Hare Krishna Gets Evangelical

The fringe Hindu faith is rebranding itself in America — with evangelical techniques.

Howard Resnick lives in a second-floor apartment on a quiet Santa Monica side street. Images of Krishna, the supreme god of the Hare Krishna movement, adorn the walls, and an electric keyboard waits in a corner to play Kirtan chants. He helped lead Hare Krishna in its heyday in the United States. Forty years after his conversion, he still wants to share his faith with Americans.

But today’s Hare Krishna temples host mostly Indian congregations and sing mostly Indian music. Resnick thinks that drives Americans from other cultures away before they even start thinking about philosophy. He hopes to reverse that trend.

“We were trying to do something which could not be done, and that is trying to Indian-ize the world in the name of Krishna,” Resnick said. “When you want to give people not merely the pure, unadulterated spiritual science, but they need to accept all the [ethnic] trappings — it doesn’t work. It simply doesn’t work.”

Swami Prabhupada chanting in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 1967.

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness arrived in the U.S. in 1966, and its first followers were hippies. By 1980, many Americans ostracized the faith as a cult, but Indian immigrants sustained the movement. Its teachings are based in Hinduism but stress a personal relationship with Lord Krishna, the supreme god.

Now, Westerners like Resnick want to bring founder Swami Pradhupada’s teachings to Americans again — and that requires removing Hare Krishna’s increasingly Indian overtones so Westerners can connect directly with Krishna.

“The music is Indian. The dress is Indian. The food is Indian,” said Emily Penney, a doctor of naturopathic medicine and Hare Krishna devotee. She gestured to her prasadam, the meal offered after every Sunday service after the food is offered to Krishna. Her plate held sambar, rice and lassi. “It’s as if something is Indian, it’s sacred.”

Penney learned about Hare Krishna through an old boyfriend and converted after a visit to the Culver City temple. “Krishna captured my heart. I had been searching, and I just knew,” she said.

But Penney, a white American from North Carolina, struggled to find a place in the community dominated by Indian immigrants. Seeing Penney’s loose white linen shirt with faintly floral patterns stitched in purple, she said another worshipper told her she looked “very devout today.”

She shook her head. “Krishna never told us to wear saris.”

When India Was Trendy 

Swami Pradhupada’s early followers, including George Harrison of the Beatles, were young American hippies. Chanting “Hare Krishna,” believers passed out copies of the Baghavad Gita in airports and on street corners nationwide.

They did wear saris and ochre robes, but at that time, “India was cool,” said Shukvak Dasa, a Claremont School of Theology professor and former devotee. “The meditational side of Hinduism was cool, so was rejection of authority and experimenting with new things. Hare Krishna was never in the mainstream, but everybody knew about it.”

Today the Hare Krishna movement claims 250,000 U.S. devotees, primarily because of the Indian immigrant population, according to Dasa. Without them, Hare Krishna may not have survived in the U.S. But Pradhupada wanted to cleave Hare Krishna from traditional Indian Hinduism. Often he critiqued Hindu traditions often for describing Krishna as an impersonal god. He sought such a clean break that he created a specific translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book, for his followers.

“[Prabhupada] didn’t want that normalization coming into his teachings,” Dasa said. “We gravitated that way because it was logical and it was necessary.”

Resnick and his organization, Krishna West, want to reverse that normalization. They imagine a temple without saris. Prasadam could be Italian, Brazilian or Chinese if correctly offered to Krishna. As long as they use the proper mantras, guitarists, drummers or jazz bands could lead chanting.

“Some temples are a little too attached to the traditions as they came,” said Sarvatma Das, a 34-year devotee and Hare Krishna priest. Das is not a member of Krishna West, but he recalls a follower who approached him once after he led chanting: he shouldn’t be playing chords, the devotee warned, because Pradhupada never played chords.

“I have a lot of friends who are still caught up in the details of the ethnicity instead of the broad philosophy. There are universal principles that are easily understood, and then there are local customs that I couldn’t care less about,” Das said.

shutterstock_148729082Hare Krishna’s Evangelical Spirit  

While earning his Ph.D. in Religion at Harvard University, Resnick examined the historical roots of the Vedic texts Pradhupada taught. “I really couldn’t find anything to suggest that there is a standard Vedic ethnicity,” he said. “It looks like, throughout history, people have adapted it. People always adapt.”

