Hare Krishna Maha-mantra
Sound can change the world. Especially when the sound is from out of this world.
by Satyaraja dasa
We should never underestimate the power of words. A few properly chosen words, spoken or sung, can change history. La Marseillaise inflamed mobs during the French Revolution. Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” inspired the Yankees to continue giving “the last full measure of devotion.” The Horst Wessel Song fueled the dictatorship of Nazi Germany. We Shall Overcome unified the civil rights movement. And the songs of Bob Dylan and the Beatles helped create an entire counterculture.
But all these words, powerful as they were, couldn’t solve the real problems of existence—repeated birth, old age, disease, and death. Time passed, the impact of these songs and pronouncements faded, people forgot. And the inexorable problems of life in the material world continued unabated.
To solve these problems we need to hear and vibrate words that are supra-mundane, words that can inspire us at the deepest spiritual level. Such words do exist, and they are described in ancient India’s Vedic literature as shabda-brahman, “the Absolute Truth in the form of words, or sound.”
For thousands of years the sacred texts of the Vedas have taught that one can extricate himself from the bonds of material life by hearing and chanting transcendental sounds. The common, unenlightened person is in a sleeplike state, oblivious of his real nature as a spiritual being and of his relationship to the Supreme Being. The Vedas say, “Wake up! Having attained the human form of life, achieve self-realization and break out of the bonds of repeated birth and death.”
According to the Vedic literatures, shabda-brahman can awaken us from our materialistic slumber. But this spiritual sound must be received from those adept at the process of bhakti-yoga, devotional service to the Supreme Lord. In other words, these sounds may be given to the common man, asleep to spiritual life, by one who is awake and fully cognizant of his spiritual nature. Such an initiator into the truths of spiritual sound is called a guru, or spiritual master.
The Vedic literature asserts that the nonpareil of all spiritual sounds is the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, the Great Chant for Deliverance—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Chanting these sixteen words is the best way to awaken to our spiritual life. The word Krishna is a name of God meaning “the all-attractive one,” Rama means “the all-pleasing one,” and Hare is an invocation to Hara, Krishna’s internal spiritual energy. Thus the Hare Krishna mantra is a prayer to the Lord and His energy for the privilege of engaging in His service. If we regularly hear and chant this sound vibration, we will become pure, enlightened, and awake to our eternal life of bliss and knowledge in the service of the Lord.
Although anyone can start chanting Hare Krishna at any time and make definite spiritual progress, there is an art and science to chanting. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna Himself in the role of His own devotee, appeared in Bengal, India, five hundred years ago to teach that art and science. Lord Caitanya based His teachings on authoritative Vedic texts like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. He taught that the name of the Lord is His sound incarnation and that since the Lord is absolute there is no difference between His name and Him personally. Thus, by chanting the holy name of God, we can directly associate with Krishna through sound.
As we become adept at chanting and hearing the Hare Krishna mantra, we pass through three stages: the offensive stage, the clearing stage, and the perfected stage. In the offensive stage we still desire various kinds of sense pleasure, but we are struggling to become pure. In the second stage we clear off all material contamination and begin to taste the real nectar of the name. And in the perfected stage we attain the most coveted goal—pure love of God. Lord Caitanya taught that love of God is the highest goal of all living beings, the very essence of authentic spirituality. The mission of the Hare Krishna movement is to follow, realize, and propagate the teachings of Lord Caitanya.
The information in the Vedic literature about sound vibration and man’s relationship with God is extremely confidential. Nonetheless, by the mercy of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who first propagated the Hare Krishna mantra outside India, everyone can now enter into the mysteries of these divine truths simply by chanting the transcendental names of God—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. These are truly the words that are changing history.
When chanting Hare Krishna we practice neglecting the mind and paying attention to the sound of the holy names. It doesn't matter what crazy ideas the mind comes up with. Our concern is just to hear the sound vibration of every syllable of the Hare Krishna mantra. When we notice that we're paying attention to the mind and not the mantra, then we bring the mind back to the mantra.
Because we have paid close attention and obediently served our mind for as many as millions of births, the difficulty of ignoring it and focusing on the sound of the mantra should not be surprising. But just as a mother patiently keeps her children from causing trouble—although they do the same stupid things again and again—we must patiently control our minds.
It's important to always try to control the mind by hearing the sound of the mantra attentively. In the course of time, we will improve at it. Krishna will appreciate our efforts and give mercy in the course of time.
As long as we're chanting, we should be hearing. Try to focus on one mantra at a time, and then part of the mantra at a time, and then a smaller part. Then you won't have time to meditate on the distracting thoughts of the mind and you will become purified by hearing the mantra.
First, make a determination to do nothing else except focus on the mantra for this period of time. Then focus on the sound of one mantra at a time, and go on to the next. Don't lament about the past or dream about the future, just listen to the sound of the mantra, whether you like it or not, because it is Krishna's desire we chant His name in this age. Set a fixed number of rounds to chant and then gradually increase.
