Hare Krishna is the popular name for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (or ISKCON), a new religious movement based in Hinduism.
Established in America in 1965, the Hare Krishna worship the Hindu god Krishna as the one Supreme God. Their goal is "Krishna consciousness" and their central practice is chanting the Hare Krishna mantra for which they are named.
ISKCON has its historical roots in the Caitanya (or Gaudiya) movement of Hinduism, which began around 1510 with an ascetic who took the name Sri Krishna Caitanya. This devotee of Krishna became renowned for his ecstatic devotion, expressed in dance and song. His disciples believed Caitanya to be manifestation of Krishna himself, and established a movement based on his inspiration.
The International Society for Krishna Conciousness (ISKCON) is a modern movement within this tradition. It was founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), a devotee of Krishna, upon his arrival to America from India in 1965. Prabhupada was born in Calcutta and was 70 years old when he arrived in New York City. Prabhupada moved to the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco in 1967, where he soon gained many followers.
The movement spread quickly, and became one of the most visible of the new religious movements that came from the East in the 1960s and 70s. ISKCON gained further publicity (and financial support) through the interest of the Beatle George Harrison. The first Hare Krishna commune was established by Prabhupada as "New Vrindavan" in West Virginia in 1968.
In 1970, Prabhupada established the Governing Board Commission (GBC) to help him administer the movement. After Prabhupada's death in 1977, 11 of his disciples became initiating gurus. Three of these are still active Hare Krishna teachers.
The Hare Krishna came under criticism during the anti-cult movement in the 1970s and 1980s, and still remains under the watchful eye of anti-cult organizations today. The identification of ISKCON as a cult is usually based on the abuses committed by some of its leaders and allegations by some former members of brainwashing and isolation from family and friends.
In 1998, the organization published an official report detailing abuse of children in ISKCON boarding schools in the US and India in the 70s and 80s. The movement was sued by a number of former students and actively sought to identify victims who had not sued in order to compensate them as well.
To prevent future abuses, ISKCON has established a worldwide child protection office to screen out actual or potential abusers and educate children and adults on child abuse, and has made other organizational changes to increase the transparency and accountability of ISKCON leadership.
The most important sacred text for the Hare Krishna is the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita, the "Song of the Lord," written around 250 BC. Beloved also by Gandhi and nearly all Hindus, the Gita tells the story of the warrior Arjuna and his encounter with Krishna. This text is regarded as literal truth by Hare Krishnas.
Specifically, Hare Krishnas use and distribute the translation by Prabhupada, The Bhagavad Gita As It Is, which includes an extensive commentary by the founder.
ISKCON identifies itself with Hindu Vedic philsophy and Vaishanvism (devotion to Vishnu). Its beliefs are especially rooted in the Bhagavad Gita (see Texts, above) and the teachings of the founder, Prabhupada. Most mainstream Hindus accept the Hare Krishna as an authentic sect within Hinduism.
Hare Krishnas teach that we are living in an evil age, the age of Kali, but can attain salvation and a "return to Godhead" by means of permanent Krishna-consciousness. Krishna-consciousness can be accomplished through ethical living and the "Hare Krishna" chant (see Practices, below).
This salvation is accomplished by Bhakti-yoga, the "way of devotion." The object of ISKCON devotion is Krishna, a manifestation of Vishnu and a beloved deity in mainstream Hinduism as well. As seen above, the Hare Krishna describe themselves as monotheists, who worship the Supreme Godhead in the personality of Krishna. They also believe that the Supreme God is known by other names, such as Yahweh and Allah.
According to ISKCON's official website:
The mission of this nonsectarian, monotheistic movement is to promote the well being of society by teaching the science of Krishna consciousness according to Bhagavad-gita and other ancient scriptures.  More specifically, Prabhupada identified the following Seven Purposes of ISKCON:
- - To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all people in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
- To propagate a consciousness of Krishna (God), as it is revealed in the great scriptures of India, Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
- To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus developing the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).
- To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy name of God, as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
- To erect for the members and for society at large a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
- To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler, more natural way of life.
- With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.