What drives Krishna West, however, is not merely a desire to adapt, but a profound evangelical spirit. Resnick and Penney believe Hare Krishna can bring peace to American lives. Devotees believe chanting Hare Krishna, much like prayer, brings divine energy into the chanter, which she can then use to better her community.

“Pradhupada came because there was an emergency in our culture,” Penney said. “And it’s not better than it was 40 years ago, it’s worse.”

Penney left LA in February for Raleigh, N.C., where she and two other women are overseeing a new community of believers. They will tailor the movement’s traditions to the devotees they meet. For example, the public chanting that defined Hare Krishna for many Americans in the 1970s may need to evolve if it alienates potential devotees.

“It’s like a rite of passage, a test of your faith and love, that you don’t care what the public thinks,” Resnick said. “If we go out in the street, it’s like Vedic Cirque du Soleil. People love it. They take pictures. But how many Americans want to join the circus?”

Resnick joined Penney and her team in North Carolina this spring.

“I’m ready to devote my life fully to this,” he said. “We’re seeking intelligent people who want to help change the world. If Krishna wants it to work, it’ll work.”

Lead image via Shutterstock.

Rosalie Murphy
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  • JBlack

    “Krishna West” has already been tried, but under another name. Back in the 1980’s, Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada changed things in his New Vrindaban (West Virginia) community. Songs sung in Sanskrit and Bengali were changed to English. Indian percussion musical instruments (like the mridanga drum and kartalas) were changed to accordians and pipe organs. Indian clothing, like dhotis for men and saris for women, where changed to Christian monk’s robes and habits. Sanskrit names for devotees (like Prajalpa Dasa, Mudha Swami and Aparadha Devi Dasi) were changed to English names like “Hope”, “Faith” and “Charity”.

    This “interfaith experiment” was a disaster. A large part of New Vrindaban’s financial support were from Indians. They were not happy with the change and left.

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Thus spake George Santayana.

    • DaveR

      Yep. Been there, done that. 🙂

    • Yajnavalkya dasa

      This “Interfaith Era” of New Vrindaban, the Westernization of the Hare Krishna movement, was one of the things that led to Kirtanananda’s expulsion from ISKCON. In fact, the entire community was also expelled from ISKCON. Kirtanananda himself was escorted from New Vrindaban by his own followers for being caught in unbecoming conduct with a minor, from what I understand. New Vrindaban eventually gave up its Westernization experiment and returned to ISKCON.

  • Billy Burns

    This is what scholar-practitioner Rajiv Malhotra refers to as a “U-Turn.” These people get what they want out of Hinduism and basically turn their backs on it while they go mainstream. They should be exposed for the frauds that they are.

    • Yajnavalkya dasa

      If you are referring to the parties who are trying to water down Sanatana Dharma, I agree with you. This is how Kali Yuga progresses, by the gradual weakening of religious principles.

      But for ISKCON itself, their standards are impeccable. Their standards of Deity worship are second to none. For example, I have been to Hindu temples here in America (around Chicago). I find it somewhat disquieting that they do not open until 9:00 in the morning. Yet Hare Krishna temples open around 4:30 in the morning, just like Hindu temples in India.

      I am a Westerner, born in America. I joined the Hare Krishnas back in 1973. For several years, we hardly ever saw Indians visiting our American temples. But nowadays, the vast majority of temple visitors are of Indian blood. They seem to appreciate the authenticity.

      • Billy Burns

        Thanks for the clarification. Yes, I was referring to these specific types of individuals and not at all the entire ISKCON organization. Though ISKCON has had issues of corruption in the past (and probably still does somewhat), it seems to have the right intent in presenting Hinduism as accurately as possible (in line with the Prabhupada’s ideas) without comprising authentic Hindu ethos for the sake of attracting followers.

        • Yajnavalkya dasa

          Yes, ISKCON, certainly has had problems with corruption and scandals, especially after the founder, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami, was no longer around to give personal guidance.

