Published on May 5th, 2022 | by dr--j--gordon-melton | Full size image28
Is the Hare Krishna Movement a Cult?
As we have come to know ISKCON, we have become aware that it is a representative of tbe main stream of Indian Vaishnava religion. As such they follow teachings and practices which have a venerable tradition in India.
THE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF AMERICAN RELIGION.
P.O. BOX 90709, SANTA BAR8ARA, CA 93190-0709
(805)967-7721, (805)967-2669 FAX(805)683-4876
Dr. J. Gordon Melton. Director
A STATEMENT CONCERNING THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS
My name is John Gordon Melton, and I have been requested to make a statement on the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) with special reference to some specific questions, I am a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (MDiv, 1968) and Northwestern University (PhD, 1975) with a doctorate in the history and literature of religions. I am the founder and director if the Institute for the Study of American Religion, a research facility in Santa Barbara, California devoted to the study of religious groups and organisations with a special interest in so-called New Religious Movements, i.e., those many groups which have originated in the West or come to the West from other parts of the world and have recruited members from the local populations. I am also (since 1985) a research specialist with the Department of Religious Studies of the University of California Santa Barbara and an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.
As part of my official duties I have written some twenty-five books, including two college texts: The Cult Experience (1992) and The Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America (1986, 2nd ed., l992). I have also authored a variety of what have become standard reference books including the Encyclopaedia of American Religions (4th ed., 1992); Religious Groups in America: A Directory (1991); and the Encyclopaedia of African American Religions (l993). Along the way, I have consulted with the U. S. Army; on the issue of new religions’ service in the Armed Forces, and assisted the Army Office of Chaplains in the preparation of the several editions of their ‘Handbooks on the Beliefs of Certain Selected Groups’. (1978, 1991). Some consideration of ISKCON was included in most of the books named above.
Since I have concentrated my study on New Religious Movements since the 1960s, I have frequently been called into court to speak about various religious groups, including ISKCON. Several of the new religions such as ISKCON have been controversial due to the unfamiliarity of the public with the new and different ideas and practices they espoused. Early concerns voiced by the parents of some young adults in the 1970s, turned into a laundry list of charges against ISKCON and a number of other groups lumped together as what in North America were called “cults” and elsewhere “sects” or other labels. Much of the scholarly work which has been done on New Religions during the last two decades has been devoted to examining the many charges which have been brought against them.
Further distorting our research on New Religions has been the insertion of several pseudo-scientific hypotheses concerning the nature of life in groups like ISKCON. For example, during the 1970s, two people, neither with any medical training, announced their discovery of a new disease. Having discovered this new disease, before announcing their findings to the world in a popular text, they found no need to check their findings with anyone with medical training. In spite of their ignorance of medicine and physiology, they asserted that various very common religious practices such as prayer, meditation, and chanting, including the chanting practised in ISKCON, caused actual brain damage by denying the brain of its food, i.e., information. This bizarre idea was presented in a book called ‘Snapping’. For a brief time, members of what had by that time become part of an anti-cult network hailed the book and several popular news-stand magazines such as Science Digest ran articles about it. However, it was never considered a serious scientific hypothesis and after several articles in scientific journals refuting the book’s ideas, Snapping soon passed from the scene.
More recently, several people have espoused the idea of brainwashing (also termed thought control, coercive persuasion, or mind control). Proponents suggested that cults had discovered a new psychological technology, a technology which has somehow escaped the rest of the psychological world. With this technology it “brainwashed” young recruits and held them with such force that they are unable to break the spell of attachment to the group. These ideas which seemed to actually have a body of evidence behind them, provoked a heated debate among social scientists in the early 1980s. In the mid 1980s, the whole brainwashing perspective was thoroughly evaluated by the American Psychological Association. After looking at a detailed report prepared by the major advocates of this perspective, the American Psychological Association concluded that the idea of brainwashing and mind control as popularly applied to the new religious movements was scientifically unacceptable. It had been arrived at through a sloppy methodology and poor scientific work. Subsequently the American Sociological Association and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion reached a similar conclusion. As a result, testimony concerning brainwashing and mind control have properly been banished from consideration by American courts as an idea lacking any scientific credibility.
