The Hare Krishna mantra is a chant recommended in India's oldest books of wisdom, the Vedas, for those seeking to improve their consciousness to the greatest possible degree. Also known as the maha-mantra—great chant—it consists of three Sanskrit names of the Supreme Being; "Hare," "Krishna," and "Rama." Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra is said to bestow perfect happiness, God realization, freedom from repeated birth and death, and total self-fulfillment.
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")
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.
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
"The guru does not manufacture a new process to instruct the disciple. The disciple receives from the guru an authorized process received by the guru from his guru. This is called the system of disciplic succession (evaḿ paramparā-prāptaḿ imaḿ rājarṣayo viduḥ [Bg. 4.2]). This is the bona fide Vedic system of receiving the process of devotional service, by which the Supreme Personality of Godhead is pleased.
Therefore, to approach a bona fide guru, or spiritual master, is essential. The bona fide spiritual master is he who has received the mercy of his guru, who in turn is bona fide because he has received the mercy of his guru. This is called the parampara system.
Unless one follows this parampara system, the mantra one receives will be chanted for no purpose. Nowadays there are so many rascal gurus who manufacture their mantras as a process for material advancement, not spiritual advancement. Still, the mantra cannot be successful if it is manufactured.
Mantras and the process of devotional service have special power, provided they are received from the authorized person."
- from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (8.16.24, purport)
- Krishna Meditation—the significance of, reasons for, and philosophy behind Hare Krishna mantra meditation.
- "You Can Pronounce Krishna in Any Way"—Does true spirituality require a specific hairstyle, clothing style, vocabulary, and a diet of curried vegetables?
- How to Chant on Beads—How to get up and running in your practice of chanting Hare Krishna in the privacy of your own home.
- Does it Matter What Mantra I Chant?—Mantras and the process of devotional service have special power, provided they are received from the authorized person.
- Nothing a Goat Won't Eat—With everybody babbling back and forth about nothing of consequence, how can we meditate on things that really matter?
In Sanskrit, man means “mind” and tra means “freeing.” So a mantra is a combination of transcendental, spiritual sounds meant to liberate the mind from the anxieties of life in the material world.
Ancient India’s Vedic literatures single out one mantra as the maha (great) mantra. The Kali-santarana Upanishad explains, “These sixteen words— Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—are especially meant for counteracting the ill effects of the present age of quarrel and anxiety.”
The Narada-pancharatra adds, “All mantras and all processes for self-realization are compressed into the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.” Five centuries ago, while spreading the maha-mantra throughout the Indian subcontinent, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu prayed, “O Supreme Personality of Godhead, in Your holy name You have invested all Your transcendental energies.”
The name Krishna means “the all-attractive one,” the name Rama means “the all- pleasing one,” and the name Hare is an address to the Lord’s devotional energy. So the maha-mantra means, “O all-attractive, all-pleasing Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your devotional service.”
Chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and your life will be sublime. We guarantee it. You'll never know if you never try.
Have any experiences, realizations, or stories about chanting the maha-mantra you'd like to share? Contact us.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #32-02, 1998
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Meditation is the seventh stage in the eightfold mystic yoga system by which one gradually learns to sit still, control the breath, withdraw the senses from the world, fix the mind on one point, and eventually attain full concentration on the object of meditation.
In Western countries, “meditation” has become a buzzword. In the 1960s the only meditation that people discussed was “Transcendental Meditation,” by which one could purchase a mantra and meditate on it twice a day. Now many other forms of meditation and “mindfulness” are popular both in Christian and non-Christian traditions. People meditate for a short time each day to relieve stress and augment health. Srila Prabhupada said that serious yoga practice aimed at a spiritual goal is far too difficult in this age of distraction. Real meditation is full time.
For those who chant the holy names, hearing japa (private chanting on beads) described as “meditation” may sound distasteful when considered alongside the other processes practiced these days, but japa is meditation, and to achieve the result we must do it with attention.
Meditation involves controlling the mind, and that’s difficult, as anyone who has tried to chant realizes quickly. Therefore, we sometimes wonder whether it is necessary or helpful to study meditation techniques and bring them into our own practice.
