Iskcon and Hinduism
last updated 17th February 2006

What was Srila Prabhupada's Position: The Hare Krishna Movement and Hinduism

Origins of the term Hindu and Hinduism - Hindusthan

No such word as Hindu - Hinduism - Hindusthan in Vedik literature:

What is wrong with Hindu? It is a word given to deride the people of India during slavery to Moguls

Some concocted ideas presented:

Universal Religion Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.16.19 Los Angeles, July 9, 1974 (listen to or download in RealAudio)

From reading carefully and honestly the excerpts below we can see that Iskcon is quite clearly a religion strongly affiliated to the Vedik teachings of ancient India (Bharat bhumi). For the lay person one may view that affiliation as what today might be termed as "Hindu" in the broad sense as modern day Hinduism has it's origins too in the ancient Vedik culture of India, and such worshippers of Rama and Krishna and the various incarnations of the Vishnu tattwa are technically called by many Hindus.
    However, and this is an important point. The actual term Hindu or Hinduism is not of Vedik origin. Rather it was a derogatory name given to the people of Bharat by invading Moslems as the people on the other side of the river Sind. In Urdu, the language or the Moslems they pronounce the "S" as "H" so Sind became Hind, and so on.

Regarding the status of Hinduism today as a representative of the ancient Vedik traditions called Sampradayas or Parampara, or disciplic lineages, and the purity and chastity of the teachings within modern Hinduism to the Acharyas (spiritual masters authorised to present Sanatan Dharma - the eternal religion) is much in conflict. For this reason, Srila Prabhupad doesn't want his good name, and the name of the Brahma-Madhwa-Gaudiya-Sampradaya lumped in with those who today are not strictly following the proper standard of sadachar (purity - purely vegetarian, offering foodstuffs to the Deity of Vishnu tattwa; understanding Taratamya - heirachy of the ontology of the structure of the Universal affairs - God, His assistant Universal administrators, the devas - demigods - empowered devotees; following Nitya-kriya - daily activities as a regulative principle to becoming purified and gradually free from material entanglement, etc. Due to the lack of discrimination, philosophy and strict adherance to the teachings of the great spiritual masters, and instead an affiliation toward modern philosophical ideas of Indian thought such as Anne Bessant's Theosophical Soiety, the corrupt Indologist Max Mueller, and a myriad of self proffessed saints - sadhus - fakirs - babas - yogis etc, many of whom had no or little spiritual standing according to the Acharyas (pure spiritual masters of the Vaishnava guru-paramparas).

Prabhupad had selflessly given over his entire life to propogating ane re-establishing the pure teachings of Krishna consciousness, as emphasised by his commentary on Bhagavad Gita entitled Bhagavad Gita AS IT IS. The motive and intent in his presentation must be seen and properly understood, otherwise one may come to the wrong conclusion entirely.

So in a nut-shell, is Iskcon a Hindu society? Are the devotees of the International Society for Krishna Consciusness Hindus? In the broad sense most certainly yes.

Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain - Say with pride we are Hindus

However, Prabhupad would always keep a clear distinction from modern Hindus who are of no philosophical conclusion or of some mish-mash concocted idea such as Panchopasika - where all Gods/gods are supposedly of equal status and standing - a clear misunderstanding of Taratamya as mentioned above. Please go to the links below and appreciate the correct mood.

The strongest emphasis is that Krishna consciousness - Sanatan Dharma - the eternal religion of the soul - is not pertaining to any mundane designation given by the politicians, war-lords of Islam or Christianity, or that of relgionists, theologans, etc in society, it is not an "ism" or "ity" - Mohammadism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity etc. Rather it is a state of natural development pertaining to the souls of all beings irrespective of their birth in the material world or what custom or tradition they were born into or brought up into - jivera swarupa hoy krsnera nitya dasa - all living beings are separated parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord from time immemorial, and due to misidentification and attachments to this world we have come to falsely call ourselves by artifical concocted temporal designations that are associated with our bodies, that are not befitting of eternal spiritual beings.

Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad told us of a true situation that he personally saw when growing up in Calcutta as a young man when fighting between the Moslems and Hindus was very fierce. All day they would fight and many would be killed, their bodies strewn over the road and pavements. Both sides were so proud and so passionate for their cause of being identified as Moslem or Hindu. However, at the end of the day the local Calcutta Municiple Council workers would come with their cart and throw ALL the bodies on to the cart and take them away for disposal. The spiritual being had since left the body, the force that animated it, that is neither Hindu nor Moslem nor any other "ism", but a pure spiritual being. Once it had left then the bodies were of equal status, so many pounds/kilos of the different elements that make them up.

A similar story is told to indicate the what these bodies are made of in the story of Liquid Beauty:

What was Srila Prabhupada's Position: The Hare Krishna Movement and Hinduism

Origins of the term Hindu and Hinduism - Hindusthan

No such word as Hindu - Hinduism - Hindusthan in Vedik literature:

Some concocted ideas presented:

Universal Religion Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.16.19 Los Angeles, July 9, 1974 (listen to or download in RealAudio)

What was Srila Prabhupada's Position: The Hare Krishna Movement and Hinduism

Jan Brzezinski

Is ISKCON a Hindu religious movement? This very question has caused a great deal of discussion both between members of the ISKCON and those commenting on the Society from outside. Since ISKCON is a unique product of the vision of one individual, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, its founder, we must examine his position on this issue. Central to the difficulties that commentators have had in coming to any sort of decision are the seemingly ambiguous comments and decisions that the founder made with regards to Hinduism and his Society. There are times when he clearly stated that ISKCON was not Hindu and that his followers should endeavour to keep themselves apart from Hindu influences, and there were other times when be clearly linked ISKCON to Hinduism. Jan K. Br explores the references that Srila Prabhupada made to Hinduism, and more importantly he discusses these comments within the context in which they were made, thus enabling us to gain a clearer understanding of Srila Prabhupada's position on Hinduism.


One afternoon in October 1970, Srila Prabhupada visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar. After touring the temple and seeing the way in which food was distributed, he signed the temple's guestbook. Under religion he wrote, 'Krsnaite' and under comments he wrote, 'Very spiritual' (Lilamrta, vol. 4, 137).[1]

Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (henceforth Prabhupada) also sometimes jokingly called himself and his movement Krsnian, a play on Christian, but neither Krsnaite nor Krsnian became current, even though the institution he founded was named the International Society for Krsna Consciousness. Popularly, of course, his followers were known as the Hare Krsnas, a name to which Prabhupada did not make an objection. Acknowledging his membership in the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya or Gaudiya Vaisnava disciplic succession, he happily identified himself as Gaudiya Vaisnava. However, his relationship with the larger entity known as Hinduism was rather less clear. In fact, he often overtly denied any connection to Hinduism at all: 'The Krsna consciousness movement has nothing to do with the Hindu religion or any system of religion' (SSR: 3). Another time he wrote: 'One should clearly understand that the Krsna consciousness movement is not preaching the so-called Hindu religion.' He could be even stronger in his judgement of Hinduism, calling it 'a dead religion' with 'no philosophy' (72-02-04.VAI) or 'a cheating religion' (731006BG.BOM).

Prabhupada conceded on more than one occasion that Krsna consciousness had its roots in Hinduism, but since in one place he compares it to Buddhism it may be thought that he felt it was a new religion growing out of the Hindu tradition, though entirely distinct from it: 'You can call it Hinduism, but actually it does not belong to any 'ism'. It is a science of understanding God, but it appears to be like the Hindu religion. In that sense Buddhism is also the Hindu religion because Lord Buddha was a Hindu' (750519RC.MEL).

On the other hand, Prabhupada also expressed a deeper emotional connection to Hinduism, such as in 1970 when he reacted to an article in a Bombay newspaper. He felt he had been misrepresented as denying Hinduism entirely by saying that 'Krsna is everything' (701104RC.BOM). Accusing the reporter of making contradictory statements, he asked how one who worships Radha-Krsna and follows Hindu ceremonies like Rathayatra can say that 'Hinduism is nothing'? (701212RC.IND). His identification of Rathayatra and Radha-Krsna worship with Hinduism shows that he had not, in fact, made as sharp a break with that tradition as the Buddha had done.

In view of this apparently ambivalent attitude, an analysis of Prabhupada's statements on Hinduism is needed to find out the relationship between the religious movement he founded and its broader Hindu heritage. This preliminary study is an attempt to summarise different themes surrounding the terms 'Hindu' and 'Hinduism' as found in Prabhupada's writings, letters, speeches and conversations.


