Practices, see also Sadhana

Key Practices of Krishna Consciousness

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Practicing Krishna consciousness is dynamic, real, and practical, not just something to think about. It means to focus the mind and senses by actively serving the Supreme Person. Anything done in Krishna's service is beneficial, but the most recommended practices of Krishna consciousness are:

The top two—hearing and chanting—are most important.

(The painting shows a devotee offering flowers to Krishna's Deity form.)

Deities and Deity Worship

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Krishna's Deity form is His physical likeness in the material world. Such forms are made of stone, metal, wood, paint, or other materials and are worshiped as Krishna Himself.

Krishna is the Absolute Truth, the source of all things, including personality and form. His personal form is superior to all other forms. He is completely spiritual—permanent, all-knowing, and supremely joyful—and there's no difference between Krishna and his form.

He appears in this world as the Deity—an apparently material form—because our materially covered senses can only perceive matter. We can't see spirit, but we can see and serve Krishna in His Deity form. The philosophy and practices of Deity worship are elaborately described in the Vedic writings.

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Krishna consciousness is a science of practical action. The goal isn't to stop acting but to fully engage in service to the Supreme Person. Deity worship allows us to associate with Krishna in a form we can see and touch.

The process of Deity worship provides opportunities to bathe, dress, feed, and decorate Krishna, as well as entertain Him by singing and dancing, decorating the temple, and bringing others to see Him. The more we become involved in such service, the more tangible our relationship with Krishna becomes.

Deities and paintings of Krishna are based on descriptions found in Vedic literature, which also explain in detail how to worship Them. Deity worship is distinct from idolatry, which is usually defined as worship of any cult image, idea, or object, as opposed to the worship of a personal form of God.

God is omnipotent. All energies, material and spiritual, are completely under His control—He can turn matter into spirit and vice versa. Krishna is not wood or stone, but Krishna appears to us as stone or as wood to enable us to see and serve Him.

(The painting depicts Krishna devotees chanting in kirtan before the temple Deity.)

Why is Kirtan so Important, and how can I do it?

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from the Perfection of Yoga
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

In India there are sacred places where yogis go to meditate in solitude, as prescribed in Bhagavad-gita.

Traditionally, yoga cannot be executed in a public place, but insofar as kirtan—mantra-yoga, or the yoga of chanting the Hare Krishna mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—is concerned, the more people present, the better.

When Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was performing kirtan in India some five hundred years ago, He organized in each group sixteen people to lead the chanting, and thousands of people chanted with them.

This participation in kirtan, in the public chanting of the names and glories of God, is very possible and is actually easy in this age; but as far as the meditational process of yoga is concerned, that is very difficult.

It is specifically stated in Bhagavad-gita that to perform meditational yoga one should go to a secluded and holy place. In other words, it is necessary to leave home. In this age of overpopulation it is not always possible to find a secluded place, but this is not necessary in bhakti-yoga.

In the bhakti-yoga system there are nine different processes: hearing, chanting, remembering, serving, worshiping the Deity in the temple, praying, carrying out orders, serving Krishna as a friend and sacrificing for Him.

Out of these, sravanam kirtanam, hearing and chanting, are considered the most important.

At a public kirtan one person can chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, while a group listens, and at the end of the mantra, the group can respond, and in this way there is a reciprocation of hearing and chanting.

This can easily be performed in one’s own home, with a small group of friends or with many people in a large public place.

One may attempt to practice meditational yoga in a large city or in a society, but one must understand that this is one’s own concoction and is not the method recommended in Bhagavad-gita.

-an excerpt from The Perfection of Yoga, an edited series of lectures on the sixth chapter of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.

Overcoming the Master/Servant Hurdle

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This is the eighth in a series of articles on offenses to be avoided when trying to progress spiritually by chanting God’s names. This article discusses the offense of not having complete faith in the spiritual nature of chanting Hare Krishna and holding on to material attachments.