Srila Prabhupada didn’t think so. Whenever devotees asked him how to concentrate on the holy name, he responded simply: “Just hear.”
“But what about my mind?”
Prabhupada knew that by chanting we would learn how to chant; the holy name itself would teach us. The Bhagavad- gita assigns the path: “From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the self.”
Therefore, in the name of disinterest in other forms of meditation, we shouldn’t abandon the practices common to all forms. We should begin our daily japa by calming the mind. We should chant our rounds (of beads) in a sacred space and control the breath by the chanting. We should fix the mind on the syllables of the holy name. We should maintain good posture. In the early days at 26 Second Avenue in New York City, we would sit slouched over as Srila Prabhupada gave his morning class. Once he stopped his lecture and asked us to sit straight. Although Bhakti-yoga does not involve sitting postures and breathing exercises, he said, it is still yoga.
With the aid of these basic components of meditation, we can learn to become prayerful in our approach to the holy name. Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya was able to chant with no other thought than the name and Lord Chaitanya’s mercy. Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya had been a famous logician and teacher of the impersonal path, and his conversion to Vaishnavism is chronicled in several chapters of the Chaitanya-charitamrita. It is said of Sarvabhauma after his conversion, “He did not know anything but the service of the Lord, and he always chanted the holy name of Sri Krishna Chaitanya … . Indeed, chanting the holy names became his meditation.”
Our biggest obstacles to chanting are indifference to the holy name and distraction. Bhaktivinoda Thakura addresses these points in his Harinama Chintamani, suggesting that we chant in the company of devotees focused on the holy name. By learning to emulate their mood, we will learn to concentrate. He also suggests we chant in a secluded place. By accepting the discipline of a vow to chant, we will be forced to fix our attention. Gradually we will move from an hour spent chanting to two hours to four hours, and eventually we will chant constantly.
And enthusiasm is vital. Bhaktivinoda Thakura states: “Those who chant distractedly are always eager to somehow complete the fixed number of holy names and be done with it. It is important to concentrate on the quality of the chanting and not on trying to artificially increase the number of holy names.”
He adds that we should utter and hear the name distinctly. It is only by the Lord’s mercy that distraction can be overcome. “Therefore it is essential to fervently beg for the Lord’s grace with great humility. This is the living entity’s only means of salvation.”
Ultimately, our success in chanting will come from Krishna’s mercy, but while awaiting that mercy, we can continue to chant with enthusiasm and concentration and, as far as we are able, make the holy name the central focus of our lives.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #19-06, 1984
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Learning how to cope with stress in daily life is not a newly discovered gift from modern psychologists. Mental illnesses from anxiety, as well as expert cures for stress, are as old as humanity itself. The Vedic knowledge of ancient India, as taught today in the form of Krishna consciousness, goes to the very source of the problem and gives solutions not only for how to cope effectively with stress but how to remove permanently the very causes of anxiety, which prevent us from realizing our full potential of happiness and productivity.
Modern psychology’s approach is often based on the concept of a human as a biological and mental being, and doesn’t take into account the spiritual dimensions of life. The psychologists’ research and advice is, therefore, helpful only up to a certain limit. Thus they have prescribed certain favorable mental attitudes and drugs to combat anxieties that arise from inevitable human crises. But despite the successes of their techniques, psychologists know little of how to remove the root cause of stress.
Researchers at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston have even introduced meditation techniques for helping people adjust to stressful events. Apparently, a time of relaxed meditation blocks the effect of norepinephrine, an “emergency” hormone that raises the blood pressure and increases the heart rate. Health magazine (“Meditation: Medicine?” July 1982) reports:
To meditate, a person sits comfortably in a quiet environment, repeats a word, prayer, sound, or phrase, and maintains a passive attitude toward intervening thoughts. The aura of calm that meditation evokes is known as the relaxation response—characterized by a drop of blood pressure, heart rate …
As Krishna conscious devotees we are pleased to see this mention of meditation on a sound or prayer—known in Vedic language as “mantra meditation”—advised as a psychiatric healing method. (This is hardly the “brainwashing” or hypnotism as charged by the anticultists.) But we cannot make a complete endorsement of this use of mantra meditation. Certainly the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra has beneficial mental and bodily effects, as indicated by the Beth Israel research team, but if we are to get the full benefit, we should understand and practice mantra meditation with knowledge of its spiritual nature.
