The International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Founder-Acarya Sri Srimad A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
ISKCON's main business is to bring people to the platform of understanding their original, constitutional position as an eternal servant of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna. Therefore the ISKCON devotees are primarily engaged in educating the public in spiritual values.
Srila Prabhupada has written 51 books, which are translations and commentaries of the ancient Vedic scriptures. These books give the highest form of spiritual knowledge, and Srila Prabhupada's commentaries make the meaning clear and concise.
The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT), the world's largest publisher of Vedic texts, has produced all of Srila Prabhupada's books in editions praised by scholars throughout the world. The BBT is translating and printing books in all modern languages in order to make this knowledge available to all people.
ISKCON buys these books from the BBT and distributes large quantities of them in most countries of the world. An estimated 400,000,000 pieces of literature have been distributed in the last 30 years of ISKCON's existence. These books are considered Srila Prabhupada's crowning achievement and the most important means of educating humanity in the science of God consciousness.
Every center holds public programs, in which initiated devotees, Vaishnava brahmanas, speak on spiritual philosophy and answer any questions the audience may have. In the Sunday program, the devotees chant mantras congregationally, give lectures, provide some spiritual entertainment, and offer a grand feast to the guests.
On specific holy days of the year, festivals are celebrated in prominent places. In the famous Rathayatra Festival, the Lord rides through the streets on a chariot pulled by thousands of enthusiastic followers. Over 4 million people in Calcutta take direct part in this ecstatic event.
Each major temple holds festivals on the appearance days of Lord Krishna, called Janmastami; Lord Caitanya, called Gaur Purnima; Lord Ramacandra, called Ramanavami; and Lord Nrsinghadeva, called Nrsingha Caturdasi. The appearance days of these incarnations of Krishna are celebrated with a big festival, shows, displays, chanting, and feasting. Everyone is welcome to attend.
On every continent, the Padayatra program's enthusiasts walk hundreds of miles throughout the countryside, usually with a bullock-drawn chariot upon which the Deity form of the Lord stands. Most people are fascinated by the bulls and their mild behavior (they are devotees too!) and the dedication of the devotees who walk and chant every day from town to town, village to village, and hold a public program and distribute prasadam (spiritual food) at night.
Restaurants (usually named Govinda's or Gopal's) are popular all over the world because one can be satisfied with the tasty dishes they offer at a modest price. Such dishes are designed to convince even a determined meat-eater that vegetarian food is healthy and delicious. Beyond that, the food is prasadam, or spiritualized food that has been offered to Govinda, Krishna, the satisfier of everyone's senses. Therefore Govinda's Restaurants are also designed to convince the determined restaurant-goer that prasadam is worth eating all the time. Spiritual life is more bliss than you can imagine.
Sankirtan is congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord and distributing the books of Srila Prabhupada. Introduced 500 years ago by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, it is the spiritual process recommended in the Vedas for the age of Kali, the age we now find ourselves in. From the beginning of the Krishna consciousness movement in the West, Srila Prabhupada directed the devotees to chant congregationally in the temple as well as in the parks and streets of the towns and cities. Soon, devotees began selling Back to Godhead magazines alongside the chanting party, and when book distribution started, it was also called "going out on sankirtan." Srila Prabhupada said that book distribution is the most important form of sankirtan, because it spreads transcendental knowledge and engages people in devotional service. Therefore the production and distribution of transcendental literature is the hub of all activities in ISKCON.
Educational institutions train children to function in society, and because society is in constant flux, schools constantly modify their teaching programs. But real knowledge doesn't change. Therefore the Krishna Consciousness movement presents the absolute knowledge of the Vedas in classrooms to show that Krishna Consciousness is based on science and not blind faith, sentimentalism, or speculation. The science of Krishna Consciousness includes also the means to directly experience absolute knowledge and a sublime goal by which everyone can become happy. When a devotee is invited to give a classroom presentation, he begins with kirtan, chanting the holy names of the Lord, and all the students can participate. Then he speaks for about thirty minutes on the philosophy of Krishna Consciousness and then answers the students' questions. Before he leaves, everyone gets prasadam, spiritual food, an invitation to a Sunday feast, and a chance to buy books at a reduced rate for students. The teachers often write letters of appreciation and usually invite us to return year after year.
The VIHE provides people interested in the teachings of Krishna Consciousness an opportunity to study the Vedic literature, specifically the books translated by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, in the association of senior devotee-teachers.
