The Hare Krishna Movement Essay, Research Paper
The Hare Krishna movement can be described by using Ninian Smart’s six dimensions of religion. This is a series of six different dimensions that are present in any religion. They are doctrinal, ethical, mythical, experiential, ritual, and social. Each dimension is different, but is a necessary part of religion. In this report I will discuss how the Hare Krishna movement falls into these categories, but first allow me to provide some background information.
Hare Krishna is a relatively new “eastern” religion founded on the backbone of Hindu teachings. It is referred to in some instances as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness denoted ISKCON. The Hare Krishna movement dates back to ancient India although it was technically not founded until 1966 in the United States by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Hare Krishna is based on many of the same concepts of Hinduism as I have mentioned. Hare Krishna is very reliant on Vedic scriptures, which have been around immemorially for longer than we actually know, but were transcribed into in Sanskrit about 5000 years ago. The actual movement for Krishna consciousness was founded in 1486 when it is said that Lord Krishna appeared as Sri Caitanya, an avatar or incarnation of a God, and revealed the recommended method of God realization called yuga-dharma. Yuga-dharma is the chanting of the holy names associated with Krishna. However for all intensive purposes the Hare Krishna movement was not established until 1966 because it was not a separate movement from Hinduism. Nowadays the Hare Krishna movement is a totally separate religion from Hinduism but merely has ties to its predecessor like those of Judaism and Christianity. Working on this premise it is safe to say that The Hare Krishna movement is not a culture religion like Hinduism is nor is it a universal religion like Christianity and it certainly isn’t an ancient animistic religion. So what exactly is this movement classified as? I would classify this religion as firstly an eastern religion even though it has its meager beginnings in the US. And secondly I would classify the Hare Krishna movement as a hybrid cultural/universal religion.
The Goals of ISKCON are fairly simple. When the Hare Krishna Movement was founded in 1966, AC Bhaktivedanta set forth seven points that form the backbone of the movement.
- To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large, and to educate all people in the techniques of spiritual life, in order to check the imbalance of values in life, and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
- To propagate conciousness of Krishna, as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
- To bring the members of society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus developing the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).
- To teach and encourage the sankirtan movement, congregational chanting of the holy names of God, as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
- To erect for the members and for society at large holy places of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
- To bring members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler, more natural way of life.
- With a view toward achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, books, and other writings.
Along with theses seven points are many philosophies that are held by the members of this group. Although there are many philosophies in the Hare Krishna movement, there is also an ultimate philosophy. This philosophy states that all of the ancient writings, the Vedas, the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, the Puranas, and the Vedanta-sutras. They believe that these scriptures were given by the supreme personality or Godhead at the beginning of creation. The scriptures were handed down through the ages by enlightened spiritual masters, they were changed to fit changing times, places and circumstances, but they have not been altered in essence or conclusion. Human life is the same no matter what time setting it manifests, hence it’s problems remain the same. The root of these problems is our false identification with the material world and our forgetfulness of our original relationship with the Supreme.
So now that I have provided some background I can discuss the Hare Krishna Movement’s relationship to the six dimensions of religion as defined by Smart. The first of these dimensions is the Doctrinal dimension. This dimension is based on the history and philosophy of religion. The main doctrine of this religion is the Bhagavad-Gita as it is. The term Bhagavad-Gita means literally “the song of God.” That is exactly what the Bhagavad-Gita is. It was spoken by Lord Krishna to his friend Arjuna. The book consists of 18 chapters and 700 verses. The Bhagavad-Gita was spoken to Arjuna because of his refusal to fight against his brother on the battlefield. Arjuna had not realized that he was caught up in an illusion, that people are not what they seem. There are no material possessions, not even our own bodies. They are just an outward reflection of our inner being. The main point of the book is to let people know that they need to free ourselves from the illusion that is the material world and to return to the eternal world and our loving devotional service to the lord. Although there are many translations of the Bhagavad-Gita, the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, is truly represents the words of Krishna.
Also parts of the Doctrinal dimension are the philosophies of the Hare Krishna movement. One of the main philosophies which is discussed in detail in the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Upanishads is the concept of Maya. Maya means “not this.” It is essentially one thing being mistaken for another. For instance if I thought that I saw a persons shadow in my room, but it was actually the shadow from a stuffed animal, it would be Maya. In the belief of the Hare Krishna movement, the human body is seen as Maya. People are the eternal energy of the lord Krishna. Maya takes form in many other forms of life too, not just in human form. However while in the form of an entity, the Maya must act like that entity. But people need to reject this sense of self and realize that they are pure spirit in their true form. Assuming this, not realizing that the material world is an illusion causes suffering.
