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What is ISKCON? Who is a member of ISKCON?

Thursday, 26 January 2012 / Published in Articles / 6,921 views

By Urmila Dasi (Dr. Edith Best, Professor of ISKCON History and The Sociology of ISKCON at Bhaktivedanta College, Durbuy, Belgium; Associate Editor of Back to Godhead magazine; member of the Sastric Advisory Council to the GBC)

Understanding ISKCON through the lens of social development and history

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada established ISKCON when it consisted of one rented storefront in New York City. He wrote purposes for his new society—to teach spiritual knowledge, consciousness of our existence as a soul part of the Supreme Godhead Krishna, and a simpler natural way of life. To accomplish these ends, Prabhupada wanted to bring the members closer together, create holy places, engage in sankirtana (in the method and mood of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu), and distribute publications. During the eleven years between the time that Prabhupada established ISKCON and he passed from this world, ISKCON was fairly easy to define. It consisted of temples or centers which at the end numbered 108. Local ISKCON legal entities owned or rented these properties. An international board, called the Governing Body Commission, or GBC, had oversight over the centers, each of which also had local leaders. The vast majority of members lived on the temple property and were all expected to follow the strict rules of a disciple. Such rules include waking up before sunrise for hours of mantra meditation, group chanting, and scripture study. The balance of the day was to be spent promoting the work of ISKCON. Members’ lives had to be free of all illicit sex, intoxication, gambling, and the eating of meat, fish, or eggs. Early in ISKCON’s history, there were also “life members” who donated to ISKCON in exchange for books and guest privileges, and there were people who regularly assisted ISKCON without following all the lifestyle or living physically under GBC authority. However, those who lived in temples considered those two groups more like supporters or sympathizers than fellow members.

ISKCON membership grew rapidly in the mid-late 70’s and early 80’s. More and more members married and had families which made living a tightly supervised communal life awkward and strained for many of them. Additionally, some prominent ISKCON leaders proved themselves unable to walk in the footsteps of the founder and struggled with keeping the vows of discipleship. By the late 80’s and certainly into the 90’s, most official ISKCON centers had a small fraction of their former residents, while members increasingly lived and worked independently of GBC and local ISKCON property and, therefore, authority. Several interesting developments affected ISKCON’s changing identity during this period. One was that many members who lived independently continued to follow the vows of discipleship and to advance the mission of Srila Prabhupada, in some cases with more vigor or success than the local center. Another was that the role of the supporters and sympathizers became important, and in some places, essential, for the success of ISKCON’s mission and even for the physical maintenance of local centers. Such persons were, like fully devoted members, generally living apart from ISKCON owned property with lives ungoverned by GBC rulings, which controlled only official centers. Supporters and sympathizers became a major source of both financial support and voluntary labor, both of which had formerly come from resident members. This role blurred the line between members, supporters, and sympathizers such that in many places all of them became “members”.

Gradually the numbers of ISKCON members of all categories living outside of GBC controlled property made up 96% of those self-identifying as “ISKCON members.” If ISKCON were still to be defined as those living on ISKCON property under GBC authority, ISKCON would have become a very small organization indeed, and barely able to accomplish any of the founder’s mission. However, ISKCON’s mission is increasingly being realized and self-identifying membership is growing. Many self-identified members have started affiliated organizations that work more or less in cooperation with the leaders of local ISKCON centers and the GBC. In such an environment, the boundaries and identity of ISKCON, and the definition of a member of ISKCON, have become increasingly harder to articulate.

This growing difficulty with determining where ISKCON and ISKCON membership begins and ends is common to all the major religious systems and organizations of the world. Naturally this situation poses challenges for the GBC and local leadership who are charged with maintaining Prabhupada’s standards of practice and philosophy.

Understanding ISKCON in the Movement of Mahaprabhu

Krsnadasa Kaviraja in his biography of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Caitanya Caritamrita, writes of the followers of Mahaprabhu as branches of His divine tree. Prabhupada writes in his commentary to Adi 12.73 that the ISKCON branch is “being directly watered by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.” Prabhupada writes (purport SB 8.5.23) that Mahaprabhu’s sankirtana movement will continue for 10,000 years after Mahaprabhu’s appearance. Although sometimes Prabhupada equated the legal entity of ISKCON with Krsna consciousness and with Mahaprabhu’s movement, he also cautioned many times that there were many ways in which ISKCON could be spoiled and become useless. (1) The point here is that, as Mahaprabhu’s movement expands, ISKCON’s role in that movement is fluid and subject to several factors, primary of which is ISKCON’s purity.

If we assume that ISKCON will continue to have a role in Mahaprabhu’s movement, what form would ISKCON have in a golden age? Considering one possible future when the entire world were in Mahaprabhu’s movement, would all people then be members of ISKCON and the GBC chair be the world emperor? In such a scenario, ISKCON, under the administration of the GBC, would be managing all the world’s affairs along with social welfare work and military enterprises. In another possible future, we can envision ISKCON as the official world church providing centers of worship and education, training those who lead the world in crafts, business, agriculture, politics, medicine, science, social welfare, and so forth. In either of those possibilities, citizenship in the world government would be equal to membership in ISKCON. Yet another scenario would be that ISKCON is one of a number of spiritual societies which manages places of worship and education and perhaps some villages also, training persons according to their natures to live as Krsna conscious persons. In the second and third scenario, ISKCON membership would be a term used only for those who serve full-time in the places of worship and education or in ISKCON-managed villages. It should be obvious that a vision of ISKCON’s ultimate role has a direct impact on how we chose to limit or expand our idea of what ISKCON is at present and what constitutes a member. The vision directs, for example, whether ISKCON leadership should encourage affiliate organizations to have independent and cooperative relationships with directly GBC managed projects, or to relinquish their quasi-independent status and come firmly under GBC authority. The vision directs to what extent we feel it desirable for all self-identified ISKCON members to subject their lives to the authority of local ISKCON leaders and the GBC, as well.

