The Krsna Consciousness movement is often mistakenly identified as being a form of Hindusim, but that is not correct. Krsna consciousness is Vaisnavism, a spiritual philosophy that is in no way connected with the pantheism, polytheism and caste consciousness pervading Hinduism. Although Vaisnavism shares a common historical connection with Hinduism by way of their roots in India's ancient Vedic culture, Hinduism has become a sectarian identifier, not a religious one. Krsna consciousness, on the other hand, is a universal approach to Sanatana-dharma, eternal religion that transcends relative, sectarian designations.
"Hinduism" is actually a contrived word. "Hindu" is not a word found in the Sanskrit dictionary. Rather, it comes from a mis-pronunciation of "Sindhu", the Sanskrit name for the river, Indus. The word "Hindu" came into being as a result of the Mohammedans having difficulty pronouncing the letter "S". Thus, their use of the word to describe people living by the Indus river became "Hindus" rather than "Sindus". In fact, the term Hindu is more a geographic description than a religious description.
While the term "Hindu" is often associated with India's spiritual or cultural milieu, the correct term describing the Vedic religion is "Sanatanam", or 'the eternal' religion. The Vedas teach that Sanatana religion is meant not only for the Hindus or Indians, or even just for humanity at large, but for all living entities on earth. The cultural institution associated with this Sanatana religion is called "varnasrama". There are four varnas, or divisions of social order: brahmana, ksatri, vaisya, sudra. In the pure Vedic culture, the varnas provided a scientific means for organizing society. Today, the varnas have degraded into what is known as India's caste system - a system that has no similarity to the Vedic system of varnas. The four asramas, or four divisions of spiritual order, are brahmacari, grhastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa, which describe the individual's spiritual progression through life. Vedic civilization, therefore, is called varnasrama-dharma, not Hindu-dharma.
"...Our propaganda is not to proselytize people from Christian to Hinduism. Our propaganda is to make everyone know this fact, that everyone is eternally servant of Krsna. That is our propaganda. ...We are trying to convince people that "Your original position is servant of Krsna. You have now forgotten that. You revive your Krsna consciousness, and you'll become happy." That is our propaganda.
Do not misunderstand that we are trying to spread Hinduism. Hinduism is a fictitious term. Because there is no fixed-up conclusion. Somebody's accepting this, somebody... Even the Jains and the Sikhs and many other sub-religions, they are also ruled by the Hindu rules, Hindu law. So actually this word Hindu is given by the Muhammadans. We don't find this word in the Vedic literature, Hindu."
Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 10-27-72, Vrindaban
"When Lord Caitanya talked with the great devotee Ramananda Raya, the Lord asked him, "What is the basic principle of human life?" Ramananda Raya answered that human civilization begins when varnasrama-dharma is accepted. Before coming to the standard of varnasrama-dharma there is no question of human civilization. Therefore, the Krsna consciousness movement is trying to establish this right system of human civilization, which is known as Krsna consciousness, or daiva-varnasrama -- divine culture.
In India, the varnasrama system has now been taken in a perverted way, and thus a man born in the family of a brahmana (the highest social order) claims that he should be accepted as a brahmana. But this claim is not accepted by the sastra (scripture). One's forefather may have been a brahmana according to gotra, or the family hereditary order, but real varnasrama-dharma is based on the factual quality one has attained, regardless of birth or heredity. Therefore, we are not preaching the present-day system of the Hindus, especially those who are under the influence of Sankaracarya, for Sankaracarya taught that the Absolute Truth is impersonal, and thus he indirectly denied the existence of God.
Sankaracarya's mission was special; he appeared to reestablish the Vedic influence after the influence of Buddhism. Because Buddhism was patronized by Emperor Asoka, twenty-six hundred years ago the Buddhist religion practically pervaded all of India. According to the Vedic literature, Buddha was an incarnation of Krsna who had a special power and who appeared for a special purpose. His system of thought, or faith, was accepted widely, but Buddha rejected the authority of the Vedas. While Buddhism was spreading, the Vedic culture was stopped both in India and in other places. Therefore, since Sankaracarya's only aim was to drive away Buddha's system of philosophy, he introduced a system called Mayavada.
Strictly speaking, Mayavada philosophy is atheism, for it is a process in which one imagines that there is God. This Mayavada system of philosophy has been existing since time immemorial. The present Indian system of religion or culture is based on the Mayavada philosophy of Sankaracarya, which is a compromise with Buddhist philosophy. According to Mayavada philosophy there actually is no God, or if God exists, He is impersonal and all-pervading and can therefore be imagined in any form. This conclusion is not in accord with the Vedic literature. That literature names many demigods, who are worshiped for different purposes, but in every case the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, Visnu, is accepted as the supreme controller. That is real Vedic culture.
The ultimate goal of this movement is to educate people in how to love God. Caitanya Mahaprabhu approves the conclusion that the highest perfection of human life is to learn how to love God. The Krsna consciousness movement has nothing to do with the Hindu religion or any system of religion. No Christian gentleman will be interested in changing his faith from Christian to Hindu. Similarly, no Hindu gentleman of culture will be ready to change to the Christian faith. Such changing is for men who have no particular social status. But everyone will be interested in understanding the philosophy and science of God and taking it seriously. One should clearly understand that the Krsna consciousness movement is not preaching the so-called Hindu religion. We are giving a spiritual culture that can solve all the problems of life, and therefore it is being accepted all over the world."
Science of Self-Realization, Chapter 3
Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.