The International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Transcript of a talk presented at the Annual General Meeting on 21‑Nov‑2017

ISKCON commonly referred to as the Hare Krishna community


I am pleased to speak with you tonight on The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Brisbane. ISKCON commonly referred to as the Hare Krishna community was formed in New York in 1966.

In 2016 ISKCON celebrated its Golden Jubilee 50 year anniversary around the World. From humble beginnings and in the 50 years since, ISKCON has developed into a worldwide confederation in more than 60 countries with over 500 temples, and some 700,000+ members.

ISKCON has roots in the Vedic spiritual teachings of India and is a branch of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition with a chain of teachers dating to the Avatara Shree Chaitanya who lived in India 500 years ago. The life of Chaitanya connects ISKCON to the teachings of Lord Krishna who spoke the Bhagavad-Gita some 5000 years ago.

The mission of ISKCON is to promote well-being in society by sharing the spiritual teachings of Krishna consciousness as presented in the Bhagavad-Gita and other Vedic scriptures.

Founder – His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada

ISKCON the spiritual institution was founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada in July 1966. ISKCON was personally directed by Srila Prabhupada until his departure on November 14, 1977. According to Srila Prabhupada’s will, ISKCON continues today under the managing authority of the Governing Body Commission (GBC) a representative group of senior disciples based at ISKCON’s World Headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal, India.

Srila Prabhupada travels to USA on the Steamship – Jaladhuta

In 1965 at the age of 69 Srila Prabhupada (SP) left his native home of India for the first time and travelled alone on a cargo ship to New York with a box of books he had translated and the equivalent of US $7. His mission was to share the teachings of Lord Krishna with a Western Audience.

At that time America was going through a revolution and the Hippy movement was in full swing adopting the mantra “tune in and drop out”. Young people were looking to Eastern philosophy for new inspiration. By divine arrangement Srila Prabhupada was able to catch the waves of change with his own mantra of stay high forever “Chant Hare Krishna”. After success in the US, SP went on to travel around the world 14 times in the next 12 years, tirelessly teaching and establishing the Hare Krishna movement. In London in 1969 devotees made friends with George Harrison who after meeting Srila Prabhupada became a lifelong friend of the movement and helped spread the fame of “Hare Krishna” with his famous song “My Sweet Lord”.

Srila Prabhupada was a genuine holy man with enormous integrity and compassion who had a powerful impact on those who met him.

Dr Thomas J. Hopkins Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
Franklin and Marshall College USA

I am impressed with how much the teachings of one man and the spiritual tradition he brought impacted themselves into the lives of so many people.

Dr Harvey Cox Professor of Divinity Harvard University

Srila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution is his books: a library of Vedic Literatures he translated from Sanskrit into English with commentary. In 1972 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, was established exclusively to publish the works of His Divine Grace, and since that time Srila Prabhupada’s writings have been translated into more than fifty languages. Srila Prabhupada’s books have attracted the respect of the academic community for their authoritativeness, depth and clarity, and are used as standard textbooks in numerous universities.

There is little question that this edition is one of the best books available on the Gita and devotion. Prabhupada’s translation is an ideal blend of literal accuracy and religious insight.

Dr Thomas J. Hopkins Professor of Religion, Franklin and Marshall College

Devotees of Krishna follow the teachings of Bhagavad-Gita the “Song of God” spoken by Lord Krishna to his disciple Arjuna. In the words of India’s first Prime Minister – Jawaharlal Nehru

The Bhagavad Gita deals essentially with the spiritual foundation of human existence.

It is a call of action to meet the obligations and duties of life; yet keeping in view the spiritual nature and grander purpose of the universe.”

Jawaharlal Nehru

Possibly the most famous verse of the Bg 4.7 is where the Lord explains the principle of Avatara.

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham

Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend Myself.

Bg 4.7

Srila Prabhupada in his commentary on this verse states:

It is not a fact that the Lord appears only on Indian soil. He can manifest Himself anywhere and everywhere, and whenever He desires to appear….the mission is the same_ to lead people to God consciousness.