The Hare Krishna mantra is a chant meant for enhancing consciousness to the greatest possible degree. Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra can give peace, happiness, God realization, freedom from repeated birth and death, and total self-fulfillment. Also known as the maha-mantra—great chant—it consists of three Sanskrit names of the Supreme Being; "Hare," "Krishna," and "Rama."
The mantra is most commonly translated as, "O Lord, O Energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your service." It was popularized in the sixteenth century by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and spread worldwide in the late twentieth century by Srila Prabhupada.
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
(Pronunciation: ha-RAY, KRISH-na, RA-ma (rhymes with "drama")
What is Hare Krishna? Depending on the context in which the term is used, "Hare Krishna" could mean a number of things, including (but not limited to):
Hare Krishna is the beginning of the Hare Krishna mantra, a prayer for reviving our relationship with the Supreme Person:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
Often translated as, "O Lord, O Energy of the Lord, please engage me in your service," it is a nonsectarian call to God in the Sanskrit language that can be chanted by anyone for spiritual benefit.
More about the Hare Krishna mantra
Hare Krishna can also refer to the Hare Krishna movement, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. ISKCON was formed in 1966 to promote the spiritual wisdom of the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, which explain the original identity of every conscious being, the identity of the Supreme Person, and the means of reconnecting with that person through bhakti-yoga, also known as Krishna consciousness. Since members of the Hare Krishna movement practice widespread public sankirtan—chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra—they are often known as "Hare Krishnas."
More about the Hare Krishna movement
Hare Krishna also denotes the teachings of Krishna consciousness, which recommend devotional service to God as the goal of life and the most direct path to genuine spiritual happiness. All souls have a permanent relationship with the supreme soul, and the Hare Krishna teachings are meant to provide a framework for understanding and acting in that relationship.
More about Krishna consciousness
Hare Krishna also literally means "everything that exists." Krishna is a name for the Supreme Person, who is the ultimate source of all energies. "Hare" is a way of addressing Krishna's divine energy, also known as Srimati Radharani, the feminine aspect of the Absolute Truth. Everything that exists is either Krishna Himself of Krishna's energy. So, when you say, "Hare Krishna," you've literally said it all.
More about Srimati Radharani
Hare Krishna is also widely used by Krishna devotees as a greeting (similar to Hawaiians' use of "aloha" as "hello" and "goodbye"), as an all-purpose exclamation expressing either joy or grief (with the same sense as the Yiddish 'oy vey' or the English 'whoopee'), as a means of attracting attention (replacing 'hey, you!'), or even as a condolence. These are merely a few examples of the term's universality.
Since "Hare Krishna" (as mentioned above) means literally everything that exists, there's no limit to how many ways it can be used. All other phrases have limited use, whereas "Hare Krishna" can mean anything at any time, at least to Hare Krishnas.
More about Krishna Himself
by Bhakticaru Swami
Lord Jesus Christ, Mohammed, and all the world’s scriptures emphasize glorifying God’s names. What is unique about this kind of prayer?
According to Vedic calculation, great time spans are measured in yugas, or ages. The Vedas describe four yugas-Satya-yuga, Treta-yuga, Dvapara- yuga, and Kali-yuga-which repeat themselves in cyclical order like the four seasons. The duration of Satya-yuga is 1,728,000 years; Treta-yuga is 1,296,000 years; Dvapara-yuga, 864,000 years; and Kali-yuga, 432,000 years.
In Satya-yuga people are very pious. They almost never perform sinful activities. In Treta-yuga they are more inclined to sinful life, and even more so in Dvapara-yuga. Finally, in Kali-yuga impiety is almost completely dominant. Kali-yuga is like the winter of the yuga seasons.
The Vedic scriptures prescribe a specific kind of religious process for each of these ages. In Satya-yuga the process is meditation upon the form of the Lord. In Treta-yuga the process is offering sacrifices to the Lord. In Dvapara-yuga the process is gorgeous worship of the Deity in the temple. And in Kali-yuga the process is chanting God’s holy name. Being merciful, the Lord makes the process easier in each successive age, as people become less qualified because of the increase of sinful life.
Now it is the age of Kali, the most degraded of the four ages. We can see in our own lifetime how people are becoming more sinful. Meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex-the four pillars of sinful life-continue to increase everywhere. We can see that as these activities increase, the world becomes more and more miserable. All scriptures recommend chanting Krishna’s holy names to get free of misery.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam says that chanting is the only good thing about this age. Lord Jesus said, “Glorify the name of thy Father.” Similarly, Mohammed said, “Allah alone should we glorify.” These instructions are given repeatedly throughout the world’s great religions.
