The Hare Krishna Religion is 5,000 years old, in its present form. It is known as Gaudia Vaishnavism.
The religion received its first revival 500 years ago with the advent of Lord Chaitanya, a Saint who brought forth the practice of chanting the Name of God for liberation. Most recently it was brought to the west by Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada, a renunciant from India who traveled to the west by order of his Guru, who wished the religion be given to the English speaking countries. Prabhupada came to America in 1966, and in twelve years circled the globe establishing many Temples and communities for Krishna Consciousness.
In America, for some decades, the Krishna religion has been considered a cult. All the social stereotypes of brainwashing, coercion, belief in many gods, "begging" at airports and other bad qualities were ascribed to the movement. This was unfortunately exacerbated by mistakes made by members of the movement and the general disorganized make-up of the organization in its early days. The Movement is formally known as The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON.
These "problems" have lately (1989) been resolved by better organization at the leadership level, and the development of an enrolled-congregation (1993). The fact is that the Hare Krishna movement is a revived tradition of legitimate Hindu Faith, but has suffered he growing pains of a developing Church Organization.
The main scripture of this Religion is the Bhagavada Gita, "The song of God", spoken by Krishna Himself 5,000 years ago to His friend Arjuna, on a battlefield set for epic war in south India. The other main scriptures are the Srimad Bhagavatam, a work that is about 8,500 years old, and considered the "cream" of all Vedic literature, with explanations of God, His power, creation and its processes, relationship with this world and mankind, etc.; a thorough and complete scientific work of spirituality, and acknowledged as the source of all Yoga practices and Metaphysical knowledge, it is called "the Mother of all the Vedas". (about 39 volumes)
The religion itself is Monotheistic. There is only one God, Shri Krishna, and He is an eternal person, with an eternal spiritual body. When He appears in the universe for one purpose or another, He changes the form of His spiritual body, at His own Will. He never takes on a material, flesh and bone body.
The object of the Faith is to return to Krishna in His abode in the Spiritual Sky. In this Vedic-age called Kali-yuga (time of derision and fights) the recommended method of liberation is chanting the Holy Name in this mantra form; "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare". In most general terms, this mantra means "O devotional potency of the Lord, please engage me in God's service"… that is only a general interpretation.
The devotional standards of this religion appear as four regulative principals; No Meat-eating, No Intoxication, No Gambling, and No illicit sex. These standards are to be striven for and attained in concert with devotional activities prescribed by the above mentioned Vedic scriptures. As these four simple standards can actually be a lofty stage of pure living, and many who identify with the movement find all the details related to this orthodox faith rather difficult to achieve. I had created the five stage system of congregational advancement, which now organizes the congregants from novices to the more advanced stages. The ultimate goal of belonging to the main-organization and its Gurus, is initiation; to be a monk or initiated house-holder. This can only be granted when the developed congregant achieves a steadiness of lifestyle conducive to higher spiritual advancement. How ever, since I had introduce the Congregational standards, it is easier to worship in the movement without initiation, but rather to worship at a level consistent with one's current abilities or level of desire.