FAQ

GENERAL PHILOSOPHY

What is a devotee?

While one may be a devotee of many things, in the Hare Krishna movement the world "devotee" has come to mean only one thing: a devotee of Krishna . The Sanskrit word is Bhakta, or one who practices Bhakti yoga.

Are you Hindus?

Because the teachings of Bhakti are rooted in the Vedas, Bhakti falls under the banner of Hinduism. Unlike most other Hindu philosophies and branches, bhakti is monotheistic and those who  practice it believe in a personal relationship with the Lord, who is considered to be the Supreme Person and source of all personal and impersonal energies. Just like a sun globe has form yet emanates heat and light that does not hold a form, the Supreme also has a personal form that emanates all varieties of energies.

Strictly speaking, the word "Hindu" is not found in the Vedas - the spiritual scriptures of India . It was first used by Moghuls to refer to the people living east of the Sindhu River, in what is now India. When "Hindu" entered the English language in the seventeenth century, it was used to denote any native of Hindustan (India), but gradually came to mean someone who retained the indigenous religion (based on the Vedas) and had not converted to Islam.

Are you Buddhists?

The philosophy of Bhakti is quite different from what Buddha taught. Simply put, Buddhism teaches that the ultimate truth is void or nothingness and the goal of meditation is to lose our individual identity.

Bhakti teaches that God and all other living beings are unique, individual, spiritual persons eternally. God is the supreme person, and each of us has an eternal relationship with Him.

Why do you accept the idea of reincarnation?

The Vedic literature tells us that we souls can inhabit any of millions of forms of life, including aquatics, plants, insects, reptiles, birds, animals, and human beings. At the time of death, we leave one body and enter a new one. That is called reincarnation.

The concept of reincarnation is not as foreign as it might seem. We can observe that we change from one body to another in our own lifetime. Your body at birth is completely different from your adult body. Yet throughout these changes, you-the conscious self-remain the same. Similarly, the conscious self remains from one body to the next in the cycle of reincarnation.

What is "devotional service"?

"Devotional service" is the English rendering of the Sanskrit term "Bhakti yoga." "Yoga" means to link with God. "Bhakti" means "love," "worship," or "devotion." Another translation of "Bhakti yoga" is " Krishna consciousness."

Who is Krishna?

Krishna is the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, recognized throughout the world as one of mankind's greatest books of wisdom. In the Gita, as it is also known, Krishna says repeatedly that He is God Himself, the source of everything.

Arjuna, to whom Krishna is speaking, accepts Krishna's words as true, adding that the greatest spiritual authorities of that time also confirm that Krishna is God. Traditions that follow in the line of these authorities have carried Krishna 's teachings down to the present day.

Who's that girl with Krishna?

She is Radha, Krishna 's eternal consort, the original goddess. Together, Radha and Krishna form the complete conception of the Absolute Truth, encompassing both male and female aspects of divinity.

Who is Srila Prabhupada?

Srila Prabhupada is the founder/acharya (acharya means "exemplar") of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement. He was born in India in 1896 and received his spiritual training there. He started ISKCON in New York City in 1966. He opened more than 100 centers and translated and published over 40 volumes of spiritual books. He passed from this world in 1977.

What is the Hare Krishna Movement?

Five hundred years ago Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the most recent incarnation of Krishna, taught by His own example that one can live the essence of Bhagavad-gita by chanting Krishna 's holy names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Sri Krishna and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu both taught Bhakti-yoga, the spiritual practice of connecting with God through devotional service to Him. Based on Their teachings, in 1966 A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, referred to as Srila Prabhupada, founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in New York City.

Srila Prabhupada and his disciples popularized the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra in the 1960s and 1970s, and it spread to countries around the globe. Though ISKCON is the legal name for the movement Prabhupada started, most people know it as the Hare Krishna movement because of the popular term "Hare Krishna."

Why do you consider cows sacred?

The Vedas teach that the cow is a mother to human society because she provides nourishment in the form of milk. Like a mother, she should be cared for and honored.

What does "Hare Krishna" mean?

"Hare Krishna" refers to the Sanskrit prayer we sing (the maha-mantra, or "great chant for deliverance") and to our Society. Since we are often seen chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, we are referred to as the "Hare Krishnas."

The Hare Krishna mantra is composed of three Sanskrit words: Krishna , Rama and Hare. Krishna and Rama are both names for God. Krishna means "the all-attractive," and Rama means "the supreme pleasure." We can approach the all-attractive Supreme Lord, and experience the supreme pleasure of His company, through the help of His devotional or pleasure energy, Hare.

The maha-mantra is a petition: "O Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your loving service." By chanting Hare Krishna we become purified of material conditioning and become reinstated in our natural, eternal position as God's servants.

SOCIAL ISSUES

Are there restrictions based on race, sex, or other considerations?

No. We are all spiritual souls, parts of Krishna , and have an intrinsic right to be re-instated in our original spiritual position. Everyone is encouraged to take up the practices of Bhakti yoga for true success in life.

Why do some people consider Hare Krishna a cult?

People sometimes fear the unfamiliar. Trying to make sense out of things they don't understand, they conveniently label them and put them into boxes. Because people are uninformed or misinformed, the Krishna consciousness movement sometimes erroneously ends up in the "cult" box.

Hare Krishna, or the Krishna consciousness movement, is a spiritual path coming from one of the oldest, most respected religious traditions in India . Far from being a dangerous cult, Krishna consciousness teaches people how to live a life of high morals and ethics and to respect the integrity of all beings. We practice a process of self-realization that cleans the mind of unwanted things, such as greed and hate. Through Krishna consciousness, or Bhakti yoga, people develop their individuality and realize their highest potential.

