ISKCON (Hare Krishna movement)
The Hare Krishna movement is designed to assist persons interested in reconnecting with Krishna (God) by offering them an opportunity for association of like-minded people. Members of ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna Consciousness) follow the teachings of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. There are temples and gatherings all over the world where people get together and chant, read and speak about Krishna and work together to revive their loving relationship with Him.
Anyone can be a member of this movement who is sincerely interested in participating in the process and connecting with Krishna. We try to spread the holy name by chanting in the streets, inviting people to feast and chant with us, and offering many spiritual books which will assist you in learning more about the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness.
As far as evidence that God exists, such evidence is all around us. The regularity of the seasons, the beauty of life and nature, the complexity of the human body and animal bodies, and the overall order of the universe seem to indicate that someone with incredible intelligence is behind the creation. Science may try to explain creation one way, but the creator is far more intelligent then anyone trying to study it.
Anyone can experience their relationship with God by chanting His holy name, "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare." If you concentrate on the sound of this mantra and focus on the vibration of this holy name you will come to experience your relationship with Krishna.
ISKCON, the International Society for Krsna Consciousess, was founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada in 1966 in NY, USA. ISKCON is dedicated to bringing as many people as possible, all over the world, to Krishna's service. ISKCON is focused on offering knowledge of Krishna to whomever is interested in receiving it, via the chanting of Hare Krishna, the distribution of prasadam, and the study of spiritual literature, world wide. Our temples all over the world also provide opportunity for association of like-minded persons, and beautiful Deity service, study opportunities, and large festivals, open to everyone.
It is extremely unfortunate in this day and age that anyone, without any filter, can self-publish online. People can record themselves, post videos, and appear—like the Wizard of Oz—to be a big person, when in reality they are merely sitting somewhere behind a computer.
It's part of our spiritual responsibility to place filters on whom we associate with. Although it may be difficult at times, it is certainly not impossible. Simply set your Internet preferences in such a way that the kind of language that unfailingly accompanies malicious content doesn't appear in front of your eyes.
You wouldn't stand and listen to such talk if someone was standing in front of you, so with the same wisdom you should avoid hateful and blasphemous words about devotees.
You should also be diligent in your own spiritual practice, research and association. You can certainly research well written articles, and discussions answering whatever accusations you hear. You should make a deliberate effort to seek the proper information from reliable sources in order to satisfy yourself that what you're reading is the truth.
The Internet is a landmine; without making careful assessment to see how authentic a site is, you run the risk of finding very misleading and malicious information. That's simply the nature of the Internet. There are people attacking every government in the world, saying that Martians are invading the earth, that everything from the food you eat to the news you read is controlled by one evil force or another. We all need to study Srila Prabhupada's books, to understand how to recognize when devotees are serious about spiritual life, to avoid bad association, and to find good association.
Krishna devotees—specifically those who consider themselves part of ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, follow Krishna's teachings in the Bhagavad-gita. The word "Hindu" isn't found there, or anywhere in Vedic literature. When we speak of Krishna, we're referring to the Supreme Person, the Absolute Truth, the ultimate source of all energies.
"Hindu" is a relative term referring to customs and beliefs of a portion of the population of Southeast Asia. It came into use in relatively recent history. The Supreme Person, God, isn't bound by time or space, so He can't be referred to as "Hindu," "Christian," or "Muslim," and nor can His devotees.
Some believe the Absolute Truth to be ultimately impersonal, and that Krishna is merely a historical personality appearing in India to teach "Hinduism." In answer to this, Krishna Himself says in the Bhagavad-gita,
"Unintelligent men, who do not know Me perfectly, think that I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is imperishable and supreme." [7.24]
"They say Krishna is Indian or Krishna is worshiped by the Hindus and therefore He is one of the Hindu Gods; and they think that Krishna is saying, "Yes, I am the Hindu God. Yes, I am Indian." But He is like the sun. Why American sun or Indian? Nothing is American or Indian; that is all artificial."
—Krishna Consciousness, the Topmost Yoga System, Ch. 4
"Krishna is not sectarian. Krishna is not Hindu; Krishna is not Indian; Krishna is not African. Krishna is nothing of this material world. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, transcendental. Simply by knowing Krishna, one becomes immediately liberated and goes back to Krishna. . ."
— Srila Prabhupada, from a lecture given on Bhagavad-gita, 7.3 in Bombay on February 18, 1974
Answer: In the early 1970s, Srila Prabhupada, the Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), started the Life Membership program to provide opportunities for people to support ISKCON financially, especially to help fund the construction of temples in India.
In exchange, Life Members received copies of ISKCON books, free room and board at ISKCON temples worldwide for three days a year, and the satisfaction of supporting Srila Prabhupada's movement. The Life Membership program raised money to build temples in Mumbai, Vrindavan, and Mayapur, all glorious achievements.
The program worked well when ISKCON had just a few dozen temples and a relatively small number of Life Members. But as the years passed, the number of temples increased and included many small centers run out of devotees' homes. The number of Life Members grew as well.
Some temples, while promoting Life Membership drives to raise funds for their local projects, continued to promise free room and board at temples in faraway places. But the temples often did not have the facilities to match the demand.
To this day, temples in places like New York, Toronto, London, and Los Angeles receive many requests every day from Life Members who want to visit and stay at the temple. But they're often disappointed to learn that there's a long wait time, perhaps as long as six months. Temples are generally unable to live up to the Life Members' expectations.
Therefore, some of the benefits of ISKCON Life Membership as they were conceived in the early 1970s are no longer practical. Members still reap the spiritual benefit of offering charity to ISKCON to support its many programs – Deity worship, book distribution, prasada distribution, festivals, and so on – but they cannot be assured of being able to stay in ISKCON guesthouses.
Recognizing this, most temples, especially those outside India, where temples are smaller and have fewer guest facilities, have transitioned from Life Membership to local donor and annual member programs. For example, you can become a Patron Member of Bhaktivedanta Manor in London and receive benefits at that temple. Most temples in North America stopped offering Life Memberships twenty years ago.
While some temples continue to promote Life Memberships, most have toned down their benefit claims, with wording such as "free room and board at temples with Life Member facilities, when available."
Given that few temples have extensive guest facilities, and considering the long waiting lists for many temples, we advise devotees and friends who want to support ISKCON to do so through monthly or annual donor programs in your local area, and to not depend on reciprocal gifts from other parts of the ISKCON world.