Vaisnavism is one of the major traditions within the broader Vedic, or Hindu, spiritual culture. Unlike some Vedic traditions, Vaisnavas believe that the ultimate reality is personal. Thus, they understand that God is the Supreme all-attractive person, or Krishna. They acknowledge that all living beings are eternal persons, and that all life’s problems are rooted in the individual soul’s forgetfulness of his or her relationship with God.
Vaisnavas teach that by chanting God’s names the soul can reawaken his original spiritual knowledge, live peacefully in this life and return to the spiritual realm, or Vaikuntha, the place of no anxiety, at the time of death.
There are four main sampradayas or Vaisnava lineages all based originally in India. Vaisnavas worship Lord Vishnu, Lord Rama, and Lord Krishna as different manifestations of the same Supreme Lord or one supreme divinity, although the styles of worship and emphasis differ.
The Vaisnava tradition has widely influenced South Asian culture through music, dance, theater and art. Vaisnavism’s heartfelt philosophy and poetic sacred texts integrate a profound theology with astute social discourse. The key Vaishnava sastras, or scriptures, are Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad-gita, included in the longer work, the Mahabharata, the Srimad Bhagavatam (one of the eighteen Puranas), the Ramayana, and the more recent 16th Century Sri Caitanya-caritamrita.
ISKCON is part of the Gaudiya, or Caitanya Vaisnava, tradition, which hails from the eastern regions of India. Gaudiyas place special emphasis on the teachings of 16th Century saint and avatar, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Gaudiya Vaisnavism in turn gave rise to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which was founded by Srila Prabhupada in 1966. His organization, ISKCON, has increased the awareness and growth of Vaisnavism worldwide since the late 1960s. Today Vaisnava teachings have crossed all geographic borders and proven relevant in addressing humanity’s essential needs.