          There is an interesting history about the Hare Krishna movement. After Sri Chaitanya and His associates quit the earth, left-handed tantric elements began to slowly infiltrate the movement. There was always a line of pure devotion, but breakaway sects appeared and overshadowed the orthodox school, so much that Sri Chaitanya’s movement became equated, in the eyes of onlookers, as a cult of debauchery. It was not until the 19th century that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura regained respectability to the line of Sri Chaitanya once again.

          It is happening again, this time in the form of Westerners wanted to “change” things. It is like a disease of Westerners. Maybe “changing things” is good for a materialistic society (inventing this gadget and innovating a new manufacturing process), but not in the spiritual realm. Sri Chaitanya gave us the formula. It does not need to be “tweaked” or adjusted.

          • Billy Burns

            Thanks for the information! I have a question: how do you think organizations like ISKCON (or any other sampradaya tradition really) can go about in getting this huge rise in people who identify as “spiritual but not religious” to maybe start identifying as Hindu? A lot of these people are beginning to become interested in vegetarianism, reincarnation, sick of church doctrine, etc.

          • Yajnavalkya dasa

            That is a good question. When I read or hear the term, “spiritual but not religious”, I wonder what that really means. By proper definition, “spiritual” means relating to the spirit, and “religious” means “believing in and worshipping God”. So are the “spiritual but not religious” people rejecting a higher authority? If so, that is a problem, since Hinduism regards the Vedas and the supplementary literature (Upanishads, Puranas, etc.) as the highest authority.

            Our senses are limited, our mind and intellectual capacity is limited. We cannot understand the material world in full, so how can be understand the realm of God? That is why an authority is required. That is why we rely on the Vedic literatures.

            As to how to be successful in reaching out, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami gave this formula for success: “Actually I cannot claim any credit for myself, but I say if any credit is due, it is due to the fact that I have not deviated from the original instructions. Whatever I have learned from my spiritual master I have presented before you and similarly whatever success you are having only it is due to the purity of the message which you are carrying.”

            So I would say that not deviating from the path is the answer. I would hope that people respect authenticity. I would hope that people can “see though” shams where doctrine is changed just to get more followers (and their money). I would hope people can see though organizations that jump on the latest fad or bandwagon.

            I was thinking just this morning how Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation program charges big bucks for a mantra, yet the Hare Krishnas give their mantra out for free. Hare Krishna has a major outreach programs in prisons across the country. There in no money to be had in that, but it is done because that is what they do, it is the order or Sri Krishna Chaitanya. I hope people appreciate that.

          • Billy Burns

            So, in other words, Hindus just need to be authentic about being Hindu. This is probably the best “formula” for advancing Hinduism from one person to the next. Pretty simple approach. In fact, this will get potential followers to come to Hinduism on their own rather than the other way around. The former is a much more preferred method and is how why essentially Hindu ideas spread throughout South East Asia and China via various travelers, traders, monks, etc, coming to India to seek knowledge and then taking it back to where they were originally from. So, hopefully, this rise in so-called SBNRs in the US will come to Dharmic religions on their own. I am certainly against conversion or going door-to-door because I can’t stand it when those people come to my door wishing to share the message of Jesus.

            The prison outreach seems interesting. I would say prisoners are people who probably need spirituality the most. Any deep philosophical inquiry through a Hindu lens has far more to offer than “you are a sinner and by accepting Jesus you will be saved” which I don’t think people really buy though they put on a good show that they do.

            There are probably a lot of creative ways of spreading Hindu ideas without coming across as intrusive, rude, pushy, or desperate but rather intriguing and inviting. I’ll definitely have to think about this issue some more.

          • Yajnavalkya dasa

            I agree, I have never thought rude, pushy and aggressive proselytizing was a good idea. Krishna tells us in Bhagavad-gita 3:29 not to unsettle the ignorant who are attached to material activities. In Bhagavad-gita 18:67, He tells us that the great secret of the Bhagavad-gita “may never be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.”

            Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada said that this (Krishna Consciousness movement of Sri Chaitanya) is not meant for everyone. The vast majority of people are quite content wallowing in the miseries of the material world. But there will always be a few people who want to see beyond the facade of illusion and perfect their lives.

          • Purusha dasa

            The only thing one has to do in order to be an authentic Hindu (which is a material, ethnic designation, not a spiritual one) is to be born from East-Indian parents. To be a Vaisnava is not so easy.