Understanding ISKCON According to Our Level of Consciousness

Some persons will define ISKCON as part of the transcendental pastimes of the Supreme Lord. (2) There will be those who experience ISKCON as a way of organizing a preaching mission. (3) Others may characterize ISKCON as an institution that aids in personal purification and liberation from material consciousness. (4) Others may understand ISKCON as promoting pious culture and dharma. (5) And others, despite warnings to the contrary, will experience ISKCON as a spiritually oriented organization where one can live a comfortable life, and acquire money, followers, status, position and power. (6)


1. Some examples: in my absence you may neglect Deity worship. Then the whole thing will be spoiled. Morning Walk — July 25, 1975, Los Angeles; I am fearful that if we expand too much in this way that we shall become weakened and gradually the whole thing will become lost. Letter to: Hamsaduta — Los Angeles 22 June, 1972; Krishna Consciousness Movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful and competent in all types of departments of knowledge and action, not for making bureaucracy. Once there is bureaucracy the whole thing will be spoiled. Letter to: Karandhara — Bombay 22 December, 1972)

2. “The present Krsna consciousness movement is nondifferent from the pastimes performed by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu when He was personally present, for the same principles are being followed and the same actions performed without fail.” (purport CC Antya 5.88)

3. “The Krsna consciousness movement means we are preaching the teachings of Krsna.” (lecture Bhagavad-gita 13.3 — Bombay, September 26, 1973)

4. “Purification of consciousness is the purpose of this Krsna consciousness movement.” (PoP 8: Failure and Success in Yoga) “This Krsna consciousness movement is the greatest gift for persons who are actually desiring liberation.” (purport SB 4.22.35)

5. “This Krsna consciousness movement is giving everyone a chance to become pious.” (TLK Vs 16) “The Krsna consciousness movement is being propagated all over the world to reestablish the varnasrama-dharma system and thus save human society from gliding down to hellish life.” (purport SB 5.19.19)

6. “We have actually seen that one of the disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura wanted to enjoy the property of his spiritual master, and the spiritual master, being merciful toward him, gave him the temporary property, but not the power to preach.” (purport SB 5.18.22) “Do not think in this way of big corporation, big credits, centralization — these are all nonsense proposals.” (letter to Karandhara, 22nd December, 1972)

26 Responses to “What is ISKCON? Who is a member of ISKCON?”

  1. Puskaraksa das says :


    We have to be careful not to unnecessarily revive a debate we had last year, after a controversial presentation on the topic of who could be worthy of being considered an ISKCON member.

    However, if we were to establish some comparison with another existing religion, so as to weigh both words and concepts, we could compare Vaishnavism to Christianity, and ISKCON to the Catholic Church.

    Hence, to be a member of ISKCON would be equivalent to defining oneself as a Catholic, i.e. accepting the teachings of Sastras and Srila Prabhupada as one’s religion.

    In the same way that the pope and the cardinals rule over the Catholic Church (the cardinals being like GBC members and the pope like their elected chairman), the GBC supervises and administrates ISKCON and ISKCON communities. GBC members, as the cardinals are assigned to different territories and supervise local bishops, who are equivalent to regional secretaries in our ISKCON organizational pattern.

    The purpose is that the Church, or ISKCON in our case, be in the center of society and be able to act as a role model for other members of the Church / of ISKCON, and citizens of society at large, living in the big world, so that they may be able to draw some inspiration from the teachings presented by ISKCON and some guidance, according to their relationship with the institution and their acceptance of some particular individual, whom they would accept as spiritual master…

    Christians at large besides Catholics,, could be compared to other Vaishnava groups, separate from ISKCON.
    Some differences would be present in their doctrines and approaches, but the essential would remain common, as for instance the worship of Jesus in one case and the worship of Sri-Sri Gour-Nitaï and Sri-Sri Radha-Krishna in the other one…

    So, basically, we shouldn’t worry too much and wish to control everything with our limited mind and intelligence at the conditioned stage, as ISKCON is directly under the control of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and under the supervision of Srila Prabhupada…

    So, as the goal is for all to develop pure love of God, Krishna Prema, we should facilitate everyone’s progress towards that supreme goal, whatever be their position in society…

    Then ISKCON will have fulfilled it role…

    Hare Krishna

    Yours in the service of Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON
    Puskaraksa das

  2. Sita Rama 108 says :

    Part 1
    Mother Urmila,
    You may know that after the first generation of the Massachusetts Bay Settlers (pilgrims) the second and third generations were unwilling or unable to come to the standard of church membership. To avoid dissolution of the church a “Half Way Covenant” was adopted. For a century of two after that, membership was the foundational issue for controversy. Various sects were defined based on their position on the it. ISKCON might want to look into the dynamics of how the issue effected this, historic, budding spiritual movement because it is an example of spiritually inclined individuals affected by universal human qualities. Despite undeniable differences, there are obvious similarities and we might get an idea of the near future of ISKCON by seeing how a church begun by a couple hundred pilgrims was effected by this issue over the course of a few hundred years.
    I would like to address your statement: “ It should be obvious that a vision of ISKCON’s ultimate role has a direct impact on how we chose to limit or expand our idea of what ISKCON is at present and what constitutes a member”. From this angle, ISKCON first develops a vision of it ultimate role and this must impact the way the leaders chose to expand or limit ISKCON at present. But you state this after an expose (which could easily be expanded) showing the ISKCON’s ultimate role is indeterminable at present. With all due respect I would like to argue that this is a false dilemma.
    How the GBC expands or limits the definition of a member will certainly affect the way it expands. They may analyze that one definition will likely cause ISKCON to expand in one way- a different definition will likely produce a different result-and then choose which likely result is most desirable. There are numerous ways to weigh these choices in terms of the level of certainty a definition would lead to a particular result, the level of certainty that one future result is better than another, etc, etc, etc.
    I can see how the leaders can possible do this for the near future but not for the next 10,000 years. In fact it is not possible to rule out unforeseeable events in the near future that may have a major unexpected impact on ISKCON. It seems to me we do the best we can within rational limits. And to try to envision the ultimate goal of ISKCON, in terms of organizational structure, over the next 10,000 years is beyond our rational limits.