A real summer job—not babysitting! I made it to the hotel before six in the morning so as to have the breakfast buns done on time. Sweating in front of a wall of ovens, we turned out cakes, pies, and bread. All of us in the kitchen were servants of the hotel. We had to cook what was on the menu, following our given recipes and rules. But I was unlike the others in at least one respect: Most of them felt that their job was simply a step to becoming a hotel manager themselves. While they labored as servants, their hearts yearned to become the masters.

The ambition to be the master is certainly the stuff of worldly success. But spiritual achievement requires the opposite: the more one is a servant, the higher one’s position. Accustomed through habits of many lifetimes, we conditioned souls assume that happiness, knowledge, and vitality will come by grasping and controlling the world. But these actually come from letting go of our false ego as controllers and enjoyers and, instead, holding on to the feet of the Lord, Sri Krishna, as his servants.

Imagine that we see in front of us what appears to be all we desire. But when we reach out to grab those pleasures, we find instead a solid block to our progress. Turning around, we find the source of real enjoyment. Pleasure from trying to exploit life and matter appears in front of us, but it is only a reflection, as in a mirror. There is no substance to that satisfaction. The mirror is catching the image, in a twisted way, of what fallen souls have turned their back to—service to God. Accessing that service and concomitant pleasure, however, requires us to often do exactly the opposite of what seems to bring fulfillment in this world.

Our habit of embracing self-centered, materialistic plans and solutions is long standing. Anyone starting on the spiritual path is expected to be full of such mundane attachments, with merely a spark of interest in surrender to Krishna, though that ember may seem significant to a beginner. As we progress in a life of holy service, we gradually become aware of our foolish attempts to enjoy a reflection. Such awareness comes to our consciousness primarily through the grace of Sri Krishna, who from within our hearts reveals the truth about himself and the dirt remaining within us. Krishna’s revelation is a response to any and all service we do for him with devotion. Our primary means of serving and evoking his pleasure is through the chanting of his holy name, as in the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

As we are chanting, however, if we consciously and deliberately maintain our illusory position as master of the world, we try to accomplish two irreconcilable purposes, and thus cheat the holy name. Our chanting is then only official, as if some shallow ritual, and Krishna in the form of his name is offended. We become like the hotel dishwasher who, while seemingly revering his boss, is enviously desiring his position.

Lack of Faith

Generally, this offense to the holy name comes from a lack of faith. We know that material life over-promises and under-delivers, yet we fear that holding the diamond of devotion will mean letting go of our broken bits of colored glass, carefully gathered on the shores of our many lives. We fear that the diamond is false and that the glass, once abandoned, cannot be reclaimed.

The scriptures describe this offense as “not having complete faith in the holy name and maintaining material attachments even after understanding so many instructions on this matter.” The very fact that the scripture tells us that we many be holding on to material attachments while chanting Hare Krishna is instructive. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna states that he destroys the ignorance in the heart of a person absorbed in his glories. In the Bhagavatam we learn that hearing Krishna’s name and activities eradicates our materialistic consciousness. Based on scriptural quotes such as these, some people claim purification of material attachment to be automatic for anyone chanting the holy name. But if the cleaning of our heart happens with no effort on our part, how would it be possible to “maintain material attachments” while chanting?

Krishna does not interfere with the living being’s free will. Our ability to desire is the defining principle of being alive. Though Descartes claimed that thinking is the prime indicator of existence, more primal than thinking is feeling, desire. Krishna will illumine our heart, showing us what is valuable and what is trash. We then have to want Krishna to remove the garbage. If we persist in holding on to our lust, envy, greed, illusion and so forth, after Krishna reveals these to us, he won’t change us against our will. We’ll keep our rubbish—and offend the Lord. By chanting we invite Krishna to purify us, to make us fit for his service and entrance into the spiritual world. If after inviting him we refuse to follow his direction, how will he be pleased?