Prabhupada's fundamental discourse on Hinduism is standard and oft-repeated. It customarily begins with a rejection of the term 'Hindu' itself as a misnomer, describing it as an outsider's term. This is, of course, accepted historical fact, though Prabhupada suggests that it had a negative connotation for those outsiders: 'In India, according to the Vedic language, the Europeans are called mlecchas or yavanas. Similarly, "Hindu" is a name given by the Muslims' (SSR: 3).[2]

Like every other scholar who has rehearsed the etymology of the word 'Hindu' from Sindhu/Indus, Prabhupada does not deny the existence of an entity which has come to be known by the name Hinduism. Rather, he uses this discourse as an opportunity to establish the true name of the religion which accepts the Vedic authority, and from there to describe what he holds to be its authentic form. Since Prabhupada's approach is prescriptive, his concept of Hinduism is perhaps clearer than that of scholars who attempt to describe it phenomenologically. In this respect he is similar to many other Hindus who have accepted the term but have struggled to define it in a satisfactory manner.

Alternative names for the religious system which submits to the Vedic authority and which Prabhupada finds preferable to 'Hinduism' are sanatana-dharma, varnasrama dharma, and vaidika dharma or Vedic culture. However, Prabhupada contrasts or complements these terms with the 'science of God', bhagavata-dharma or, less frequently, vaisnava- dharma. It will be first of all necessary to disentangle these terms in order to understand how Prabhupada saw his movement in relation to the broader Hindu tradition.

To contextualise this discussion of Prabhupada's use of the term 'Hindu', it is worthwhile examinining one or two definitions given by others who have no qualms about calling themselves by that name. I have selected the following two:

[A Hindu is one] who accepts the Vedas, the Smrtis, the Puranas and the Tantras as the basis of religion and the rule of conduct, and believes in one supreme being (Brahman ), in the law of retributive justice (karma) and in Reincarnation (punar janma).[3]

The main tenets of Hindu dharma are: belief in one Supreme Principle-Brahman, accepting the authority of the Vedas, the theory of karma and rebirth, values designated as purusartha, the social organisation of varna-asrama and jati,  performance of rituals and practice of samanya-dharma. It is essential to note that one can remain a Hindu even when he rejects any one or all of these. It is really difficult to point out any single essential attribute of a Hindu except the ideal of universal fraternity.[4]

The first of these definitions is wide enough to be easily acceptable to Prabhupada, though he would no doubt wish to nuance the word Brahman, who for him is the Para- Brahman, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krsna. The second definition, which is somewhat narrower, would likely require more nuances on his part, but the last two sentences clearly show that a Hindu would have had no trouble in accepting Prabhupada as one. A question which needs to be asked is whether Prabhupada would have accepted the same tolerant attitude attributed to Hinduism and much vaunted by its proponents like Vivekananda.


Prabhupada does not use the term 'Vedic dharma' frequently.[5] However, the word 'Vedic' itself and the necessity for the acceptance of the Vedic scriptural authority comes up repeatedly. The use of the word 'Vedic' by Prabhupada contains certain problems,[6] but if we recognise that like Srisa Basu (in the first definition above), he means the entire field of Hindu literature by this term, then he is in agreement with most Hindus.[7] Thus when Prabhupada says, 'Hinduism is accepting the Vedic authority' (661226CC.NY), he is identifying himself with Hinduism. As a result of such identification, he accepts even Sankaracarya, the great teacher of the monistic doctrine and avowed rival of the Vaisnavas because he based his arguments on the Vedic literature and reestablished the Vedic authority (SB 1.3.24, 4.21.27; CC Madhya 25.91).[8]

Ultimately, the Mayavadi philosophers say that God, the Supreme Absolute Truth, is impersonal, whereas the Vaisnava philosophers say that in the end, the Absolute Truth is a person and He, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is Krsna. Krsnas tu bhagavan svayam. Each group sticks to its position and they fight-'fight' means by philosophical arguments. That has been going on for a very long time. However, both of them belong to the sanatana Hindu dharma because both of them will talk on the Vedanta philosophy. They can give differing interpretations, but they cannot say that they don't accept Vedanta. If they do, it is at once rejected. So one must give an interpretation on the Vedanta philosophy to be accepted as acarya (661226CC.NY).

Prabhupada also stressed that the acaryas and disciplic successions which preserved their interpretations of these revealed scriptures, played an essential role in characterising and defining the Vedic-Hindu system: 'India's culture depends on the acaryas like Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Sankaracarya, Nimbarka, and Visnusvami. So in the Bhagavad-gita it is said, acaryopasanam. Anyone in India who claims to be a Hindu must have followed an acarya' (740612RC.PAR).

Prabhupada repeats a countless number of times the statement made in the Bhagavad- gita that Krsna is the object of Vedic knowledge-vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah (BG 15.15). Furthermore, he clearly indicates in the conclusion to this statement, 'All the  acaryas accept Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.' So anyone who accepts the Vedic authority, in Prabhupada's understanding, must accept the personal form of the Para-Brahman, Krsna.


Prabhupada frequently stresses that Krsna consciousness is the science of self- realisation (indeed one of his books has this concept as its title), by which he means that it teaches universal principles of worshipping the Lord rather than sectarian dogmas conditioned by time, place and culture. The first principle of this science is that the self is distinct from the body. Thus Prabhupada on one occasion said, 'Am I this body or something else? This is the first question I was trying to answer, but some people in my audience thought it was a kind of Hindu culture. It is not Hindu culture. It is a scientific conception' (JSD: 1, 3). On the other hand, this is the specific teaching of the Vedic literature: 'We are not this body. This is self-realisation. That is Vedic culture' (740628LE.MEL).

For Prabhupada, knowledge has 'no colour' (740619RC.GER), by which he means that knowledge is an objective truth and thus not the monopoly of any religious denomination. One may follow any religious scripture, he argues, but why should an individual who is serious about God not accept the Krsna consciousness movement if he or she can find further enlightenment there? He explained this during an interview:

This religious principle means to understand God. Every religion is trying to understand God according to their capacity . . . But the only difference is that we give details so that modern minds advanced in education and
scientific knowledge can understand, whereas others cannot give in such detail (680201IV.LA).


Prabhupada most frequently offers sanatana-dharma and varnasrama-dharma as more correct names for the religious system which accepts Vedic authority. His discourses which accompany these two terms suggest that he did not believe that they meant the same thing; though he does occasionally present them as being equivalent, his arguments are usually a refutation of the view commonly held by many Hindus which directly equates the two.

In his discourse on sanatana-dharma, Prabhupada tends to break the term down into its component parts and discuss their etymological meaning. Rather than simply translate the word dharma as religion, he tends to analyse the etymology of dharma from the root dhr, defining it as 'that which sustains the living being' (SB 1.2.6P) or 'that which is constantly existing with a particular object' (BG Introduction). Another meaning is given as 'occupational duty':

The word 'religion' is not a perfect translation of the Sanskrit word dharma. Religion is a kind of faith which we can change. But dharma means your occupational duty which you cannot change; you have to execute it. What is our dharma? What is our compulsory duty? I have several times analysed this fact: our compulsory duty is to serve (690409SB.NY).

Thus sanatana-dharma can be construed as 'the eternal quality of the living being' or his nitya-svarupa, which in accordance with the Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 20.108) is to be the eternal servant of Krsna. This eternal service may be directly expressed and thus be liberating, or perverted into service for some other object out of ignorance.

For a further understanding of the word sanatana ('eternal'), Prabhupada refers to Bhagavad-gita where it has been used three times as an adjective describing the individual soul or jiva (15.7), the Supreme Lord (11.18) and the Lord's abode (8.20). 'When these three sanatanas come together, that is called sanatana life, and any process that takes us to that sanatana position, that is called sanatana-dharma' (730228LE.JKT).

So sanatana-dharma means both the eternal constitutional position of the jiva as a servant of God and the process by which one realises that constitutional identity. Graham Schweig refers to this usage of the word dharma by Prabhupada as having the 'universal' sense of religion and as being an expression of the unity of religion.[9] For religions in the plural sense, Prabhupada favours the term 'faith'. Since service to the divine is the constitutional position of the living entity, Prabhupada says on numerous occasions that to revive this eternal attitude of service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is a science and as such applicable to all, regardless of their colour, caste or creed. It thus transcends Hinduism which here is equated with the other world religions as a 'faith': 'Most of our Hindus call themselves sanatana-dharmi, but sanatana-dharma is not limited to any particular type of society. It is meant for all human beings, all living entities' (730228LE.JKT).[10]


Quoted more than a 100 times throughout Prabhupada's discourses and written works is Shrimad Bhagavatam 1.2.6: 'The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to the loving service of the transcendent Lord.'[11] This verse was the guiding principle to Prabhupada's analysis of religion:

The definition is: that principle of religion is the best by which you can develop your devotion or love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. How nice this definition is, just try to understand. You may follow Christianism or Hinduism or Buddhism or Muhammadanism-it doesn't matter. The test is how far you have developed love of God . . . If you have developed the sense of love for God, then it is to be understood that you have actually followed the religious principle (710826SB.LON).

