Hare Krishna

A critique of Krishna Consciousness from a Christian perspective

      Western society has become increasingly open to Eastern world views. A growing rejection of materialism and the low status of the Christian church, has led people to seek answers outside of traditional sources.
      Amongst the influx of Eastern philosophies, such as transcendental meditation, yoga, etc. came Hare Krishna. It was introduced to the United States in 1965 by an Indian A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. By 1966 he had founded a temple in New York and established the organization called ISKCON - The International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Swami Prabhupada died in 1977. By 1980 there were some fifty temples throughout the U.S. with a number of rural communities. The temples are usually large suburban homes with a worship area and communal living areas. A number of small cottage industries were established to produce "Spiritual Sky" products, such as incense. By the early 80's the group claimed 10,000 followers in the U.S. and 5,000 in other countries. In Western societies the group soon made its impact on the streets of our large cities. Exuberant young men and women dressed in bright saffron robes - the men with their heads shaved - all chanting the holy names of God.
      In Sydney Australia, two temples were established, both centres of communal life for the devotees. As well, there was a farm on the Colo River. A small breakaway group from ISKCON developed, but it held similar teachings. In Australia this group developed a small rural commune on the edge of Dharug National Park.
      By the 1990's the group was increasingly receiving bad press due to accusations of child abuse. Children were not greatly appreciated in the sect and as they emerged as adults they revealed the limited level of their care. The sect had also been targeted by pedophiles, and there were claims that they had unwittingly been given the responsibility to care for children in some of the communes. There has been a general decline in membership and a number of leadership problems since the late 80's
      Young people, searching for a meaning to life, tend to be drawn to the group because of its complete devotion to a set of simple beliefs. Contact is usually made on the streets when the devotees are performing a Sankirtana (Singing and Dancing). This is partly a form of evangelism - making God's name known. Initially, the contact is introduced to the key teachings of "god consciousness", Krishna consciousness. This is the view that salvation can only be obtained by becoming aware of the reality of God in our lives, detaching ourselves from material things and becoming totally dedicated to the Lord Sri Krsna. A devotee must be conscious only of him. The contact is then introduced to the temple commune and encouraged to become a member of the community. Daily life is as follows - 5am. rise, shower (cleanliness is important). Chant "japa" using prayer beads. Then follows a religious service lasting about an hour and a half and later, the study of the Bhagavad Gita, or other sacred scriptures. The method of study involves chanting Sanskrit, reading an English translation, discussing the chosen passage. Then follows breakfast, work, mainly street evangelism and begging - money raised per person is usually about $50.00 per day. Deception is sometimes used, eg. wigs and middle class clothes. Then there is an evening meal, another service, and the study of the Bhagavad Gita. Finally bed at 10.00pm.
      Adoration is offered to statues of the deities, especially Krishna. Food is offered and the statues washed is rose water, honey etc. Statues are not seen as idols but material incarnations of the deity. Men are separate from women and children in the service.
      During the initiation period of 6 months, the contact is instructed on how to develop Krishna consciousness. This involves the following:
        i] To realize we are not our bodies. Our bodies are a temporary manifestation of the energy of Krsna. Our souls are a part of Krsna awaiting reunion with him.
        ii] To detach ourselves from our basic natures of lust, desire and rule. This is achieved by following 4 basic rules:
          a) No gambling, frivolous sport....
          b) No intoxicants.
          c) No illicit sex. Marriage is not encouraged, but if a devotee is married, sex is only for procreation and only once a month. One must concentrate on Krishna not a marriage partner.
          d) No eating of meat, fish or eggs. All food must be offered to Krishna before eating. There are strict preparation laws.
        iii] To give devoted service (Bhakti) to the Lord Krsna. To think upon him at all times. This is achieved by the continual reading of Vedic scriptures, especially the Bhagavad Gita, and by chanting the following mantra at other times, eg. at work."Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare: Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare."... Thus the devotee is to live a life of loving service (Bhakti) to Krishna. A total devotion of the senses, of mind, body and soul.
      After 6 months training in the temple, a person can then become a devotee through the fire ceremony "Harer Nama" (Holy Name Initiation). After another 6 months, a devotee can be initiated into the Brahminical order. The third stage is Sannyasi, life long devotion, of poverty, celibacy, good works and preaching.
      The communal life is ordered by the temple president, thus there are differences between each temple. There is little freedom for devotees. There have been charges levelled against the group for brainwashing and kidnap.