The original purpose of every genuine form of meditation is to tap the existential, spiritual reality, which is at the heart of human consciousness. Real relief from life’s miseries as well as relief from undue anxiety over those miseries can come only when we understand our constitutional position as eternal spirit souls. This ultimate well-being should be sought and discovered, and we should not be satisfied merely with a cover-over “medicinal” approach that does not remove the cause of anxieties.
In the transcendental epic Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna gives directions to His friend Arjuna, a warrior who is suffering in a situation of extreme stress on a battlefield. Krishna observes that Arjuna has become overwhelmed by fear and ignorance and has failed to see beyond the fear of death. Krishna therefore begins His instructions by informing Arjuna of a higher knowledge.
While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead. (Bg. 2.11)
Lord Krishna then proceeds to teach Arjuna the nature of the real self, beyond the body and mind. The spirit soul, which is our real identity, is not subject to any kind of destruction that might befall the body. It is also by nature full of bliss and knowledge, and it can be realized by direct perception. Bhagavad-gita teaches the techniques of yoga and meditation for awakening us to an enlightened state in which we can remain strong even in adverse conditions.
In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this, he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact. (Bg. 6.21-23)
The comprehensive transcendental science of the Bhagavad-gita—including knowledge of karma and reincarnation, techniques for doing devotional service to God even while in normal occupational situations, and directions for following the path leading to the highest liberation of love of God—are all completely relevant to life in the twentieth century. These teachings are not sentimental or imaginary, nor do they promise instant salvation without inner purification. Since the Bhagavad- gita goes so much to the depth of the human condition, we recommend it for study, not as a matter of religious faith, but for anyone interested in transcending the anxieties of daily life.
Each of us faces a battlefield encounter every day, as we are threatened by inevitable attacks from disease, old age, and ultimately death. If we have no more to rely on or depend on than the resources of our body and mind, then we are sure to suffer anxiety, since our support system is fallible and, in fact, sure to fail us. Attempts to buttress our ego or well- being by such psychological techniques as positive thinking or by the impersonal approach to meditation will also fall short. Only when we understand the strength of our position as eternal spirit souls, in relation to the Supreme Personality of Godhead and under His protection, will we be assured and confident, even as we move through the battlefields of life.
Mantra meditation, under the guidance of a spiritual master who knows its purpose, will be especially effective in this age. Former techniques of meditation are practically impossible today, because they require extreme austerities and conditions of seclusion that are neither advisable nor possible nowadays. Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—is easy and can be done in any situation. Not only will it adjust the flow of adrenalin, regulate heart rate and the bodily metabolism, increase the alpha brain waves, and lower the blood pressure, but far more importantly, it will allow us always to see beyond the anxieties of the temporary body and mind and thus enable us to work within this world for the ultimate benefit of ourselves and others.
Below are some direct quotes from various scriptures in the Vedic bhakti tradition recommending the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra:
- Kali-santarana Upanishad:
"hare krishna hare krishna
krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama
rama rama hare hare
iti sodasakam namnam kali-kalmasa-nasanam natah parataropayah sarva-vedesu drsyate
'After searching through all the Vedic literature, one cannot find a method of religion more sublime for this age than the chanting of Hare Krishna.'”
- quoted in Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi-lila 3.40, Purport
- Brihan-naradiya Purana: "‘For spiritual progress in this Age of Kali, there is no alternative, there is no alternative, there is no alternative to the holy name, the holy name, the holy name of the Lord.’"