  3. Sita Rama 108 says :

    Part 2.
    Historians have identified and repudiated a concept called “presentism”. The notion that the way ISKCON forms, now, will have a direct consequence on it’s role for the next 10,000 years is essentially chronologically reversed presentism. You may know, presentism is the fallacy that the present is the sum of the sequence of all past events. History does not work that way. Nor will the history of ISKCON in 1000, or 5000, years be simple the sum of past institutional structures. We should carry on with a rational, but entirely fallible, vision of what might happen in the next few decades or centuries. But continuing to spread Srila Prabhupada’s books is the guaranteed aspect of the present that will continue into the future because that is the vision of the perfect Acharya. Other than that who knows what the future holds.
    I assert that since it is Lord Caitanya’s movement and as Srila Prabhupada said his books will be the law books for mankind for the next 10,000 years, whatever the percentage of the population is that become devotees, they are going to see the central and ultimate authority as the person who spread Krishna Consciousness all over the world and is the author of the books that constitute their laws of spiritual science. ISKCON, as we know it may fail, but as Srila Prabhupada himself said his books will not.

  4. Sita Rama 108 says :

    Mother Urmila,
    I can see that the cost of establishing a membership construct is high. first the details have to be hashed out. Then people have to be put in charge of deciding if people meet the qualification. There is the question of continued monitoring of people to make sure they do not do something to disqualify themselves. Then the question of how that will effect the spiritual consciousness of a monitor.
    How will people respond to being scrutinized? What if they think the process is unfair to them? Will it increase in/out group mentality? Will it increase a judgmental attitude that turns people away? We have criteria for first and second initiation, living in a Temple, being a Temple authority, a sannyasi, a Guru why do we need more and more designations? Why is it crucial to establish this system that will require many service hours to maintain? And what are the possible benefits?
    I am not asking you to answer these questions, but these seem to be some things that immediately come to mind when I hear about the idea.

  5. Puskaraksa das says :

    Furthering the comparison in between ISKCON and the Catholic Church (taken as an example), the brahmanas in ISKCON are equivalent to the priests in the Catholic Church (with the difference that the brahmanas can marry) and constitute the clergy.

    The sannyasis are more less like monks (as both make a vow of chastity), with the difference that sannyasis generally travel, contrarily to Catholics monks who are mostly sedentary.

    Remains for us to establish the Varnashrama which means that we have to accept the fact that one can be a Vaishnava and not be a brahmana…!

    Kiba vipra kiba nyasi sudra kene naya, yei Krishna tattva veta sei guru hoya… Whether one is a brahmana, a sannyasi or a sudra, if one knows Krishna tattva, then he is guru !

    Therefore, inundating society with Krishna consciousness means big ISKCON. Limiting ISKCON to the clergy, i.e. to a few brahmanas living in temples, means small ISKCON!

    This means that we have to both understand and accept the fact that devotees can occupy different positions in society, according to their guna karma…

    Some brahmanas may choose to live within society, or even be forced to, if they marry and do not find the appropriate facilities within ISKCON communities to make a living and look after their family.

    On the other hand, we have to give a chance both to aspiring brahmanas, as well as to members of other varnas, i.e. kshatriyas, vaisyas and sudras to develop their Krishna consciousness and become gradually purified.

    Besides, a large number of followers may not be up to the level of following the four regulative principles strictly and chant 16 rounds a day, what to speak of restricting their sex life to begetting children…

    Considering the fact that we have some significant casualty within our ranks, given the number of initiated devotees who do not follow strictly the precepts of brahminical life anymore, we have to allow and enable each individual person to find its proper place within varnashrama and within ISKCON’s broader organization, i.e. as a congregation too, as an assembly of believers having developed some sraddha, simultaneously in the process and the teachings and thereby in the ISKCON Movement, composed of the organizational structure and of the assembly of people sharing the same faith, and therefore belonging to the same Church.

    Thereafer, one may act as a pujari, a teacher, a policeman, a doctor, a farmer, a merchant or a craftsman, be a vaishnava and be dear to Krishna…

  6. Part One:

    It seems quite clear that Iskcon can mean different things to different types of mentalities as evinced by Srila Prabhupada quotes from 1 to 5 in the main article. How all these can be accommodated within a changing and expanding Iskcon, in terms of membership, has yet to be defined.

    One certainty is, if we do go the route of being all-accommodating and having to spread Iskcon’s cultural base out into various social levels of society, into villages, towns, cities and mega-cities, counties, states, regions and countries, Iskcon will be unrecognisable even by todays standard – after having already changed from post Prabhupada-vani times.

    Within all of this, coupled with the propensity to project fantastic future scenarios, it would be prudent to say that unless VAD is functional we will have difficulty in determining Iskcon membership. Even then, this membership will vary according to different levels of commitment of members.

    The allusion of the GBC being world leaders could take effect if say, the United Nations were to hand over world sovereignty to Iskcon, if after having established the ‘one world government’ scenario as touted by the ‘new world order’ schemers, and what Srila Prabhupada indicated in his introduction to Srimad Bhagavatam. If this were to happen then a King would have to head up matters, and the GBC becomes his advisors.

    Where do we get royal blood? Would we have to invoke some secret mantra to bring someone like Srila Vyasadeva to impregnate some fortunate designated woman? Perhaps a devotee is able to genetically prove personal family lineage going back to genuine royalty or a sage.

    These scenarios sound fantastic, but should such a time arrive then these things will be debated. On this world scale, how would we name the different countries of the world? I’m not sure if we will want to label each corner of the world according to zones…

    On a world scale like this, would Iskcon still retain the same name? Would a new name for planet earth be devised? Prabhupada-Varsa…? Iskcon-loka…?

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  7. Part Two:

    If it came to this, then all citizens would be denizens of Prabhupada-Varsa for example. Yet, if Varnasrama-dharma takes hold, a sizeable number of people will fall outside the human standards beginning from Sudra upwards. It is doubtful they will be members of Iskcon, though they’ll live here. Here we’ll have a clear separation of membership roles versus citizen roles.

    Within all the villages, towns and cities there would have to be elected mayors and government representatives who are devotees and so on. Our present GBC structures will have to change and expand to fit the village, town, city and country needs. As mentioned previously, Iskcon will be unrecognisable by todays standards.

    This world scenario would be macrocosm of what we are used to today on a micro level. If we are unable to determine definite membership criterion of Iskcon on this micro level today, then we’ll certainly struggle as we expand even more.

    I have thought for some time now – and I am open to correction – that Iskcon membership should be a multi-layered one. All members within each layer are Iskcon members, but according to different levels of commitment, input, personal standards, financial benefits and the rest, each member will belong to one of these layers.

