Is it possible for a person living an ordinary everyday life to develop Krishna consciousness even without these external signs?
Saffron robes and shaven head with tilak are not the most important things, even though they create supportive mental disposition, just as well-dressed soldier has a good feeling that he is a real warrior. Does it mean that he cannot fight without the uniform? No. Also God consciousness knows no obstacles - it can be revived under any conditions - but certain conditions are beneficial in this regard. Therefore certain lifestyle, dress, diet and so on are prescribed. These things help in developing Krishna consciousness but they are not entirely necessary. Thus even person living an ordinary life can study and develop Krishna consciousness.
How are people recruited into your movement?
We sell books, people read them and when they are convinced by their contents, they usually visit the temple. If they like it, they decide to join us. Or they see the public program, become interested, and then they visit us and decide to stay. Usually it is one of these cases.
I feel that my belief in god is very shallow. How do I find out there is god?
We can learn about existence of God in the same way as we know about the existence of an artist when we see a picture or about the existence of parents when we see a child. Therefore when we observe nature, her workings and laws - which means there must be a lawgiver - we know that the intelligence of her creator, God, surpasses our concepts and that this God must be a person because only a person has intelligence.
If God is so wonderful, why was I sent here to suffer? If He can do anything, can't He get me out of here?
Yes, it is true that God can do anything. But He will not interfere with our minute independence; He will not impose Himself on the living being. Our suffering in this world is due to the misuse of our own independence. We are going to have to face our own responsibilities in this regard and stop blaming God. The sufferings we are currently undergoing are like the suffering of the dreamer in a nightmare. Ultimately they have no reality nor do they affect the soul who is simply undergoing the dreamlike conditions of material life due to his misidentification of the self with the material body. One might still say that while the dreamer dreams his sufferings are very real to him. True. But there is another purpose to our sufferings. They are meant to gradually move us in the direction of inquiring into the problems of life and into our relationship with God. The ultimate suffering of the living being is the feeling of incompleteness and dissatisfaction that the part must feel unless it is in proper relation to the whole. We are all suffering in this world due to the fact that we have voluntarily separated ourselves from God and thus we will always feel unfulfilled, incomplete and unsatisfied, no matter how much we attempt to enjoy this world, because we are functioning artificially outside of our loving relationship with God.
Is Lord Krishna personal or impersonal?
The impersonal brahman effulgence is one aspect of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna, but it is only a partial representation of the Lord and is ultimately a subordinate emanation from His personal feature. Thus if one stops at the impersonal understanding of the Absolute Truth, his or her knowledge of God remains incomplete.
The Lord has two other features known as Paramatma and Bhagavan. In His Paramatma feature the Supreme Lord exists within each and every atom of His creation and also within the hearts of every living being In this way he pervades and supports the entire universe. This feature of the Lord is also a subordinate emanation from His eternal, original personal form.
The word Bhagavan indicates the personal form of the Lord, which is the ultimate source of all other existences and energies, and all other aspects and manifestations of Godhead. That is why Krishna is described as the "Supreme Personality" of Godhead. This personal feature of the Lord is most sublime and therefore the Lord is known as Krishna, or He who is "all-attractive".
To deny the Lord His beautiful personal feature, by which He reciprocates in loving exchange with all living beings who desire His association, is insulting because it denies the Lord all of the most attractive and appealing aspects of personal existence. With our tiny brains and limited understanding, we may not be able to comprehend how it is that the Supreme Lord can maintain His eternal, individual form and personality, while simultaneously expanding into everything else. But this poor fund of knowledge is no reason to deny the Lord's unlimited, transcendental form.
It seems that to develop Krishna consciousness, among other things, means to shave one's head and wear saffron robes. Is it true?
Men have shaven head in a traditional way, with sikha (tuft of hair on the top of one's head). It is pure and practical and it expresses a submission to the Lord and detachment from material world. Women usually wear long hair in braids. This shows their chastity because in the Vedic culture women untie their hair only in privacy in front of their husbands. Dot between eyebrows (bindi) means that the woman is engaged. Married women aside from bindi also color their parting by red kumkum powder. Devotees in ISKCON dress in various ways, sometimes traditionally and sometimes in a modern way. Because ISKCON is also a cultural movement, devotees usually dress according to the traditional Vaisnava culture which is the main spiritual stream of Vedic culture in India. Sometimes people think that it is not practical in the West, but devotees feel that in time this traditional position will be appreciated. When you see for example a policeman in uniform, you immediately know that he is the person who protects you. Devotee dressed in dhoti (saffron robe) and with shaven head is such a transcendental policeman whom you can approach with spiritual problems. Thank to this way of dressing devotees can be easily recognized and people can come to them for spiritual knowledge. In Orient people dress in dhoti and sari for thousands of years. Saffron, or orange male dress, means the man took a vow of celibacy. White male dress means he is in the householder order (grhastha) or he prepares himself to become a full-time temple member. Women usually wear colorful saris and jewels.
What do the sign on your forehead and beads on your neck mean?
This is a tilak, made from clay from sacred Indian rivers, Ganges and Yamuna. According to the tilak can be distinguished also various Vaisnava sampradayas (philosophical schools). We, Gaudiya Vaisnavas from Brahma-sampradaya, wear tilak made of two thin lines which converge at the root of the nose and a spot in the form of an almond on the nose. Those who have Visnu tilak on their forehead are devotees of Lord Visnu or Krishna. Neckbeads (kanti-mala) mean that the person took a vow to follow orders of genuine spiritual master, who is a direct representative of Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They are made of wood of the sacred tulasi plant just as the rosary used for chanting the mantra (japa-mala).
Where do you get money to support your movement?
The Lord takes care of all living beings in the whole universe, so He will certainly take care of His devotees. Please, don't forget that we are a world-wide spiritual and cultural movement with more than 450 centers in 76 countries, and not just a bunch of strange cult members from your neighborhood. Most of the money we get from the sale of Srila Prabhupada's books (over ten million copies a year) published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, from congregational members' gifts, life members and from the general public. Aside from this many of our projects like charitable programs and establishing cultural centers are sponsored by many governments all over the world.
Why Are We Chanting Hare Krishna?
Hare Krishna, this name, was chanted by Lord Chaitanya, who introduced this movement five hundred years ago in India. We are following the footprints of Lord Chaitanya. Because He chanted Hare Krishna, therefore we are chanting Hare Krishna. But Lord Chaitanya has recommended that God has innumerable names, and any one of them can be chanted.
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, for those practicing Bhakti 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.
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 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?
500 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."
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 engages 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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." At the ISKCON Columbus, programs are held Thursdays, Sundays and days when there are special events or festivals.
A typical Sunday Feast program 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.