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Religion Library: ISKCON (Hare Krishna)

Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence

Written by: Benjamin E. Zeller

ISKCON, and in fact the entire Gaudiya Vaishnava lineage, recognizes five modes of bhakti that represent five means of forming a devotional relationship with Krishna. Called rasas, these five modes offer a progression through which an individual devotee can build their connection to Krishna. Shanta rasa, the rasa of reverence, emphasizes beholding the magnificence and majesty of the divine. The rasa of service, dasya rasa, offers a hierarchical means of offering devotion to Krishna, as one might serve a master or lord. The next two rasas both emphasize an increasingly loving relationship, that of friendship for God (sakya rasa) and parenthood of God (vatsalya rasa). Finally, the rasa system culminates in the shringara rasa, the relationship of intimate erotic love.

While the Gaudiya Vaishnava school holds the fifth of these rasas as most efficacious, in practice ISKCON combines them into a single system of bhakti. A Hare Krishna devotee might engage in shanta rasa through darshan -- the viewing of the divine -- at a temple in the morning, chant songs of devotion after that (dasya rasa), and then feed, bathe, and clothe a small image of the divine at his or her home (sakya and/or vatsalya rasas).

Devotees also engage their devotion through texts, notably the Bhagavadgita and Bhagavata Purana. These two books offer numerous stories of Krishna's relationships with subjects, servants, friends, parents, and lovers. Devotees read these materials as models for relating to God. For example, to engage in shringara rasa, the highest form of devotion, ISKCON members attempt to emulate the experience of overpowering intimate love that the gopis (cowherd girls) felt for Krishna as they danced with him. Through use of these bhakti methods, ISKCON devotees hope to form a loving relationship with Krishna, one that will bring them tranquility in this lifetime, and rebirth into the abode of Krishna in a future one.


Study Questions:
     1.    Describe the nature of the self to Hare Krishna devotees.
     2.    How do all living beings share the essence of Krishna? Why do they lack his personality?
     3.    What is Krishna Consciousness?
     4.    What are the five rasas of ISKCON? Why are they used?

 

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