    The temples and asramas should embody the highest layer as would be expected of brahminical aptitudes. Then, we have brahminical devotees living independently of the temples and asramas. Both these should belong to the first layer. They can be identifies by meaningful involvements through deity worship, valuable years of experience, purity and so on. The other layers would naturally accommodate ksatriya, vaisya and sudra inclinations.

    One of the main reasons we have difficulty implementing VAD today is because it would be a form of social coercion to designate vaisnavas in one of four VAD orders. However, each member can be recognised by external commitment to Iskcon. But this can be misleading too because we cannot properly gauge or balance internal spiritual development with external output.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  8. Who is a real member of ISKCON in the words of Srila Prabhupada:
    “My advice is always chant l6 rounds minimum and follow the fou rregulative principles. All of my disciples must agree on this point, otherwise they are not my disciples. Let one live anywhere,but stick to the principles. Disagreements will continue in this material world. So one may live in a suitable place, but one must follow these five principles. My disciples must follow these five principles living either in heaven or hell.” (Raja-Laksmi-dasi, 2/17/76)

  9. Sita Rama 108 says :

    Mother Urmila,
    As I already mentioned, membership is a topic addressing us who are still affected by human psychology. So knowledge of human psychology can assist in understanding how we should approach this issue. A tremendous amount of empirical research on church membership has been done and is easily accessible from “Academic Search Complete” and books written on the subject. It would seem to me the leaders of ISKCON would want to familiarize themselves with this literature in order to make a wise decision.
    I did a short search and a couple of studies caught my attention. One was regarding some churches choosing a “yearly covenant” over membership. This might have added benefits and at the same time avoid some of the problems involved with a permanent membership. Another thing that came up was a distinction in the purpose of membership. Was it geared toward the goal of increasing the size of the organization or increasing the function of a the organization. Churches defined their function as: “Making life meaningful in ultimate terms.” and “Giving people a sense of belonging”.
    Of course, unless someone has been living in a cave, they are aware of conventional knowledge that since the 1960’s “Liberal churches have been steadily declining while membership in “conservative” churches continues to grow. Of course this became common knowledge as a result of Kelly’s 1972 book “Why Conservative Churches are Still growing”. As this book has been in print for 40 years, and had a major impact, there are many critiques of it which lead to empirical studies attempting to either discredit or support particular assertions. In fact I just bought a 2011 book by Chaves, “American Religion:Contemporary Trends” which argues against the commonly accepted reasons for WHY conservative churches grow and liberal ones decline. However I have, as of yet, seen no attempt to argue against the accepted view regarding growth and decline of different churches- per se. It seems that is basically undeniable. Anyway one scheme for researching this topic is to study Kelly’s book and the reaction to it over the last forty years. There is no reason for the leaders of ISKCON to guess about how membership effects religious organizations!

  10. Sita Rama 108 says :

    Dear Prabhu’s
    Payonidhi Prabhu’s comment addresses my prominent question. At present the majority of initiated devotees live outside of Temples. A few are employees of ISKCON related businesses. Others do their work and serve ISKCON by ways such as, financial support, Temple service, preaching/harinam, etc. What is the need to categorize them as being in a certain class.
    The reason for this question is; such categorization is problematic. I know of one devotee who was an austere Pujari for several decades. He got married moved to a rural devotee community and took a job working in a factory. He continues to be pucka. He is highly intelligent on both the practical and philosophical level. What is the compelling reason to box him into a category of sudra or brhamana? What about the numerous, highly educated, initiated devotees who live outside the Temple and are employed in the IT or medical field? A brahmana is forbidden to work for a wage even in the case of an emergency; so are such people sudra’s ?
    Another big problem I see is many devotees think the the mode of a person is determined exclusively by their type of work. However Krishna, says, in the Bhagavada Gita, and more explicitly in the Uddhava Gita, that that regardless of ones caste, anyone(even a sudra) who works without being attached to the fruits of their labor is in the mode of goodness. In contrast, even Vedic Brahmana’s were sometimes passionately attached to fruitive activity.
    It is great if we establish self sufficient communities but I do not believe it is an impediment for devotees to continue to perform their function in secular society. And most devotees at present are unwilling to renounce their occupations and live in a rural community. It is impossible to box devotees into a caste and they are likely to resent those attempting to do so. To me VAD means devotees acting according to their conditioned place in material society and serving ISKCON, the best they can within that role. We have life membership- developing other membership forms for giving people a chance to make a commitment to ISKCON may be nice. But I do not think ISKCON needs this to define itself. We are a group of individuals who have added bhakti yoga to our conditional lives. That gives us the chance to make our lives transcendental. Defining beyond that gets really complicated. Therefore the attempt is self defeating!

  11. I agree that VAD cannot be imposed upon devotees in good standing. My previous article, “We Are Not Ready For Varnasrama-Dharma Yet” can attest to this.

    But VAD will have to somehow fit in to our classification of the different types of members or citizens of Iskcon. Core Iskcon membership can easily be defined for those following all required spiritual standards.

    Did I say, ‘citizens’ of Iskcon? Who are they? Have we even thought about this?

    We should ask ourselves these questions when considering the following: There are many friends of Iskcon who either, give financial help (Sometimes for many years), or perhaps come to help wash the pots, and get involved with other useful services, yet they themselves, some of whom may not be chanting or even following the four regs.

    Are they members of Iskcon? Maybe not by proper spiritual standards, but they must be members nonetheless. They obviously belong to a different level of membership.

    If some of us are so strict about membership criterion without giving due place for these people without a category, then we shall struggle to determine membership as we grow and expand. Are we not to consider them at least as citizens – praja – of our Iskcon world? If not, then we must be callous and blinkered.

    This is where it should be easier to apply VAD classification. Iskcon will have to become a multi-layered home to facilitate all. In years to come, increasing numbers of people will serve Iskcon from these others levels, because the majority of them will not abide by full Iskcon spiritual standards.

    With this in mind we shall see how Iskcon is more than just a home for a select few. When Srila Prabhupada says that the “whole world” can live in Iskcon, he did not mean, only those of brahminical disposition. This “whole world” accommodation is vastly broad in mind and concept. If we are unable to keep up with this then the questions of Iskcon membership will continue to plague us. Perhaps the citizens of our Iskcon world will have better solutions.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  12. Puskaraksa das says :

    There may be a nuance in between being Srila Prabhupada’s disciple, while following the four regulative principles strictly and chanting a minimum of 16 rounds a day, and possibly not being anymore worthy of being considered as Srila Prabhupada’s disciple, by Srila Prabhupada himself or by others, after having transgressed one of the above listed rules, at least once…!