Having made these several general reflections, let me turn to some consideration of ISKCON. I have observed this organisation since it’s emergence into prominence in the early 1970s and its founding of a Centre in Chicago, where I was then residing. Because of their unique dress and, to the average Westerner, their unusual practices, such as chanting Hindu kirtans on the street, they were most photogenic and were soon singled out to illustrate articles on cults and new religions.
As we have come to know ISKCON, we have become aware that it is a representative of tbe main stream of Indian Vaishnava religion and follows the same scriptures used by many denominations of Hindus. In the West they have many followers within the Indian ethnic community and are a part of most Hindu ecumenical organisations in both North America and Europe. As such they follow teachings and practices which have a venerable tradition in India, Also like most older religions, including Christianity, they follow scriptures which were written centuries ago when modern ideas such as those about democratic government or the rights of women were as yet not developed. As most Christians are aware, the Christian Bible is quite compatible with and in many ways, very supportive of autocratic government. Many leading Christian theologians have argued against democratic tendencies. So too are many Hindu holy books such as the Bhagavad Gita compatible with autocracy. However, just as Christians have developed a commitment to democratic values, so too do members of ISKCON have such a commitment.
I have also seen no lack of commitment to the values of family, marriage, or the duties of a married couple, to their marriage commitments. However, like Roman Catholic orders, at the same time, ISKCON members place a high value on the celibate ordered life and a number of its members have become the equivalent of monks and nuns. The value placed on such an ordered life is no more an attack upon the family than that implied in the existence of Franciscans or Dominicans.
Life in ISKCON, while strange to many Westerners, follows a pattern established many years ago in India. It includes spending regular periods each day chanting a mantra, eating a vegetarian diet, and, for some, living a semi-communal life style. While these practices are certainly different from that of most people, there is no evidence that following such practices have had any harmful effect upon either the Indian public or any person ever affiliated with ISKCON. There is simply no evidence that ISKCON’S religious practices adversely affect mental or physical health. While many anti-cult leaders have repeated such charges over the last two decades, they have failed to bring forth any supporting evidence.
It is of note that thousands of people have at some point in time joined ISKCON and later, finding it not to their liking, have left it and re-entered the larger society none the worse for their experience. Others, who affiliated have found it a very happy life and have married and had children, and now see their young adult offspring becoming members . Within the past few weeks I have attended a convention of young adults born and raised in ISKCON. At that time I had the opportunity to meet with people who have left ISKCON altogether and assumed positions in college and the work place, those who are marginal members of ISKCON, and those who are full members of the community.
ISKCON has been forced to spent its formative years in the full light of a skeptical media and critical, even hostile environment. It has been thoroughly scrutinised, in part as a result of several lengthy judicial reviews, for more than two decades. No substantive charges levelled at it have stood the test of such examination. For example, in the case brought by former-member Robin George against ISKCON, it was charged that ex-members could never again reintegrate into “normal” society or have a stable family life. However, the only people brought to testify to this point were former members who had already by the time they testified been able to find a place in society and develop a new set of acquaintances outside of the group. It turned out that the great majority of charges against ISKCON were simply a standard laundry list of items which have periodically been used against different new religions as public attention moves from one to the other.
Simply put, ISKCON has been present in the West for twenty five years. If it was, in fact, a danger to society, we would have long ago discovered that threat and dealt with it. Rather than a danger, ISKCON has shown itself capable of raising up a religious community which turned a number of people alienated from society in the 1970s into substantial law-abiding citizens who have in turn developed a program of service to the community through its efforts to feed the poor and other acts of charity. ISKCON does not threaten any Country’s constitutional freedoms. Quite the opposite is true. In a series of cases it has been demonstrated that ISKCON’s constitutional freedoms have been continually threatened by its having to repeatedly defend itself on issues which have previously been considered by Courts and discarded.
I am not a follower of ISKCON. On a theological level I can find little with which I agree or with which I resonate. However, as a private citizen, I have no complaints and I would petition this court to act in their favour unless and until it has been demonstrated, by common standards of evidence, that they have acted against the state or have broken specific laws.