          • Purusha dasa

            “Hinduism regards the Vedas and the supplementary literature (Upanishads, Puranas, etc.) as the highest authority.”

            Perhaps that’s the problem, since in reality, the Supreme Lord, the Guru, and the worldwide community of saintly personalities stand in a higher authoritative position than the scriptures.

          • Karun Swami

            Krishna Devotion is something very different than all the religious customs and cultural paths, as Krishna is Eternal so is his path, there can only be 2 choices, Maya or Krishna, Matter or the Divine there is nothing else to choose. Now, one has to ask themselves whether they have even the slightest desire for Material Happiness or Material Comforts may be Fame or Money or a Special Someone anything of that sort and along with it they tend to think they are Krishna Devotees as well, then my dear Spiritualists this sort of thinking is fundamentally wrong, you cannot keep on desiring Darkness and yet think of being Enlightened at the same time. “Shri Krishna Surya Sam, Maya Hove Andhkar – Krishna is like the ever Shining Sun and Maya is sheer Darkness” one has to choose and when that defining moment will come in your life where you are ready to choose then all you need is the Shikshashtakam – 8 Golden Teachings of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and that will be it, they are so clear and precise that the moment you go through them you will realize where you stand Spiritually.

            I’m Quoting only the 3rd Sutra here:

            “trinad api sunicena

            taror api sahishnuna

            amanina manadena

            kirtaniyah sada harihi”

            “One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.”

            Now, if we take only the straw analogy then what it means is to feel and acknowledge oneself as the lowest of the low, only then you will be able to outdo the ‘straw on the street’. It means to think of the person for whom you had feelings of great disgust may be not now some earlier time in your life and then to think of yourself lower then that person and to actually make your heart accept it, that will crush your ego and bring you closer to the straw.

            So, if the goal of Krishna West is to lead its followers to this path, ultimately then its most welcome but if its only about increasing membership without this goal in sight then sorry to say it will fail miserably as far as Krishna is concerned. Actually, the ones leading Krishna West should judge themselves 1st, where do they stand, is it anywhere near the straw cause if they are able to fully dwell and live by just this one sutra alone then they will find themselves epochs ahead in Spiritual Wisdom. But, if they are not there yet then one cannot have much hope for those who will be lead by them.

            Lastly, devotion to Krishna is a Privilege, one has to have worshiped Krishna in previous life only then such Samskaras reflect in the present life and that too when a Spiritually awakened soul like Prabhupada is leading the charge. So, one should not take on the task of bringing in more members at the cost of the original message. These are the dark times of Kaliyug if Krishna had wanted the whole world to be worshiping him then he would have sent ten more Prabhupada’s for the job instead of relying on idiots like me.

          • Purusha dasa

            Thank you for your racist comment. It is untrue and shameful, but thank you nonetheless.

        • Purusha dasa

          Presenting Hinduism would be an error for anyone who considers himself a “Hare Krishna,” because it is Vaisnavism, not Hinduism.

    • Silambarasan

      The people profiled in this article are not compromising on the principles of Vaishnavism, on devotion to Lord Krishna. They are merely trying to move beyond strict and, frankly, unnecessary adherence to some of the cultural practices of Hindus (and that too, of certain Hindu communities), which are not intrinsic or essential to the religion itself, relating to attire, music, and food. Even in Hindu temples catering primarily to Indian immigrants, most devotees aren’t dressed wholly in traditional Indian clothing, which varies significantly from region to region in India anyways. That kind of diversity also extends to devotional music and cuisine. There is nothing wrong with American devotees serving and partaking in food, or composing and performing devotional music, of the sort that is familiar to them. These people are seeking ways through which to bring more Americans, of diverse backgrounds, to a better understanding and perhaps even to inspire them to practice of the principles of Hinduism, of the paths set forth by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.