- quoted in Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi-lila 7.76, Purport
- Narada-pancharatra: "“The essence of all Vedic knowledge—comprehending the three kinds of Vedic activity [karma-kanda, jñana-kanda and upasana-kanda], the chandas, or Vedic hymns, and the processes for satisfying the demigods—is included in the eight syllables Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. This is the reality of all Vedanta. The chanting of the holy name is the only means to cross the ocean of nescience.”
- quoted in Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi-lila, 7.76, Purport
- Narayana-samhita: "“In Dvapara-yuga one could satisfy Krishna or Vishnu only by worshiping Him gorgeously according to the pañcaratriki system (temple Deity worship), but in the Age of Kali one can satisfy and worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead Hari simply by chanting the holy name.”
- Srimad-Bhagavatam, 12.3.51: "My dear King, although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: Simply by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom."
- Sukadeva Goswami
by Drutakarma Dasa
Dr. John Heider, a psychologist, believes that meditation “is as necessary to a life of growth as regular brushing is to dental hygiene.” Sounds harmless enough. But what if you were to brush your teeth with a harsh abrasive or a corrosive chemical? That would definitely be detrimental to your dental health. In the same way, how much your meditation is helping you spiritually depends on what kind of meditation you’re practicing and why.
When we focus our minds on sensory input from the external world or on thoughts and feelings that arise within us, we are engaged in a type of meditation, in the broadest sense of that word. So you could say that all of us are already meditating at every moment. To help us understand this kind of meditation, let’s enter briefly into the mind of Richard Morland, a college student in Boston, to see what he’s meditating about.
Richard’s on his way to school. Driving on roads slick from freezing rain, he’s concentrating so as not to spin out or slam into someone’s rear bumper. He thinks about meeting his girlfriend, Susan Johnson, for lunch today, and he smiles and feels a touch of desire coming on. But before he gets to see her, there’s the chemistry midterm. That’s on his mind too. Richard is applying to some top medical schools, so he’s determined to finish his premed studies with the highest grade-point average he possibly can. His mind feels fatigued from the couple of hours of sleep he lost studying last night. That’s all right, though: he’ll make it up on the weekend. No proper breakfast this morning either, so Richard’s feeling a little hungry, but then there’s lunch with Susan in just three hours.
For Richard, the only bad thing about the chemistry midterm is that Fred, Susan’s old boyfriend, who had even been thinking of marrying her, is going to be there. Richard’s mind spins out on that for a while and then settles in on the Beach Boys tune on the radio. The song ends with news on the half hour. More hostage trouble in Lebanon. The United States has moved another carrier into the eastern Mediterranean. Richard tries to picture it—it’s a few years from now; he’s married to Susan; he’s taken hostage; Susan, alone at home with their child, pleads for his life.
Then he starts thinking about his uncle Bob. Richard received a call from his mother last night. Uncle Bob had gone into the hospital for what he had thought was pneumonia, but it turned out to be lung cancer. Richard’s father had died from lung cancer just two years before. Aunt Sarah isn’t taking Uncle Bob’s illness too well, so Richard’s mother is going to stay with her for a while. Richard likes Uncle Bob, who was helping pay for his tuition.... God, Richard prays, God, please let him get through this. With proper medical treatment and some luck he might make it a few more years.
Richard steers the car up the ramp of the campus parking garage and parks. As he gets out of the car and starts walking to class, he suddenly feels he’d like to take a break—not just to take a vacation, but to getaway fromthe whole thing. But he keeps walking, and the feeling merges into the stomach numbing anxiety of his last-minute mentalreview for the chemistry midterm.
From the standpoint of the Bhagavad- gita,Richard’s daily flow of thoughts typifies that of a person in bodily consciousness. Such a person constantly thinks of eating, sleeping, sex, and self-protection or of things related to these four basic activities. Richard, for instance, was feeling hungry and tired, thinking about his girlfriend, and worrying about a possible car accident. Bodily consciousness also creates a widening circle of identification based on the body. One’s ownbody is designated by sex, race, age, and so forth. And this body is connected with other bodies in relationships of family, community, and nation. Richard is involved in his own unique complex of relationships: with Susan, Fred, his mother, his relatives, his fellow Americans facing another international crisis.
