One of the most important principles underpinning the Krishna consciousness movement is reliance on spiritual authority. Srila Prabhupada consistently pointed out that whatever he taught came from previous spiritual masters in his line and from the Vedic scriptures, especially quintessential Vaishnava scriptures like the Srimad-Bhagavatam. He insisted he was not presenting any new ideas but was passing on Lord Krishna’s teachings as they had been delivered down through the centuries by His representatives.
We recently received a set of questions from a student preparing a paper for a course called World Religions in America. The first question was “Who is the founder of this religion?”
For us, the answer is not so simple. Four possible answers quickly come to mind: The founder of the Krishna consciousness movement is (1) Krishna or (2) Caitanya Mahaprabhu or (3) Srila Prabhupada. Or (4) there is no founder, because Krishna consciousness is the eternal religion of all souls.
To avoid confusion, we sometimes refer to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness as “the modern-day Krishna consciousness movement.” In a sense, Prabhupada started a religion when he incorporated ISKCON. But to assume that he invented new religious ideas is mistaken. He created a home in America for the eternal religion.
We sometimes apply the term “the founder of the modern-day Krishna consciousness movement” to someone else: Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. This too makes sense, since the flavor of devotional service to Lord Krishna that Srila Prabhupada delivered is distinctively that revealed by Lord Caitanya. Devotees in ISKCON are Gaudiya (“Bengali”) Vaishnavas or, more accurately, Caitanya Vaishnavas. According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other scriptures, Lord Krishna descended as Caitanya Mahaprabhu about five hundred years ago to show us how to follow the eternal religion of devotional service to Krishna in the current age, Kaliyuga. Lord Caitanya taught that the chief practice of the religion of devotional service, or Krishna consciousness, in Kali-yuga is the congregational chanting of the names of God (sankirtana), especially the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. So Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the founder of the sankirtana movement, another name for the Krishna consciousness movement.
This issue of Back to Godhead corresponds with the anniversary of the day on which Lord Caitanya arrived on earth. Members of ISKCON, along with millions of other Caitanya Vaishnavas, celebrate that day as Sri Gaura Purnima. “Gaura,” meaning “golden,” is a name for Caitanya because of His glowing golden complexion. And Purnima means “the full moon,” as He appeared on a full-moon day.
The full moon is a fitting metaphor for the religion Lord Caitanya “founded.” Whenever I drive to the temple before dawn under a full moon, I’m always amazed by how much I can see under the moonlight alone. While Lord Krishna revealed much about Himself when He was present on earth five thousand years ago, when He came as Caitanya Mahaprabhu He shined a brilliant light that revealed intimate aspects of Himself never seen before. He didn’t invent anything new; He just showed us more of the eternally existing spiritual reality.