Prabhupada relegates religious systems which do not strive for this ultimate goal to a lower level: '"Hinduism", "Muslimism" (sic) and "Christianism" (sic) are all prakrta, mundane. But we have to transcend this prakrta, or mundane conception of religion' (750320AR.CAL). By mundane conceptions of religion, Prabhupada means that the aims of such systems is restricted to the four goals of life or purusarthas, which he sees as different levels of ego or sense gratification (SB 1.1.2P). Prabhupada termed such religions which do not aim at developing love for God as 'pseudo-religion' (BG 2.26P) and even 'cheating religion' on the basis of dharmah projjhita-kaitavo'tra (SB 1.1.20).

Another definition of religion (dharma ) is based on a teaching from the Srimad Bhagavatam, dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam (6.3.19), was much favoured by Prabhupada: 'Religion means the codes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.' He compares these laws to those of the state:

Just like in the state, there is king's law. The king gives you some laws, and if you are a good citizen, you obey those laws and live peacefully. This is a crude example. Similarly, dharma or religion means nothing other than to obey the laws of God, though they may differ according to time, circumstances and people (681020LE.BOS).

So all bonafide religious systems are, according to Prabhupada, God-given and can not be manufactured by human endeavours. (731006BG.BOM). On the other hand, he states that 'Muhammadanism, Hinduism, Christianism, all these "isms" are imperfect and man- made', whereas 'this [Krsna-consciousness] is perfect because it is given by God Himself'. The criterion is that 'if a religion teaches ultimately surrender to God, then it is perfect religion. Otherwise it is not religion' (BERGSON.SYA)[12]

Prabhupada repeatedly denies that Krsna is a Hindu god. He is God for all. He does not descend in his incarnation to revive Hindu religion, but to revive the eternal religion which is surrender to himself. 'When Krsna says that he comes to reestablish religion (BG 4.8), it is not to reestablish Hinduism or Muslimism (sic) or Christianism (sic). His purpose was to teach true religion, that is, surrender unto Krsna. 'sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja' (731006BG.BOM). This absolute surrender then is the ultimate law of God.

Though other religious systems are considered to be the products of time, circumstance and the people amongst whom they were instituted, devotional service to Krsna even when executed by an imperfect practitioner is considered by Prabhupada, in keeping with the Caitanya-caritamrta, to be transcendental:

When we are on the material platform, there are different types of religions- Hinduism, Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, and so on. These are instituted for a particular time, a particular country or a particular person. Consequently there are differences. Christian principles are different from Hindu principles, and Hindu principles are different from Mohammedan and Buddhist principles. These may be considered on the material platform, but when we come to the platform of transcendental devotional service, there are no such considerations. The transcendental service of the Lord (sadhana-bhakti) is above these principles. The world is anxious for religious unity, and that common platform can be achieved in transcendental devotional service. This is the verdict of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. When one becomes a Vaisnava, he becomes transcendental to all these limited considerations (CC Madhya 25.121P).

That which is conceptualised as sanatana-dharma is in practice given the name Vaisnava-dharma or Bhagavata-dharma. Prabhupada does not use the term Vaisnava- dharma with any frequency,[13] but following the Srimad-Bhagavatam, gives preference to the latter term.

There are 375 references to the word bhagavata-dharma in the database of Prabhupada's words. It is 'the process of religion enunciated by the pure devotees, direct representatives of the Supreme Personality of Godhead' (SB 6.16.41P) and is defined variously as 'the activities of the devotees', 'the sankirtana movement', 'the religion of glorifying the Lord and His devotees', bhakti, prema-dharma, pure devotional service, 'the cult of the Srimad-Bhagavatam'. As such it is the 'religious principles in devotional service that transcend religious principles for liberation and the mitigation of material misery' (SB 5.5 Summary), 'the religion of surrender to the Supreme Lord and love for Him' (SB 6.3.20- 12P). It is 'the transcendental religion which is the eternal function of the living being' (CC Adi 1.91P) and consists of 'chanting, dancing and preaching the principles of the Srimad- Bhagavatam' (CC Adi 7.41).

In keeping with the definition of all religion as the orders of the Supreme Lord, bhagavata- dharma also encourages the social doctrine of varnasrama-dharma (SB 6.16.43P).


We have seen how Prabhupada defined sanatana-dharma, or eternal service to God, as the true religion as well as the true goal of the Vedic authority. In this sense he has given it the name Bhagavata-dharma and called it the most perfect conception of religion, the pure love of God. It is the scientific process whereby one develops love of God or prema. In this particular discourse, the great religions of the world are seen as bodily designations, or at best 'Vaisnava-dharma in a crude form' (750314RC.TEH).[14] He calls them 'faiths' to distinguish them from this pure religion of love and service to God. However, Prabhupada's analysis of religion does not end here.

A favoured theme in Prabhupada's discourse is that human life means religion. Dharmena hinah paSubhih samanah (731006BG.BOM). Every human society has some kind of religion in order to elevate human beings from the animal status. Strictly speaking, this is not the same thing as the 'true religion' as defined previously. In order to clarify the difference between the meaning of dharma as used in the terms varnasrama-dharma and bhagavata-dharma, Prabhupada uses the word 'culture' as distinct from 'religion'. Thus, Prabhupada says that Hinduism is a culture rather than a religious denomination or 'faith' just as elsewhere he also approves the idea that 'Hinduism is a way of life rather than a religion' (710622RC.MOS, 740217MW.BOM):

But the culture of the Indians is [based on the] Vedic [scriptures] and begins with the four varnas and four asramas. So these varnas and four asramas are meant for a really civilised human race. The conclusion is that when a human being is civilised in the true sense of the term, he follows the system of varna and asrama and can be called a 'Hindu'. Our Krsna Consciousness Movement is preaching these four varnas and four asramas, so naturally it has got some relationship with Hinduism. Hinduism should thus be understood from the cultural, not the religious, point of view. Culture is never religion. Religion is a faith whereas culture is education or advancement of knowledge (70-07-09.JAN).

Even though there is a distinction to be made between Hinduism as a cultural entity and the spiritual religion of bhagavata-dharma, the former is not to be rejected out of hand. Indeed, Prabhupada goes to much trouble to define and describe the varnasrama- dharma in its genuine form and to disparage the form in which it currently exists:

We don't find [the concept of] Hindu dharma in the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad- Bhagavatam or any authorised Vedic literature. Unfortunately, something hodgepodge known as Hindu dharma has become very prominent in India. Our real Vedic dharma is varnasrama-dharma (720907SB.NV).

The institution of eight divisions is known as varnasrama-dharma. Hindus are those who follow these eight divisions of human society. That is called Hinduism. Now it has become a name only, but actually this is Hindu religion. [What is going on in the name of Hinduism] is not Hindu religion (680623SB.MON).

The two verses Prabhupada most often quotes when introducing the varnasrama
concept are Bhavagad-gita 4.13, in which Krsna states that he created the society of four varnas, and Visnu-purana 3.8.9, which states that Lord Visnu is being worshipped by anyone who acts according to the varnasrama system. Since it is thus a method of purifying innate tendencies in human society, it is also called sanatana-dharma and has no historical beginning (SSR: 3).

On more than one occasion, Prabhupada asked his disciples to institute a reformed, Krsna-centred varnasrama system, which he called the daiva-varnasrama (770122BG.BHU), and specifically proposed the establishment of a Varnasrama College where people would be trained in the prescribed duties of the different varnas. [15] Though strictly speaking Vaisnavas are beyond the concerns of society and so have nothing to do with this system, they should try to institute it for the general benefit of mankind (750625SB.LA).


It will not be possible to give a detailed analysis of how Prabhupada envisioned a varnasrama society; this is another project and must be conducted elsewhere, though it may be said that he was thinking along Gandhian lines-a preindustrial, agrarian society with a monarchical government system (730619SB.MAY).[16] In essence, he conceived of a society in which the edicts of the Hindu dharma-sastra would be implemented.

We have seen Prabhupada's definition of religion as 'the laws of God' which he takes from the Srimad-Bhagavatam ( dharma.m saksat bhagavat-pranitam). Subsequent to this declaration, the Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB 6.3.20-21) states that there are twelve mahajanas, or great authorities, who truly know dharma. Of these twelve, Manu is one.[17] Even though this section is specifically concerned with bhagavata-dharma and bhakti- yoga (Cf. 6.3.21-22), Srila Prabhupada uses it to confirm the authority of the Manu- samhita, 'the lawbook for entire human society' (SB 2.1.36, 3.13.12, 8.1.16; CC 1.2.91-92, etc.) calling it 'revealed scripture' and a 'standard book to be followed by human society' (BG 3.21P). It is a law 'so perfect that it is applicable for all time' (710622RC.MOS) and cannot be changed by any other process (SB 2.7.9P, 740218BG.BOM). Manu's authority is further confirmed in Bhagavad-gita 4.2 and Prabhupada roughly equates Manu's laws with the Bhagavad-gita (SB 7.8.48).