The question arises: “What’s so special about God’s names?” God does not have names like ours, which are mundane sounds given to us for the sake of our physical identity. God has no need for such identification. He has no physical identity; He is completely spiritual. But according to His divine, unlimited qualities and pastimes. He has innumerable names.
For example, in the Bible He has names that describe Him as “Almighty” and “Omnipotent.” Similarly, in the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures He has numerous names. The name Krishna means “all- attractive.” The name Rama means “giver of supreme pleasure.”
Because God has no mundane qualities, His name is not a mundane sound. It is spiritual and nondifferent from Him. And because God is absolute, His holy name is also absolute. When one chants His name, one is directly in touch with Him. When we begin chanting, however, we may not immediately feel His presence, because of our materially contaminated consciousness.
But because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, calling on His names is the most personal and intense form of prayer. If we practice chanting sincerely, we will soon feel God’s presence.
The Vedic literatures contain many mantras and prayers to the Lord, but only one maha-mantra. or great prayer. That prayer-Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama. Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare- addresses the Lord in His most sublime features: as Krishna, the all-attractive person, and as Rama, the giver of supreme pleasure. It means, “O all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead! O Supreme Enjoyer! Please deliver me from this material existence. Please engage me in Your loving devotional service.”
Prayers are appeals to God to fulfill our desires. In material consciousness we pray, “Lord, give me food; Lord, give me money.” But in spiritual life, instead of asking this or that for oneself, one wants to offer whatever he has to the Lord. One wants to serve Him. That’s why the Hare Krishna mantra is the highest form of prayer: it makes no selfish demands on the Lord. It is simply an appeal for engagement in His devotional service.
To teach the chanting of His holy name, Krishna appeared in this age in a wonderful form. Although He is the supreme proprietor, the supreme enjoyer, the possessor of all opulences, He appeared in this age as a mendicant-Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He accepted the renounced order, traveled all over India, and taught everyone, from scholars to kings to beggars, to chant the maha-mantra with firm faith.
To say that Sri Caitanya is God is not mere sentiment, a claim I make simply because I am His follower. No. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, and other scriptural sources describe His identity and predict His appearance in detail. They describe that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu descends to establish the religion of the age. During His appearance, Lord Caitanya predicted that the sankirtana movement of chanting the names of God would spread all over the world, and that has come true. Overlooking all sectarian conceptions, anyone who tries to understand Sri Caitanya’s real identity can easily recognize that He is the Supreme Person.
Now, it does not matter that Sri Caitanya appeared in India. God doesn’t belong to any geographical setting. He descends to bestow His mercy upon all. Wherever the Lord appears, it is for our benefit, if we follow His instructions.
Today, for example, most people in the Western world are followers of Lord Jesus Christ. They do not follow him because of where he appeared. They follow him because he is the son of God. Sincere devotees follow the Lord or His representative wherever they may appear. Devotees understand that the Lord and His representatives are actually from the divine realm and are not ordinary, mundane persons from a particular geographical area. Wherever such extraordinary persons appear in this world, that place becomes an extension of the spiritual world.
Still, if someone has difficulty accepting an “Indian” as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that’s, all right. No one should accept blindly, just on our saying so. But at least he can study the life and teachings of Sri Caitanya and see for himself whether it benefits his spiritual life. That is a practical test.
If we understand that God is our original and supreme father, it isn’t difficult to understand that He wants us to go back to Him. Nor is it difficult to understand that He makes various arrangements to take us back. In this degraded Kali age, when we have all but lost our spiritual vision. His holy name is His merciful arrangement to take us back.
Through chanting the holy name one comes to understand God’s form, abode, qualities, activities, and associates. On becoming fixed in transcendental knowledge, one realizes that everything belongs to God and, therefore, engages fully in His devotional service. That realization is the perfection of religion in all ages.
Reviving the Lost Practice of Japa Meditation—how chanting is a test of our purity, sincerity, and absorption in Krishna consciousness.
by Ravi Gupta
On the first of January this year, at our ISKCON center in Boise, Idaho, we held a “japathon”—an eight- hour session of japa (chanting the Hare Krishna mantra on beads). It was a spiritually rejuvenating way to begin the New Year, and many in our mostly Indian congregation took part wholeheartedly. Some chanters completed seventy-four rounds, while others did sixty-four, fifty, thirty-two, sixteen, or just a few.
Chintu Mudumbi, a fifteen-year-old who chanted seventy rounds, said of his experience, “When you chant like this, you realize that chanting actually works. All doubts about the reality of spiritual existence just go away. You begin to wonder why anyone would not take to the process.”
Many other participants had similar thoughts. They felt the great power and pleasure in the holy name of Krishna.
In India today japa is somewhat of a lost practice. Among a great variety of religious activities people perform, japa is almost always absent. Religious speakers promote many ways to express our devotion to God, but rarely does one hear the glories of the personal chanting of the holy names. Japa chanters are mostly devoted widows or renounced sadhus living in places of pilgrimage.
