ISKCON belongs to the Gaudiya-Vaishnava sampradaya, or denomination, a monotheistic tradition within the broad Hindu culture. It is scripturally based on the 5,000-year-old Sanskrit text Bhagavad-gita, or “Song of God.” ISKCON traces its lineage directly to the speaker of that sacred book, Lord Krishna, who is revered as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and to Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a 16th century incarnation of God who emphasized the chanting of Hare Krishna as the most effective means of achieving self-realization and love of God in this age.

Krishna speaking the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna

Krishna devotees teach that people are not their material bodies, but are eternal spirit souls, and that all beings are interrelated through God, the common father. In the Vaishnava tradition, God is known by many names, but primarily by the name “Krishna” which means “the All-Attractive Supreme Person.” ISKCON members believe that the same God is spoken of in all major scriptures of the world.

ISKCON teaches that the goal of life is to develop love of God. Love of God is realized through the practice of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. This ancient yoga system teaches the art of spiritualizing all human activities. To achieve Krishna consciousness effectively, members chant and meditate upon the holy names of Lord Krishna:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Srimad Bhagavatam class with His Holiness Bhakti Marg Swami

In addition to daily chanting and meditation, ISKCON members practice their faith by attending regular worship services, studying scriptures, sharing sanctified vegetarian meals, and fostering fellowship among other Krishna devotees.

Members also practice four “principles of religion”: compassion, truthfulness, cleanliness and austerity. To uphold these principles, and to focus the mind and senses on their spiritual pursuits, practitioners follow for basic rules of conduct. They are strict vegetarians, not eating any meat, fish or eggs. They also abstain from gambling and illicit sex, and do not smoke, drink, or take drugs.

ISKCON has over one million members worldwide. While some members live in temples and ashrams (monasteries) as monks and nuns, most Hare Krishna devotees live, work, and go to school in the general community, practicing Krishna consciousness in their homes and attending the temple on a regular basis. Participation is open to anyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or any other factor.

Prior to his passing away in 1977, Srila Prabhupada established a Governing Body Commission (GBC) to oversee the international society’s activities. This ecclesiastic board consists of senior Krishna devotees who work together as a body to guide the organization. Each ISKCON temple is individually incorporated and manages its affairs through local leadership.

Trinidad and Tobago's Hare Krishnas