Manu is identified as the source of the 'directions based on varna and asrama concerning how to live as a human being' (SB 7.11.14P). Troubles in human society are traced to the abandonment of 'the principles laid down by the Manu-samhita and confirmed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna' (SB 7.8.48P). Prabhupada thus recommends that the leaders of human society, out of a sense of responsibility to their dependants, should be conversant with standard books of moral and spiritual codes like Manu (BG 3.21P).

If the king or dictator individually, or the members of the government collectively, cannot maintain the state or kingdom according to the rules of Manu-samhita, their government will certainly not endure.

Space does not allow a detailed analysis of Prabhupada's numerous references to Manu in this place, but it should be noted that he principally stressed a conservative understanding of the social and sexual morality found in these scriptures. Thus he accepted manu's attitude to the status of women, divorce, widow remarriage, dowry laws of inheritance and so on. This was the measuring stick by which Prabhupada measured not only Hindu society, but all human society in general. Nevertheless, he expected that since Manu was known to Hindu society, Hindus in particular should take it all seriously. He strongly denounced Nehru's revised 'Hindu code' for allowing such things as divorce (SSR 6; 750514MW.PER). On one occasion, for example, he indicated that lobbying to promote the dharma-sastras was what the Vishwa Hindu Parishad should be doing rather than political agitation: 'Hindu law means Manu-Samhita. So who is pressing them that "We don't require any law except this?" And where is that Hindu, strong Hindu? Hindu means Manu-Samhita' (760108MW.NEL).

Despite this forceful promotion of Manu, however, Prabhupada was consistent in believing that the object of Manu was to regulate society in order to direct its members to the higher purpose of renunciation and devotion: pravrttir esa bhutanam nivrttis tu mahaphala (SB 6.4.9P). In support of this argument, he mentions Manu's prescriptions for meat eating, which he understands as being directives to gradually reduce that tendency until one can give it up completely (760122MW.MAY).

Prabhupada speaks approvingly of Manu's vision of a personally directed creation (CC Adi 6.15P) and thus concludes that Manu 'directs all activities to the transcendental service of the Lord'. His directives can, therefore, be superseded if a higher principle is at stake. For instance, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu disapproved of his sannyasi (renunciate) associate, Brahmananda Bharati, wearing a deerskin (leather is not normally worn by Vaisnavas), even though this was carried out according to Manu's injunction (CC Madhya 10.54). Prabhupada also praised his spiritual master for disregarding the Hindu restriction on overseas travel and placing the preaching of bhagavata-dharma above it (Phalguna- krsna-pancami, 14).

Furthermore, Prabhupada mentions that the atonements (prayascitta) prescribed in the dharma-sastras like Manu-samhita or Parasara-samhita may free one from the immediate reactions of the most sinful activities, however, they cannot go as far as promoting a sinful man to the stage of loving service to the Lord. Whereas chanting the holy name of the Lord even once, however, not only frees one immediately from the reactions of the greatest sins, but also begins to raise that person to the platform of rendering loving service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead (Second Chance: 16; lectures on SB 6.2.11-23).

Most importantly, Prabhupada disagrees on the ascription of caste by birth, which is certainly a feature of Manu's law. 'People misunderstand Hindu culture, Vedic culture, that there are forced caste system. No. It is varnabhivyahjakam, [caste is determined] by the symptoms, qualities and qualifications, not by birth' (690525IN.NV). By accepting regulative principles, even Westerners (that is, mlecchas and yavanas) become brahmanas (SB 6.5.39P). Moreover, Prabhupada held that 'One should accept those who thus become Vaisnavas as being greater than brahmanas, Hindus or Indians' (CC Adi 7.23P).[18] Thus, where Manu disapproves of Vedic instruction for sudras or outcastes, Prabhupada says that this is not applicable to those who convert to Vaisnavism, for they are no longer on the level of a sudra or outcaste (740605R2.GEN).[19] In Prabhupada's understanding, however, the status of Vaisnava rests on the foundation of de facto ritual purity achieved through rigorous moral and ethical training. This can be achieved gradually through the varnasrama system or directly by following the regulative principles and practices of devotional service. Ritual purity on its own, however, is not equivalent to Vaisnavism.

Though Prabhupada frequently insisted on the establishment of varnasrama-dharma, he occasionally hinted that there was such a thing as an egalitarian Vaisnava society which transcended it. 'So a systematic society means varnasrama-dharma. But there is another way. That is called transcendental society or Vaisnava society' (770122BG.BHU).


Whatever his reservations about the current state of Hinduism, Prabhupada held that Indian people were both privileged and entrusted with a great responsibility: 'Krsna is not meant for the Hindus [alone], but Krsna appeared in Hindustan. Therefore it is the duty of all Hindus to know Krsna first. And they [are indeed Krsna-] conscious. Every Hindu knows Krsna. Every Hindu observes the Janmastami, Krsna's birthday' (750309RC.LON).

The Caitanya-caritamrta verse, 'One who has taken his birth as a human being in India should make his life successful and work for the benefit of all other people' (Adi 9.41), is quoted many times (over 200 times in the Folio) by Prabhupada. He thus considered it a special duty of the Indian people to spread Krsna consciousness all over the world in fulfilment of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's prediction. As a result, he admits again that a direct relationship exists between Hinduism and Krsna consciousness: 'Since it is mostly Hindus who are accepting this Krsna consciousness, you can call it like Hinduism. But it is not Hinduism' (711110IV.DEL).

Despite his oft-repeated feeling that everyone in India is 'naturally Krsna conscious' and though he felt that the common people of India were 'still alright' (770112R2.BHU) and strictly followed the rules and regulations (680504SB.BOS), by which he generally meant the four regulative principles of abstinence from meateating, illicit sex, intoxication and gambling, he was worried about the generally negative influence of western culture on India and the Hindu diaspora (75-08-31.SRI).

Of the vestiges of Vedic culture, Prabhupada mentions vegetarianism: 'No Hindu family will allow meat-eating' (740107SB.LA). He approved of Gandhi's move to introduce prohibition (740107SB.LA). He spoke highly of the Indian marital tradition of lifelong fidelity (681225WE.LA), the giving of Lord Narayana's (a form of Lord Vishnu) names to Hindu children, despite atheistic propaganda (750917SB.VRN) and the continuing worship of Laksmi-Narayana (Lord Visnu and his consort) by householders gave Prabhupada the feeling that 'there is some glimpse of human civilization in India', giving hope that it could be revived in modern times (750925MW.AHM).

We have already seen that Prabhupada considered all 'faiths' to be prakrta or mundane, and that even the varnasrama system based on the laws of God ultimately had to be transcended in order to achieve the true purpose of religion, namely love of God. Inasmuch as others did not see this as the purpose of the Vedic religious system, he criticised them in various ways, both in general and in particular.

There were two aspects to this criticism, one related to behaviour (sad-acara), the other to ideas. He compared Hindus to Christians 'who admit they are Christian but don't follow the Christian principles.They accept Krsna but don't follow his instruction. They have lost their own culture and they want to imitate Western culture' (750309RC.LON). But worse, despite this departure from their own traditions, 'they are under the impression that they know everything and have nothing to learn from [the Krsna consciousness movement]' (70-05-27.TAM). Prabhupada's early experiences with Indian expatriates in America and England left him unenthusiastic about spreading Krsna consciousness amongst them. Instead, he told his disciples to concentrate their efforts on preaching to Europeans and Americans (68-09-29.GUR).

He says on one occasion that the Hindu religion is dead because it lacks philosophy and by sentiment alone was unable to attract those who had been hardened by material sense gratification.[20] Prabhupada would not allow Hindus to come and speak at ISKCON temples. There was a question of doctrinal purity. In India Prabhupada himself walked out of a Bhagavad-gita conference in Indore in 1970 when he heard Mayavadi[21] interpretations of Bhagavad-gita (Lilamrta, Vol. 4, 147-150). Mayavadis are offenders to Krsna (CC Madhya 17.129) and hearing from them causes 'everything to become spoiled' (CC Madhya 6.169).

The cause of the deterioration of Hindu culture, according to Prabhupada, is loss of belief in the Vedic literatures presented by Vyasadeva (69-07-08.MRK). Prabhupada thus rejected the concept behind organisations such as the Arya Samaj because they accept only the original Veda and reject the other supplementary literatures to the original Veda as a pretext for pushing their own agendas which have little to do with the purpose of such important scriptures (TLC 24, 661216BG.NY) and because they deny deity worship (751007MW.DUR). He goes so far as to call them atheistic inasmuch as they accept Krsna as merely a great personality, but not God (740704BG.HON)[22] . He criticised the Ramakrsna Mission for posturing and suggested that their failure to attract westerners to seriously taking up 'Hindu' spiritual practices was because they were preaching Hinduism, rather than 'real spiritual culture'. However, most of all, he reproached Vivekananda for allowing sannyasis to eat meat, which goes against Hindu custom (7404214MW.HYD, 760108MW.NEL).