Dr. J. Gordon Melton
Aug. 17th 1994.
i am finding& takeing the inspiration from gita &HAre krisna &on express as our soul,
Some time ago I read an article where you posted about how some Vedic planetarium was completely non bonafide and a disaster. I have been wondering whether under your guidance I start creating the animation of the universe even if it is not very advanced in my spare time. I would like to know whether it is in accordance with Srila Prabhupada’s wish?
Recently I finished my second reading of the fifth canto and understood thing much better than the first time. If it is ok I would like to start the animation by using BLENDER, a free animation software.(blender.org) I also have a simple doubt:
In the SB 5.2, we have three maps, one of the islands like the whorl of lotus, second of the different zodiac signs and third of the planets from Naraka to Satyaloka. Could we combine all 3 maps into a single map for better understanding?
Eagerly waiting for your reply.
Hare Krishna. AGTSP
Hare Krishna Divine
So Yes. I am very interested. Blender seems to be a nice platform to do this on if you can use it.
But the real thing is to understand it, how the universe works as described in Srimad-Bhagavatam. And that is not easy for us to do. We are so much brainwashed by the current western scientific idea of the universe we can not seriously consider anything else.
But we have to accept that what is written in the Bhagavatam is correct, it is correct, and build a planetarium according to that.
There are many different things and they can not be merged into one thing as you are suggesting. The islands and oceans are all on the bhu-mandala plane. That is one thing, the bhu-mandala plane. The zodiac signs are part of another completely different thing, the sisumara chakra which is rotating around the pivot of the pole star and it is this rotation of the sisumara chakra that is causing the sun and moon and stars and planets to rise and set every 24 hours in the sky we see. It is not that the earth is rotating. The universe is rotating around the earth…
So I really do not know. You can not build something until you can conceive of it and exactly how it works in your mind.
So you have to actually have practical realization as to how the universe is working according to the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
I only have partial realization of this. Many things I do not understand. So that is why I have not tried to explain it yet. Because I can not explain it yet. I do not understand it completely yet. So I can not explain it yet… But I do completely accept that the descriptions of the universe in Srimad-Bhagavatam are totally correct and modern science is totally wrong. But at the moment I am not in a position where I could prove this in a scientific way…
So yes, I am very interested in your project and think you should go ahead with it and I will give you whatever assistance I can.
Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!
Thanks a lot. I will start with the third map as it more conceivable to me. Also my idea is that even if my animation is imperfect, if it encourages some scientific minded persons to explore furthur and read Srila Prabhupada’s books, then this animation would be a success.
So I hope that this animation would help somehow in selling more and more books in today’s society which is crazy about science
Yes. I will be interested to see it. But really if you do not understand it first you will not be able to actually make a correct animation.
The thing is we have to present this as a ‘predictive model’.
The Vedic model of the universe has to predict the actual observations we see in the sky. The model has to explain how it is that we see the sun and moon rising and setting, has to explain the phases of the moon, the seasons, the changing lengths of the days and nights and whatever else we can see.
There are many dramatically different things to what is accepted as “fact” by the scientists.
The earth is more-or-less in the center of the universe
The earth is stationary, not revolving.
The sun moves around the earth, the earth does not move around the sun.
There is only one sun in the universe. The moon is a star and the other stars are like the moon.
The whole universe is only 4 billion miles across. So there are no light-year distances. That is completely wrong.
The stars are much closer than the western astronomers think.
The mistake in calculating the distance to the stars is because they think the earth is moving around the sun and the sun is 93 million miles away. So they think that after 6 months the earth will have moved to the other side of the sun, which is 93 x 2 million miles away from where it was 6 months ago. So that is quite a distance. Almost 200 million miles. So they do triangulation to try and measure the distance of the stars. Using this 200 million miles distance of where they think the earth was and where they think the earth is now as the base of the triangle. So they measure the angle to the stars and find it is still exactly the same angle even though they think the earth has moved 200 million miles. So they come to the conclusion that the stars must be so, so far away that even though the earth has moved 200 million miles the angle is still the same…
But really the angle is the same because the earth has not moved at all. It is still in the same place. Because it is the sun moving around the earth, not the earth moving around the sun.