    Of course, this referring to the context of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, when Srila Prabhupada was physically present on the planet, as per the quote put forward by Payonidhi Prabhu, who promoted chanting 64 rounds a day in some earlier discussion, if my memory is correct.

    The idea is that the general criteria is bhakti, i.e. love, which takes its birth in faith, sraddha, known to be the beginning of spiritual life.

    “So to develop love of Krsna means that is real liberation. And that love of Krsna begins after many, many births of cultural life. Bahunam janmanam ante, vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma su-durlabhah [Bg. 7.19]. When one surrenders unto Krsna, that is the beginning of his real life. And as he makes progress, then he realizes — I have several times discussed this point — adau sraddha. First thing is that “I must get myself out of this material contamination.” That is called sraddha. “In this very life I shall realize.” So this sraddha, this belief and this determination, as you make more and more perfect, you make advance. You make advance. Not as official, not as makeshow, but really… Adau sraddha tato sadhu-sangah. Then, as you are determined, so your taste for associating with devotees… Just like we are now associating with Lord Krsna’s, Lord Caitanya’s, teaching. He is a great devotee. This is called sadhu-sanga [Cc. Madhya 22.83]. Adau sraddha tato sadhu-sanga tatha bhajana-kriya. Then bhajana-kriya, how to execute. Now Caitanya Mahaprabhu is teaching. You will gradually know what is the bhajana-kriya, how to execute devotional service. That we shall come later on. Tato anartha-nivrttih syat. And as soon as your devotional service, prescribed duties, are discharged, you become free from all material contamination. That is the test. Tato anartha-nivrttih syat tato nistha. Then you become firmly convinced. Tato nistha tato ruci. Then taste. Athasakti: then you cannot give it up, at any circumstances cannot give it up. Athasaktis tato bhavas: then you become fully in samadhi, in trance. Sadhakanam ayam premnah pradur.”
    Srila Prabhupada, N.Y, Nov 29, 1966

  13. Puskaraksa das says :

    So, we have to agree on the goal and purpose of ISKCON, which takes us back to the need for a definition of ISKCON and ISKCON members, as desired by some…

    So we may ask ourselves a few questions, so as to shed some light on this topic:

    Is ISKCON a club restricted to devotees who have attained the goal of spiritual life and developed Krishna prema, or is it a Movement meant to help and assist one attain that goal?

    Is ISKCON membership restricted to devotees who are free from anarthas, or is ISKCON meant to host members who are willing to get rid of their anarthas?

    Since one may get rid of one’s anarthas by performing bhajana (bhajana kriya) under the guidance and in the association of saddhu(s), is ISKCON not meant to provide such association, so that one may engage in the purificatory process of spiritual life, or should one find saddhu sanga and perform bhajana kriya outside of ISKCON…?

    In conclusion, if sraddha (faith) is the minimum requisite, why would we not accept people who have developed some faith, allow them to get some spiritual association and engage in the purificatory process of spiritual life (i.e. bhajana kriya, chanting of the Holy Name) in the association of other ISKCON members?

    Srila Prabhupada himself had registered ISKCON from the early days and has welcome many a hippie in ISKCON, so that they may become devotees and further, brahmanas or sannyasis for those who had some priestly tendencies and some potential for celibacy…

    Besides, our agenda is to establish varnashrama dharma… So, why would we restrict ISKCON only to the brahminical order.

    Are Catholic priests the only members of the Catholic church ? In one sense, yes, as they may be the resident members and represent the clergy, being supported by the church, as an institution.

    But if we take the word Church and Catholic Church in a broader sense, as being composed of the Assembly of believers, then the Church, or ISKCON, is composed of all the believers, who may act along different varnas, according to time, place and circumstances, as well as per their guna, their nature and propensities.

    Yet, these members support and part take in the running and the development of ISKCON, or the Church…

    So, again, we may narrow down ISKCON to a smaller and smaller version, as we become stricter on the criterias.

    Or we may choose to act in the mood of Mahaprabhu and distribute the mercy to one and all, without considering who is worthy to receive it or not…

  14. Puskaraksa das says :

    As a result, we may see people living in the institution and, at times, get side-tracked and/or fall! And we may also see people living outside the institution come and rise…

    In that regard, isn’t the best example our beloved Srila Prabhupada?

    He lived as a grihasta, outside temples, running his own business and accepted inititiation only 11 years after his first meeting with his Gurudeva… Hence, for a long time, he might not even have been very much noticed or known to his Godbrothers to be…

    It seems that it is after having composed a very nice Vyasa-puja offering and being praised by his Guru Maharaja that he started coming in the lime light…

    Yet, after Srila Bhaktisiddantha’s departure, while many of his sannyasi Godbrothers were founding their own matha and started acting as gurus, he still remained somehow or other discreet and solitary, gathering strength, praying to succeed, laying the foundations of his future missionary work abroad, while going through different attempts to preach in India, which didn’t meet such a broad success at the time…!

    Nevertheless, a non-matha member for most of his life, finally achieved the highest success, thanks to his being a pure devotee and being empowered by our Guru Parampara…

    In that respect, we may wonder why many such pure souls acted under cover for a long time, some of them even taking birth in improbable families…

    Weren’t Rupa and Sanatana born into the family of a minister and counselor to the Muslim ruler and weren’t they considered, because of that, as outcasts, by the brahmin community…?

    Wasn’t Ramananda Raya, a ksatriya, administrating the life of his fellowmen from his Madras/Chennai headquarters…?

    Wasn’t Haridas Thakur born of a muslim family, who after embracing Vaisnavism, ended up being rejected from both sides, on one hand by his muslim fellow mates and on the other hand, by the smarta brahmanas who considered him impure, despite his being Lord Brahma and the Nama Acarya…?

    How many of these great souls would have been considered in or out of ISKCON at some point in their life, by some well-intentioned “members”…?

    “As you engage them in this process, God will reveal to you. You cannot order God, “Please come and be stand up. I shall see You.” He is not your servant. You have to please Him by your service attitude. Then He will reveal to you what He is. And that is bhakti. That is bhakti: taiche bhakti-phale krsne prema upajaya.”