      • Billy Burns

        These cultural practices of Hindus exist precisely because they are in Hindu Scripture or have been directly inspired by Scripture. The variations of these practices you see are a result of an evolution of these practices which can traced back to the source. The non-Hindu cultural practices have absolutely no link whatsoever to the traditional practices or their variations that have existed for centuries. So, in a way, one is artificially “Hinduizing” Western practices that have no spiritual, religio-cultural, or philosophical link to Hinduism. It is basically saying “do whatever you want even if its non-Hindu in origin and it is acceptable as being a Hindu practice as long as you are devoted to Lord Krishna.” It makes much more sense for new devotees to partake in religio-cultural practices that either already exist or are reasonable variations thereof. So, there is room for these practices to grow into whatever people desire while maintaining a link back to the source tradition. For example, it would be absurd to listen to rock music and claim it is some kind of Hindu-inspired music at the level of a bhajan and claim that this is OK. Of course, Hindus don’t issue fatwas or have totally strict rules and regulations as does say, Islam, but taking this approach is a completely lazy way of allowing people to become Hindus.

        • Silambarasan

          Can you cite specific passages from the Hindu scriptures which decree that devotees must wear the traditional clothing worn in temples by, let’s say, Hindus in Tamil Nadu, such as a lungi and a dress shirt? If you are so kind, could you also direct me to passages which call for specific foods to be served to devotees, such as pongal and sambar sadam, for example?

          I didn’t realize these aspects of regional Indian culture were enshrined in our scriptures – although I would be very sympathetic to the argument that pongal is divinely inspired, at least the way in which it is cooked by my grandmother.

          • Billy Burns

            I am not going to discuss Tamil Hindu culture because I am not Tamil Hindu. You should ask a very knowledgeable Tamil Hindu guru, philosopher, or priest if you are sincere in really learning more about this.

            Hinduism does not at all require absolute adherence to what is in the Scripture. However, it is a sign of good discretion to try and follow it as much as possible of course. Hinduism provides general guidelines leaving logical extensions left up to the individuals to decide for themselves in accordance with their own sva-dharma and/or part of a sampradaya that emphasizes certain practices. Presumably, the gurus of various sects created their practices through meditative insight, discussion and debate, and interpreting of Scripture to arrive at whatever traditions they’ve created or modified. Much of this is sparsely documented, if at all, and there is no widespread agreement on various practices between sects, but as long as their has been careful deliberation through consulting Scripture, commentaries, and a knowledgeable guru as a guide, then that is all that Hinduism really requires. The more esoteric Upanishads describe extremely detailed temple layout, design, and rituals of all sorts that are very exacting in nature. You could literally spend a lifetime learning them and almost no one follows them. Many have fallen into disuse but they are certainly there for the really curious.

            The Gita mentions the 3 basic categories of food (satvik, rajasic, and tamasic) and their properties. There is Vedic literature on details about using the hands for eating food per various mudras. The Laws of Manu mention that garlic and onions should not be eaten. The principle of “ahimsa” is of course non-violence with the logical extension that one should not meat. However, millions of Hindus choose to eat meat anyway per their own free will. Through centuries of experimentation and experience certain foods have come to be seen as having certain properties and effects upon the body and mind per the guidelines in the Gita. They also see very specific religious purposes and medicinal purposes as well.

            Removing all these various practices from Hinduism and inserting icons of American culture just to make it accessible to xenophobic people is extremely poor discretion at the very best especially without serious consulting of Scripture, commentaries, and gurus/priests. As I originally said, the followers won’t really know just how badly they are being short changed with such a shallow approach to Hinduism. Yes, you can call this Hinduism, but this is not a Hinduism I would follow at all.

          • Akruranatha Dasa

            “Removing all these various practices from Hinduism and inserting icons of American culture just to make it accessible to xenophobic people is extremely poor discretion at the very best especially without serious consulting of Scripture, commentaries, and gurus/priests…”

            The followers of Krishna West are strict vegetarians who only eat food that is first offered with Bhakti to Lord Krishna. Of course the food must be sattvik and with no garlic or onions or mushrooms or other forbidden ingredients. But it does not have to be “Indian food”. In fact, if you go to an Indian restaurant you will generally find food prepared with onions that could not be offered to Krishna.

            But Billy Burns, I think you are jumping to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what Krishna West is advocating. They are actually trying to train people up to be strict Vaisnavas who follow four regulative principles (no meat-eating, no intoxication, no illicit sex, and no gambling), and who chant at least 16 rounds of Maha-Mantra japa on their malas (about 2 hours of chanting Hare Krishna mantra) every day.

            Sometimes it is hard to know from just one article what is really going on. Do not jump to conclusions until you meet the devotees in Krishna West themselves.

