appeared in this world in 1896 in Calcutta, India. He first met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, in Calcutta in 1922. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, a prominent religious scholar and the founder of sixty-four Gaudiya Mathas (Vedic Institutes), liked this educated young man and convinced him to dedicate his life to teaching Vedic knowledge. Srila Prabhupada became his student and, in 1933, his formally initiated disciple. At their first meeting, in 1922, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati requested Srila Prabhupada to broadcast Vedic knowledge in English.
To find out more about Srila Prabhupada and to hear some of his lectures click here.
When Srila Prabhupada began ISKCON, he defined seven purposes:
- 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.
- To propagate a consciousness of Krishna, as it is revealed in Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
- 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).
- 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.
- To erect for the members and for society at large, a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
- To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler, more natural way of life.
- With a view toward achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, books and other writings.
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.
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 Chaitanya 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 Chaitanya 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 Chaitanya are now finding expression outside India in the Hare Krishna movement.
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Our dormant relationship with Krishna can he 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.
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.