Prabhupada vehemently protested the polytheism of Hinduism by which other gods are put on an equal level with Krsna. Even worse were the pantheistic ideas by which one can 'make one's own God'. He particularly held up to ridicule one follower of the Ramakrsna Mission who took this to the extreme of saying that 'even stool is God' (730711R2.LON, 770127R2.PUR).

Prabhupada blamed the Mayavadis and the politicians for killing the spirit of India. His view was that Mayavada preaching of pantheism and polytheism led people to diminish the importance of religion. Vivekananda was singled out as the beginning of Hindu downfall for his philanthropic idea of daridra-narayana. Prabhupada paraphrased him, saying, 'Where you are searching for God? Don't you see so many gods are loitering in the street, the poor? Better you serve them. Why do you go to the temple?' For him this revealed a complete misunderstanding of what God is. 'The whole world, they are trying to banish God, the Kamsa's policy, "Kill God," whole world, the Communists, total. This is our position' (751007MW.DUR). The politicians then used ideas such as daridra- narayana-seva to draw people from religious to humanitarian and political activity. 'The Mayavadis create the field of atheism and later on, the politicians make them perfect atheists' (750909MW.VRN).

In private conversations, Prabhupada did not spare many of the great modern saints of Hinduism. They were mostly criticised for preaching the Bhagavad-gita while neglecting devotion to Krsna. He expressed dismay that 'Gandhi, Radhakrsna and other big acaryas of India do not believe in Krsna' (750305RC.NY). Indeed, nothing raised Prabhupada's ire more than the misuse of the Bhagavad-gita as a tool for preaching other doctrines. He rejected Gandhi for his allegorical interpretation and would say that Gandhi's doctrine of non-violence did not work because it was not a system authorised by scripture (660530BG.NY). Prabhupada often emphasised that Krsna was a real person and the stories of His pastimes were not allegorical, but actually took place on earth. Upon visiting Kuruksetra in 1970, for example, Prabhupada triumph-antly proclaimed that it was a real place and not an allegory (Lilamrta, Vol. 4, 134, 770413RC.BOM).

Last but not least, Prabhupada was angered by conservative upper-caste Hindu opinion which would not accept his disciples as genuine Vaisnavas and brahmanas. He considered those that barred them from entering Hindu temples to be malicious. This was consistent with his rejection of the narrow, ethnic understanding of Hinduism.


We have seen that Prabhupada held that Hindu religion, both in the sense of a social system based on Manu-samhita, and a God-centred religious system based on the Gita and Bhagavata, had deteriorated in recent times. We may ask the question, to what extent does Prabhupada subscribe to the Hindu nationalist world view which sees Hinduism as being fallen from a golden epoch in the distant past and under siege in the present?

At a meeting in 1973, he told Arnold Toynbee that the Greeks came from India. 'Vedic culture was once all over the world. Gradually a new type of culture-just like this recent partition of India and Pakistan-took place' (730722RC.LON). Many times he said that five thousand years ago, the entire planet was known as Bharatavarsa and was 'under Vedic culture.' Mahabharata is thus the history of 'greater Bharatavarsa.' The culture was gradually lost, the social disruption beginning from the degeneration of the brahmanas and then the ksatriyas. Bharatavarsa became smaller and smaller until the most recent partition in 1947. This is considered just another chapter in a long loss of glory. Just as the people of Pakistan are all originally Hindus, so too the rest of the world was once Hindu (740501MW.BOM). Prabhupada also predicted that this would continue; with the future deterioration of Vedic culture, the creation of Sikhistan and then other '-stans' was inevitable (JSD 6.1).

Unlike many Hindu nationalists, however, Prabhupada did not claim an original homeland for the Aryans (whom he calls Indo-Aryans or Indo-Europeans) in India, but says that they divided in the Caucasus to go either to India or to Europe. This supposedly happened when Parasurama threatened to kill the ksatriyas. These ksatriyas fled to Europe while others settled in the Middle East (760421RC.MEL). Identifying the Caspian Sea as the place of Kasyapa Muni, he expressed the belief that it will be possible to ascertain by historical references that the whole planet was once known as Bharatavarsa (730507SB.LA).

Prabhupada held that the varnasrama cultural system was operational through to the period of Candragupta Maurya, roughly contemporaneous to Alexander the Great. Prabhupada held Candragupta's prime minister Canakya up as an example of a disinterested brahmana advising a pious monarch in the ideal situation (SB 2.7.9P).

Prabhupada sees the deterioration of Vedic culture in India as being at least in part the result of foreign conquests, of which there were many even prior to Muslims. He blames the conversion of so many Hindus to Islam on a combination of factors. First of all, upper caste Hindus did not treat them very well. 'There was a custom, a very bad custom, in South India, that if a sudra passed on the street he had to shout, "I am a sudra passing on the street. Please close your door." The brahmanas would then close their doors so that they would not see him, for if they did, [they believed that] everything would be spoiled-their food grains and everything' (740526SB.ROM).

Another important factor was that the lower-caste Hindus were not given any facility for spiritual culture. The brahmanas monopolised spiritual culture and mistreated the sudras  and the candalas and kept them downtrodden. When Aurangzeb imposed the jizya tax for all non-Muslims, these downtrodden lower classes naturally thought what is the use of remaining Hindu? As a result they converted wholesale to Islam (740526SB.ROM). He sees this not only as one of the main causes for Hindus converting to Islam, but also for the rise of Communism (which he also strongly opposed for its godlessness) in modern India. It was also acknowledged that there were other elements which contributed to the conversion to Islam.

But if brahmanical intolerance and Muslim policy had a deleterious effect on Hindu culture, the British were worse. 'Lord Macauley's private report was that "If you allow the Indians to remain Hindu, you will never be able to rule over them." So it was the British government's policy to condemn everything Indian. They did not put their hands on their culture directly, but did so surreptitiously' (750521RC.MEL). 'The Britishers peacefully killed the Hindu culture, Vedic culture' (750313RC.TEH).[23] Prabhupada blamed the British for formenting violence between the Hindus and Muslims who had been generally friendly to one another (681129BG.LA).


In view of Prabhupada's historical understanding, framed around the incipient deterioration of Vedic culture, as well as his conception of the varnasrama system based on Manu, we might well have expected him to have expressed some political opinions, but in fact he was not enthusiastic about government systems that he encountered nor did he support any political reform movements as a leader of an international Society.

However, on the whole, Prabhupada kept himself allof from political activity of any kind. He showed no enthusiasm for any government systems that he encountered and gave no official support to any political reform group, including those that affiliated themselves with Hindu goals. The word Rama-rajya, when used as a Hindu nationalist buzz-word, elicited Prabhupada's disdain rather than support: he suggested that such people wanted the kingdom of God without God (SB 9.10.50). The Hindu political movement did not interest him. Even in Back to Godhead in September 1944 (1.1) before taking the renounced order of life, he refered to 'imaginary ideas of Hinduraj or Muslimraj' being doomed to failure.

Prabhupada told his disciples not to get involved with modern political movements as there would be a conflict of values; devotees and politicians would never be able to agree on common aims. He himself had given up political activism in Gandhi's home-rule movement in order to join his spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati (681230IV.LA). He liked to tell how his Guru answered the criticism of political activists who accused him of depriving the Indian nationalist movement of youthful energy by diverting so many young men to the devotional life. Bhaktisiddhanta responded tongue-in-cheek that his followers were too weak and only good for chanting Hare Krsna (741021SB.MAY).

Prabhupada stated clearly that he favoured education to political processes because people had to be changed not by fiat (decree) but by conviction 740112MW.LA). Thus, in 1972 when his disciple Balavanta dasa ran for mayor of Atlanta, he did not advise him to create any complex political programme, but to use the occasion to preach the concepts behind Krsna consciousness.

Prabhupada did, however, occasionally recommend government intervention in religious matters, calling his proposal a 'Vedic idea of the secular state'. According to this idea, the government should take responsibility for all religious systems in the country whether Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, seeing to it, for example, that a professing Hindu is executing the Hindu principles of religion properly. He advises licensing religions (730226RC.JKT). His worry was, 'If people become irreligious in the name of secularism, then they are simply animals. So it is the government's duty to see that the citizens are not becoming animals' (730905RC.STO).[24]


One last element in this examination of Prabhupada's use of the word 'Hindu' relates to his pragmatism about how to present himself and his movement while preaching the bhagavata-dharma. Though uncompromising, Prabhupada was practical and sought the most effective way to present Krsna consciousness, either dissimulating or vaunting its connection with Hinduism according to circumstances. As we have seen, Prabhupada was fighting against preconceived western notions of Hinduism. Even prior to his coming to New York in 1965, he was constantly in contact with what he saw as secular misconceptions and prejudices with regard to Hinduism and Krsna consciousness in Indian educated society. As a result, he constantly emphasised the universal aspect of his religion. Thus when greeted by many upon his return to India as a conquering hero who had converted westerners to Hinduism, Prabhupada denied that this had ever been his purpose. On one morning walk he said, 'Foreign devotees are not joining this movement because it is a Hindu culture. They take it as a real spiritual culture' (760108MW.NEL).

