The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or the Hare Krishna Movement, is a sect of Hinduism that was created by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the 60s in New York City. He is worshipped as a guru and spiritual leader, while the Hindu god Krishna is seen as the ultimate among an extensive pantheon of gods. The movement was meant to spread the practice of bhakti yoga, which centers the mind on god through meditation.
This movement gained a lot of traction within the hippie community during that time period as it spread a message of peace and love that aligned closely with their mindset.Those who are devoted Hare Krishnas don’t drink alcohol or eat meat as these things cloud the mind and disrupt the natural order. One sensationalized aspect of ISKON practice is that part of their worship involves laying flat on the ground.
The first time I entered the ISKON temple in Philadelphia, I was shocked to walk into a room with several men laying flat then jumping up and going through motions as they chanted to a shiny statue of their founder. I sat quietly to the side as I took it all in, but one of the priests involved me by having me join their practice and showing me how to participate.
One of the things that distinguishes ISKON from traditional Hinduism is that anyone is welcome, while traditional Hinduism dictates that only those born into the religion are true Hindus. This is because of the cycle of rebirth they believe in – someone who has lived a good life will eventually be reincarnated as a Hindu and have the potential of reaching the afterlife, so it isn’t seen as exclusive in that sense. However, when I walked into the Hare Krishna temple for a larger service, I was surprised at how diverse it was. There were people from many different backgrounds there worshipping Krishna. People who grew up in the faith to people who were recent converts and had lived a long life before without Hare Krishna.
However, when I walked into the Hare Krishna temple for a larger service, I was surprised at how diverse it was. There were people from many different backgrounds there worshipping Krishna. People who grew up in the faith to people who were recent converts and had lived a long life without Hare Krishna.
It was really overwhelming to watch these people sing and chant the signature “Krishna” chant as children played and clung to their mothers and people sat side-by-side joyfully. It was overwhelming in a positive sense – there was a true unity in that temple. The people were very accepting of one another and of me as I tried to document and understand their practice just a little bit more.