  15. Puskaraksa das says :


    “If you execute the devotional service, then you develop that love. And as soon as krsna-prema asvada haile, bhava nasa paya… And as soon as you develop, the more the proportionate way of, you develop love of Krsna, love of God, proportionately, you are free from this material contamination. When you are perfectly in Krsna love, you are perfectly free from material contamination. This is the way of liberation.

    daridrya-nasa, bhava-ksaya — premera ‘phala’ naya
    prema-sukha-bhoga-mukhya prayojana haya

    So one should not think that “Now I am materially happy. My all distress, my all poverty, has gone by Krsna, by devotional service of Krsna,” or “I have become liberated.” No. These are by-products. To become liberated and to become materially happy by prosecution of Krsna consciousness is a by-product. You have to attempt further thing. And what is that? Prema-sukha-bhoga: you shall be absorbed in love of Krsna. That is the… That is here recorded that that should be your ultimate goal of life. So we should not stop: “Oh, now I am very happy. Now I have no material miseries,” or “I am liberated. Now this material contamination does not affect me.” No. When you will be so much absorbed in love of God, just like Lord Caitanya showed… Caksusa pravrsayitam sunyayitam jagat sarvam govinda-virahena me, govinda-virahena me: “Oh, I am crying. Just My tears coming, just torrents of rain from My eyes.” Sunyayitam jagat sarvam: “I am seeing everything vacant.” Why? Govinda-virahena me: “In separation of Govinda.” That is highest stage of life. Govinda-virahena me. Just like in this material world, if you love somebody and if he is dead and passed and gone, you see everything vacant. That is a test of that govinda viraha. But we are foolish. We know that everything will be finished here. Why should I give so much attachment to this nonsense? Give your attachment to Krsna. He will never be finished. So that is love of Krsna. We have to attain that stage. Yes. That is the perfection of life.

    Thank you.”

    Srila Prabhupada, N.Y., Nov. 29, 1966

  16. As most of you have probably heard, a Constitution Committee has been working for some time on drafting a Constitution for ISKCON that meets the approval of the GBC and the general body of devotees.

    The following excerpt is the Article of the Proposed Draft Constitution dealing with “membership” in ISKCON:

    Article II – Membership

    Section 1: Scope

    Membership in ISKCON is open to all individuals who desire to be members of ISKCON, regardless of external qualities including race, national origin, religion, or gender.

    Section 2: General membership

    A person, desiring to be a member of ISKCON, becomes a General Member of ISKCON by

    1) Accepting the teachings of ISKCON’s Founder-Acharya Srila Prabhupada, and

    2) practically supporting the mission of ISKCON, and

    3) participating in activities organized by ISKCON, and

    4) accepting the governance structure of ISKCON.

    Section 3: Dedicated Members

    A General Member becomes a Dedicated Member by:

    1) Practicing daily chanting of at least sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and

    2) Practicing the four regulative principles outlined by Srila Prabhupada, namely no meat, fish or eggs, no intoxication, no illicit sex, and no gambling, and

    3) Actively serving the mission of ISKCON in cooperation with the Governing Body Commission or affiliated ISKCON organizations, and

    4) Agreeing to adhere to rules and regulations, including those related to personal conduct, established for dedicated members by the Governing Body Commission.

    Section 4. Limitations

    Membership in ISKCON as defined in this constitution does not confer or imply membership in or specific rights or privileges relevant to any specific, individual ISKCON organization.

    I think the above is a good, working definition of ISKCON membership for our Constitution. While it would leave out people who do not accept the governance structure of ISKCON or participate in activities organized by ISKCON, I think that is fair.

    Perhaps someone may accept many teachings of Srila Prabhupada and even be a dedicated disciple of Srila Prabhupada in many ways, but for one reason or another feel disaffected from ISKCON, perhaps because of joining the personality cult of a guru outside of ISKCON, or because of believing ISKCON’s governing authorities have not properly interpreted Srila Prabhupada’s teachings about essential topics (e.g., guru tattva). Still, I see no reason why such a person should be considered a “member of ISKCON.”

  17. I really like that Urmila Mataji has mentioned the purposes for which Srila Prabhupada himself wrote, in articles of the original ISKCON corporation, that he had founded ISKCON.

    These are the purposes of ISKCON, and ISKCON members are those who are dedicated to assisting ISKCON in accomplishing these purposes.

    Some (non-ISKCON) people have recently expressed to me that the most important thing is to associate with a topmost Vaisnava, and that one should join the society of such a devotee. That position reminds me of the kind of “guru groupism” that H.H. Bhakti Vikas Swami warned us about in another article recently published on Dandavats.

    In answer to that, we can see that Srila Prabhupada founded ISKCON with certain purposes to accomplish. It was never meant to be simply the personality cult of some swami or paramahamsa. It has objectives and a mission, and it is meant to continue carrying on that mission and those objectives after the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada.

    Or rather we could say that we can associate with the great Vaisnava Acarya Srila Prabhupada by assisting him in his clearly-expressed desire, to serve the organization he founded in carrying out the objectives he enumerated by adopting the methods and organizational structure as he directed.

    Of course getting the association of great Vaisnavas and smearing their foot dust on our bodies is the secret of success in spiritual life, but our acaryas have understood and conveyed to us the importance of having an organized mission or “institution” on earth to spread the teachings of Lord Caitanya in a systematic way, and that such organization should be more than the personality cult of some great yogi or devotee. Or rather, it can be a society in which many yogis and advanced devotees cooperate within an effective management structure for accomplishing the goals and thus satisfying the desires of Bhaktivinode Thakur, the Six Goswamis, and Sri Sri Nitai-Gaura.

    It may be that more than one organization or institution can be dedicated to this purpose. ISKCON does not need to claim to be the unique vehicle or fail to appreciate the successes of others. However, we should not feel defensive or embarrassed about our determination to serve the organization Srila Prabhupada established to accomplish the goals and objectives he set for us. Those who have such determination are a type of “member”, even if they themselves are still beginners in devotional service (like me).

  18. Here is another thought. We know Srila Prabhupada was careful about his choice of words. Iskcon is a “Society,” albeit an “International” one.

