Radhadesh is a spiritual community founded in 1979. It is based in the Château de Petite Somme – a 19th century castle in the Belgian Ardennes. The community and facilities are spread over 47 hectares, and include pasturing grounds and scenic woodland. There are around 100 people who live in the community. Radhadesh is a non-profit organization (an a.s.b.l. / v.z.w) administered by a democratic general council, and is the main centre for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in the Benelux.
Hinduism is a broad term used to refer to the whole of India’s indigenous religious culture. However, the term ‘Hinduism’ was not originally coined by Indians themselves, but was introduced by the Persians to refer to the culture of the people beyond the Indus (a river located in Pakistan). Hinduism therefore includes many different traditions.
Vaishnavism, the tradition to which ISKCON belongs, is an important branch of Hinduism. Vaishnavas are devotees of Krishna (or His primary expansions). According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1996 there were about 560 million Vaishnavas worldwide – that number has greatly increased since then. Vaishnavism has the largest number of followers among the various groups in India. Vaishnavas come from all walks of life, with varying degrees of commitment.
The Indian Renaissance, 15th Century
The precepts and practices of ISKCON were taught and codified by the 15th century saint and religious reformer Sri Caitanya. Sri Caitanya gave a powerful impetus for a massive devotional movement that began in his home province of Bengal, but which eventually spread throughout India. As a reformer, he strongly opposed sectarianism – especially within the caste system. Under his direction hundreds of volumes of philosophy were compiled. He promoted the chanting of the holy name of God in the form of the maha-mantra to help people re-establish a loving relationship with God. Followers of Sri Caitanya are also known as Gaudiya Vaishnavas.
19th Century Reformers
Many Indian scholars have followed in the line of Sri Caitanya including, in the 19th century, the outstanding theologian, Bhaktivinoda Thakura who brought Krishna consciousness to a modern audience. Bhaktivinoda’s son, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, was the teacher of Srila Prabhupada (the founder of ISKCON) and encouraged him to bring Krishna consciousness to the Western world.
The founder of ISKCON, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, incorporated the society in 1966. Most ISKCON members practice Krishna consciousness in their homes and live and work in society – only visiting their local temple for special occasions such as festivals. The society has centres in practically all countries and major cities of the world and is dedicated to the propagation of spiritual culture.
Governing Body Commission (GBC)
In 1970 Srila Prabhupada formed the GBC to help manage ISKCON. The GBC, which meets annually, continues to the present day, providing general guidelines for the society. Decisions are made by democratic voting in consultation with local leaders.
For more information about worldwide centers you can see www.iskcon.com.