We can understand this principle through an everyday example. Sometimes a friend might invite us to help clean up a storage area. As we go through their belongings, if they want to keep everything—no matter how old, broken, or unused—then we would ask, “Why did you ask me to come?”

To avoid this block to our progress, we need to nurture a mood of surrender while we chant and live a life of such surrender moment by moment.

Unworthy Shelters

Here we’ll examine some specific symptoms of the materialistic mentality we need to avoid, and then consider the six facets of surrender.

Materialists feel sheltered and empowered by their insatiable desire for mental and physical pleasure. Greed, lust, anger, and arrogance seem like friends and protectors who will give both impetus for the drive to success and armor against attacks along the way. Obstacles or reversals, including people who oppose one’s plans, need to be dispensed with through one’s own intelligence and power. People think they will achieve happiness, knowledge, and security by manipulating their environment.

People may think they will achieve fulfillment by getting everything to behave as they like—nature, other people, their own body and mind, anyone and anything. Krishna calls such thinking demonic, directly opposed to saintly character. The irony is that this mentality can disguise itself as bhakti, loving service to Krishna. How? We may feel that other devotees of Krishna need to change their behavior to support our own service to Krishna, or that our pleasure in such service depends on our control of our environment. While in a spiritual process, we may keep trying to control and change the outer world to get satisfaction. Krishna therefore states that those opposed to him consider the lust of material desire to be their shelter and protector.

Six Aspects of Spiritual Surrender

In contrast, mahatmas, or great souls, find their shelter in Krishna’s spiritual energy. This energy is the Lord’s most exalted devotee, Srimati Radharani. Unlike the witch of misleading lust, Radharani is the soothing mother of love, presenting us to Krishna, the supreme father. Coming under her protection involves six aspects that directly counteract and contradict the materialistic tendencies that have only brought us despair and disappointment.

First, we should accept anything favorable for Krishna’s service, and use in a favorable way situations we cannot change. We do not need to guess what is helpful for serving the Lord. The scriptures, gurus, and saintly persons give clear instructions in this regard. For example, we are advised to take a firm vow to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra a minimum number of times daily. Further, we should wake up before sunrise, using the early morning for chanting, worship, and scriptural study. Having such a program follows the example of great devotees.

Our vegetarian meals should be offered first to Krishna, considering him the master of our house, who must eat before we, his servants, partake of our meals. We should see our duties as having been given to us by Krishna and use the fruits of our activities for his pleasure. Our time should be spent in devotional service. Confident of achieving the perfection of life through our service to Krishna, we should continue with patience and enthusiasm in both the ups and downs of the waves of the material modes.

Sometimes seemingly unfavorable situations come unbidden and beyond our ability to alter. We may become sick or injured and unable to externally perform our worship of Krishna. Others may insult us or treat us unfairly, unsettling our mind. The weather may prevent our planned trip to the temple. While the demonic tendency is to try to eliminate all such obstacles though manipulating externals, one who wants spiritual success seeks to understand the Lord’s purpose.

A good teacher gives lessons and homework that highlight students’ weaknesses. To complete the assignment and pass the exam, a student must understand and apply what was lacking. Similarly, Krishna will set up situations we can use for spiritual advantage if we address and correct some area of weakness or lack within ourselves. Such apparently unfavorable situations, therefore, when understood and used properly, are truly the great favor of Krishna.

Second, we have to reject anything irredeemably unfavorable for Krishna’s devotional service. Activities that must be absolutely discarded are gambling, illicit sex (sex should be in marriage for procreation), taking intoxicants, and eating meat, fish or eggs. Furthermore, it is best to work for only as much money, knowledge, and achievement as will help us think of Krishna with love and spread his glories. We should give up friends, objects, activities, and discussions that drag our heart from the Lord, or deal with them only superficially. If we live simply, preferably in a society of Krishna’s devotees, avoiding problems is much easier.