So understanding this point there is no longer any need to believe the stars are so far away…
The universe is lotus shaped…
I am very interested to see your project as it develops.
Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!
Today I told my employer that I had the Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna song stuck in my head. She said “OH NO, They’re a cult and they make you hand over all your money and wear a funny orange robe”. It made me sad to hear her say this so I am glad to have found this article. I guess some people are scared of the unknown…is that where ignorance stems from?
I’ll be happy and chant Hare Krishna anyway!
Happiness and Hare Krishna
Thank you for posting Hazel. I recently attended a devotee lecture on the Bhagavad Gita and everyone I’ve told has gasped and said they are a cult. I loved spending time with the devotees and chanting. I’ve been guided to create mala beads for Japa and since leaving there in fear of my friends and family reactions, I asked the universe what to do with the unfinished necklace… “Finish it”
As in the Gita, Krishna speaks of doing our duty not being attached to the fruit. So, I’m chanting the Maha Mantra for every threaded bead and letting go of the outcome. Feeling free 🙂
One day I hope to be free of my attachment to other people’s opinions.
The philosophy may be perfect but people not.
Just to remember Vaisnava philosophy is like to tool to help you in achieving love to Krsna, pure bhakti.
This tool like any other tool you can use in right way or in wrong way.
you can have a knife, you can cut vegetables or you can kill someone
Same with Hare Krsna philosophy: you can use it in both ways, you can help someone or ruin someone.
The problem is about motivation.
ISCKON movement itself has nothing wrong, everything is perfect. Problem is in people, people are bad.
f.e. SP established GBC
to help and protect devotees, to help them in material life, look after them and be sure nothing will happen to them. Unfortunatelly GBC like any other goverment in the world develop the tendency to “live in own world” and stop bother about happiness and wellbeing of subordinate.
Whose fault is this? Leaders do not follow own prescribed duties as a ksa-tryas duty is “to protect”
and this is the reason why BV Narayan Maharaja was forced to give shelter to so many people who were coming to him for it.
I think everybody (not counting barbarians like Hitler , stalin and so on) will do same thing
what is the solution?
do not follow leaders, no need unless you really find someone qualified and whom you can trust. Make KC for life philosophy but damp the leaders to the rubbish bin and follow acaryas and Krsna and they will take care for everything
I recently finished reading the Bhagavad Gita for the first time. Although I was born into a Christian family, My spiritual journey began with a great deal of cognitive dissonance towards the faith, which only grew stronger with age. I finally became so disgusted with Christianity, and it’s followers, that I settled into an adamant atheistic state of mind. Several years have passed since then, and through a series of fortunate events,I had the honor of being introduced to the Gita, which fully resonated with me by the end of the first chapter. Unfortunately, my husband is atheistic, and very closed-minded. My mom brushes me aside when I mention my studies, and I am generally living with a great deal of frustration towards this ignorance. I fear that my family will view me as being caught up in a “cult”, and this is how I ended up reading this webpage. I want to teach my children about Krishna, but have been met with hostile accusations from my husband, claiming that I am trying to indoctrinate them. It is a nasty world for those of us who have chosen to veer off the Christian path, but I truly believe that it is worth the fight, and it makes one a stronger person to face such opposition. I live in MN, and I don’t believe that there is any community that gets together for worship.
Can someone reply to Nov 23 posting at 11:37pm please? Thanks.
Can you answer my last post here? I wish i could see him in the end.
I seem to have alotof questions. Right now i am afraid to read Betrayal of the Spirit- a book i just received from the Library. Does anyone know if there are any videos or DVDs regarding HareKrishna info, or interview with George Harrison and Ravi Shankar that i can view?
Emaail me or post here, thanks.
Alot of people think ISKCON is a cult because well because they don’t really know much about it and don’t bother to find out!
It most definitly is NOT a cult! Krishna conciousness is a way of loving Krishna (God) and a way of serving him. It is a science and the proof is in Bhagavad Gita!