    There are several definitions of the word Society. Broadly speaking the word stands for a sharing of interests, goals and pursuits. This sharing can be shared with people who are uninitiated and initiated, staunch and mellow, conservative and liberal and so on.

    Do we agree that this intent for ‘Society’ was meant in a broadminded way like the genuine Mahatma Srila Prabhupada was? If so, we can plan accordingly.

    If we disagree with the broad notion of ‘Society’ then we limit our options, but can safely plan ahead as if shielded from society, where only the select few are privileged to be Iskcon members.

    With a multi-level approach to Iskcon membership, both of the above can be accommodated quite comfortably.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  19. Sita Rama 108 says :

    Akuranatha Prabhu,
    I wish I had seen the contents of comment 16 earlier. I am totally comfortable with it.
    Your servant,
    Sita Rama das

  20. pustakrishna says :

    When I first met Srila Prabhupad in Bombay in 1971, he kindly wrote me a poem or 6 verses on surrender, in response to a poem that I anonymously gave him glorifying Lord Chaitanya on His appearance day (that has been published in Dandavats previously). One of the 6 topics involved that one should feel oneself part of a spiritual family. This was an easy thing in the early days of the movement. In fact, many of us left our families because they did not favor us joining the Hare Krishna Movement. It was very, very radical indeed. Although we heard of the 4 regulative principles, and the other regulations, we gradually eased into these through association. The association gave us hope that “this transformation was indeed possible!” With the passage of time, and as the ghee was heating up, many impurities came to the top. Karmic challenges. We all go through these on a daily basis. Still, what constitutes a member of ISKCON?
    I personally heard Srila Prabhupad say several times that he was establishing centers around the world so that people could hear about Krishna. Sravanam, kirtanam, smaranam…the basis of the association. In the Srimad Bhagavatam it says: bhidyante hrdaya grantis…that simply by hearing about the topics of Bhagavat dharma, the knot within the heart is cut…simply by hearing! We have come to place alot of emphasis on what we can or cannot do, but it is the process of hearing that is emphasized.
    And, why does one take formal initiation? Many people, some in other websites, are very critical of bhaktas taking on the role of givers of diksha. It is a formality, but an important one. It formalizes the vows that one takes, the ideals to chant the Holy Names, without offenses. And, if one falls off the track, they can get back on the track holding sacred those ideals. The ISKCON society is providing opportunities to hear about Krishna, to give sukriti (piety) to the souls, some of whom will become dedicated servants of Krishna in a future lifetime. ISKCON is thus an important branch of the loving and serving devotional tree of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It should remain nonsectarian and encourage those of other faiths and other vaishnava lines as well. Let people think what they want, ISKCON has not dug a moat around itself to protect itself from the outside world, but rather has created many, many bridges to help those who want to participate. Hare Krishna, Pusta Krishna das

  21. Yes, Sita Rama, you should probably write Pancaratna Prabhu if you want to see the rest of the draft Constitution. I do not know if the Committee has decided to publish it at this point or to keep refining it more for now, but it seems to me they have done a tremendous job so far, and I think many GBC members have a good impression and may suggest different refinements here and there as it gets closer to being adopted or “ratified”.

    One thing that some devotees have expressed concern about is a sense that we need better mechanisms within ISKCON to “petition the government” of ISKCON and seek redress of grievances. I think such mechanisms will grow over time as the Society grows over time.

    Already there is an ombudsmen program run by ISKCON Resolve that has some very smart, competent devotees helping provide an opportunity for aggrieved “visitors” to work with confidential, neutral, informed devotees from outside ISKCON management to help find solutions. That is an important program, but the ombudsmen can do little more than help visitors help themselves, by pointing them in the right direction, suggesting different avenues to take within the proper ISKCON channels.

    It may be we need some more work on developing mechanisms and “channels” within the ISKCON management structure for review of certain kinds of decisions. But dispute resolution mechanisms can be expensive in terms of deploying hours of time of competent devotees to professionally gather and review evidence, and to develop and apply standard rules to the facts so found. It may be a long time before ISKCON can really develop anything like a respected internal “legal system”, and even the best legal systems sometimes get things wrong. (If someone wins and someone loses, the loser almost always thinks the system did not work right; that is just human nature it seems).

    I am impressed by the many intelligent, thoughtful, sincere devotees who have put time into working on getting the Constitution right. Pancaratna has done a great job of shepherding the project along, and I was very impressed with comments I read by Bhaktarupa, Sesa. Prema Bhakti and many others. I think you would be, too.

  22. “One of the 6 topics involved that one should feel oneself part of a spiritual family. This was an easy thing in the early days of the movement. In fact, many of us left our families because they did not favor us joining the Hare Krishna Movement.”

    Yes, a sense of “membership” or belonging to something bigger, a community united in some purpose, is a basic psychological need.

    We are social animals. We fear being alone and vulnerable. We expel that fear by our sense of belonging to various kinds of “crowds” (I love Elias Canetti’s book, “Crowds and Power”, though I hardly meet anyone else who has read it.)

    Generally, membership in a family or social group or nation is another maya ahankara. Impersonalists rightly consider, “How is this my mother, my father, my wife or husband? Who am I really? What really is mine? I do not belong to any of these things, and they do not belong to me.”

    But devotees know where they really belong. “Yes, I do have mother, father, spouse, children, friends, countrymen, everything, in connection to Krishna.”

    There are six principles of association: dadati, pratighrnati, guhyam akyati prcchati, bhunkte bhojayate. If we do these things with nondevotees we will start to think like nondevotees, and if we do them with devotees we will become like devotees.

    Association and membership is a strong shaper of character. Educators like Urmila know that proper association and socialization is part of the “hidden curriculum”. You can teach algebra and rhetoric, foreign languages and so on, but if kids are in an environment where no one cares about algebra they are not really going to learn it very well. It is through our association that we decide what matters to us.

    Similarly, we can study Vaisnava history and philosophy and literature like academic humanist scholars do (in Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada compared such scholars to Ravana), but unless we learn to associate with and “belong” to the devotees of Krishna we will only be licking the outside of the bottle.

    The soul by its nature is active, and is also by nature social.

    We can see, every species has its kind of society. Dogs run in packs. Chimps have their own social organization. For humans the varnasrama system is natural and wholesome. But over and above that, belonging to the Sankirtan Movement is completely spiritual.