Chanting on japa beads can be embarrassing for some people. For example, when I was visiting India my aunt remarked, “You don’t realize—if I went outside the house with japa beads in my hand, people would laugh at me and think I’d left the world to become a saint.”
Even Indians who perform other spiritual practices find it difficult to get themselves to chant japa.
“I can sing or listen to hours of bhajanas [devotional songs],” said an Indian guest at the temple. “I can cook a feast for the Deities or read scripture—but I just cannot sit down and do japa.”
Yet japa is an important part of our heritage, and the Vedic scriptures extol its virtues. Srila Haridasa Thakura, an associate of Lord Chhaitanya, chanted 300,000 holy names every day. He is called namacarya, “the teacher of the holy name.” Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna Himself, also chanted a fixed number of rounds every day. King Kulashekhara, one of the great South Indian Alvars, writes in his Mukunda-mala-stotra, jihve shri-krishna-mantram japa japa satatam: “O tongue, please constantly chant the mantra composed of Sri Krishna’s names.” And in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says that of all sacrifices He is japa.
While all types of devotional service should ideally be done with full concentration on Krishna, we often derive secondary benefits from them, even when we’re distracted. For example, we might listen to bhajanas for the pleasing music, cook prasadam to fulfill the family’s needs, or read scripture out of intellectual curiosity. But chanting japa without focusing the mind on the holy names tends not to give secondary benefits. So it is a test of our purity, sincerity, and absorption in Krishna consciousness.
We have to work toward pure chanting, which will gradually bring us to the stage of ecstatic love of God. We have to carefully avoid offending the holy name. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sukadeva Gosvami tells Maharaja Pariksit,“If one’s heart does not change, tears do not flow from his eyes, his body does not shiver, nor his hairs stand on end as he chants the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, it should be understood that his heart is as hard as iron. This is due to his offenses at the lotus feet of the Lord’s holy name.”
Srila Prabhupada required his disciples to chant at least sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra every day. That would help them progress in the pure chanting of the holy names. Prabhupada writes, “This chanting of sixteen rounds is absolutely necessary if one wants to remember Krishna and not forget Him. Of all the regulative principles, the spiritual master’s order to chant at least sixteen rounds is most essential.”
So let us pick up our japa beads and chant in earnest—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
by Garuda dasa
“Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the name of the Lord; praise Him, O ye servants of the Lord… . Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.” (Psalms, 135, 150)
Among all the practices of the Hare Krishna movement, the most prominent is the public chanting of God’s names, ecstatic dancing, and playing of musical instruments—a spontaneous street liturgy common in most major cities throughout the world. Yet upon first seeing devotees chanting and dancing on a busy downtown street of a modern Western city, many people understandably experience a kind of culture shock. Perhaps it’s the devotees’ uncommon appearance, or the unfamiliar music, or the mere presence of a group of people celebrating something right on the street. In any case, the spectacle of ecstatic dancing, chanting, and music-making certainly warrants an explanation, and we can begin with some historical background.
One day, in early sixteenth-century India, Sri Krishna Chaitanya requested the people of the Bengali town of Navadvipa to chant the Hare Krishna mantra in every one of their homes. Before long, these devotees became so overwhelmed and intoxicated by the chanting of the holy names of God that they burst out of their homes into the streets. One of Sri Chaitanya’s biographers says, “No one in Navadvipa could hear any sound other than the words ‘Hare Krishna! Hare Rama!’ and the beating of mridanga drums and the clashing of hand cymbals.” Accompanied by these musical instruments, Sri Chaitanya would chant with such devotional ecstasy that huge crowds of people would gather to chant and dance through the streets of Navadvipa and into the nearby villages.
Thus Sri Chaitanya, who is accepted by devotees as an incarnation of Godhead and by historians as one of the greatest devotional mystics in the history of the world’s religions, introduced this most dramatic expression of devotion, known as sankirtana. Although we can trace the idea of sankirtana back thousands of years, not until Sri Chaitanya was its full potential realized, for it was He who first demonstrated its universal attraction. For six years He traveled widely in India by foot, and wherever He went He introduced the practice of sankirtana. Thereafter, it was accepted by saints of various religious traditions and sects across the Indian subcontinent.
Nearly five centuries later, in 1966, sankirtana was introduced in the West by its foremost modern exponent. His Divine Grace A..C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (the founder and spiritual guide of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness). Since then, its practice has spread throughout the world. It is precisely this ancient practice of sankirtana that the devotees of the Hare Krishna movement are presenting before the world’s plurality of cultures today. Now let us examine more closely the phenomenon of sankirtana.