Courses are held on the main books of Srila Prabhupada's (Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Caitanya-caritamrta, Nectar of Devotion, Nectar of Instruction and Sri Isopanisad), applied Krishna Conscious philosophy, and practical skills to be used in the service of Lord Krishna such as Vedic Cooking, Public Speaking, Logic and Debate, Counseling, Traditional Vaishnava Music, etc.
The VIHE is located in Sri Vrindavan Dhama, the sacred place of Lord Krishna's pastimes. Srila Prabhupada once wrote that his dream was for students to stay in Vrindavan, be trained nicely, and be sent to spread Krishna Consciousness all over the world. Teachers are carefully chosen from around the world for their expertise in their fields. The VIHE is thus designed to give students a full experience of Krishna Consciousness by providing full facility to learn the details of Vaishnava philosophy and culture in the holy atmosphere of Vrindavan.
The VIHE started in the month of Kartika (October-November) in 1987. Twenty-four students attended the first one-month semester. Since then, at least 1000 students have taken part in more than 80 courses. The Institute now offers one-month courses twice a year, during Kartika and in January-February, before Gaur Purnima, the appearance day of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Each semester has a combination of the above mentioned courses. Usually 10 different subjects are offered each semester. Classes are in session five days a week, with one day off, and one day for visiting the places of Lord Krishna's pastimes.
The VIHE also offers the Preacher Training \ Bhakti-Sastri Course, which runs from mid-July till the end of November. This course prepares students for the exams that, when passed, award the students ISKCON's Bhakti-Sastri degree. Students live in a traditional, simple, ashram situation, which provides a favorable atmosphere for serious studies.
Future plans include an eight-month Bhakti-Vaibhava Course, similar to the above mentioned Bhakti-Sastri Course, but emphasizing the first six cantos of the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Classes are held at ISKCON's Krishna-Balarama Mandir. For further information on fees, course offerings, accommodations, etc. please write to us at:
E-mail: Braja Bihari das
E-mail: Braja Bihari das
The International charity program Hare Krishna Food for Life is doing its part to combat world hunger by providing free meals to the needy. For the past two decades, the Food For Life program has served over 65 million hot, nutritious vegetarian meals throughout America, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe. Srila Prabhupada, founder of Food for Life, began the program in 1972, stating that "No one within 10 miles of our kitchens should go hungry." Since that time Food for Life has emerged as the world's largest vegetarian food-relief service, with programs in over 62 countries.
The meticulous preparation and vast distribution of vegetarian foods has always been an essential part of the 5000-year-old cultural tradition that Food for Life represents. Today, the program distributes up to 350,000 free meals every month from vans and free food restaurants, as well as to homeless shelters, orphanages, mental hospitals, schools, and disaster areas.
At the risk of their lives, Food for Life volunteers also help in areas of conflict, feeding innocent victims of war. Food for Life's courageous men and women have been bringing food, hope, and happiness into the lives of orphans, the elderly, single mothers, and handicapped children in Sarajevo, Grozny, and Sukhumi. Over two million free meals have been served in these three cities.
Governments in many parts of the world have recognized the effectiveness of Food for Life in addressing the world hunger problem and are supporting the service with money, buildings, vehicles, and food. "Food for Life can feed more people for less money than any other food-relief organization in the world," claims Paul Turner, international director for the service, "primarily because we're totally vegetarian and partly because all Food for Life members are volunteers."
For more information:
E-mail: Priyavrata das
E-mail: Priyavrata das
Classes are given every morning and evening in the temple. These classes consist of spiritual topics based on the Vedic texts Srila Prabhupada translated. The focus of the morning class is a verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and in the evening a verse from the Bhagavad-gita. To evoke auspiciousness, the class begins with the singing of Jaya Radha-Madhava and the chanting of the mantra Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya, with the leader singing and the group responding. The song Jaya Radha-Madhava describes the pastimes of Krishna in Vrindavan, and Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya means "O my Lord, Sri Krishna, son of Vasudeva, O all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You." Now that the mood of everyone is receptive to hear the spiritual sound vibration of the sacred texts, the Sanskrit verse and the word-by-word translation are chanted congregationally. Then the speaker reads the translation and purport by Srila Prabhupada and begins a class structured around the theme of the verse and purport. At the end of the class, the students' questions are answered.