Hare Krishna Shriya
ISKCON is a bit of a cult. But Krishna consciousness is not. You have put it very, very nicely:
“It most definitely is NOT a cult! Krishna consciousness is a way of loving Krishna (God) and a way of serving him. It is a science and the proof is in Bhagavad Gita!”
The reality is that in any group of people within the material world demons will come and do anything at all that they can to try and become the leaders of that group. So in every religion you find this. Demons come and do everything they can to become the priests, the so-called sadhus, the so-caled gurus, etc. So you will find this everywhere in ISKCON also. Demons as gurus, demons as “devotees” and demons as Temple President’s etc. It is normal in the material world to find demons everywhere. This material world is like a prison. We are sent here because we are demons. So it is safe to assume that everyone here is a demon. There are only some very, very rare exceptions to this. So if we actually want to elevate ourselves from the platform of demons and rise up to the platform of pure devotees of Krishna the only way this is possible is by the blessings of a pure devotee of Krishna.
We can not be helped in any way at all to rise out of the entanglement of the three modes of material nature by other demons who are also entangled in the three modes of material nature. Our guide has to be liberated. Otherwise there is no way he can guide us out of the material world and back home, back to Godhead.
So I am suggesting that you take Srila Prabhupada as your guide and do not be mislead by ISKCON,
There are many well meaning, “nice” demons. A demon is a very simple thing. Anyone who is working for his own benefit or for some extended benefit like family, society, courntry or even the world, is a demon. There is only one choice we have: we can serve Krishna or we can serve maya. So if we choose to serve maya we are demons, if we choose to serve Krishna we are devotees. There are so many “devotees” who are working to serve themselves, their families, etc. These are demons, not devotees. They may be very “nice” and they may speak very wonderful philosophy. But the thing is no matter what they are speaking, when you hear from a person it is not actually what they are speaking that effects you, it is their consciousness. Someone can speak very nice philosophy but in his heart he may be doing it so he can get fame, followers, profit, distinction, etc. So his desires are not pure and hearing from him will not purify your heart, rather if your heart is a little purified hearing from him will contaminate your heart, even though he may be speaking very nice pure philosophy.
Sri Sanatana Goswami has forbidden us from hearing the philosophy of Krishna consciousness from non-devotees. Even if such non-devotees [even if they are dressed up as devotees] speak the pure philosophy of Krishna consciousness it will not be effective, it will not purifiy the hearts of the audience. It will contaminate the hearts of the audience with the dirty things that are within the heart of the preacher…
So be very careful who you hear from. Hear from Srila Prabhupada. Read Srila Prabhuapda’s books.
Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!
I would have to say, from many years of personal contact with ISKCON, that they have some pretty “cult-like” tendencies, for sure. I say this because of my experiences of having lived at both the New Dwarka and New Vrindaban temples.
When I was around 19 or so I went to stay at New Dwarka, already having been solitarily practicing KC for a number of years by that time. While there, I received a phone call from my mom that my dad had a heart attack and was hospitalized, so I naturally wished to return home to visit him, with full intentions of returning to New Dwarka afterward. Needless to say, it took 2 days of me CONVINCING and debating with the staff to even ALLOW me to leave. There whole argument was that it was all Maya and that even if he died, it wouldn’t matter at all, so I might as well stay and help out around the temple. It was very disheartening, to say the least.
I understand the ideas behind what they were saying, but the total insensitivity of them was almost unbearable. Many years later, I traveled to New Vrindaban with a friend, and the friend had a medical condition that occurred while there (tourettes)and they put him through the same hassle when he needed to leave for the hospital for treatment. I never volunteered to stay inside of ISKCON after that again, even though I am still practicing KC and see them as doing a wonderful service within their temples in general, just not in their management and their guru games.
I heard on the Christian website awhile back that George Harrison deceived people in his song My Sweet Lord. I know he wasnt an angel- but you dont say that that person is going to hell. It i s just not right. I wish George was alive today and i knew him, i would ask him alot of questions.
I dont want to judge but i am Catholic and dont want to be involved in something i dont know anything about.
I wonder what George would think of me?
I was wondering, is dancing disrespectfully to Ravi’s songs bad?