Bodily consciousness also limits our activities to those involving dharma (materially motivated religion), artha (economic gain), kama (sensual pleasure), and moksha (attempts for liberation), Generally a person in bodily consciousness thinks of God only to obtain some material favor. Richard, we saw, wished God would give his uncle Bob a fewmore years of life. Economic concerns are also important to Richard. Though he often confides to friends that he isn’t going into neurosurgery for the money; he assumes his life won’t be one of poverty. His desire for sensual pleasure inspires, at least partly, his new and deepening relationship with Susan. And from time to time thoughts of liberation enter his mind: he wants to get away from it all.
Of course, it’s no wonder that a person in bodily consciousness sometimes wants to “get away from it all,” because the body is a storehouse for misery. The Bhagavad-gita lists four primary bodily miseries: janma (birth), mrityu (death), jara (old age), and vyadhi (disease). For a person in bodily consciousness, these distresses insinuate themselves—sometimes subtly, sometimes with overpowering force—into every aspect of life. On turning forty eight, Brigitte Bardot said, “It’s the decomposition that gets me. You spend your whole life looking after your body, and then you rot away—like that!” Richard is confronted with his father’s death, his own possible death, his uncle’s disease, his mother’s and his aunt’s’ old age. His medical career will bring him into daily contact with these unavoidable components of material existence. In fact, someday a person might die under his care. We can classify material miseries in yet another way: adhyatmika (those arising from one’s mind and body), adhibhautika (those inflicted by other creatures), and adhidaivika (those resulting from the forces of nature). Again, Richard, like everyone else in bodily consciousness, is suffering from each of these miseries. He and his relatives are experiencing various degrees of physical and mental discomfort. He is also worried about threats fromothers (Susan’s old boyfriend and Middle East terrorists), and he’s enduring the cold and hazards of a New England winter.
Some meditation systems promise a means to cope with the stress arising from the multipronged assaults of material miseries. Typically they are “easy” and involve little more from the practitioner than a financial commitment. But no amount of “peace of mind” gained by listening to tapes of mellow new-age music or the wind and the ocean waves can change the inevitability of old age, disease, death, and rebirth. Maintaining asuperficial peace of mind in the face of these grim realities is not to one’s credit. Even more pointless are meditation systems that promise the mental concentration and power to achieve’ material success by influencing others, competing more successfully, defining one’s goals more clearly, and so on. Any success achieved in this wayis extremely temporary, vanishing without a trace at the time of death.
Confronted with the realization that life is, as the English philosopher Hobbes once observed; “nasty, brutish, and short,” many people unfortunately adopt the inadvisable solution of suicide. Others adopt meditation practices that are the spiritual equivalent of suicide. Those who adopt these practices are, in effect, trying to dissolve their personalities into nothingness, though they usually express their goal in more attractive terminology: becoming one with the universe, becoming one with each other, becoming one with God (who is, in their conception, the impersonal white light). The psychology of this attempt is rooted in the grossly imperfect idea that personality and selfhood are ultimately illusory. To extinguish the self, therefore, is not the solution to the miseries arising from bodily consciousness. Rather, we must restore the self to its healthy condition.
The Bhagavad-gita states that’ to dissolve the self is impossible. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, “For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time.” Understanding this, one experiences release from material miseries. “In the stage of perfection called trance, or samadhi,” states the Gita (6.20-23), “one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities. ... This perfection is characterized by one’s ability to see the Self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the Self. In that joyous state, one is situated inboundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses.”
Lord Krishna also explains the natural position of the soul: “The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind” (Bhagavad-gita 15.7). The soul’s constant struggle with the material body throughout many lives is unnatural, for the soul is actuallypart of God. The Vedas explain that the individual eternal souls are related to the Supreme Soul just as sparks are related to a fire. The souls are of the same spiritual substance as their source, the Supreme Soul, but are infinitely smaller. In their original condition, the souls are meant to exist in a relationship with Krishna in the spiritual world.