'Our point is not to convert them to Hinduism. Take prasadam, take dress, chant Hare Krsna, dance. That's all. I never said to all these European and American disciples that "You become a Hindu"... I asked them, "Just become lover of God. That's all. If you can love God through your religion, that's all right. You do that." I never said, "You become Hindu." Then I would not have been able to [convince them]' (740217MW.BOM).

With these last words, it is apparent that Prabhupada was aware, that to present himself as a Hindu not only would have gone against his deeply held beliefs, but that in the context of Western society, it would have been counter-productive. For these reasons he therefore strategically presented Krsna consciousness as 'the science of God':

They would have said, 'We have got Christianity. Why should I accept your Hinduism?' Now, if you go anywhere, if you want to preach Hinduism, why they should be interested in Hinduism? They can hear some words. But we are not talking of Hinduism and Muhammadanism; we are talking on the science of God (701107RC.BOM).

On the other hand, Prabhupada was trying to establish a spiritual movement that grew up from within a Hindu culture. In this he had natural allies amongst those who shared with him many of the common ideals of his culture. In his determination to achieve this purpose of bringing what he believed was a true spiritual message untainted by materialistic purposes, he could and did try to find such allies by appealing to such common interests. A good example of this is the appeal he made to the Gandhi Memorial Fund in which he outlined how he intended to achieve Gandhian ideals such as the uplift of the Harijans, dissemination of the Bhagavad-gita's message 'on an authentic basis' (49-02-28. SAR). Of course the authentic basis was bhagavata-dharma. Similarly, at one point he hoped to get grants in the context of Indian government cultural diplomacy by presenting his preaching efforts under the non-sectarian designation of a 'cultural movement'. This was stated in similar terms to Nirmal Babu in 1970: 'So this Krsna Consciousness cultural movement is not actually Hindu movement, but originally it is India cultural movement' (70-06-24.NIR).

As the movement grew in India, Prabhupada was made aware of other dangers which could grow out of an identification with Hinduism, specifically government interference in temple management such as was going on in Tirupati in south India. For this and other reasons, he recommended his disciples to openly deny any connection with Hinduism (760108MW.NEL).

On other occasions, he overtly played to Hindu sensibilities. In his early days in New York, he solicited help from his benefactor Sumati Morarji for the construction of 'the first Hindu temple [in New York]': 'It will be recorded in the history of the world that the first Hindu temple is started by a pious Hindu lady Srimati Sumati Morarji who is not only a big business magnate in India but a pious Hindu Lady, a great devotee of Lord Krsna.' The object was 'to impress the people what actually the Hindu culture is' (65-11-10. SUM).

Help from other Hindu organisations was solicited when in 1973 the temple at Juhu, Mumbai, India was demolished in the midst of difficulties. The pro-Hindu Jan Sangh party headed up a 'Save the Temple' committee. Mr Gupta, a member of that party, published his own leaflet declaring ISKCON to be a bona-fide Hindu organisation (Lilamrta 5, 136- 137).[25] Also in 1974, in the hope that ISKCON devotees could be admitted into temples such as the one in Jagannatha Puri, Prabhupada also sought certification that they were 'bona-fide Hindus' from Swami Cinmayananda of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (74-05-31. ACY).

In America, Prabhupada had to respond to the need to preserve his work by threats from different areas. As we have seen earlier, he saw the message that he was preaching to be beyond classification of 'Hindu', though this would not necessarily be recognised by governments around the world. When difficult legal situations arose in America he thought it better to claim to be Hindu: 'America has got freedom of religion, so if they accept my movement as Hindu religion, they cannot do anything' (761229RC.BOM).

In this way Prabhupada made use of cultural ties with 'Hindu' organisations for the purpose of preaching the message of the Vedas, even though he did not consider the message of the Veda to be 'Hindu' as such.


The foregoing discussion shows that Prabhupada admitted the existence of an entity known as Hinduism, though he takes the orthodox position of eschewing the non- traditional term 'Hindu', insisting on sanatana-dharma as the correct nomenclature. Ironically, such traditionality makes him much more 'Hindu' (if we give the term the meaning of adhering to a set of classical Sanskrit texts) than his detractors.[26]

A word is a tool which we use or reject for various reasons. It is insufficient to say that Prabhupada was making a semantic point that Hindu is an incorrect term. Languages are living organisms which undergo change and any attempt to dictate usage and purify language of foreign terms is generally a losing battle. Sanskritisation of modern Indian vernaculars has only been partially successful-the elites continue to use English words even where Sanskritised equivalents exist or have been created. Many of these borrowed words have filtered into the everyday vocabulary of even illiterate labourers and cannot be found in the dictionaries, though their usage is entrenched. For example one only has to think of the ubiquitous saide (from English 'side') of the Nabadwip rikshaw-wallah. This is consistent with Sanskrit hermeneutics, where the accepted usage of word has predominance over its etymology (rudhi-yogarthayo rudhih).

There is certainly no confusion for the outsider. He takes the Krsna consciousness movement at face value, concluding that many of the practices of its members are similar to those that consider themselves Hindu. This might be called hamsa-nyaya: 'If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck'. This of course assumes that there is intuitively such an entity as Hinduism, beyond the ethnic or geographical sense of its original application. Reverence for the Veda should be sufficient to establish this, but there is so much more of the common Hindu heritage in Krsna consciousness that it seems almost foolhardy for Prabhupada to attempt to divorce himself from it. Whether it be kirtan, bhajan, deity worship, prasada, fire sacrifice, varnasrama, the Vedas, or the Bhagavad- gita, the concepts are all familiar to a Hindu of any tradition, who recognises them as having religious significance. Indeed, irrespective of Prabhupada's claim that Krsna is not a Hindu god but God Himself, to the outsider, Krsna will always be a Hindu god. Inasmuch as all the great religious traditions are essentially symbolic languages, this common heritage cannot be dismissed as insignificant. Nor should the ethnic aspects of Hinduism be entirely dismissed. Does not Prabhupada betray his Hinduness when he quotes Krsnadasa Kaviraja: bharata bhumite haila manunya janma jar, janma sarthak kari' karo para-upakar? 'Anyone who takes birth in India should make his life perfect and help others by distributing the fruits of love given by Caitanya Mahaprabhu'. Or when he says that India is the place of Krsna's birth and therefore special? After all, Savarkar says that a Hindu is anyone who 'feels attachment to the land that extends from Sindhu to Sindhu as the land of his forefathers-as his fatherland'.[27]

But a debate over terms is never what it seems at face value. It would seem that Prabhupada is ready to concede that any battle for the term 'Hindu' (if it were worth fighting) has been lost to the neo-Hindus, ethnic nationalists and religious chauvinists. For sanatana-dharma, on the other hand, the battle can still be won. Prabhupada recognises that the term 'Hindu' resonates with ethnicity and he cannot accept it as valid from his vantage point as a transcendentalist.

We are dealing then with a problem of ethnic and universal aspects of the word 'Hindu'. Prabhupada wanted to distance himself from the geographical or national limitations of the word to stress the universal essence of sanatana-dharma in order to attract everyone in the world to his movement. But Prabhupada has another, intermediate understanding of Hinduism as varnasrama-dharma, which though still 'on the bodily platform' is the most perfect socio-religious system and therefore an integral part of sanatana-dharma.  Prabhupada's position is well-summarised by one of Prabhupada's leading disciples:

Hinduism is a tradition which seeks to transcend itself, and must do so, to remain faithful to the Vedas, broadly understood. This perfection is embodied in Srila Prabhupada. Hinduism includes 'mundane' karma-kanda and an external varnasrama system which have as a final goal the complete transcendence of such external and mundane procedures. Thus the perfection of Hinduism is to realise that one is not a Hindu or any other worldly designation. The Caitanya- caritamrta and Prabhupada's own teachings exemplify this simultaneous identification with and transcendence of Hinduism.[28]

Such an approach was not original to Prabhupada. Indeed, previous Hindu missionaries blazed the trail before him, presenting their understanding of the universal religious principle beyond bodily designations. They also saw Hinduism as a tradition which transcended itself. Even Savarkar states that 'a Hindu is most intensely so when he ceases to be Hindu'.[29] In other words, when he transcends his own Hinduism. Prabhupada's point of departure was the same as theirs: 'we are not this body'. Prabhupada's discourse on transcending religious or mundane designation echoes that of Vivekananda Swami, that it is unconstructive for an individual's spiritual progress to excessively identify with one's external labelling: 'I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Muhammadan sits in his little well and thinks that this is the whole world.' [30]

Another element of Vivekananda's discourse, that all humans possess the same religious instinct, the same urge to spiritual perfection, to return to the same unique source, is also shared. 'As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee.'[31]

It is at this point, however, that Prabhupada diverges from his predecessors, for he defines the universal religious principle in terms of love of a personal God. With this message, Prabhupada is in harmony with a theological debate which goes back over a thousand years of Hindu history, though this message was barely being heard outside of India, as advaita-vada was accepted as normative for modern Hinduism. Prabhupada was unique in his success in bringing this message to those outside of the Indian sub- continent.