The kitchen is considered an extension of the altar; therefore the highest standards are maintained. Foremost is cleanliness. The cooks and their helpers enter the kitchen freshly showered and dressed in clean clothes. All cookware and utensils are used only for preparing food to be offered, and they are kept spotlessly clean. Wholesome vegetarian ingredients are combined in traditional and modern recipes. The cooks use bona fide recipes from persons who already know the art of cooking. They learn from the many good cooks in ISKCON (who hold cooking classes to teach others how to cook) and the excellent cook books available. From these cook books, one can learn to cook many things for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna. Since Krishna is the first one to enjoy the preparations, the devotees never taste any food before it is offered, and there is no eating in the kitchen. These standards help those serving Krishna in the kitchen to be pure in their consciousness and meditate on preparing the food with love and devotion. Love is Krishna's appetizer and the secret of preparing prasadam. An advanced devotee cooks prasadam that tastes like nectar, for it is filled with spiritual potency.
Puja -- Worshiping the Lord in His Deity Form
Arcana, or Deity worship, is one of the nine processes of devotional service and forms an essential part of the cultural and devotional life of a Vaishnava. Since conditioned souls lack spiritual vision, they are not able to perceive the Lord directly. For this reason, the Lord, out of His causeless mercy, agrees to incarnate into specific material forms when He is called by the pure devotee and worshiped according to the prescriptions of the sastras (scriptures). Consequently, the arca-vigraha, or worshipful form of the Lord, is non-different from the Lord Himself, and as such is fully equipped with all His shaktis, potencies.
For devotees in the line of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu especially, Deity worship includes chanting the holy name, which is the most important element in devotional service.
Srila Prabhupada established Deity worship all over the world as an essential part of the Krishna consciousness movement. The system of Deity worship, know as the pancaratrika system, has been recommended by Lord Caitanya and the six Gosvamis of Vrindavan. Srila Sanatana Gosvami and Srila Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, on Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's order, compiled a book of Vaishnava standards called Hari-bhakti-vilasa, based on the Pancaratna and numerous other texts.
A society based on the Vedic principles of four social and four spiritual orders (varnashrama) revolves around the worship of the Deity of Vishnu or Krishna. In such a God-centered community, everyone's activities are directed toward the satisfaction of the Deity. Thus it becomes natural understanding that God is the supreme owner and controller, and everything should be offered to Him and performed for His pleasure.
To educate people who want more contact with Vaishnavas but live too far from the temples to attend regularly, traveling preachers go to their homes and hold programs. In these programs, people sometimes invite their friends or others in the area who are interested. Through regular visiting, these people also become devotees and make their homes into centers, called nama-hatta centers. Thus ISKCON expands throughout the country through the homes of its congregation.
ISKCON feels that killing animals and eating their flesh is violence and should be stopped on all levels. To encourage people to give up animal foods, ISKCON opens many restaurants that offer tasty, clean, fresh, and wholesome vegetarian dishes designed to wean even the most determined meat-eater from this habit. Thus by offering a practical alternative to meat-eating, people learn to change their eating habits without any pains of "withdrawal" or diminishing of bodily strength. In fact, most people report increased health and vitality.
Since it is not always practical to come to a restaurant and eat, especially for those who live far away, ISKCON offers high-quality cookbooks that teach people to prepare good-tasting vegetarian dishes at home. As all Hare Krishna food is first offered to Lord Krishna, descriptions are given how to offer the food after it is prepared. Food offered with love and devotion becomes prasadam, or the mercy of the Lord, which is spiritually purifying. Thus through these cookbooks people are learning the art of nonviolent eating. In some cities, TV classes are available on Hare Krishna cooking. A full course in preparing vegetarian cuisine is available on video through ISKCON Television (ITV) in Los Angeles.
One of the most significant charitable activities in the world today is ISKCON's Food For Life (FFL). Started in the early 70's personally by Srila Prabhupada, the goal of this program is to feed needy people, wherever they may be, with spiritually and materially nutritious food. To date, tens of millions of plates of prasadam have been distributed throughout the world.
During the severe floods in Eastern India, ISKCON was the only relief team to bring kichari, the staple Bengali food, by boat directly to the starving people. ISKCON is now being praised by both Russian and Chechnyan authorities as having the most efficient food-distribution program in the embattled region. In Sarajevo, despite the hostilities, FFL has for many years been supplying hospitals and educational institutions with needed food. In Australia and America, regular programs for feeding the poor and homeless make life more pleasant for these desperate people. There are literally hundreds of examples of the good work done by dedicated ISKCON volunteers who take nothing in the way of salary for their charitable work.
ISKCON relief organizations have also supplied clothing and blankets in areas of major earthquakes and other disasters.
In some countries, ISKCON maintains radio stations or schedules regular time on larger stations, where people can tune in and hear Krishna conscious music and philosophy in their homes. Sometimes there is an opportunity to call in and ask questions directly on the air. In a select number of countries, ISKCON has TV programs as well.
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