According to Bhagavad-gita, the real object of meditation is therefore the Supreme Self, Krishna. By meditating upon Krishna, the true nature of the individual self becomes automatically revealed. Consider this analogy: If you venture for a walk along the seashore on a moonless, starless night, you may not be able to see yourself or anything around you. But when the sky lightens with the first glimmer of light, then you can begin to see everything, including your own self, at first dimly and then more and more clearly as the sun rises. Self-realization works like that. To see the self—to step beyond bodily consciousness—we must first see God. The Bhagavad-gita (8.9) states: “One should meditate upon the Supreme Person as the one who knows everything, as He who is the oldest, who is Meditation the controller, who is smaller than the smallest, who is the maintainer of everything, who is beyond all material conception, who is inconceivable, and who is always a person. He is luminous like the sun and, being transcendental, is beyond this material nature.”
Srila Prabhupada states, “Since the Lord is absolute, deep meditation upon Him is as good as yogic trance” (Bhag. 1.15.28, purport). When, immersed in such trance, we perfectly understand ourselves to be part of God, related to Him as His eternal servants, several important improvements in our lives naturally follow. First, we quickly become free from the material miseries outlined above. Krishna says in the Gita (12.6—7),
Those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Pritha—for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death. (our italics)
Even in this world, the practitioner of Krishna meditation remains undisturbed. “As a lamp in a windless place does not waver,” says the Gita (6.19), “so the transcendentalist, whose mind is controlled, remains always steady in his meditation on the transcendent Self.” Srila Prabhupada comments, “A truly Krishna conscious person, always absorbed in transcendence, in constant undisturbed meditation on his worshipable Lord, is as steady as a lamp in a windless place.”
The system of Krishna meditation outlined in the Bhagavad- gita and other Vedic books of knowledge is variegated, embracing many forms of mental concentration. First and foremost is meditating upon the Hare Krishna mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Krishna, being nondifferent from His names, is personally present in this mantra. In Bhagavad-gita (8.7), Krishna says, “He who meditates on Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, he, O Partha, is sure to reach Me.” Srila Prabhupada comments: “One’s memory of Krishna is revived by chanting the maha-mantra, Hare Krishna... This mystic meditation is very easy to practice, and it helps one attain the Supreme Lord.”
Just as Krishna is present in His name, He is also present in transcendental literatures that contain His instructions and narrations of His pastimes. The instructions of Krishna are found in the Bhagavad-gita,while His pastimes are contained especially in the Srimad- Bhagavatam.Devotees meditate on Krishna by absorbing their minds in these transcendental literatures. The Bhagavatam recommends,
To hear about Krishna from Vedic literatures, or to hear from Him directly through the Bhagavad-gita, is itself righteous activity. And for one who hears about Krishna, Lord Krishna, who is dwelling in everyone’s heart, acts as a best friend and purifies the devotee who constantly engages in hearing of Him. In this way, a devotee naturally develops his dormant transcendental knowledge.
Such reading is an easily practiced form of meditation. “Even a child,” states Srila Prabhupada, “can hear and derive the benefit of meditating on the pastimes of the Lord simply by listening to a reading from the Bhagavatam that describes the Lord as He is going to the pasturing ground with His cows and friends” (Bhag.3.28.19, purport).
We can also meditate on Krishna in His form of the arca- vigraha, the Deity in the temple. Because our present material senses are incapable of perceiving Krishna’s original spiritual form, Krishna kindly consents to become visible in the form of the Deity. Srila Prabhupada states, “Nowhere in the universe are there such beautiful bodily features as those of Lord Krishna. Therefore His transcendental body has nothing to do with anything materially created” (Bhag.1.9.33, purport). Krishna Himself says, “Those who fix their minds on My personal form and are always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith are considered by Me to be most perfect” (Bg. 12.2).