            Hrdayananda Dasa Goswami is an initiated disciple of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and he is dedicated to serving Srila Prabhupada’s mission of bringing genuine and authentic Krishna consciousness to everyone all over the world.

            Hridayananda Goswami believes that the spread of such authentic Vaisnavism is being checked by an over-emphasis on trappings of Hindu culture that are not actually received from the sages and acaryas, but are just part of Indian ethnic identity. Some of his godbrothers in ISKCON disagree with him although they are all dedicated to serving Srila Prabhupada according to their lights.

            I particularly did not like the part of the article that said that Srila Prabhupada “sought such a clean break that he created a specific translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book, for his followers.” It makes it sound as if Srila Prabhupada presented himself as contributing some new twist, when he emphatically insisted on the opposite: His commentary on Bhagavad-Gita was authentic because it was actually in line with the commentaries of the devoted Vaisnava acaryas, whereas commentaries written by those who are not actually devotees of Krishna and do not appear in parampara as disciples of other devotees are completely useless, They will not bring readers to an understanding of Krishna the way Krishna explained Himself to Arjuna. Therefore, Srila Prabhupada called his Bhagavad-Gita commentary “As It Is”. The article suggests that Srila Prabhupada was inventing something new, whereas he always said, “If I have any credit it is that I have presented the teachings exactly as I have received them from my spiritual master, without adding or subtracting anything.”

      • Purusha dasa

        Krishna never once mentions the word “Hindu” or “Hinduism.” Neither do any of the authorized scriptures. They promote Vaisnavism, not “Hinduism.”

    • Purusha dasa

      Hinduism is a racio-ethnic designation, and doesn’t apply to Hare Krishnas who are not of East Indian descent. The religion is correctly referred to as Vaisnavism, not Hinduism.

    • Karun Swami

      The followers of Sanatana Dharma who happen to live in Hind (India) are known as Hindu just like those who live in America are known as Americans. The word Hindu is primarily a national identity not specifically a spiritual one, but then how come we choose to identify ourselves as Hindu in matters of spirituality, thats because over the course of time the inhabitants of Hind (India) have engrossed themselves so fully in the Vedic way of life that National and Spiritual Identify have become one and in present times Sanatana Dharma and Hinduism are used interchangeably. Also, one can’t find the word Hindu in any Vedic Literature thats precisely because Vedas are not Time & Space specific and are certainly not limited to any nationality, they are Eternal and are there for the Entire Existence wherever and in whatever form and realm it may be.

  • cpgmm .

    This is true.. Hinduism has no such dogma.

    If you should wear western clothes or Indian clothes or any type of clothes and same goes for food go fo it….except maybe not meat, particularly not Beef as Prasad. LOL 🙂

    • DaveR

      Maybe not meat ? Absolutely not meat, cow or otherwise.

      • cpgmm .

        I am a Hindu and I eat beef…and no authority can “excommunicate” me. Thats why I love Hinduism.. Its liberty of faith. Although any group can deny me a membership to that group if I am unwilling to conform to that group’s norms which is their prerogative…. But there is no single rule to be a “Hindu” for the most part.

        • Yajnavalkya dasa

          It is true that there are no “thou shalt not” prohibitions in the Bhagavad-gita, nor are there any “thou must” commandments there. Krishna just shows the different paths resulting from different actions.

          Many years ago, someone once told me, “You know what my favorite verse of the Bhagavad-gita is? It is near then end, where Krishna says, ‘Do whatever you want.'” He was paraphrasing verse 18:63 to rationalize his own licentious behavior. But it is true, we all have free will (although we are not free to avoid the consequences of our free will).

          Actually the word “Hindu” is a foreign word, not found in any Vedic literature. It is a Persian word, used to refer to the people who lived east of the Indus river who adhere to the authority of the Vedas. They were unaware of the vast differences and subtle nuances of the different Vedic schools. There is Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. In Vaishnavism alone there are four primary sampradayas (the Brahma, Rudra, Sri and Kumara sampradayas). The Hare Krishnas are Gaudiya-Vaishnavas, an offshoot of the Brahma sampradaya.

          • Billy Burns

            This individual is missing the whole point of 18:63. We have free will, yes, but we are still bound by the law of karma. So if someone still chooses to act unethically even after Krishna says “do as you please”, karma will provide a full accounting later on.