I feel bad. I was also wondering i just wanted to say that i thought i saw him in a stained glass window long time ago-illusional that never happened again, i wonder why it happened? He looked upset and was like a vision or something, i wasnt dreaming it was real, unless i saw someone that looked like him.
Hare Krishna Lisa
George Harrison is a great soul and a very deeply spiritual person.
He has certainly not gone to Hell. He rendered great service to Srila Prabhupada, a pure devotee of Krishna, and pleased Srila Prabhupada and Krishna very much by writing about and popularizing Krishna through his songs.
This is what Srila Prabhupada asked George to do. George asked Srila Prabhupada if he should join the movement and shave his head like the other devotees and Prabhupada told him that it would be better for him to preach through his music. So he used his talents in the service of the Lord.
So he is certainly now in a much better place. Either in the spiritual world with Krishna or singing for Krishna on some other planet or in some other universe…
Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!
I wish i could see him someday. Do you think, even if i am Christian, would i be able to see him when i die?
I dont want to practice and get into it if i dont know much about it.
I wish i could havea dream of him and meet him someday in that great place wherever he is.
Hare Krishna Lisa
The point is to see Krishna. Not to see George Harrison…
If you remember Krishna at the time of death you will go to Krishna and see Krishna for sure.
To do that you have to live in such a way that you remember Krishna constantly throughout your life.
And that is the process of Krishna consciousness, how to remember Krishna constantly, 24 hours a day, so you will naturally remember Krishna at the time of death.
But you don’t have to die to see Krishna, you can see Krishna now. It simply requires purification. Then you can see Krishna…
Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!
Its weird how Christians can complain about other religions being cults, when in the same fact, theyre just as bad. I came from the church and all they do is talk about how we should join the military and fight in the name of God and the USA for our freedom to worship. Doesnt that freedom include krishna????
Also they did a good job running me out judging me because I looked different and refused to fork over $$$$to the preacher so he can maintain payments on his mortgage and his brand new mercadies. Thats the reason I jumped ship and joined the krishnas.
hoLKaPoLKa seems to be drunk while having written his comment which makes no sense. hare krishna is not a cult but eternal religion or sanatana dharma. being spoken by the lord himself and coming through disciplic succession.
Thank you! Exactly what I wanted to say! Hare Krishna!
I think Iskcon cannot be taken as one monolithic organisation. I think ‘cultish tendancies’ break out from time to time in different parts if Iskcon. I do not believe that the teachings as a whole lead to a narrow minded unintelligent following of a leader but I think they can be misrepresented (and they have been and still are) and abused to lead to an abusive cult like situation. I would like to see a system of governance within ISKCON that leads to this being dealt with thoroughly (here I believe we have a lot to learn from other churches eg the methodists rotate their ministers every three years) and lessons learnt from abuses when they are discovered It is rarely just the fault of abusive leaders but also of their supervisors who often had reasons (usually financial) to let the situation remain un dealt with.
People who speak bad about Iskcon know nothing about it. They simply misinterpret things. Iskcon teaches the world Bhagavad Gita and the knowledge of Vedic scriptures which have been authoritative and it stands true for all times. It has got nothing to do with any religion.. It teaches nothing about religion unlike Christian fanatics who have completely modified the Bible according to their convenience and teach the world religion and emphasise to become christian. Bhagavad Gita teaches nothing of that sort. No mention of any religion is given. It purely teaches love of God and how to reach God. This information is given to the mankind as a whole. In no other religious scriptures such a rich information is given like in Bhagavad Gita..
You are absolutely right- Hare Krishna is NOT a cult. It is universal.
I think people call it a cult because their sons and daughters stop talking to them and become really hollow people.
I think people who call ISKCON a cult just want to give the group a bad name.
Of course Hare Krishna is a cult–the cult of Shri Chaitanya, as Prabhupada said. Why have the devotees abandoned the term used by their spiritual master? Why allow the anti-cultists to own the term? They do not.
In the politics of representation, you must not capitulate to alternate use of terminology. When you do that you automatically lose.
Cults are interesting, churches are boring. Everybody knows that.