A movement was born back in '66. It was a courageous step by one 70 year-old saintly person who had faith that the teachings of the bhakti tradition could enrich, change, transform, and ultimately transcend lives. Alone in New York in service to his spiritual master, he and a handful of young followers made it happen. 50 years later it flourishes.
At the time of signing the incorporation document for ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada drafted seven purposes for his new society. These were his hopes, dreams, and wishes for his service to the world - what he valued, what was important, and what he wanted to see happen in order to empower people to achieve a complete understanding of the self. The purposes can be more than guidelines for his organization. They can speak to us as individuals and make our spiritual life shine.
1. Education to unite
When asked 'Why have you come to America?' Prabhupada replied, 'I have come to teach what you have forgotten'. An educator at heart, Prabhupada wished to impart spiritual knowledge and techniques 'in order to check the imbalance of values in life and achieve real unity and peace in the world'. If we can realize a higher sense of ourselves as individuals, an identity beyond our bodily concept, we can achieve a platform of equality. A culture of respect can grow there, and respect is the cornerstone of peace and unity.
On an individual basis this means should we read, learn, study, and reflect - daily. Let's not get so busy that we don't have time. We short change ourselves too often and forget that world peace starts at home. It's how we look at, and interact with, the person right next to us.
2. A sense of Krishna
Who is God? What does He do? Is God male? Female? How can we begin to accommodate the vastness of these questions, the search for the source of life and the purpose of why we exist? This second purpose presents two main books - Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, one spoken by Krishna and one spoken about Krishna. Marvelously detailed and written in beautiful verse, these books are like doors to the spiritual world. By reading them we can become conscious of Krishna, aware of His presence in our lives, as clearly as we can feel the earth beneath our feet.
3. Connected Community
Community brings identity, and a sense of belonging. The third purpose speaks of bringing people together and nearer to Krishna. Through community and shared goals we can help each other, and humanity at large 'develop the idea that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna)'. I love how Prabhupada writes 'develop the idea'. The spiritual journey, our life journey, is long and sometimes difficult. Developing anything takes time, what to speak of our relationship with God. Communities, safe places where we can find support and assistance on the path, are essential.
Note to self: How can I shake off the feeling that I can go it alone? How can I be a better community member and give more in service and support? Can I be more open to receive and be nourished by the presence of others in the community?
4. Kirtan Together
Here Prabhupada identifies the key practice of the Krishna consciousness movement - coming together and chanting Krishna's sweet and sacred name. He wants his society to 'teach and encourage' this. By chanting together our one small voice for love becomes stronger, we feel connected with humanity, and we are moved closer to Krishna by the grace and energy of others. By placing krishna in the center, our individual sense of self is awakened and also our regard for everyone else as unique and valuable spiritual beings. The dust on the mirror of our mind begins to clear and we see life from a whole different perspective. Find kirtan and find yourself there.
5. Sacred Places
It's true that God, and the sacred, is everywhere. This world is all His energy and even the most ordinary of ordinary can be understood as pure spirit. That doesn't exclude the need for specific locations dedicated exclusively to God which is described in this 5th purpose as 'a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the personality of Krishna'. Such places in our neighborhoods and communities are as important as parks in large urban dwellings. Sacred places bring fresh air to the soul, and invite us to deepen our experience of life as we connect and feel the shelter of Krishna there.
To practice this purpose visit, support, and be a part of a sacred place. Visit many! Support many! They are oases in the desert of material existence.
6. Better Ways to Live
In the sixth purpose, Prabhupada wants to bring the members together to live a 'simpler and more natural way of life'. The context of our lives is the earth and it's elements - earth, water, fire, air, and ether. We share that with other humans, plants and animals. If we can move away from manufacturing and consuming artificial, unnatural and unnecessary things and move towards simpler and sustainable ways, the whole world would take a turn for the better. With global warming, this is the need of the hour. It's a humbly stated purpose but so very important. Put this one on your fridge for a daily reminder to simplify your life.
7. Writings to Share
In service to the other six, the final purpose establishes the publishing and distribution of writings to 'achieve the aforementioned purposes'. When Prabhupada started his mission in 1966, and wrote these seven purposes, it would be only eleven years later when he would leave this world. During this time, as he built his new society, writing, publishing and distributing spiritual literature was one of the main activities. He himself would rise at 1am every morning and translate treasured sanskrit teachings to share with the world. He also encouraged others to to write.
The seven purposes of ISKCON encapsulate his legacy. They are the goals of a society he personally established and wanted it to achieve. From world vision to personal experience the seven purposes outline components necessary to inform and support an authentic spiritual journey to understanding the essence of life. Prabhupada stood for all of us the day he wrote these purposes and the world is a better place because of him doing so. Let us stand with him now and make it a better place for others.