        • Futura Logic

          Seems like you want to have the cake & eat it too. A good Hindu is bound by Dharma and peace. Being vegetarian will make you a good Hindu. That’s all I am saying.

          • Purusha dasa

            “Good Hindu” is still a material designation, whereas Vaisnava is a spiritual designation, and when practiced properly, Vaisnavism negates karmic reactions. Hinduism, being a material practice, produces karmic reactions.

    • Yajnavalkya dasa

      For one thing, ISKCON itself has no dress code for visitors. One can dress as one wants. Although one engaged in Deity worship, giving lectures or leading bhajans (communal singing), one is expected to dress properly (in Bengali attire). On a related note, ISKCON, citing Rupa Goswami’s Bhakti-Rasamrita Sindhu, lists 64 offenses to be avoided in Deity worship… as to clothing, red and blue clothing is forbidden, as well as unwashed clothing. But I have never seen anyone escorted out because they violated these rules.

  • Yajnavalkya dasa

    It is important to note that although Howard Resnick, the subject of this article, is a member of ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the official “Hare Krishna” organization), his ideas to Westernize the Hare Krishna movement has left him almost a persona non grata in some circles within that organization. From what I understand, he is currently under “quarantine”, and is forbidden to travel by the ISKCON managerial authority. If he wants to stay a member of ISKCON, he must adhere to that quarantine on travel.

    ISKCON was founded in 1965 by my initiating spiritual master, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), a disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati (1874-1937), the son of Bhaktivinode Thakur (1838-1914). This is the latest part of an unbroken chain going back to Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534).

    Bhaktivedanta Swami was under orders from Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati to spread the teachings of Sri Chaitanya to the western countries. He arrived in New York in 1965 and established temples not just in America, not just in western countries, but all around the world (including India).

    The tenets and doctrine of ISKCON comply strictly to the standards of Sri Caitanya. This is why they adhere to Bengali dress and customs (Sri Caitanya was from Bengal). Howard Resnick, whose Hare Krishna name is Hridayananda, is one of several who want to make radical changes to ISKCON from within. It seems to me that if they want to change something, maybe they should start their own organization instead of changing ISKCON.

    • Billy Burns

      Thanks for this information!

    • cpgmm .

      ” if they want to change something, maybe they should start their own organization instead of changing ISKCON.”

      You make a very god point.. if the change sought is radical…or very different, then it would be wiser to start your own Krishna movement…. No issue of heresy in Hinduism.. Its liberty of faith and thought.

      Yeah..go do “bigger and better things” on your own if you cannot agree or conform to the group norm.

  • Dennis

    This sect is actually a cult and has faced numerous litigations in the US. What drove them away from the US was child abuse and brainwashing cases in the 1990s.

  • smartiepants

    You raise a good point. Watered down Hinduism is pathetic in my opinion. We shouldn’t have to sell ourselves short just to attract followers. If we are true to our principles, then we needn’t worry about the approval of others. If you want to follow, do it like the sages did. Keep it real. They had to endure ridiculously tough austerities, the likes you wouldn’t see in today’s day and age. Even at the time of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, it was a requirement to chant 64 rounds ( roughly 6-8 hours a day) everyday and more on ekadasis. Getting back to the subject however, I do see a massive problem, if media begins to demonize our movement. Then it is possible that prospects and neophytes lose faith and subsequently, cause the movement to slow down to a handful of devotees. But this can all be easily tackled, if we remain true and faithful to Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
    Hare Krsna


    The opinions expressed in this article do not in any way represent the official position of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON. You will notice that only a few persons were quoted in the article, some of whom are not even ISKCON members.

    In particular, the statements minimizing Indian culture and its importance to the Hare Krishna society do not reflect the policies of ISKCON.

    I am the Minister of Communications and Chairman of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission, and I don’t agree with much of this article. The majority of ISKCON members and leaders would disagree strongly with many of the opinions presented therein.

    But, ISKCON is a large international organization and there are differences of viewpoint within our society. Just as America has diversity and India has diversity, so does ISKCON.

    And, as is often the case, the media is attracted to minority opinions and controversial statements, and not always interested in understanding or presenting a balanced perspective.

