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Religion Library: ISKCON (Hare Krishna)

Beginnings

Written by: Benjamin E. Zeller

With the guidance of their guru Prabhupada, the ISKCON devotees created an entire alternative culture, complete with its own styles of dress, food, and ethical requirements. At first, most devotees lived as celibates within ISKCON temples and dedicated themselves exclusively to preaching, fund raising (often through selling books or flowers), running ISKCON's institutional bureaucracy, and founding new centers. In keeping with Indian social norms, Bhaktivedanta arranged marriages for his devotees who did not want to remain celibate, and over time many devotees did marry. By the time of the founder's death in 1977, ISKCON was becoming increasingly split between full-time resident celibate members and householder members, who by the early 1980s generally lived apart from the temple.

As ISKCON grew, Bhaktivedanta arranged for its institutional leadership, creating a Governing Body Commission (GBC) of twelve male disciples in July 1970. (This later expanded to eighteen male members during the guru's life.) Bhaktivedanta endowed the GBC with full institutional control of the International Society, meaning that the Commission was to maintain the financial and bureaucratic oversight of the movement. Shortly before Bhaktivedanta died he appointed eleven of the GBC's members as ritviks, officiating priests, who after the guru's death became the next generation of spiritual leaders of the movement, and eventually gurus themselves.


Study Questions:
     1.    What is ISKCON an acronym for, and when was it founded?
     2.    Who was Bhaktivedanta?
     3.    Describe the role between the dominant culture and the spread of ISKCON.
     4.    How did ISKCON spread in the West?

 

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