Practicing Krishna Consciousness
How should one pray to Krishna? Is one supposed to light incense and chant? Is there any particular time of day one should pray?
There are so many Vaishnava bhajans, songs, that can be sung as prayers. You can also find many, many wonderful prayers in the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita which you can repeat as prayers yourself. You can go before the murti, deity, of the Lord and offer pranams, respects, and prayers. You can pray to the Lord any time of the day or night, He is in your heart and He is always listening.
Be a bit careful for what you pray for. If you're praying for health, wealth, happiness, for you or your family member, it's always best to approach Krishna. That show of dependence is both accurate and helpful for making spiritual advancement.
But in a higher sense, praying for the privilege of Krishna consciousness, devotional service, will grant you the greatest happiness in the long run. Ideally, a devotee doesn't pray for material things. Krishna is very merciful to His devotees and He awards them what they need in order to make spiritual progress and to ultimately get out of the material world.
If we're materialistic in our motivation, it may appear that Krishna's answers to our prayers contradict what we think we need! So be open and honest in your prayers. Glorify the Lord and seek what He desires you to have. He already knows what we need, and cares about us more than we can realize. He likes when we acknowledge that and make the effort to communicate with Him. Accept whatever He offers as His loving arrangement for your spiritual progress and be grateful for what comes.
I hope this is helpful.
Can I become Krishna conscious without becoming a vegetarian and living in an ashram? I'm disabled and live far away from any temple.
It is possible to practice Krishna Consciousness without being vegetarian. However, you should be aware that nonviolence to all living entities is very important for anyone's spiritual development. Offering what one eats to Krishna and taking the remnants as prasadam is even more important, and Krishna does not accept any non-vegetarian offerings.
Krishna devotees don't consider themselves "vegetarian." Even pigeons and monkeys are vegetarian, and there's not much virtue in being a pigeon or a monkey. Technically, devotees of Krishna are "prasad-ivores," meaning that we only eat what has been offered to Krishna. We offer Him what He likes—fruits, veggies, milk products, grains etc. If you want to become Krishna conscious, at least eat what Krishna likes, and offer them to Krishna—at least in your mind—before eating.
Other aspects of Krishna Consciousness that you can take up without becoming vegetarian are chanting Hare Krishna and reading Srila Prabhupada's books. You can listen to lectures online from Srila Prabhupada and other senior devotees and associate with devotees online as well. These are things you can do immediately and without any problem, regardless of your eating habits or proximity to a temple.
You say you live far away, but really no one is far away anymore. The world is small enough to fit into a computer screen. Take advantage of that by associating with devotees from all over the world, any time, from anywhere. I suggest you check out ISKCONdesiretree.com. There you will find unlimited ways to connect with devotees and Krishna Consciousness.
If you're able to use a computer—which I assume you are since you're asking these questions on Krishna.com—perhaps you can attend classes on Skype, or participate in other online classes. My son is a quadriplegic, yet he manages to do many, many interactive things via the computer.
If you're really interested in taking up the process of Krishna Consciousness, there are so many options for serving, hearing, chanting, and finding out more and more about Krishna. As your Krishna consciousness develops, you'll naturally become inclined to give up eating meat, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sexual connection. Where there is a will, there is a way. Ultimately, every devotee aspires to follow these four regulative principles but don't stop trying to become Krishna conscious just because you don't currently follow any of them. Just do what you can and Krishna will help you.
I hope this is helpful.
Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that He will accept a flower, water or a leaf. Where in scripture does it say that milk, sugar, and grains are also ok?
When Krishna says offer me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, and water; this includes all offerings coming from plants. Basically, grains are considered the flower and/or the fruit of that plant. Sugar is distilled from the stalk of the sugar cane plant.
There are many places in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, especially in the chapters describing Krishna's childhood pastimes, the chapter on Govardhana-puja, and the wives of the brahmanas satisfying Krishna and his friends, which offer vivid descriptions of milk and milk products being prepared by devotees, and offered to the Lord. He loves cows, He regularly drinks milk, and eats butter and yogurt.
Also in the Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya lila chapter 3, there are lists of many preparations prepared by devotees, with various ingredients that were offered to the Lord.
Basically the understanding is that animals and their embryos shouldn't be sacrificed for the palate of man. Krishna doesn't accept the offerings that come from such violence.
I hope this is helpful.