How are devotees who dedicate their lives to Krishna consciousness supported?

Devotees living and serving in temples are usually supported by the temples, and temple income generally comes mostly from donations from the congregation and from book sales. Devotees living outside the temples support themselves through any number of occupations and professions.

What is the role of women in ISKCON?

Women in the Hare Krishna movement do practically all of the same services as the men.

From the spiritual point of view, there is no difference between men and women, because everyone is a spirit soul. Srila Prabhupada taught that anyone who chants Hare Krishna (or any other name of God) while refraining from sinful acts can become pure and return to the kingdom of God.

PRACTICES

What are you singing on the street?

We mostly sing the Hare Krishna mantra, composed of names of God:

Hare (pronounced "ha-ray") Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama (rhymes with "drama"), Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare

Because God and His names are spiritually identical, by singing His names we associate with Him and gradually become purified. Anyone who hears this glorification of God also gets spiritual benefit.

Why do you bow down, with your heads to the floor?

Bowing down is a sign of submission and humility before God. Krishna devotees bow to the Lord as a gesture of giving themselves to Him in service and love.

Why don't you eat meat?

In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says that everything we eat should first be offered to Him, and He eats only vegetarian food. Besides that, a vegetarian diet has numerous benefits, not the least of which is compassion for other creatures.

Why don't you smoke, or drink coffee, tea, or alcohol?

Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol-to varying degrees these are all intoxicants. That is, they all have a toxic effect on the body. Devotees of Krishna eat and drink only things that can first be offered to Him, and in the scriptures He requests pure, nutritious food and beverages. By avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and similar substances devotees keep their minds clear for concentrating on spiritual goals.

Why do Hare Krishna men shave their heads?

Hare Krishna men shave their heads to symbolize renunciation of the material way of life and dedication to spiritual pursuits. The small tuft of hair at the back signifies that they are devotees of Krishna, distinguishing them from other renunciants who shave their heads, such as Buddhists.

Shaving one's head is not a strict rule for Krishna devotees, and is done mostly by men living in a monastic environment, or ashram. Most Hare Krishna men live and work outside Krishna communities and don't shave their heads.

Why do you worship idols?

God is spirit, but as Krishna reveals in the Bhagavad-gita, matter is His energy. Because we cannot perceive spirit in our present condition, Krishna allows us to see Him in His Deity form made of material elements. He tells us that the Deity installed according to the directions of the scriptures is identical to Him. As such we don't worship idols. Idolatry is the worship of an imagined form of God. Deity worship is not idol worship, but is worship of the Lord according to His instructions.

What's that mark on your forehead?

It's called tilak, and it's a traditional mark to identify devotees of Krishna. Tilak is made with sacred clay from a holy place in India, and it marks the body as a temple. It is worn to remind the wearer, and everyone else, that within the body resides the individual soul and the Supreme Soul, Krishna. The body is holy and should be used to serve God's purpose.

Why do you dress like you do?

We dress in the way of the Vedic tradition, men in dhotis (robes) and kurtas (shirts) and women in saris and cholis (blouses). These clothes remind us that we are servants of Krishna .

One can be a devotee of Krishna without wearing these clothes. But dressing in this way identifies us as Krishna's devotees, encourages us to act accordingly, and reminds others of Krishna when they see us.

What are those beads around your neck?

The neck beads that Krishna devotees wear are meant to symbolize submission to God. They serve to remind the person wearing them and those who see them that we are all servants of God, or Krishna .

The beads are made from Tulasi wood. Although Tulasi appears in the material world as a plant, she is a great devotee of Krishna. So by wearing Tulasi beads, we please Krishna.

Why do you have unusual names?

Our names are in Sanskrit, the language of the Vedic tradition spoken by Krishna , and are given by the spiritual master at the time of initiation, which is considered one's second birth. They are names of God, or of something or someone related to Him, so they're purifying to hear and remember. Each name includes the Sanskrit word for "servant" ( dasa for men, dasi for women), acknowledging that we are all part of one big family of God's servants.

What is that little bag you carry?

The bag holds our prayer beads. It keeps our beads clean and allows us to carry them wherever we go, reminding us that we can always chant the Hare Krishna mantra and thus stay in spiritual consciousness.

What do you do in your temples?

We congregate to worship the Deity form of the Lord, chant Hare Krishna and other devotional songs, hear discourses on the Vedic scriptures, and enjoy the company of likeminded souls.

Our temples are open to the public. At larger temples services are held throughout the day and most visitors come for the special Sunday program, the "Sunday Feast."

A typical Sunday Feast program at a larger temple like Radha Govinda Temple in Brooklyn consists of a formal ceremony called arati in which Deities of Krishna are worshiped to the accompaniment of sacred songs sung by the congregation. This is followed by a lecture on the Vedic scriptures. At some temples there might be a play or more singing. The festival always includes a delicious vegetarian feast, for everyone in attendance, that has been prepared for and offered to the Lord.

What language are you singing in?

The language we primarily use for our formal prayers and songs is Sanskrit, sometimes called "the mother of all languages." It's the language of the Vedic scriptures. Though we can praise God in any language, Sanskrit is unique: Krishna designed it for spiritual topics. So it's very potent for purifying our consciousness.

Another language used in some of our scriptures and songs is Bengali, because Sri Chaitanya, the principal incarnation of God for this age, appeared in Bengal, as have many saints in our tradition, and they composed hymns in their native tongue.

Can I perform Bhakti yoga at home?

Yes, Bhakti is a matter of consciousness, or of the heart. So you can practice Bhakti yoga in a temple, at home, on the road-anywhere, any time.