Intro

“Hare Krishna" brings to mind, to many, the famous Hare Krishna devotees, who first hit the streets of Western cities in the 1960s and 1970s, dancing and chanting with drums and cymbals, wearing saffron dhotis or colourful saris, and selling Bhagavad Gita As It Is and other books. These devotees are members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

ISKCON was the first organised Vaishnava group to make a large impression outside of India. Now a number of such Vaishnava groups are actively preaching within the Western world, such as the Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mission and other lineages of the Gaudiya Math. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, informally known as Srila Prabhupada, comes in direct succession from Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya and was instructed by his spiritual master to take the message of Sanatana Dharma to the Western world. Shrila Prabhupada travelled tirelessly throughout the world, circling the globe 14 times and opening 108 temples in 12 years. He initiated many projects: schools and restaurants, farm communities, temples, and write over 70 books as translations and commentaries on the Vedic literature, including Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam.

From an academic perspective Hare Krishna devotees are classified as practitioners of Bhakti Yoga. They are also referred to as Gaudiya Vaishnavas because they follow a line of gurus descending from Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who appeared in Bengal (Gauda is an old name of Bengal).

Doctrine

Vaishnavism comes under the general banner of Hindu religion. Most serious 'Hare Krishna' practitioners live according to strict rules. For example, initiates take vows to abstain from all forms of recreational drugs and intoxicants (including caffeine), from eating meat, fish and eggs, from gambling, and from all sexual relations except for purposes of procreation within marriage. For non-initiates how many of these rules to follow is left to one's own discretion, but these four 'regulative principles' remain the agreed standard to aim towards.

The Hare Krishna mantra, also referred to as the Maha Mantra ("Great Mantra"), is a sixteen-word Vaishnava mantra, made well known outside of India by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (commonly known as 'the Hare Krishnas'). It is believed by practitioners to bring about a higher state of consciousness when heard, spoken, meditated upon or sung out loud. Hare Krishnas are a sect of the Vaishnavas associated with the bhakti tradition of Hinduism, believing that salvation (moksha) can be attained through a deep personal devotion to god.

In the 1970s, Hare Krishnas became confused with the hippie subculture. The 1971 Hindi film Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. In fact the genuine Hare Krishna followers were a far cry from hippies. The Hare Krishna mantra appears in a number of famous songs and has been at the number-one spot in the UK singles charts on more than one occasion.

Hare Krishna Today (UK)

The ISKCON UK headquarters are in Hertfordshire. There are also other ISKCON centers in Bristol, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Channel Islands, Midlands and South West. There are also numerous temples, shops and restaurants all over the UK. Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire is a place dedicated to the spiritual upliftment of human society. The Manor serves as a theological college and has a magnificent shrine for the worship of Shri Shri Radha-Gokulananda and Shri Shri Sita-Rama.
In the last two decades, Bhaktivedanta Manor has become renowned as an important place of pilgrimage. People are attracted to the worship, the farm and the gardens. Visitors frequently express appreciation of the Manor's atmosphere, its vigour, peace and tranquillity. Guests come for weekend courses on reflection, contemplation and meditation. The projects undertaken include Theatre, Spiritual Training, College of Vedic Studies (COVS), ISKCON Educational Services (IES)and Community service. Their activities include reading (shravanarn), chanting (kirtanam) friendship (sat-sangam) and remembering (smaranam).

The most common image of Hare Krishnas in the UK is of a group of people in bright robes chanting on the streets. This is because the Vedas extol the chanting of God's names as a powerful means of spiritual realisation. Devotees of Krishna, therefore will often be found in public places performing sankirtana, by chanting with musical instruments, as introduced by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu 500 years ago.

 

 

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