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Religion Library: ISKCON (Hare Krishna)

Sacred Texts

Written by: Benjamin E. Zeller

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness holds all the classical sacred texts of Hinduism in high regard, though it recognizes as most central those texts that directly describe the words or deeds of Krishna, namely the Bhagavata Purana (Bhagavatam) and Bhagavadgita. In lived practice, members of the movement look to the texts authored, translated, or commented upon by founding guru Bhaktivedanta, notably his editions of those sacred texts, but also his other writings. Members of the movement believe that the ancient Hindu revealed texts (shruti), most notably the Vedas, serve as valuable sources and proof texts, but they generally do not employ these materials in their daily lives.

Of the various Hindu texts that ISKCON utilizes, the two most central are the Bhagavadgita and Bhagavata Purana, both central books in the Vaishnava tradition. One of the most read and influential texts in Hinduism more broadly, the Bhagavadgita holds a special place for Krishna's devotees . The Bhagavadgita is the climax of a war described in a much longer epic called the Mahabharata, which narrates a struggle over dynastic succession between two sets of cousins, the Pandavas and Kauravas. The text contains the words of Krishnato his friend and disciple Arjuna, and therefore represents the basis of the entire Vaishnava philosophy.

The Mahabharata describes a complex series of events in which Krishna allied himself with the Pandavas, and particularly Arjuna, who is also Krishna's cousin and brother-in-law. When the two sides have finally amassed for war, Arjuna turns to his friend and charioteer Krishna and asks for guidance, feeling unable to commit to violence against his kin. In response, Krishna offers a set of teachings about the nature of the cosmos, human life, karma, and reincarnation, and the means by which a person may achieve transcendence. In particular, Krishna teaches a system of yogas(disciplines) by which individuals master themselves and their actions. Finally, Krishna reveals himself in his universal form as God.

ISKCON devotees, like all Gaudiya Vaishnavas, look to one particular yogic method, that of bhakti yoga (devotional yoga) as the core philosophy and practice of their movement. The approach of bhakti yoga originates in the Bhagavadgita, specifically its ninth chapter. For ISKCON, Krishna's words to Arjuna that, "if one offers to me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it," (Bhagavadgita 9:26) make devotional offerings central to the movement's worship. As practitioners of bhakti yoga, ISKCON devotees engage in many forms of devotion, including song, dance, food offerings, and ritual worship.


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