Srila Prabhupada

Srila Prabhupada explained that there are 3 things in existence;
1) The World we live in
2) The living entities that inhabit this world
3) This causes us to wonder where does it all come from – which is explained by the understanding of God as the source of all things.
Therefore he added we can understand that God is not Hindu, Christian, or Muslim, God is the source of everyone and everything. Like Srila Prabhupada many teachers in the history of Krishna consciousness have taught respect and appreciation for the diverse religions of the world based on this teaching. Therefore ISKCON’s official statement in relation to people of faith draws inspiration from this verse.

ISKCON’S members are encouraged to be respectful to people of faith from other traditions and to see the need for people of different faiths to work together for the benefit of society as a whole.

Names of God

I am a “Palestinian Christian” we also say “Allahu Akbar” which you hear from a Muslim as well as “In Shaa Allah” normally Ma Shaa Allah Alhumdulillah this is simply because Arabic is our language and Arabic word for God is Allah whether you are a Christian or a Muslim.

Archbishop Sebastian Theodosios

Much like the names Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, in Sanskrit – Bhagavan and Krishna are names for God. Bhagavan indicates the greatness of God and translates as “the possessor all opulences”. Bhagavan indicates that God is most famous, all powerful, supremely wealthy, supremely knowledgeable, and unlimitedly beautiful. Krishna means “all attractive” and understanding HOW God is great Srila Prabhupada explained indicates Krishna that, by these qualities, God is all attractive. In Bg the Lord is also described as Suhrdam sarva bhutanam, the well-wishing friend of everyone. So Srila Prabhupada taught the personal qualities of God i.e. his merciful nature are most attractive.

Understanding that God is unlimitedly opulent the Bhagavad-Gita explains

mac-cittā mad-gata-prāṇā bodhayantaḥ parasparam
kathayantaś ca māṁ nityaṁ tuṣyanti ca ramanti ca

“The thoughts of my devotees dwell in Me, their lives are dedicated to My service and they derive great satisfaction and pleasure from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me.”

God is sometimes described as a multifaceted gem, and each of us may describe a different aspect of that Gem, however it is in association of other faithful persons that we can develop our collective knowledge of the greatness of God. Indeed this sharing by different faith traditions of understanding about God is vital to what we do and who we are.

Dr Anna Halafoff writes in her book:
The Multifaith Movement: Global Risks and Cosmopolitan Solutions

Throughout the history of the multi-faith movement there has been an underlying driver a spirit of inquiry which has brought leaders and people of faith together to discuss their philosophies and theologies, to obtain greater understanding not only of diverse faith traditions but also of the nature of reality. Consequently developing understanding of diverse faiths and the nature of reality must be highlighted as one of the most important components of the multi-faith movement.

Dr Anna Halafoff

Sanatana Dharma – Universal Knowledge

These conversations on the topics of the Absolute nature of reality are described in a second great scripture translated by Srila Prabhupada, the Srimad Bhagavatam where it explains śṛṇvanti gāyanti gṛṇanti sādhavaḥ -Such topics are heard, sung and accepted by purified souls who are thoroughly honest. In the Krishna consciousness movement Devotees engage in regularly hearing and discussing topics about Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam to understand and remember God in their daily lives.

ISKCON in Australia

The first Hare Krishna devotees came to Australia in February 1970, Bali Mardan das and Upendra das were 2 disciples of Srila Prabhupada from America. Their first Australian headquarters was in a rented house in Potts Point, Sydney in March 1970. Their main activities involved chanting and distributing Bhagavad -Gita on the streets of Sydney. A third devotee, Tirthapada das was able to join them later the same year and he came from London on an assisted passage program as a 10 pound tourist. The famous Hare Krishna Sunday sumptuous vegetarian feast program was added soon after to their activities and suddenly ISKCON was attracting new members in this great southern land.

In May 1971 the following year HDG Srila Prabhupada visited Australia for the first time to encourage His disciples who were living in a one room shop front on busy Oxford Street in Paddington.