Devotees of Krishna decorate their bodies with markings called tilaka. Tilaka is made from a mixture of sacred clay and water, and applied with the ring finger and/or with wooden stamps. The forehead marking is the most visible, but devotees place similar marks in thirteen places—on the arms, chest, neck, and back—while reciting mantras, prayers for Krishna's protection.
As devotees of sports teams sometimes decorate themselves with their team's colors and insignias to remind themselves and others of the glories of their team, Krishna devotees wear tilaka as a reminder that we are all sparks of living spiritual energy within material bodies.
Tilaka is meant to designate the body as a temple of the spirit within, marking it as the property of the Supreme Person, Krishna, meant to be utilized in His service. Krishna Himself decorates His own face with tilaka; so anyone who sees the tilaka marking on the forehead of Krishna devotees is reminded of Krishna—either consciously or subconsciously.
Of course. Growing tulasi is not always possible, especially in colder areas where she has to be protected from the cold. Sometimes temples in northern climates keep a framed photograph of Tulasi on the altar if they aren't able to maintain actual plants. Krishna is very kind, and does not reject His devotees' worship on a technicality. At the same time, He is pleased when His devotees make an effort to do things—such as growing and maintaining tulasi plants—just for His pleasure.
Practice makes perfect. Try to engage the mind in practical service and hearing and chanting about Krishna. In this way, it won't have time to contemplate the objects of the senses.
Don't purposely go places or do things that you have experience will agitate your mind sexually. And do not get despondent, as it takes time to train up the lusty mind.
Meditating on the beautiful form of Krishna, beginning with His lotus feet, helps free the mind from lust. It may seem hard to believe, but if you try it, you will see it works.
It's true that work for fruitive results is not recommended in the Bhagavad-gita, because that will result in another temporary, miserable, material body. Thus, in Bhagavad-gita 3.9, we see that Krishna recommends work as sacrifice for Lord Vishnu.
It is always helpful to think of the Lord as the proprietor of your home, and your family members as His eternal servants. Then you can perform the activities of maintaining them as service to Krishna.
Some householders also have Deities of Krishna and perform some daily worship. All these things are meant to help us absorb our consciousness in thoughts of service to Krishna. With practice, in time, this will become our habitual way of thinking.
We're all spiritual beings, eternal servants of Krishna, so it's only natural that we should think and act this way. You should never give up your spiritual practice. It's the one area of activity that guarantees ultimate success in life—even if you think you're not practicing perfectly. Krishna appreciates your efforts.
Especially in populated areas, the media constantly bombards our senses. This affects our consciousness, often in unhelpful ways. The best counteractive measure is to always chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This can be sung in unlimited melodies. It's often possible to chant Hare Krishna along with radio, cinema, and TV tunes.
Some devotees, such as Yama Niyama dasa Brahmacari, compose their own Krishna conscious lyrics to popular songs. You may also think about how even many of the most mundane sounds are indirectly glorifying Krishna. "Love songs," for example, are inspired by the longing of the soul for union with the Supreme Person, but in the material world such sentiments are improperly directed toward temporary, material objects of worship.
The more we saturate our consciousness with Krishna, whether by chanting His names, hearing about Him by reading Bhagavad-gita or Srimad-Bhagavatam, or even taking audiobooks about Krishna with us wherever we go, the ever-present materialistic sound vibrations of this world won't affect us as much as if we weren't so protected.
You dilemma is a common one. When we're in the association of devotees we feel strong and inspired and when we're away from them we feel weaker and it's more difficult to practice Krishna consciousness.
The solution is to keep good association, in many ways, as much as possible. Chant every day, preferably in the morning, to associate with Krishna and focus the mind. Try to chant in a quiet place with few distractions. Take association via internet as well via lectures. ISKCONDESIRETREE.com and Krishna.com are excellent sites for getting various types of Krishna Conscious association, movies, drama, pictures, music etc.
Go to the temple as much as possible. Develop friendships with the devotees and keep in contact with them even when you're not at the temple. Invite devotees to your home for kirtan and/or prasadam. Tell others about Krishna. That's always an excellent way to improve one's Krishna Consciousness and become/remain strong. Also regularly read Srila Prabhupada's books. Every day for one hour is good.
Keep trying to do these things and you'll find they develop your muscles in serving Krishna and help you to be strong.