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The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a World-wide community practising bhakti-yoga, the ancient science of devotional service to God. These communities, both rural and urban, are centred around temples in which the Lord is served and worshipped in His Deity form.
The purpose of these temples is to create a sanctified atmosphere, surcharged with loving devotion to the Supreme Lord. Temple residents dedicate twenty-four hours a day to developing their own spiritual purity, and to helping others through preaching activities.
To maintain individual and collective purity, devotees take life-long vows, at initiation, to comply with four rules, as follows:
(1) To abstain from all meat, fish or eggs
(2) To avoid all intoxication (including tea, coffee and tobacco)
(3) To abstain from gambling
(4) To engage in sex only for the procreation of children within marriage
Initiated devotees also take a vow to chant on their beads sixteen “rounds” per day as a form of meditation. Each “round” consists of repeating 108 times the Hare Krishna Mantra (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare).
Those who are celibate, either students (brahmacharis*) or life long renunciates (sannyasis), live in the temple, supported by the institution. Married couples (grihastas) live outside, maintain their families, and contribute time or money to subsidise temple activities. The devotees’ children receive education either in schools run by the Society or in state-maintained schools.
The devotees at ISKCON’s spiritual communities rise early, by 4.00 a.m., shower and congregate at 4.30 for the first worship of the day. The men dress in traditional robes called dhotis – white for married men and saffron for celibates. The women wear saris. Generally, all celibate monks and some married men shave their heads as a sign of renunciation. The small tuft of hair left at the back is called a sikha and denotes the devotees’ belief in a personal God. Krishna devotees wear a special clay marking called tilak on the forehead, designating the body as a temple of God. The morning service, which continues until 8.30, features meditation, congregational chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra and a lecture on the Vedic scriptures.
After breakfast, devotees disperse to work at producing and distributing books, Deity worship, temple maintenance, as well as artistic, academic, managerial and agricultural engagements. Devotees meet at noon for lunch, and again congregate in the temple room at 7.00 pm for the evening service and Bhagavad-gita class, followed by a light meal of hot milk and fruit. Most Hare Krishna devotees retire between 9.00 and 10.00 pm.
ISKCON’s congregational members who live outside the communities usually hold conventional jobs and wear traditional Western dress. In their own homes, they offer their food to Krishna, chant, worship and study the Vedic scriptures. They may organise or attend local meetings, usually in a member’s home, and regularly visit their nearest temple, especially on Sundays and festival days.