International Society for Krishna Consciousness
What many people simply call the Hare Krishna movement is, more formally, the International Society for Kirshna Consciousness, a relatively new Vaishnava spiritual movement within Hinduism, more specifically in the Gaudiya Vaishnava (or Chaitanya Vaishnava) movement.
If you're anxious to see toilets, then jump ahead. Meanwhile...
Vaishnavism in general is monotheistic, one of the major branches of Hinduism, worshiping the one true Deity or the Supreme Personality of Godhead known as Vishnu, sometimes addressed as Krishna or Narayana. The Rigveda describes Lord Vishnu as the Supreme Deity. The Rigveda is the oldest Vedic religious text, composed roughly 1700-1100 BC during the late Bronze Age, and is one of the oldest extant texts in any Indo-European language.
Gaudiya Vaishnavism or Chaitanya Vaishnavism is a Vaishnava movement arising in the 1500s in the Gauḍa region, today's Bengal and Bangladesh. It is based mainly on the Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata Purana plus other scriptures including the Upanishads. Its traditional origins lie in a series of spiritual masters or gurus, believed to have originated with Brahma himself.
Some Christians, despite their concept of the Trinity and three incarnations of the one true Godhead, have a very hard time seeing this as monotheism. But that is literally how this belief defines itself. Part of the difficulty is due to the number being much larger than just three. Another is probably linguistic, although that's as silly as saying that the French can't be Christians because they worship this mysterious Dieu, and don't even get them started about the Russians and their pagan Bog which they go so far as to spell Бог in their crazy alphabet.
Anyway, the Vaishnava view is that there is just one Supreme God, a concept referred to in Sanskrit as Svayam Bhagavan or "The Lord Himself". The many forms of Vishnu are incarnations of the one Supreme God or Svayam Bhagavan, who is Krishna the purnavatara or complete manifestation, the source of all Avataric incarnations of God. With the name Krishna meaning "He who is all-attractive", it is the "fullest" description as it contains all of God's aspects such as all-powerful, all-loving, supremely merciful, and so on. Compare this to the Christian concept of God the Creator, God the Father, God the All-Powerful, God the All-Loving, and so on. The identification of Krishna as the complete manifestation of God comes from the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10:
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Listen again, O
Because you are My dear friend, for your benefit I shall
speak to you further, giving knowledge that is better
than what I have already explained.
Of the Vedas I am the Sama Veda; of the demigods I am Indra, the king of heaven; of the senses I am the mind; and in living beings I am the living force [consciousness].
They believe that consciousness is part of the soul, which is eternal and distinct from its current body. Souls captivated by Maya or the illusory nature of the world are repeatedly reborn in accordance with the laws of karma and individual desire.
The ultimate aim is bhakti or devotional worship in its purest form. This is based on the chanting or singing of Krishna's names.
Gaudiya Vaishnavism began gaining some Western converts starting around 1900 in the United States, and then in the 1930s in England.
Chanting in Tompkins Square Park and the Establishment of ISKCON
Abhay Charan De was born in 1896 in a suburb of Calcutta. He studied at the local Scottish Church College, where he was a member of both the English Society and the Sanskrit Society and graduated in 1920 with majors in English, philosophy and economics. In 1922 he first met the man who would be his spiritual master and guide, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who asked him to spread the message of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in English.
In 1950 Abhay Charan De owned a small pharmaceutical business, was married and had children. He then adopted the lifestyle of a vanaprastha or pious mendicant. In 1959 he took sannyasa or the vow of renunciation, took the sannyasa name of Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, or, in Sanskrit, अभय चरणाऱविनढ भकिवॆढानत सवामी परभुपाढ. He then became a traveling Vaishnava monk.
For what it's worth, Toilet Guru seems to be शौचालय गुर or shauchalya guru in Hindi.
In 1965 he obtained free passage on the cargo ship Jaladuta, possessing only a suitcase, an umbrella, about eight U.S. dollars worth of Indian currency, some dry cereal, and several boxes of books. He arrived in New York City in September, 1965, and began looking for followers and teaching.
On October 9, 1966, Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his followers, including Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, sat beneath this large American elm (Ulmus americara) tree in Tompkins Square Park and held the first chanting session of the Hare Krishna mantra, also known as the Maha Mantra or "Great Mantra", complete with cymbals, tambourines and other percussion instruments, plus dancing, going on for two hours or more.
This was the founding of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, often abbreviated as ISKCON.