Third, humility, or the lack of desire to receive the honor of others, is an essential requirement for receiving the enlightenment that will erase even difficult attachments. True humility is gratitude for Krishna’s gifts, joy at the privilege of service to him, and an honest appraisal of our position in the universe.

Fourth, a surrendered soul looks only to Krishna for protection. While we certainly have a duty to live a healthy life and take normal measures to protect ourselves (seatbelts, for example), ultimately the protection of our body, mind, and advancement in Krishna’s service is in Krishna’s hands. Acknowledging Krishna as the controller gives us a deep sense of inner peace no matter how great the present difficulty.

Fifth, we should depend exclusively on the mercy of Krishna for our maintenance. We should not claim to be able to maintain ourselves independently. And when taking help from others, we must know that ultimately Krishna is working through them. Everything that comes to us does so by his sanction only.

The sixth facet of surrender is to have no interest other than Krishna’s interest. That implies harmony, not the absence of personal initiative. Just as all family members can work for the good of the family by their individual plans and desires, so one can interlock personal plans and aspirations with Krishna’s will. A surrendered devotee understands Krishna to be the whole and knows that by pleasing Krishna we please ourselves when we’re connected to him with love.

For most people, chanting Krishna’s holy names with faith and without material attachments is a gradual process. Most of us start on the spiritual path with many material desires. The chanting itself is the key to attaining a holy inner and outer life. As we chant, we see things more clearly, from the spiritual perspective. If we use that clarity to improve the spiritual quality of our lives, we will attain the full potency of chanting, which will quickly bring us to the fulfillment of our true desire: union of love with Krishna.

Chant, chant, chant. Can’t, can’t can’t.

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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).

How Do We Understand The Temple Deity?

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Most of us from India, regardless of where we’re living now, at times go to a temple to see the Deity form of the Supreme Lord Krishna or Vishnu or one of His incarnations. We also many times see the deities of various demigods.

Perhaps on a few occasions, which we may remember as high points in our lives, we have gone with friends and relatives to holy tirthas, places of pilgrimage. We then performed special penances or pious acts. And so we appreciated the audience of the Deity in an especially rewarding manner. We came back from these journeys feeling peaceful, content, and purified.

Many of us appreciate our visits to the ISKCON temples deeply. In the 1970’s these were perhaps the only temples of Lord Krishna we found outside the borders of India. We were struck with wonder by the dedication and devotion Srila Prabhupada’s disciples showed towards the Deities. The cleanliness, punctuality, decorations, and high standards of offerings amazed us. Even in India, it was rare to see such fine arrangements. The lives of the devotees seemed centered on the Deity. Lord Krishna’s words from Bhagavad- gita seemed to come alive all over the world as we saw men and women living His teachings.

Today many of us continue to visit the ISKCON temples or other temples to see the Deity regularly. For one person that may mean going to the temple every day, for another once a week, and for others only once or twice a year, on special days such as Janmashtami and Diwali.

Each of us has different hopes, realizations, thoughts, experiences, and feelings when in the presence of the Deity. As we stand before the Deity, we find ourselves in the court of the Supreme Lord Himself. We have been granted an audience with the Lord. He seems to give us His attention. And we can have the most intimate exchanges with Him. We find ourselves asking questions of the Deity. We say prayers, make requests, and ask for explanations, forgiveness, or blessings. Somehow we know that the Deity hears us, and that alone is most satisfying. Many times the smile on the Lord’s face is enough to tell us we have been heard.

Knowing that the Supreme Lord is our eternal maintainer and wellwisher, we leave satisfied, knowing that everything is in the right hands.

To various degrees we have had the good fortune of realizing that the Supreme Lord is fully present in His Deity form, as much as in His teachings, His holy name, and His pastimes. No amount of criticism, ridicule, disbelief, or challenge deters us from our relationship with the Deity. Feeling sorry for the unfortunate who don’t understand the Lord’s presence in their city or village as the temple Deity, we go on trying to deepen our relationship with the Lord.