We can understand what sankirtana is through a brief analysis of the word. The word sankirtana has a twofold meaning, indicated by two distinct translations of its root. The Sanskrit verb kirt, from which the word kirtana derives, means on the one hand “to praise” or “to glorify” and on the other “to tell” or “to call.” Thus the act of kirtana is meant to praise or glorify God while telling or calling man to participate in this glorification. Kirtana always takes place in a congregation of saintly people, as indicated by the prefix sam, meaning “all together,” or “congregationally.” The prefix sam may also act as an intensive, connoting “perfect” or “complete” kirtana. Therefore sankirtana carries the sense that when kirtana is performed congregationally, the glorification of God and the calling of man is perfect or complete.
Sankirtana is the performance of activities that in some way glorify God. There are various forms of sankirtana, such as chanting God’s holy names, offering and accepting sanctified food, and producing and distributing sacred literature. Each of these is a primary way a pure devotee may glorify God.
Glorifying God pleases Him, purifies the glorifier, develops one’s spiritual qualities, and attracts others to this glorification (thus pleasing God even more). How can one please the Supreme Being, upon whom everything is absolutely dependent? We can do this by giving Him the only thing He lacks—our love and devotion to Him. Sankirtana is the most complete and perfect way of giving God man’s devotion.
As chanting God’s name in glorification pleases God, so also do offering food to God and writing and publishing literature about God. When devotees offer food to the Supreme in worship, the food is spiritually transformed, and devotees gladly distribute it to all, for just by tasting such sanctified food one is purified and begins pleasing God. Furthermore, a book that glorifies the Supreme Lord, His name. His form, His qualities, and His manifestations is itself an embodiment of the divinity. Devotees therefore distribute such literature for the spiritual education of others. Sri Chaitanya advocated all three of these forms of sankirtana.
The chanting of the holy names of God is a religious principle that genuine prophets and saints of widely varied traditions have tried to promulgate, and therefore it should not be a practice completely foreign to the West. Countless verses in the Old Testament express the importance of the names of God: “So I will sing praise unto Thy name forever,” “Sing praises to His name,” “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” and so on. Many verses even ask us to sing the holy name of God with music and dance: “Let them praise His name in the dance, let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp.” And sankirtana should absorb one constantly: “From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the Lord’s name is to be praised.” These examples illustrate that God’s name must not be ordinary; otherwise, why should a devotee of God occupy himself constantly with praising it?
There is something special about the relationship between God and His name that we don’t find between ordinary persons or things and their names. We should note that these passages from the Old Testament don’t directly mention God as the one being praised. Rather, it is His name. The praising of God takes place through the praising of His holy names, because they actually represent God in a form that enables one to associate with Him while in limited human life. Because God is the supreme absolute being, He is fully present in any one of His names. Therefore, by sounding God’s names one associates with the transcendent Lord Himself. Sankirtana, then, means to associate with God through the chanting of His sacred names in order to realize our eternal relationship with Him.
Describing the power of God’s names, Lord Chaitanya says that God has invested all His transcendental potencies in His names and that chanting these names enables anyone to easily approach Him. Although there are many names of God that one may chant, the especially potent formula given by Sri Chaitanya and His followers is the chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This formula is known as the “greatest chant,” or the maha-mantra, because it contains the most powerful names of God for the process of sankirtana. Anyone may benefit from chanting these names, regardless of sex, race, nationality, religious belief, or social status.
One cannot overestimate the potency of sankirtana, for in each of its forms it brings about a permanent spiritual effect. But sankirtana with sacred literature has a special quality. We have mentioned that devotees recognize sacred literature as an embodiment of the divinity, as they recognize the holy names and sanctified food. Such sacred literature is very dear to the devotees because it conveys the message of God and thus invokes His very presence. But although chanting God’s names and partaking of sanctified food have a powerful, permanent effect and these methods have their own special applications, they provide the purifying presence of God only during the time they are performed. The special quality of sacred literature, therefore, is that it provides continuous access to the Deity and association with Him, The Padma Purana says that if one just keeps such literature in one’s home, the Lord resides there. The devotee understands that sacred literature is the greatest gift, so he naturally tries to distribute this gift profusely for everyone’s benefit. *
Sacred literature plays an essential role in the Vaishnava tradition, from which the sankirtana movement emerges. For example, among the tradition’s many texts is the Mahabharata, the longest epic poem in the world (eight times the length of the lliad and the Odyssey combined). One section of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad-gita, the most loved sacred text of India. And many thousands of other works belong to this same rich literary heritage.
The distribution of sacred literature is not a new form of sankirtana. It was highly regarded even during Lord Chaitanya’s time, when literature was not mass- produced. Lord Chaitanya ordered His immediate disciples the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavana to write copious works on the spiritual science. And later, as printing technology developed, the importance of literary sankirtana increased. In the early twentieth century one great Vaishnava teacher called the distribution of sacred literature the “great drum,” or brihat mridanga; the sound of a drum may be heard for half a mile, but books can be heard around the world.