Vivekananda introduced Hinduism to the western world by saying that all paths lead to God. In the end, however, he was arguing for a hierarchy of religious understanding that placed his monistic or advaitin understanding at the pinnacle of spiritual advancement. Prabhupada followed the same route to argue that his anthropomorphic theism was the ultimate object of all religions, realised imperfectly in all but the 'postgraduate course' of Krsna consciousness. Prabhupada consistently rejected the understanding that the symbolic language of Krsnaism is temporally conditioned. It is not just another '-ism' (770402RC.BOM). He claimed that Krsna consciousness cannot be sectarian because it takes Krsna as a whole, without trying to deprive Him of attributes true to Him as the complete whole.

Though for Prabhupada this is the ultimate end of sanatana-dharma, neo-Hinduism itself does not recognise it. It wishes to place worship of Krsna on an equal footing with the worship of Devi or Siva or other gods as just another aspect of an ultimately formless Being or truth (Brahman). Thus Prabhupada is suspicious of the Hindus, taking an attitude not unlike that of the other religious minorities in India who resisted Radhakrsnan's report on university education for fear that their religions would be taught in a way 'determined by the doctrinal assumptions of neo-Hinduism'.[ 32]

This rejection of Hindu 'maya-vada' is so strong in Prabhupada and his tradition that he can even say that Christianity and Islam are Vaisnava in spirit because of their common theism. He is ready to acknowledge that Christians, as theists, 'have some idea' and even talks about creating a common front with theists everywhere against atheism which he believes, as we have seen, to begin with the impersonal conception of God.[33]

And Krsna consciousness is self-consciously everything that the neo-Hindus resist (or have 'transcended') in their own heritage: idol-worship, anthropomorphism, mythology run rampant. In short, with the exception of the dynamic caste system, it is everything that they would have seen as particular and not universal about Hinduism!

In view of this thoroughgoing rejection of 'normative' Hinduism, how can we justify Prabhupada's occasional profession of Hindu identity in a seemingly cynical, utilitarian fashion? One either is or is not a Hindu. One cannot both be, and not be, according to one's convenience. In fact, however, this may not be the case. Is it possible that Prabhupada could simultaneously, inconceivably possess both identities? R.C. Zaehner considers it to be a characteristic of Hinduism that it resists the 'either/or' approach, describing it as essentially a religion of 'both/and'[34] Arvind Sharma similarly states that it seems to be a characteristic of Hinduism that the whole is equal to the sum of the parts, 'In a Hindu version of the Christian view that Jesus was fully man and fully God, one could claim that one is both an Advaitin (or a Visistadvaitin or a Dvaitin) and a Hindu at the same time or a Hindu as well as a Vaisnava, a Sakta or a Saiva at the same time.'[35]

This seems to be what Prabhupada is saying in one lecture (681110SB.LA) in which he quotes Caitanya Mahaprabhu's verse:

naha vipro na ca nara-patir napi vaisyo na sudro
 nahaà varni na ca grha-patir no vanastho yatir va
kintu prodyan-nikhila-paramananda-purnamrtabdher
 gopi-bhartuù pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasaù

'I am not a brahmana, I am not a ksatriya, I am not a vaisya or a Sudra. Nor am I a brahmacari, a householder, a vanaprastha or a sannyasi. I identify Myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krsna, the maintainer of the gopis. He is like an ocean of nectar, and He is the cause of universal transcendental bliss. He is always existing with brilliance.' (CC Madhya 13.80)

Caitanya Mahaprabhu, situated at the very pinnacle of the Hindu varnaSrama-dharma as a brahmana and sannyasi, stated that his identity as a servant of Krsna transcended all these bodily identifications. And yet, despite His exemplary transcendence of Hinduism, Caitanya Mahaprabhu's 'civil disobedience movement' against the Kazi's repression of sankirtan was identified as a Hindu action. Thus referring to precedents from Mahaprabhu's own life, Hrdayananda dasa Goswami comments:

It is said that we invoke Hinduism in time of danger, but the Caitanya-caritamrta shows that this is precisely what 'Hindus' have always done. Thus the Saivas, Vaisnavas, etc, who clearly opposed each other theologically, were all labelled 'Hindus' by the sometimes hostile Muslim society, and for practical purposes, even in Lord Caitanya's movement, operated under this rubric.[36]

In fact, there is no real conflict, hypocrisy or double standard, for Prabhupada has never rejected sanatana-dharma. Those who for convenience share the rubric 'Hindu' have a common ideal of sanatana-dharma, even if they can not agree on what it means.


So, where does this leave the Krsna consciousness movement? The situation has changed a great deal since the end of Prabhupada's personal leadership in 1977. In Western Europe and North America, the movement's influence has waned amongst those of European origin. At the same time, the Indian Diaspora in the West has gained numbers in ISKCON's membership. Furthermore, the Society has become more self- confident and less defensive about its Hinduness-in no small part due to the success of ISKCON and other transplanted Hindu movements in these regions. Though there is a continuing unease in ISKCON's relationship with the Hindu diaspora-orthodoxy and ethnicity are continually an issue, either spoken or unspoken in ISKCON communities-the Society remains more and more dependent on the Indian community's financial support. By vociferously denying its Hinduness, ISKCON risks alienating its principal constituency. In view of the above discussion, freedom from the designation Hindu seems a small gain for the costs of such an alienation. The Society will certainly find it easier to transmit its understanding from a point of common understanding with the Indian community by becoming more inclusive, rather than by taking an exclusive or conflicting approach.

In India, the situation is not so dissimilar to the one described above. The movement is becoming more and more dependent on its Indian membership. The problem here is that if Krsna consciousness is to operate under the rubric of 'Hindu', it must be under its own terms. In view of its international character, it cannot allow itself to become implicated in narrow ethnic understanding of Hinduism. There is always the possibility, however, in the Indian political atmosphere, that the Krsna consciousness movement will favour the possible advantages which would accrue to it if there were a government favourable to its missionary goals.

It is hard to see how Prabhupada's idea of a 'Vedic secular state' on varnaSrama lines would be any more liberated from problems than those which would accrue from any other state interference in religion. He advised government involvement in the religious practice of all religious denominations, but on his terms, from his perspective. A Christian would surely not like to be told that because the Bible says, 'Thou shalt not kill', he is henceforth forbidden to eat meat. I believe, however, that Prabhupada was more practical than this-he recognised that neither religion nor good manners can be imposed from above: 'There is only one religion in the world to be followed by one and all and that is the Bhagavata-dharma, or the religion which teaches one to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead and no one else' (SB 1.2.27). Thus this ideal may be held by the devotees of Krsna, they must choose between the long tradition of liberty and tolerance of disparate belief in Hinduism, and the zealous missionary spirit which puts them in the midst of other competitive missionary religions.

Religion, like language, is arguably universal, comparable to Chomsky's concept of innate language. But the argument that language is innate cannot justify the claim that any one existing language, be it English or Sanskrit, is the original archetype of which all other languages are derivatives or reflections. It is similarly impossible to prove, though one may believe, that any one religious system more accurately reflects the innate religious faculty. In the modern era, whatever the deeply held beliefs of any religious community, it is necessary to adapt to the pluralistic character of world society. This is a contract of tolerance, the like of which has existed in India since ancient times. Indeed, religious tolerance is considered to be a preeminent characteristic of the Hindu family of religions, a certain 'live and let live' in terms of religious ideology. Christians and Muslims are thought by Hindus to break that engagement due to their exclusivism. Does Vaisnavism similarly want to break that contract with the rest of Hinduism in the name of its particular revelation? Christianity and Islam are struggling with the question of relativism and revelation which comes out of engagement with a pluralistic world. Perhaps, Vaisnavism's participation in the 'united front for theism' will depend greatly on how far it can develop the liberal spirit
that is compatible with such ecumenism.


[1] The research for this paper has been based almost entirely on the Folio database 'The Complete Works of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada' (n.d.) and the Folio database 'The pre-1965 works of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada', Version 1.0, March 1995. References to printed books are coded as follows: BG = Bhagavad-gita, CC = Caitanya-caritamrta, JSD = Journey of Self Discovery, KB = Krsna Book, NOD = Nectar of Devotion, SB = Srimad Bhagavatam, SSR = The Science of Self- realization. These are followed by either a page reference or a verse reference. The letter P following verse numbers indicates Prabhupada's purport to the verse in question. Personal letters are coded according to the date and a three-letter extension designating the recipient. Room conversations (RC, R2, R3, etc.), lectures (LE), interviews (IV), morning walks (MW), meetings (ME) are indicated with the date and a three-letter extension indicating the place. Thus, 770528ME.VRN indicates a meeting in Vrndavana on 28, May 1977; 660302BG.NY indicates a Bhagavad-gita class given in New York on 2, March 1966. Some quotations have been slightly edited for clarity. The study was based on a search through the more than two thousand occurrences of the word 'Hindu' and 'Hinduism'. Thus, these words can be found in nearly all the citations found in this document, even though the arguments given in them may have been presented in a more coherent fashion elsewhere in the Folio corpus. Lilamrta refers to the six- volume biography of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta, Los Angeles, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1980-4.