    Anyone who has visited an ISKCON temple anywhere in the world knows our temples are filled with people—native and Indian born—wearing traditional Vaishnava Hindu dress, singing Sanskrit and Bengali bhajans, and serving Deities of Radha-Krishna, Sita-Rama, and Sri Caitanya at one of the highest standards of traditional worship found in the world.

    It is interesting too, that even the photographs in the article show men and women of ISKCON dressed in dhotis and saris and wearing traditional Vaishnava tilak on their foreheads. Something that few people outside ISKCON and outside India still do—at least on a regular basis.

    I write today from Russia. This very morning I attended an ISKCON temple with nearly one hundred Russian-born Hare Krishna devotees. All chant the maha-mantra daily, all study Bhagavad-gita, all are strict vegetarians, all aspire to visit India to worship in Vrindavan, Tirupati, and other holy places—and most were dressed in traditional Indian/Vedic dress.

    ISKCON’s connection and roots in Indian culture are solid. Yet, as a global Vaishnava society that is attracting millions of people to practice bhakti-yoga and give their lives to Lord Krishna, it is natural that some ISKCON members will not adhere to traditional Indian style of dress or culture. That type of diversity is natural in the free expression of what is today a global religious society.

    That said, it is also true that knowledgeable people give great credit to ISKCON as one of the pre-eminent organizations transmitting the core principles, traditions and culture of sanatan-dharma all over the world.

    Thank you.

    Anuttama Dasa

    International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)

    Chairman, Governing Body Commission, and Minister of International Communications

    • Purusha dasa

      It’s very sad that a GBC would openly encourage Hinduism, which is a material and ethno-geographical (meaning 100% material) designation, not a spiritual one. It is no surprise that so many Vaisnavas all over the planet are openly rejecting the GBC, and such rejection is certainly a healthy trend.

  • al p

    alot of suppositions in this article. big whopper claiming Indian culture is not popular and that things are worse now then in the 1960s. Yoga is a multimillion dollar industry, the entire counterculture with events like Burning Man are highly influenced by Indian music and art and the level of awareness regarding the environment, diet, social justice etc among the masses is such that its mainstream.

    Also only a total lack of historic perspective allows for shallow articles like this. The fact is Indian culture has been influencing the West esp the USA for centuries now. Paramhamsa Yogananda spoke to sold out crowds of thousands across America for decades. He was a special guest of the US president at the White House as well. This was all in the 1920s. One of the first color films in history was in fact a short film on Martha Grahams dance piece entitled the Flute of Krishna.

    The USA has a long and a very positive experience with India and Indian culture. The success of Iskcon and other ‘Indian’ groups was built upon the past efforts of India’s early pioneering cultural ambassadors like Yogananda and Vivekananda.

    and finally the fiction that Prabhupada wrote a unique version of the Gita separate from mainstream ‘Hindu’ thought is blatantly incorrect. A majority of Hindus are Vaishnavas. Iskcon is a Vaishnava faith. Thus Prabhupads version of the Gita is in synch with the mainstream of Hindu thought. Its the alternate ‘impersonal’ versions that are out of synch with a majority of Vaishnavas or Hindus.

    I encourage a deeper and more accurate analysis of this topic by the writer. In fact rather than an article this is a practically a propaganda screed that relies on ignorance, divisiveness and a shallow condescending perspective that is attempting to categorize and diminish one of the world’s most ancient traditions into, at best another NRM and at worst a dangerous cult.

  • Dritarastras Justo

    Krsna west al rato va a ser como una rama mas , igual como los grupos evangélicos que hay hoy en día, bautistas, pentecostales, unitarios, metodistas, y demás ramas testigos, mormones, y ya después en los años habrá discrepancia ,como sucede con estos grupos si tomamos en cuenta que después de desaparecer el líder así pasa y salen nuevas tendencias y cosas como el matrimonio gay , tal vez pronto también se estén realizando matrimonios gays en Krsna west y ya sera algo normal, este tipo de situaciones, clases de 15 minutos mangaarati de 15 minutos tal como menciona Hdg, dormir más de ocho hora, verán los videos en you tube ”’ Krsna west México”’…..

  • Purusha dasa

    The “Hare Krishnas” have nothing to do with Hinduism — they are Vaisnavas, not Hindus.