We understand that until we are completely free from all impurities we will not fully realize the Lord’s presence. And we hesitate to drink, smoke, gamble, eat nonvegetarian foods, or indulge in irreligious sexual activity because we know that these things may make us feel embarrassed about going before the Deity. These, we know, block our attraction for the Lord.

We remember the words of great acaryas who tell us that one day when we’re sufficiently pure the Deity will speak to us and enable us to see His transcendental pastimes.

The scriptures and great acaryas tell us that our relationship with the Deity develops through cultivation. To understand the Lord’s presence, many activities will help us.

When we go to the temple we can develop the habit of always bringing some offering for the Deity. Usually the temple priests guide us to bring appropriate gifts. We offer our respects and bow our head before the Deity. We see His beautiful form, observe His worship or arati, hear and sing His glories, partake of His maha-prasadam and caranamrita, pray to Him. These all help cultivate our relationship with Him.

As we perform these scientific devotional acts prescribed in the scriptures, our relationship with the Deity gets deeper and deeper. We look forward to visiting the Lord and having His audience. The importance of our relationship with the Deity becomes greater and greater, and material relationships in the world seem less and less important. We begin to understand the feelings and realizations of great souls known to be dedicated and devoted to their Deities.

By the mercy of the Deity we can feel ourselves making genuine spiritual advancement. Knowledge about ourselves, about the world, and about the purpose of life seems to awaken. Detachment from less important material affairs and attachment for the reality of committed spiritual life seem to grow simultaneously.

We find ourselves becoming more and more attracted to the name, form, teachings, and pastimes of the Supreme Lord. We want to make the best offerings possible to the Deity and make all kinds of arrangements to provide for His worship. And we avoid all irreligious and immoral acts.

Feeling unworthy yet deeply grateful, we desire and act to help others receive the same good fortune. We become eager to distribute the mercy of the Lord. We take part in teaching the less informed. And to those still unreceptive we distribute prasadam, remnants of the Lord’s food, so that their hearts may soften and they will take advantage of their rare human birth. In these various ways, we begin to appreciate and understand the greatness of our Vedic or Indian heritage.

As these symptoms begin to appear steadily in our lives, we know that we are moving forward on the spiritual path. We know that we have received the mercy of the Supreme Lord and that He is attracting us back home, back to Godhead.

Coming to Krishna Consciousness: Sarvatma dasa

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He sought enlightenment on an isolated beach through music, meditation, and marijuana, it came to him in a way he'd never expected.

Video of Sarvatma dasa chanting at the 2007 Ukraine kirtan festival.

Having had some mystical experiences as a teenager that convinced me of the existence of God, I left my native country, Argentina, for Salvador, capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, famous for its mysticism and magic. I arrived in the area without plans, money, or acquaintances and moved into a straw hut by the beach a couple of miles from the nearest fishing village and fifty miles from civilization. It was an ideal setting of palm trees, a small lake, a river of crystalline water, and the turquoise Atlantic Ocean, in year-round eighty-degree weather.

I made a new friend there. He was reading the Bible and other books about God, playing music for God, and smoking marijuana to keep in touch with "the subtle world of God consciousness." While I played saxophone and recorder, he would play guitar. We intended to satisfy God with our musical spontaneity.

I read a book by a Japanese doctor who claimed that everyone had inherent healing powers that could be awakened just by practicing austerities like fasting and chanting mantras. Since our eating depended on what God would send, fasting wasn't unknown to us, although God would almost daily send someone with something to eat, or drop some green coconuts to the ground. To try to attain enlightenment, I was already planning to undergo a forty-day fast. So I followed the Japanese doctor's program and, by the grace of God. I developed some healing powers. I could close wounds and heal minor afflictions.

My friend and hut-mate, David (as he wanted people to call him—after the biblical character), made bamboo flutes, which we decided to try selling at the artisans' market in Salvador. For the first time in months, I put on a shirt and sandals. I walked along the beach to the next village (there was no road) and caught a bus into the city.