  23. Puskaraksa das says :

    Therefore, even though we place some value both in dialogue and democracy, we should remain prepared to welcome any pure devotee who may manifest and be ready to act, under his merciful guidance and supervision, so as to be sheltered by the spiritual energy of the Lord, the daivi prakriti…

    Srila Prabhupada stated that we could conquer the world in a few weeks with only 18 pure devotees or so!

    So, we are thousands, if not millions by now, embracing the same faith, but we haven’t conquered the world yet…

    This means we are still short of pure devotees…

    So, we have to make sure the frame that we are building may always be conducive to welcome transcendence and echo the message of the Transcendental Autocrat, and his bona fide representative, Sri Guru…

    Otherwise, if we level it down, considering everybody to be equal and to be on the same equal spiritual platform, having the same voting power, etc, we may build something else than what this transcendental Movement was originally meant to be, as per the wish of our Founder Acarya…

    Follows an excerpt from the foreword to Brahma-samhita – enunciated by the first Guru in our Parampara, Lord Brahma – by Srila Bhaktisiddantha Sarasvati Thakur, where he speaks of the Transcendental Autocrat and of our various speculative tendencies…



    The materialistic demeanor cannot possibly stretch to the Transcendental Autocrat who is ever inviting the fallen conditioned souls to associate with Him through devotion or eternal serving mood. The phenomenal attractions are often found to tempt sentient beings to enjoy the variegated position which is opposed to undifferenced monism. People are so much apt to indulge in transitory speculations even when they are to educate themselves on a situation beyond their empiric area or experiencing jurisdiction.

    The esoteric aspect often knocks them to trace out immanence in their outward inspection of transitory and transformable things. This impulse moves them to fix the position of the immanent to an indeterminate impersonal entity, no clue of which could be discerned by moving earth and heaven through their organic senses.

  24. Puskaraksa das says :

    The lines of this booklet will surely help such puzzled souls in their march towards the personality of the immanent lying beyond their sensuous gaze of inspection. The very first stanza of this publication will revolutionize their reserved ideas when the nomenclature of the Absolute is put before them as “Krsna.”

    The speculative mind would show a tendency of offering some other attributive name to designate the unknown object. They will prefer to brand Him by their experience as the “creator of this universe”, “the entity beyond phenomena”–far off the reference of any object of nature and void of all transformation. So they will urge that the very fountainhead should have no conceivable designation except to show a direction of the invisible, and inaudible untouchable, non-fragrant and unperceivable object. But they will not desist from contemplating on the object with their poor fund of experience.

    The interested enquirer will be found to hanker after the records left by erudite savants to incompatible hallucinative views of savage demonstration. In comparing the different names offered by different thoughts of mankind, a particular judge would decide in favor of some nomenclature which will suit best his limited and specific whims. The slave mentality of an individual will no doubt offer invective assertions to the rest who will be appealing to him for a revelation of his decision.

    To remedy this evil, the hymns of the accepted progenitor of the phenomena would do great help in taking up the question of nomenclature which is possessed of adequate power to dispel all imaginations drawn out of their experiencing the phenomena by their tentative exploitations.

    The first hymn will establish the supremacy of the Absolute Truth, if His substratum is not shot by the bullets of limited time, ignorance and uncomfortable feeling, as well as by recognizing the same as an effect instead of accepting Him as the prime cause. He will be satisfied to mark that the object of their determination is the par”excellent Supreme Lord Sri Krsna who has eternally embodied Himself in His ever-presence, all-blissful, all-pervasive perfected knowledge as the very fountainhead of all prime causes of unending non-beginning time, the supplying fosterer of all entities, viz., mundane and transcendental.

  25. Puskaraksa das says :

    The subsequent lines will go to determine the different aspects of the Absolute, who are but emanations of the supreme fountainhead Krsna, the attractive entity of all entities. Moreover, the derivative proclamation of the nomenclature will indicate the plane of uninterrupted, unending, transcendental felicity and the nomenclature Himself is the source of the two components which go by the names of efficient and material causes.

    The very transcendental name “Krsna” is known as the embodiment of all the transcendental eternal rasas as well as the origin of all eclipsed conceptions of interrupted rasas found in the mentality of animated beings which are successfully depicted by litterateurs and rhetoricians for our mundane speculation.

    The verses of Brahma-samhita are a full elucidation of the origination of phenomenal and noumenic conceptions. The hymns of the incarnated prime potency has dealt fully with the monotheistic speculations of different schools which are busy to give an outer cover of an esoteric concoction without any reference to the true eternal aspect of transcendental non-transformable and imperishable manifestation of the immanent. The hymns have also dealt with different partial aspects of the personality of the Absolute who is quite isolated from the conception of the enjoyers of this phenomenal world.

    A very close attention and a comparative study of all prevailing thoughts and conceptions will relieve and enlighten all–be he a materialist, a downright atheist, an agnostic, a sceptic, a naturalist, a pantheist or a panantheist–busy with their knowledge of three dimensions only by their speculative exertions.


    Aspersions of calumniation are restricted in the limited world, whereas transcendence cannot admit such angularities being an angle of 180 degrees or void of any angular discrepancies



    These are all highly elevated concepts expressed on a transcendental level by a transcendental personality, pure representative of the Transcendental Autocrat.

    This is provided as an invitation to voluntarily humble ourselves to some extent, so that we may become more receptive, when good fortune arises, i.e. when Sri Guru manifests.

    But we have to have the eyes to see and recognize Sri Guru, i.e. be graced with the transcendental vision thanks to having the eyes smeared with the balm of love…, in the same way that Maharaja Prataparudra was blessed to see Lord Caitanya simultaneously dancing in different Sankirtan parties…

  26. Puskaraksa das says :

    So, our Movement is not just meant to be a closed structure… It has to be the conducive soil on which bhakti latas from all horizons of the devotional sphere, will be able to flourish and allowed to contribute freely to taking back home, back to Krishna’s lotus feet, numbers of swan-like devotees, purified by such transcendental message and association…

    So, dear brothers and uncles, sisters and aunties, I humbly pray at your feet, with a straw in between the teeth: Please, leave some space for transcendence…

    Hare Krishna
    Your menial servant in the service of the Absolute

    Das dasanudasa
    Puskaraksa das

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