Hare Krishna is the popular name for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (or ISKCON), a new religious movement based in Hinduism.
Established in America in 1965, the Hare Krishna worship the Hindu god Krishna as the one Supreme God. Their goal is “Krishna consciousness” and their central practice is chanting the Hare Krishna mantra for which they are named.
ISKCON has its historical roots in the Caitanya (or Gaudiya) movement of Hinduism, which began around 1510 with an ascetic who took the name Sri Krishna Caitanya. This devotee of Krishna became renowned for his ecstatic devotion, expressed in dance and song. His disciples believed Caitanya to be manifestation of Krishna himself, and established a movement based on his inspiration.
The International Society for Krishna Conciousness (ISKCON) is a modern movement within this tradition. It was founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), a devotee of Krishna, upon his arrival to America from India in 1965. Prabhupada was born in Calcutta and was 70 years old when he arrived in New York City. Prabhupada moved to the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco in 1967, where he soon gained many followers.
The movement spread quickly, and became one of the most visible of the new religious movements that came from the East in the 1960s and 70s. ISKCON gained further publicity (and financial support) through the interest of the Beatle George Harrison. The first Hare Krishna commune was established by Prabhupada as “New Vrindavan” in West Virginia in 1968.
In 1970, Prabhupada established the Governing Board Commission (GBC) to help him administer the movement. After Prabhupada’s death in 1977, 11 of his disciples became initiating gurus. Three of these are still active Hare Krishnateachers.
The Hare Krishna came under criticism during the anti-cult movement in the 1970s and 1980s, and still remains under the watchful eye of anti-cult organizations today. The identification of ISKCON as a cult is usually based on the abuses committed by some of its leaders and allegations by some former members of brainwashing and isolation from family and friends.
In 1998, the organization published an official report detailing abuse of children in ISKCON boarding schools in the US and India in the 70s and 80s. The movement was sued by a number of former students and actively sought to identify victims who had not sued in order to compensate them as well.
To prevent future abuses, ISKCON has established a worldwide child protection office to screen out actual or potential abusers and educate children and adults on child abuse, and has made other organizational changes to increase the transparency and accountability of ISKCON leadership.