ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna Consciousness) is twenty years old. On the evening of July 11, 1966, at a storefront on Second Avenue in New York City (then the one and only ISKCON center), Srila Prabhupada requested a handful of his friends and followers to become trustees of his fledgling religious movement. Happy to help Srila Prabhupada, who was then known as "Swamiji" several of the young men and women who had been regularly attending Prabhupada's evening Bhagavad-gita lectures stepped forward, leafed through the incorporation document, and signed their names.
The signers understood that Swamiji was forming a society, a society to "systematically propagate spiritual knowledge" and to "teach . . . congregational chanting of the holy name of God." But an international society? What was international about a Second Avenue storefront? And who even knew of ISKCON and Swamiji beyond New York's Lower East Side?
Srila Prabhupada, however, envisioned a worldwide organization with centers in every country, in every city, town, and village. He had tried to start such an organization in India ten years earlier, but his countrymen had shown little interest. Now he was incorporating ISKCON in New York, and his plans remained the same: to spread Krsna consciousness to every country, including India this time with the support of newly-made Western devotees of Krsna.
In the ISKCON articles of incorporation Srila Prabhupada stated seven purposes for his society. And over the past twenty years (at first with Prabhupada directly at the helm, and now with his disciples and granddisciples following the directions he left), his desires have been increasingly fulfilled, as the accompanying photos illustrate. Even today Srila Prabhupada's purposes for ISKCON are a tall order: "to develop the idea within humanity at large that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna)."
In other words, there is still sometimes a sense of wonder at the scope of Srila Prabhupada's vision for ISKCON. It is as if we were all still living in a Second Avenue storefront able only to imagine Srila Prabhupada's vision of a worldwide, world-changing spiritual movement. Perhaps these photographs will serve to remind us just how far ISKCON has come in twenty years, thus making the rest of the journey a little more conceivable.