Next Stop Brisbane

In March 1972 Devotees purchased a bus and travelled to Brisbane for the first time. Their first visit to Brisbane was to be a real surprise when devotees approached the QLD Police for permission to perform their street activities. Not only were they given a permit but the Police escorted them into the CBD and arranged parking for the bus. As well, the devotees had many boxes of books and the QP helped the devotees by storing them in the boots of the Police vehicles regularly driving past the devotee book distributors and asking if they needed any more books.

ISKCON Brisbane Temple

The first ISKCON Temple in Brisbane was founded later in 1972 at a rented house in Milton.

The Temple moved on several occasions including to St Lucia during the late 1970s before settling in Graceville in the mid-1980s. It was at 95 Bank Road, Graceville that ISKCON Brisbane laid roots where in addition to its monastery and outreach programs it filled the need as a place of worship with a growing congregation of both Western and Indian devotees.

Since 2011 the community has been at its current location – 32 Jennifer St. Seventeen Mile Rocks. The current centre is adjacent to land purchased by the devotees to build its legacy temple for ISKCON Brisbane in the process of Development Application with the Brisbane City Council.

Activities of ISKCON Brisbane

The temple has a daily programme which includes early morning meditation, worship of the Deity and Class with discussions on Srila Prabhupada’s books. Devotees also continue the activities of street chanting, and book distribution, which were at the heart of the movement in the early days. Every Saturday around 300 people from the congregation attend a programme of worship held at the temple.

ISKCON Brisbane also celebrates a number of festivals each year. Janmastami “Krishna’s Birthday” the auspicious appearance festival of Lord Krishna is held in August September each year with over 2000 people attend the festival held at Seventeen Mile Rocks. Marquees erected on the site of the temple land are used to host the large numbers of people.

As well ISKCON Brisbane hosts an annual Festival of Chariots in the Brisbane CBD. Now in its 3rd year the Festival has proved very popular with both the devotees and the public.

This festival involves taking the deity form of the Lord for a ride on a Chariot to invoke blessings and auspiciousness for the City.

Govindas Vegetarian Restaurants

Perhaps the most well-known activity of ISKCON Brisbane is the running of Govindas vegetarian restaurant. Sharing the benefits of sumptuous vegetarian food with the Brisbane CBD since 1986, Govindas has been a household name as Brisbane’s longest serving vegetarian restaurant. In 2001 Govindas opened a second store in West End. Govinda’s long era of service at 99 Elizabeth St City ended in 2015 when it was relocated and reopened at 358 George Street City.

Govindas Festival Catering

Devotees also have a strong presence around the festival circuit and provide healthy vegetarian menus at Woodford Folk Festival, Byron Bay Blues Festival, and many others. Govindas Festival Catering

Govindas – Hare Krishna food for life Gp Inc.

ISKCON Brisbane runs a registered charity Hare Krishna food for life. In Brisbane we have had a long presence in Fortitude Valley providing budget and FREE meals to the marginalized and disadvantaged people of Brisbane since the early 1990’s. Our first Food for Life programme was opened in 1991 by the then Assistant Commissioner for Police Dick Condor.

Last year Hare Krishna food for life served more than 10,000 meals to the homeless and income poor people of Brisbane. Hare Krishna food for life also liaises with other charities providing regular meals to QuIHN (Queensland Injectors Health Network) and Ozcare in South Brisbane. For more than 10 years Hare Krishna food for life have run a lunch program at the Griffith University Nathan Campus providing healthy freshly made budget meals to students twice a week.

Closing Comments

I would like to thank the Queensland Faith Communities Council for their association and the opportunity to share this presentation on ISKCON – The “Hare Krishna” Community.

O my Lord, persons who smell the aroma of Your lotus feet, carried by the air of Vedic sound through the holes of the ears, accept Your devotional service. For them You are never separated from the lotus of their hearts.

Srimad Bhagavatam 3.9.5

Jaya Srila Prabhupada
“Hare Krishna”
Yours in Service

Madana Gopal das
Interfaith Coordinator
ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Brisbane