Although the contrast between the city and the beach was shocking, my mind was peaceful because I was always thinking of finding the way to God. I walked around the market playing a flute. I sold a few and then went to the telephone company to make a long-distance call.

A young woman in a wheelchair waiting for her turn to use the phones attracted my attention. Here was a serious case I might be able to cure. Without hesitation. I went up to her and revealed my intentions.

"By the grace of God," I said, "I have some healing powers that might enable you to walk. I'm not going to touch you or charge you anything, nor is it going to hurt you to try." I waited for her answer, which came in a way I'd never expected.

"You are very kind in trying to help me," she replied, "but you should also consider that I suffer no more pain than what your body gives you. I've been in a wheelchair since birth. I have never walked; nevertheless, I've always gotten where I wanted to go. This is the body God gave me after many past lives of sinful activities; therefore I deserve it. And more important than all this," she added, "is that I, the person, live in this machine we call the body. I need spiritual, not material, help, and in spite of your good intentions, I don't think you are ready to give that yet." After saying this, she smiled and waited for my reaction.

I was dumbfounded. It took me a while to recuperate. Then I said, "What you just said sounds like the absolute truth, which I had not expected to hear from someone in your circumstances."

My experience was that many persons confined to wheelchairs were easily irritated and seemingly resentful of their condition. I asked her not to go away. I wanted to make a call and return to talk at length. She promised to wait. When I returned I pushed the wheelchair outside and asked her where we should go.

"Let's take a taxi to a restaurant," she said.

"OK." I said, thinking, Taxi? I never thought I'd ever ride in one again. I had the same feeling about going to a restaurant.

Once in the taxi she asked me if I was a vegetarian. I replied that where I lived there was no meat, so circumstantially I was. But why?

She explained that killing animals or eating them is sinful and should be avoided by all means. This made sense to me, and I promised her that I would become a total vegetarian. I could see that she was serious about spiritual life, so I asked. "Is there any other prohibition?"

"Yes. No gambling."

"Fine with me." I said. "What else?"

"No illicit sex."

I had given up sex entirely some time before, understanding that it doesn't help in the pursuit of spiritual life. So I had no problems with that either.

"What else?" I asked.

"No intoxication." she replied shyly, knowing from my long hair and beard that I was probably rather involved in this particular area.

"What do you mean by 'No intoxication'?" I asked her quickly.

"No alcohol, drugs, tobacco, coffee, tea ..."

I then admitted to smoking marijuana to keep in constant touch with God, but at the same time I began to doubt this method of God realization.

"Where did you get the philosophy you were speaking back at the phone company?" I asked.

She calmly replied. "From the Hare Krishnas."

I searched my mind for some information about the Hare Krishnas. I told her I'd read long ago in a popular magazine that their diet consisted of lettuce and walnuts and that George Harrison of the Beatles paid all the bills. I also saw them once selling books, incense, and oils at the Buenos Aires subway. She laughed at my poor description.

I then asked. "How do they get in touch with God if they don't smoke marijuana?"

"They chant Hare Krishna. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare" she said.

Since I was already chanting some words to help with my healing powers, this made sense to me. I thought. These Hare Krishna people don't look like anyone else, so they easily could have something that no one else has, and why not exactly what I am looking for: the Absolute Truth? What wouldn't I give for that priceless gift!

I asked, "What should I do?"

"Go live with them," she said.

I felt far too ignorant of their philosophy to just walk in and say, "Well, I'm one of you now." So I proposed that we spend a few days together so I could learn the basics of Krishna consciousness. She agreed.

We took a boat across the bay from Salvador to an island where she lived with some friends. For the next few days she taught me the basic philosophy, answered my questions, and gave me a Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead book and a volume of Srimad-Bhagavatam. She showed me japa (chanting) beads and explained many things about the devotees' life. I was fascinated. I bid her farewell and took a boat back across the bay and a bus to the temple.