This Hare Krishna mantra or Maha Mantra became important in the 15th century, but only became well known outside India starting with the establishment of ISKCON or the Hare Krishna movement. The mantra is based on three Sanskrit names for God in the vocative case, in which a noun identifies the person being addressed. That is, it is an expression of direct address. The idea is that the mantra says God's names to God. The names are:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare or हरॆ which could be another name of Vishnu meaning "He who Removes Illusion" or it could refer to "the energy of God" according to Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Krishna or कृशण referring to God himself, meaning "He who is All-Attractive." (the Devanagari script isn't coming out correctly for this one)
Rama or राम referring to God himself, meaning "He who is the Source of All Pleasure."
The mantra is repeated, as mantras are, either out loud (a practice called kirtan), softly to oneself (or japa), or silently, thinking the mantra repeatedly without vocalizing it. Sankirtana is street chanting with dancing.
Tompkins Square Park, the site of this chanting, lies between Avenue A and Avenue B on its west and east, and 7th Street and 10th Street on its south and north in the Alphabet City section of what is now called the East Village in Manhattan. It opened as a park in 1850, and has been the site of a number of uprisings through the years. Immigrants protesting unemployment and food shortages were attacked by police in 1857.
The Draft Riots of 1863 were the largest civil insurrection in the United States. The riots started when working-class men, primarily ethnic Irish, protested how wealthy men could pay a $300 commutation fee to hire a substitute and avoid being drafted to fight in the American Civil War. This turned into race riots with white rioters attacking blacks, ransacking and destroying public buildings, and burning the Colored Orphan Asylum at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street to the ground.
The Tompkins Square Riot of 1874 started with a demonstration by over seven thousand unemployed workers. About 1,600 policemen were deployed and forcibly ejected the crowd from the park.
In 1877, five thousand people gathered in the park to listen to revolutionary Communist speeches, and then fought with the National Guard troops sent to disperse them.
The park was a little quieter for the next century, until the 1960s and demonstrations against the Vietnam War. And, of course, the Hare Krishna chanting.
By the 1980s the park was a high-crime area, a center for drug dealing and heroin use, and a large encampment of homeless people. Police attempted to clear the homeless encampment out of the park in August 1988, leading to a riot.
The park was closed to the public for a little over a year from early June 1991 until late July 1992, primarily for restoration but also to keep the homeless out of the park and to reduce neighborhood tensions. The public toilets, post-renovation, are seen above from the outside and at right on the inside. These toilets would have been used by the earliest followers of Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada when he was teaching in the park.
The original Hare Krishna temple was established on Second Avenue between East 1st and 2nd Streets. It is now just north of the BP gas station on the corner with East 1st Street. The Catholic Worker headquarters is down East 1st Street just past the gas station, giving the block a countercultural vibe.
With ISKCON established in New York, Bhaktivedanta Swami started a second center in San Francisco. He then traveled with his disciples through America, popularizing the movement through sankirtana or street chanting.
A group then went to England, where they soon came into contact with George Harrison. He spoke at length with Bhaktivedanta Swami, eventually becoming a member of ISKCON, and incorporated the mantra into his music, most prominently My Sweet Lord. Harrison also assisted Ringo Starr with writing his song It Don't Come Easy using part of the mantra in the lyrics.
Allen Ginsberg was still involved in the movement, or at least interested and on its fringes. He appeared on the 1968 album Tenderness Junction by The Fugs, chanting the mantra.
Bhaktivedanta Swami kept traveling, and chanting, and writing an enormous amount. He translated a large volume of classic Vedic scripture into English, accompanying the translation with commentary. Bhagavad-Gita As It Is is the most prominent of these.
The four legs of Dharma or natural law, the behaviors necessary for maintaining the natural order, are;
- Daya or Mercy
- Tapas or Self-Control or Austerity
- Satyam or Truthfulness
- Śaucam or Cleanliness of body and mind
Bhaktivedanta Swami prescribed four "regulative principles" for his followers as the basis for their spiritual life and maintenance of the four legs of dharma:
- Ovo-vegetarianism, or the avoidance of meat, including fish, and eggs
- No illicit sex, meaning no sex except if married and done to produce children to be raised Krishna conscious
- No gambling
- No intoxication, including alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and other recreational drugs
Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada died in India in 1977.
If you're still reading, you would probably like to continue next to the Hindu toilet rituals and regulations from the Manusmṛti.