The process of sankirtana is so complete and powerful that while it glorifies God through its various forms, it spiritually uplifts all who participate or have even remote contact with it. Thus, as Lord Chaitanya states, it is “the prime benediction for humanity at large.” It is the direct and genuine experience of the soul proper. It is the outpouring of the most natural tendency of the human heart in its lasting relation with the Supreme Being. It is that for which man ultimately hankers in his higher self, after realizing the futility of trying to satisfy worldly appetites and passions. Sankirtana “enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious.”
As demonstrated by the Hare Krishna movement, the worldwide spread of this powerful religious force can spiritually transform people from all cultures. This fact, along with evidence about sankirtana from other scriptural texts, points to the universality of sankirtana: sankirtana brings forth the ultimate religious dimension of human existence. Because sankirtana so thoroughly arouses man’s spiritual potential in his relation to the Supreme Person, it brings forth love of God par excellence. Indeed, in our materialistic society, which pushes us toward utter forgetfulness of God, sankirtana powerfully reasserts the genuine spiritual character of man.
by Jayadvaita Swami
According to an Indian proverb, there’s nothing that a goat won’t eat and nothing that a madman won’t say. Madmen? Sometimes it seems like we’re living in a world of them, or at least a world of fools. The human impulse is to say something—anything. Something stupid, something contentious, something sweet, deceitful, smart, ridiculous, or empty. Big strings of words, amounting to nothing. It’s astonishing.
Nearly as surprising: You can speak the most outrageous foolishness, and someone out there—most likely many someones—will for sure take it as sensible, even as urgently important.
People babble on like sea waves, other people babble back. And soon you’ve got a tumultuous roar, of no significance at all. Babble on, Babylon.
Behind those babbling tongues churn babbling minds, full of everything, empty of substance.
For which the Vedic remedy is the chanting of the maha- mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The purpose of the chanting is to pull the mind out of the din and fix it on one point: Krishna.
That point—Krishna—is not merely a point, but the ultimate substance. The word Krishna indicates the supreme reality, the Absolute, the original source of everything.
More precisely, the word Krishna is Krishna. On the material platform, a word and what it stands for are different. On the spiritual platform, Krishna and Krishna’s name are the same.
So by chanting Hare Krishna, we leave behind the clatter of illusion and come in touch with Krishna, the Absolute Truth.
In the early stages of spiritual understanding, one realizes that Absolute Truth as an impersonal, all-pervading oneness. Further along, one perceives that Absolute Truth as the Supersoul, the source of all intelligence, the unseen guide within the heart. And when that unseen guide fully reveals Himself, one can see the Absolute Truth as the transcendent Personality of Godhead, free from all the grossness of matter yet tangibly real and specific in His unlimited names, forms, qualities, and pastimes.
It is when we come to Krishna that real talking begins. That talking is done by the greatest self-realized souls. And by those who accept, repeat, and relish the words of those realized souls and thus become realized themselves.
Of course, those who babble on about nothing will think that whatever they’re buzzing about is of great consequence and that Hare Krishna is for fools.
Following in the footsteps of the Vedic sages, we’ll go on talking about Krishna and chanting the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
by Vishakha Devi dasi
Whether one chants meditatively on beads or exuberantly with musical instruments, the Hare Krishna mantra is the easiest and most potent means to spiritual advancement.
“O my Lord, Your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have millions of names, like Krishna and Govinda. In these transcendental names You have invested all Your transcendental energies. There are not even hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach You by Your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.”—Sikshashtaka, Verse 2
Srila Prabhupada was once amused by a cartoon portraying a woman imploring her husband “Chant, chant, chant,” and then the man replying “Can’t, can’t, can’t.” “This is the situation,” Srila Prabhupada explained. “Chanting is so easy and the benefits of chanting are so great, yet simply out of stubbornness, people refuse to chant.”
Chanting is easy. As Lord Chaitanya says, there are no hard and fast rules. Anyone can chant at any time, in any place, under any circumstances, and without any previous qualification. All that’s required is to repeat Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. These sixteen transcendental sounds compose the maha-mantra—the supreme combination of sounds for freeing one’s mind from anxiety. The Narada-pancharatra states that all mantras and processes for self-realization are compressed into the Hare Krishna mantra.
Srila Prabhupada explains that the name Krishna means “the all-attractive one,” and the name Rama means “the all-pleasing one.” When combined with Hare,the Lord’s devotional energy, the words mean “O all-attractive, all-pleasing Lord, kindly engage me in Your service.” In other words, Krishna, Rama, and Hare are not sectarian names but are spiritual, surpassing all material strata—sensual, mental, and intellectual. The Lord is one, yet He has unlimited names, owing to His unlimited activities and unlimited qualities. “If you think that Krishna is the name of a Hindu God,” Srila Prabhupada said, “then you can chant any bona fide name of the Lord—Allah, Buddha, Jehovah. We chant Hare Krishna because that’s what’s recommended in the scriptures.”