Is the Deity simply a stone statue? Srila Prabhupada explains:
Because the elements are the Lord’s own energy and because there is no difference between the energy and the energetic, the Lord can appear through any element. Just as the sun can act through the sunshine and thus distribute its heat and light, so Krishna, by His inconceivable power, can appear in His original spiritual form in any material element, including stone, wood, paint, gold, silver, and jewels, because the material elements are all His energy. (Cc. Madhya 5.97, purport)
“The Vishnu forms of worship in great temples of India,” Srila Prabhupada informs us, “are not, therefore, arrangements of idol worship, as they are wrongly interpreted to be by a class of men with a poor fund of knowledge; rather, they are different spiritual centers of meditation on the transcendental limbs of the body of Vishnu” (Bhag. 2.1.19, purport). If one is not able to visit a temple, one can also meditate upon Krishna’s form as depicted in paintings, such as those found in the pages of this magazine.
The bona fide spiritual master directs the disciple in the performance of meditation. Srila Prabhupada explains,
One should not meditate according to one’s personal whims. One should know perfectly well from the authoritative sources of scriptures through the transparent medium of a bona fide spiritual master and by proper use of one’s trained intelligence for meditating upon the Supersoul dwelling within every living being. (Bhag. 1.6.15, purport)
The spiritual master instructs one how to constantly meditate upon Krishna even in the performance of one’s work. This functional meditation helps awaken love for Krishna and fixes one in transcendence. Every action one performs thus becomes a meditation.
“Bhagavad-gita makes it clear,” states Grila Prabhupada, “that one can attain the highest perfection of spiritual life simply by offering service according to his ability, just as Arjuna served Krishna by his ability in the military art. Arjuna offered his service fully as a military man, and he became perfect. Similarly, an artist can attain perfection simply by performing artistic work under the direction of the spiritual master. If one is a literary man, he can write articles and poetry for the service of the Lord under the direction of the spiritual master” (Bhag. 3.22.7, purport).
No matter what our position, we can apply these principles and practices of Krishna meditation in our lives. Let’s suppose that our friend Richard has taken up the process of Krishna meditation and incorporated it into his life. Here’s his typical day now: Each morning Richard spends an hour chanting the Hare Krishna mantra on his meditation beads. Sometimes he chants indoors, and when the weather’s good he goes to a nearby park.
The chanting is spiritually refreshing. Then Richard prepares breakfast: fruit, yogurt, a hot cereal. He puts everything on a special plate and places it before a picture of Krishna he keeps on top of his bookshelf. Meditating upon Krishna, he softly repeats some mantras.
After breakfast, it’s time for the half hour drive to school. In the car he listens to a taped lecture on the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. Arriving at school, he spends the rest of the morning in class. He is still studying to be a neurosurgeon, but he realizes that the real cure for the miseries of disease, old age, and death lies in reawakening the soul’s eternal spiritual nature in relation with the Supreme Soul, Krishna.
After class, he meets Susan for lunch. She has prepared enough for both of them—some hearty vegetarian sandwiches and carob-walnut cookies. They still plan to get married, but they see their relationship as a spiritual partnership, a way to help each other progress toward the goal of becoming free from material attachments and developing their unique personal loving relationships with Krishna. That means some restriction in the matter of sex, but they feel they have gained a great deal of mutual respect and understanding in return.
After lunch, Richard and Susan spend some time reading together from Bhagavad-gita, something they do every day. They appreciate the insights the Gita offers into their personal relationships and the world around them. On weekends Richard and Susan visit the temple, which has recently acquired some new computers, and Richard and Susan use their knowledge of computer programming to help the devotees set up a computerized accounting system. They also attend classes on the Bhagavad-gita, take part in the temple ceremonies, look at the beautifully decorated Deity of Krishna, and enjoy a feast of delicious vegetarian food that’s been offered to Krishna with devotion. In this way, Richard and Susan are practicing Krishna meditation throughout the day.
Should you meditate? The answer is yes—meditate on Krishna by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, reading Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam (there’s a sample in the center section of this magazine), seeing the form of Krishna, and offering your talents in His service. And if you think you have more important things to do, the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.22.32) offers this advice: “There is no stronger obstruction to one’s self-interest than thinking other subject matters to be more pleasing than one’s self-realization.” So make time for Krishna meditation in your life. That might mean sacrificing something, but you will gain the highest reward.