      Hare Krishna is basically a Hindu sect, although they reject the title Hindu. It is a form of Vaisnavism which sees Visnu as the one and only God who has revealed himself in 10 incarnations eg. Rama, Krsna, etc. Visnu guards the earth and takes on human form to destroy evil as it emerges.
      Primarily it is a Hindu "bhakti" (devotional) movement following the teachings of Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhn, 1486 to 1533. At 22 he gave up the world and founded a religious order noted for its joyful and expressive worship - dancing, singing and chanting. His followers developed his teachings into a Hindu sectarian school of thought called Gaudiva Vaisnava. Swami Prabhupada brought the movement to the west in 1965.
1. God
      Hare Krishnas hold a typical Eastern view of God. This is a pantheist view which sees everything as God. Most Hindu's see God as an impersonal force, but Hare Krishnas see him as personal. He is the supreme personality of godhead, supreme absolute truth, supreme consciousness. His roles are that of creator, controller and enjoyer.
      He is known as Lord Sri Krsna, the original Visnu. As controller, he is known as Isvara, as impersonal energy, he is Brahman, along with other names to describe his roles and incarnations. The form of God, the one who is complete in everything, is as follows:
        i] Supreme Controller - Isvara.
        ii] Controlled entities - Jivas (subordinate Isvaras), living entities - Beings having consciousness.
        iii] Cosmic manifestations - Prakrti, non conscious matter.
        iv] Eternal time.
        v] The cycle of birth and rebirth determined by past behaviour - Karma (activities). This is the only part not eternal as it can be broken by Krishna Consciousness and so the soul may escape the physical body.
2. World
      The world is Krishnas lower nature, and is controlled by him. It is a temporary manifestation of his energy, and at the appointed time it will be annihilated when it is merged into the complete and eternal spiritual world. It is only an image of the spiritual world.
3. Humanity
      All living things contain the soul of Krishna. It is this that gives all life consciousness. The physical body is a temporary manifestation of Krishna's energy. Humans are the highest or most pure form of life. vegetation is the lowest. A soul trapped in a physical body may move through many rebirths from vegetation to human.
      Only a human has the capacity to know that they are not really body, but soul and that this soul is God. Having realized this, they may escape their body through Krishna Consciousness. If they fail to do this they will remain trapped in the cycle of death and rebirth (Karma). If a person's life is particularly evil, they could end up reincarnated as a dog, etc.
4. Sin
      Mankind has become preoccupied with the material world - physical things. We live in ignorance of who we are. We don't know we are part of the divine soul of Krishna.
      At the present, we are conditioned to a material consciousness. We have a bodily conception of life. We see ourselves as creator, controller and enjoyer, when in truth, Krishna is creator, controller and enjoyer and we are to cooperate with him. Therefore, our consciousness is at the moment contaminated, and so we need to employ Krishna consciousness to gain "mukti" (liberation, salvation...)
5. Salvation
      A person is saved by gaining oneness with Krishna via Krishna Consciousness. As the soul migrates from body to body, determined by past actions, there comes a time when a human reaches a state of goodness/sanity and can determine to act in a right way and so break the cycle - gain "mukti".
      The cycle is broken through "bhakti" (purified activities). "It's discipline consists of devoting all ones' actions to the deity. One listens to the stories of Krsna from the sacred texts, one chants Krsna's name, washes, baths.... Thus absorbing his grace.... until one has transformed into one close to Krsna, and sees the Lord face to face." "Bhakti" includes the following:
        i] Chanting. Each day the mantra must be chanted 16 times for each bead or bead on the neck band. There are 108 beads.
        ii] Asceticism. A devotee must accept communal living, temple worship, following the 4 rules.
        iii] Study of the Veda (scriptures).
      By these means one becomes conscious of Krishna every moment of the day so that when death comes the soul escapes the body and the cycle of rebirth and obtains a spiritual body like the Lords in the Spiritual Kingdom.
6. Heaven
      Mankind's ultimate destination is the "eternal spiritual sky", to receive a spiritual body like Krishna's and to be united and dwell with him in the "sanatana" (eternal) abode. This spiritual realm is vast. It is three times the size of our universe. The Vaikuntha planets will be the human spiritual abode. Krishna will live on Goldka.
7. Scriptures
      All the Verdic texts are used. The key text is the Bhagavad Gita spoken by Krishna to the first man Brahma and repeated to Arjuna on the battle field of Kuruksetrak.
8. Jesus
      Jesus came to teach how to chant and absorb human minds with the thought of Krishna. He didn't willfully die for our sins, but was killed by non-devotees who didn't like him spreading Krishna consciousness.
      The Bible is totally opposed to Hare Krishna teachings. It takes a completely different world view. A Christian response to a devotee should be, "The Bible doesn't support your point of view. You can believe your views, but I believe that Jesus is the only way into the presence of God."

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