Because the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Lord is nondifferent from His name, the benefits from chanting defy the imagination. By chanting God’s names we can revive our spiritual consciousness, and when we chant purely, the Lord is present, dancing on our tongue. This quality of the Lord, to personally and fully appear when His name is vibrated, is unknown to nondevotees. And even among devotees, there is much to be realized. The scripture Chaitanya-charitamrita tells that in Chandapura, India, five centuries ago, a number of scholars were once discussing the glories of chanting. “By chanting the holy name of the Lord,” some of them said, “one is freed from the reactions of sinful life.” Others said, “Simply by chanting the holy name of the Lord, a living being is liberated from material bondage.”
Also present at the gathering was Haridasa Thakura, the great devotee whose life exemplified the perfection of chanting Hare Krishna. Haridasa Thakura objected to the opinions of the scholars, saying, “These two benedictions are not the true result of chanting the holy name. By chanting the holy name without offenses, one awakens his ecstatic love for the lotus feet of Krishna. Liberation and extinction of the reactions of sinful life are two concomitant by-products of chanting the holy name of the Lord.”
Haridasa explained that just as the first hint of sunlight dissipates the darkness of night, similarly the first hint of offenseless chanting dissipates the reactions of sinful activities immediately. And, as when the sun is present everything is visible, similarly when one chants the holy name offenselessly, ecstatic love of God manifests within the heart.
So, perfection is available through pure sound. The only difficulty is that either we refuse to chant, or if we do chant, we chant offensively. Refusal may come from a lack of interest or faith in spiritual life. Offenses are due to a lack of purity. But one can overcome these difficulties simply by seriously and sincerely chanting, for the holy name is self- sufficient.
Rupa Goswami, an exalted devotee and personal associate of Lord Chaitanya, expressed his appreciation of the effects of chanting the holy name: “I do not know how much nectar the two syllables Krishna have produced. When the holy name of Krishna is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. And when that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears.”
Except for stubbornness, there is no reason why one can’t chant Hare Krishna. Chanting is so easy that even if you can’t chant audibly for some reason, you can still chant within your mind and experience the potency of transcendental vibrations. And as you chant, your taste and desire to chant will increase. And your love for God will increase. So who can’t chant? Only one who doesn’t chant thinks “can’t.”
Whatever one’s frame of mind or physical circumstances, one can benefit spiritually by chanting Hare Krishna; no one is disqualified. In fact, a devotee in distress may be in an advantageous position, for he can call out to Krishna with true feeling. As Srila Prabhupada writes, ‘A helpless man can feelingly utter the holy name of the Lord, whereas a man who utters the same holy name in great material satisfaction cannot be so sincere' (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.26, purport).
A conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg: If you’re identifying love, however, with the shabda [sound] Krishna, what of those people who identify love with the shabda Allah?
Srila Prabhupada: Well, of course, if that shabda identifies with God, we have no objection. As Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva- shaktis: God has many names, in which He has invested His transcendental energies. God is attractive, and His name is also attractive, because He’s not different from His name. If you have got a name with exactly the same attractiveness as Krishna, we have no objection. We simply say, “You chant God’s holy name. Then you’ll become purified.” That is our program. We don’t say that you change your Christianity. No. We don’t say that. If you have got a nice name, an all-attractive name, in your scripture—don’t manufacture, but authorized—then you chant that. We simply request, “You chant.”
Allen Ginsberg: Well, then, how would you adapt the Krishna chanting to Christianity? By seeing Krishna as Christ or Christ as Krishna and sounding Christ’s image in Krishna’s name?
Srila Prabhupada: Krishna, Christ. Of course, this question has several times been put to me. I reply that Christ says, “I am the son of God,” and Krishna says, “I am God”—so there is no essential difference between the son of God and God.
We respect everyone. If I respect your father, I respect you, also. Do you mean to say that if I disrespect your father, you’ll be pleased with me? No. That is our philosophy. As Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, “I am the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna.” So if anyone perfectly loves Krishna, he must love Lord Jesus Christ, also. And if one perfectly loves Jesus Christ, he must love Krishna. If he says, “Why shall I love Krishna? I shall love only Jesus Christ,” then he has no knowledge. And if one says, “Why shall I love Jesus Christ? I shall love only Krishna,” then he also has no knowledge. If one understands Krishna, then he will understand Jesus Christ. If one understands Jesus Christ, he’ll understand Krishna.
Allen Ginsberg: Well, then, do you think that the Hare Krishna chant could serve as an intermediary to link the religious tendencies of both the Christian and Muslim religions?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Any religion. That is, if the individual is serious about religion. If he takes religion as a scapegoat, an excuse for doing all sorts of nonsense, that is different. If he wants to understand religion and takes seriously to religion, then he will understand. We want such serious persons.