Another dimension of religion is the ethical dimension. This dimension also deals with the philosophy of religion, but in a different way as to seem ethical. It is based on the way we live our lives through religion. The Hare Krishna Movement has several rule which it’s followers must adhere to. They are a very moralistic religion. They do not believe in eating any meat. They do not engage in immoral sexual behavior. And they believe in loving each other regardless of who they are or where they’re from. One philosophy that goes along with the principal of ethics and morals is the philosophy of Karma, the universal law of action and reaction. Karma is a cause and effect based philosophy. It basically states that whatever you do has an effect whether it is direct or indirect. According to Vedic structure this applies to both physical and nonphysical levels. It states that there is no such thing as chance, that everything happens for a reason and is caused by something else. Everything is caused by a higher purpose. However karma is not predestination. It is the mixture of predestination and free will. Both of these aspects have to be present in order for karma to work. The way I would explain this to someone is that if you do something then you were using your own free will to make the decision, however you will have to live with the implications caused by your actions thus limiting you to be predestined to whatever reaction may occur. It is something of a system of guilt. This system works quite well for people of this faith and as a matter of fact it is their main source of the ethical dimension.
In a religion there is also an experiential dimension. These feelings are an important part of religion. In the Hare Krishna faith these feelings are also important. The Hare Krishna faith teaches its followers to channel their experiences into yoga. They see it as a way to connect to the Supreme Being. The Supreme Being is the absolute. Everything else is relative. The link between these two dimensions is called yoga. Yoga directly translated from Sanskrit means relationship or connection. This sounds much like what we learned in class about religion. Religion or religio means connection. In yoga the ultimate goal is to have an experience of god. There are three different types of yogas. There is Karma yoga, Jnana yoga, and Bhakti yoga. Karma yoga is yoga that is put into action. Jnana yoga is intellectual yoga or yoga of knowledge. Bhakti yoga is based on love and devotion to god. A person who practices karma yoga may make sacrifices to try to get closer to god. The leave behind material things and pursue a more happy life in spirit. Jnana yoga is very broad in nature. A jnani, one who practices jnana, wishes to completely detach themselves from this world. This may even lead the person to torture and mutilate their body. In practicing Bhakti yoga one doesn’t need any material possessions. In fact this can be practiced by anyone. All types of yoga are practiced with the intent to get closer to god. They can be done anywhere at any time. It is only up to the believer as to how much of an experience they get.
Another dimension of religion is the mythical dimension. The mythical dimension tells stories of the greatness of the religion and its beginnings. It can be fantastic in nature or can be a means of setting rules. The Hare Krishna faith has many of these myths. From its inception Hare Krishna has had stories of its founder and great stories of wonderful feats. Most of these stories serve as lessons to those who believe. On such story is that of the Bhagavad-Gita. In this story Krishna tells his friend and master Arjuna about the role of man. Arjuna is struggling with the idea of fighting his brother in battle. He is driven to the battlefield at Kuruksetra by an incarnation of Krishna. Arjuna was under an illusion, thinking that all life was material and he didn’t want to end the life of his brothers. But Krishna explained that our body as well as everything else on this earth is just an illusion, a reflection of our spirit. This spirit goes with us even after our body has perished. Arjuna then went on to defeat his brothers and helped to save the land from his brothers.
There are also social dimensions of religion. The Hare Krishna faith has a wide string of social networks that they put into practice in their everyday belief structure. Part of their central belief structure even says that they need to make places of worship, not only for them but also for the public to use. They also must distribute books, pamphlets, and other literature to people in the hope that they too will receive the true message of god. They also believe in bringing members closer together in hopes of teaching a simpler more purposeful way of life. The religion is based on the premise that love has no boundaries. That everyone deserves to be loved and that everyone can receive the right of the one true god, Krishna. In the works for the Hare Krishna faith is a large city built for worshipers of the faith in India. This will bring even more brotherhood and social interaction.
The last dimension and perhaps the least well defined is the ritual dimension. The Hare Krishna Movement doesn’t explain the ritualistic dimension in great detail. The one thing that all members of the faith do on a daily basis is chanting the holy names of Krishna. They are required to chant this so much that it becomes part of their consciousness. Everyday they chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Also emblazoned into their ritual is the previous 5 dimensions that I talked about as well as the seven points that are the backbone of the Hare Krishna Movement.
The People who practice this religion may seem very similar to Hindus. However they have a very different and distinct religion. They do not have a cultural religion like the Hindu faith. Their religion is on a much different platform. They intend to spread their religion to the masses, and actively participate in recruitment of new members. But they are not a universal religion either. They are far enough from mainstream that some scholars even refer to the as a religious cult. Their structure is not quite that of a universal religion either. They definitely do seem to be eastern in nature. The movement was founded in the United States in New York, but all of their philosophies are based on and already formed eastern religion. So if I were to describe the Hare Krishna Movement in terms of such classification, I would have to call it an eastern, universal/cultural religion. They are a very interesting group of people who believe strongly in their faith and have a strong social binding.