[2] Prabhupada recognised that both 'India' and 'Hindu' have the same origins, though he seems to think that the words originated with the Muslims. In fact, the original version of the word (Hind'ush) is first found in two monuments inscriptions of Darius in Iran, which date from 486 B. C. See Fr. Spiegel. Die altpersische Keilinschriften, im Grundtext mit Ubersetzung, Grammatik und Glossar, 2te Auflage, Leipzig, 1, 1881, Lines 17-18. Half a century later Herodotus introduced it into Greek (History iii, 98). The separation of 'Indian' from 'Hindu' is still a fairly recent development in European languages. The earliest use of the word in Indian sources is in the Sarngadhara-paddhati, from the thirteenth century, where one verse says that the Hindus fled to the Vindhya Mountains to escape the Muslims. The words hindu and hinduyani are found in the Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 17) when the Kazi takes notice of sankirtana as a Hindu religious activity. The Kazi is quoted by Kaviraja as saying to Mahaprabhu, 'You are the great god of the Hindus, Narayana' (Adi 17.215). See also, Joseph O'Connell, 'The Word "Hindu" in Gaudiya Vaisnava Texts', Journal of the American Oriental Society, 93.3, (1973), pp. 340-4.

[3] Rai Bahadur Srisa Candra Vidyarnava. A Catechism of Hindu dharma. Allahabad, The Panini Office, 1919 (first published 1899). Sacred Books of the Hindus, 3.

[4] Chidambara Kulkarni, Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1971. p.4.

[5] I found one incidence JSD 2.2, where it is equated with sanatana-dharma.

[6] See, Das, Rahul Peter, ''Vedic' in the Terminology of Prabhupada and his followers,' Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 6.2, (1998), pp. 141-59. Earlier published in ISKCON Communications Journal, 4.2, (1996), pp. 23-38.

[7] In fact, Prabhupada gives precedence to three works. 'One must be able to explain these three books: Vedanta philosophy, Bhagavad-gita and Srimad- Bhagavatam. Then he can be accepted as acarya' (661226CC.NY).

[8] Prabhupada held that at the end of his life Sankara accepted Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, even though his followers do not necessarily recognise the fact (SB 4.24.18).

[9] Graham M. Schweig, 'Universal and confidential love of God: Two essential themes in Prabhupada's theology of bhakti.' Journal of Vaisnava Studies, 6.2, (1998), pp. 95.

[10] Compare: 'The indigenous names by which Hinduism is known are sanatana- dharma and vaidika-dharma. Sanatana-dharma means eternal religion and is expressive of the truth that religion as such knows no age. It is coeval with life. It is the food of the spirit in man.' Mahadevan, T. M. P., Outlines of Hinduism, Bombay: Chetana, 1971, p. 13.

[11] sa vai pumsam paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhoksaje.

[12] A conversation Prabhupada had with his disciple Syamasundara dasa about the philosopher Bergson.

[13] It appears in CC Antya 3.147, where he translates it as 'the cult of Vaisnavism' and in KB 89, 'Therefore the term dharma applies only to Vaisnava-dharma or bhagavata-dharma'. Elsewhere Prabhupada says that Islam and Christianity are lower forms of Vaisnava-dharma.

[14] Said of Islam and Christianity in a conversation with the Canadian ambassador to Iran. On another occasion, Prabhupada said both of Christianity and Islam that they were Vaisnavism (740217MW.BOM).

[15] 740312MW.VRN, 740314MW.VRN, 750420RC.VRN, 750424SB.VRN, 750620AR.LA, 750625SB.LA, 750424SB.VRN, etc.

[16] Prabhupada often spoke out against democracy, which he considered to be close to mob rule since the general populace could not be trusted to make decisions in their spiritual interest. He called it 'rogues and thieves electing rogues and thieves' (SB 6.2.3P). Also see SB 1.10.3P, 4.13.19-20P, 4.20.15P.

[17] The Bhagavata adopts many ancient authorities to speak for the Vaisnava doctrine, not only traditional Puranic authorities, Vyasa, Suta, Suka, etc., Maitreya, the characters of the Mahabharata, the gods Brahma, but also Kapila, Buddha, the Jain Rsabhadeva, etc.

[18] Prabhupada rejected outright Gandhi's solution for the untouchable problem, decrying it as merely rubber-stamping them as harijanas without any true character reform by which they would become true 'people of God' as the word harijana indicates (661223CC.NY; 770410R2.BOM).

[19] Interestingly, however, while discussing the education of sudras in his varnasrama system, Prabhupada approves of the idea of limiting the education of lower castes.

In India the caste system was very good. From the very beginning the children would learn the technology of the father. Just like the potter's children. The potter's children would also make a small bird, a small fruit, or small playing utensils- small glasses or plates-which would then be sold. They would be purchased by other children. In this way, the whole family used to earn something. Nowadays they're sent to school, wasting time, and then unemployment and idle brain. What is the use of sending a potter's son to school? (770714RC.VRN)

[20] (72-02-04.VAI) Letter to Vaikunthanatha. This comment was inspired by devotees taking over an empty Hindu temple in South Africa. Prabhupada was also prompted to say on at least one occasion that Christianity was dead (730515MW.LA).

[21] This is a rival school of thought to the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition that holds that the highest form of realisation is a formless God.

[22] Even though in his books, Prabhupada frequently translates the word nastika by the English 'atheist', he defines it as someone who does not believe in the Vedas. In his conversations, however, an atheist is often anyone who does not accept Krsna as God. Nastika is found in CC Madhya 5.87 to mean one not believing in isvara, and in CC Madhya 6.186. Pasandi Sankaracarya is said to have written an atheistic philosophy (CC Madhya 6.180).

[23] Also 76-09-18.GAU. 760802R3.PAR.

[24] In a conversation with the Indian ambassador to Sweden. Interestingly, Prabhupada's example indicates that he felt the government should impose vegetarianism on Christians in accordance with their commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill.'

[25] Prabhupada did not take absolute shelter of Hindu activists on this occasion. When further troubles arose in connection with obtaining permission to build on Hare Krsna Land, Prabhupada refused to take the political route through the Jan Sangh, but saw it as an opportunity for vigorous preaching (Lilamrta 5, 201).

[26] Advaita Prabhu dasa, VAST discussions. I have made liberal use of ideas and comments which were made on the VAST (Vaisnava Advanced Studies) conference, an Internet discussion group, in October 1998. I have not given the names of these devotees here, but have summarised their ideas.

[27] 'Essentials of Hindutva' in Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya, Hindu Rastra Darshan, vol. 6, p.64. Poona, Maharastra Prantik Hindusabha, 1964. Cited in Klaus K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism, Albany: SUNY Press, 1989, p. 33.

[28] Hrdayananda dasa Goswami. VAST discussions.

[29] Theodore de Bary, W., (ed.) Sources of Indian Tradition. New York and London: Columbia University Press, vol. 2, 1958, p. 335.

[30] The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, vol. I, 17th edition, Calcutta: Adwaita Ashram, 1986, p. 5.

[31] Ibid, p. 4.

[32] Smith, Donald E., India as a Secular State, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1963. 'There is a real danger that the "no-preference" doctrine may be used to justify state promotion of a syncretic "Universal Religion of Man" which is nevertheless based on Hindu assumptions. This tendency was clearly revealed in the Radhakrishnan report on university education.' Prabhupada's feelings about S. Radhakrishnan have already been revealed earlier in this work. By 'Hindu assumptions' we understand, evidently, 'advaitic Hindu assumptions'.

[33] 'The aim of ISKCON is not to found a new religious sect, but to invoke the living entity's dormant love of God, and thus provide the human society of all faiths with a common platform of clear theistic knowledge and practice. Members of ISKCON may retain their own respective religious faiths, as ISKCON is meant to establish a clear, practical common formulation of the common ideal of all theists, and to defeat the unnecessary dogmatic wranglings that now divide and invalidate the theistic camp. This common ideal of theism is to develop love of God' (68-08- 24ROL). 'The conflict is not between East and West; the conflict is between the atheists and the theists. We are preaching Krsna consciousness, not that we are trying to replace something by Indian method to Christian method or Jewish method' (680924IVNEA).

[34] The Bhagavad-gita. London: Oxford University Press, 1969, p. 187.

[35] Hinduism for our Times, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 78.

[36] Hrdayananda dasa Goswami, posting on VAST, October, 1998.