Now, according to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, religion means the laws created by God. Dharmam tu sakshad bhagavat-pranitam. Religion means the laws of God. Who will deny it? Who will deny it? You may profess any religion—Christian, Muhammadan, or whatever—but who can deny that religion is the laws of God? Simple explanation. If you ask what is meant by religion, the answer is, “Religion is the laws of God.” That’s all. And if you want to know what God is, that is also simply answered: “God is the original source of everything.”
So one should try to understand in this broad-minded way. But if one wants to remain in his compact, sectarian ideas and does not want to go further, then it is very difficult. One should be open-minded and appreciative. Then everything is all right. We say—Caitanya Mahaprabhu says—it is not that you are abitrarily limited to simply chanting Krishna, but if you have no other suitable name, then chant Krishna. Why do you make a differentiation between the Lord’s names? Every name is the same.
Allen Ginsberg: So if you have no other suitable name, chant Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Chant Krishna.
Allen Ginsberg: That’s Lord Caitanya’s message?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Yes.
Allen Ginsberg: Did He feel there were other suitable names?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. He said the Lord has many thousands and millions of names. So if you are serious about God, then call upon Him by one of these names. For instance, your friends may call you by many names, but any one of those names will do.
Allen Ginsberg: O.K. So the problem I was posing before, which I leave open—I don’t know—is, What is the most attractive and suitable name for God here in this material country?
Srila Prabhupada: Now, take, for example, the Muhammadan name Allah. Allah means “the greatest.” Yes, God is the greatest. So that “greatest” conception is the preliminary Brahman conception that we have discussed. And as for the Christian conception, I don’t think they have got any particular name. They say God.
Allen Ginsberg: Yes. Lord or God. Those are the basic ones.
Srila Prabhupada: “Controller.” God means “controller.” Is it not?
Allen Ginsberg [to the disciples on hand]: What is the etymology of God? Do you know?
Disciple: I don’t know.
Srila Prabhupada: God is the equivalent of ishvara. Ishvara means “controller.”
Allen Ginsberg: Well, the Jews, which were my background, had a prohibition …
Srila Prabhupada: They say Jehovah.
Allen Ginsberg: They say Jehovah, but they had a prohibition against pronouncing the Lord’s highest names, because they felt that God was imageless and therefore should not be pronounced or painted. My background is, I guess, what would be termed impersonalist.
Woman: Yes. Impersonalist—just believing in the great Absolute and that’s all.
Srila Prabhupada: That was the difference when Jesus Christ appeared. He was a personalist.
Allen Ginsberg: The ancient Hebrew teaching—you must know about that—was that the name of God should never be pronounced. J-H-V-H. Pictures should not be made. Because it would limit God to human conception.
Srila Prabhupada: That is another thing. That idea is also in the Muhammadan tradition. Their essential idea is that God is not material. That is the idea. The idea is that when I make some image or picture of God, that is material. So there is a prohibition against accepting God as material. But if you go to a higher stage of realization, you’ll understand that if God is everything, then there is no such thing as material. That is Vaishnava philosophy.
If God is everything, then how can you say any of His energies is fundamentally material? God is spiritual. So in one sense, calling something material means you do not understand God. That is what calling something material means.
For instance, when part of this sky is covered by a cloud, we say, “The sky is cloudy.” But the cloud is limited and temporary; it has no enduring existence; it comes only to cover some of the sky for a short while. Actually, the sky is unlimited and enduring. Similarly, God is unlimited and enduring; God is eternal. When you are covered by some cloud of maya and you cannot see properly and cannot understand God, that is material. So any philosophy which does not help us understand God—that is material. That is material.
Otherwise, there is no such thing as material. Where is “material” if God is everything? Sarvam khalv idam brahma: Everything is the Lord’s spiritual energy. You see?
Disciple: All is spirit.
Srila Prabhupada: All is spirit. Everywhere is sky, but when some of it is covered, it is called cloud. Similarly, when God is “covered” by some nonsense ideas, then that is material. Otherwise, there is no such thing as material. Therefore, for those who are too much absorbed in materialistic views, there is a restriction—“Don’t attempt to say God’s name.” Because the person will tend to think, “God’s name is just like my son’s name or my daughter’s name.” Therefore, there is that restriction.
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, we’ve got to tune some harmoniums.
Allen Ginsberg: Yes, we have to start material preparations for the evening.
Srila Prabhupada: That is not material. [Laughter.]
Allen Ginsberg: A shabda preparation.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Sabda, or sound, is originally spiritual. Sabda-brahman. You simply have to understand that there is nothing material; everything is spiritual. That is required. If I am controlled by the spiritual energy, that is my great fortune. Therefore, in the Bhagavad-gita it is said, mahatmanas tu mam partha daivim prakritim ashritah: The mahatmas, or great souls, take shelter of the spiritual energy. And what is their symptom? Bhajanty ananya manaso—simply engaged in devotional service to Krishna. That is required.
Srila Prabhupada: Hare Krishna.