I met the temple president Hankara dasa, who asked, "How did you get to know about us?" I briefly related my story, and he started explaining different aspects of the philosophy in a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish. I told him I wanted to become a pure devotee. Seated beside him was a young man with long hair (not as long as mine, but long enough to distinguish him from the shaven-headed devotees) who seemed absorbed in chanting on his beads, quite loudly, but also in listening to our conversation. I tried to appear unaffected by this strange sight.

Then came the prasadam (food that's been offered to Krishna). To the girl, prasadam was a magic word. Yet despite her descriptions of celestial, divine, delicious prasadam. I thought it was terrible. But I silently ate every thing on my plate. Later I learned that the cook was new and that the food I'd eaten, except for the bread Hankara had made, was well below standard. Still, the philosophy was so satisfying that nothing was going to discourage me from living with devotees. They let me stay overnight not in the ashram but in the reception room, with no blanket or mat or pillow. My spontaneous attraction to the philosophy made them suspicious, and they were afraid I was just there to steal something or do something crazy.

They woke me for mangala-arati, the ceremony of worshiping the Deities that begins the day. That afternoon a devotee accompanied me to my hut. I wanted to pick up my belongings and tell my hut-mate the good news: finally I'd found the process of awakening the soul from the slumber of material illusion and the torture of mental speculation. But my friend had left

The next day, I rode the night bus to Recife, a city twelve hours north of Salvador, with the president of the Recife temple and a younger devotee. I was going there to join the program for newcomers. At about 9:15 P.M. the younger devotee asked me if I was chanting Hare Krishna. "Well, nobody told me to," I said, "so I guess I'm not ready yet." He laughed, gave me his own beads as a gift and taught me how to chant. By 10:00 P.M., after chanting three rounds, I fell asleep.

Rising Before the Sun

Complexity: 
Easy


We can learn to love the early-morning hours—the best time for spiritual practices.
“No school!”

My student’s excitement ripples through his arms, which boast the muscles of early youth.

“I can sleep late!”

He smiles.

I sigh.

School for my students means not just academic study but also rising before sunrise to worship Krishna. Why doesn’t this student love the pre-dawn hours?

I look back on my life as a small child. Each morning my father would rise by 5:00 A.M. and wake me soon afterwards. Or did I wake spontaneously just to be with him? I would play in his office in our home while he showered. When I was very young we would play together, each of us with a doll. His doll told me stories of his life and taught me lessons of ethics and morality. As I got older, the play became a time to talk of the important things in our lives. My father squeezed fresh orange juice, made our breakfast, and forged our friendship. He made the early morning a time of peace, beauty, love, friendship, and understanding.

Mentally traveling forward, I remember sitting in a temple president’s office so many years later.

“I’d like to live here and dedicate myself to serving Krishna.”

“We wake up early in the morning,” he says. “Very early. Can you do that?”

I smile. “I’ve done that all my life.”

How easy now to spend the early mornings with my ultimate father, the Supreme Lord, Krishna! I sing His glories, dance to please Him, and study His philosophy. When chanting His names, I am personally with Him.

All day my father worked for our family, but the time we spent together, sometimes simply enjoying each other’s company, was often the most significant and satisfying. Now my sweetest time is spent in the morning just being with Krishna in His name, in His deity form on the altar, in the descriptions of His activities and philosophy. On days when I miss that time, I feel incomplete, even though I chant Krishna’s names and read His stories and instructions later in the day.

Rising early for prayer and study may become a chore, an obligation, as my student felt, and I wonder if I can give him the sense of wonder that my father gave me. I have read of medieval monks who woke each night at midnight for prayers and then slept a bit more until the next prayers before sunrise. They struggled sometimes, in those cold stone monasteries, to drag their sleep-heavy bodies and minds to the chapel. Some of them write of these practices as austerities or penance. We might similarly describe our Vaishnava devotions, yet are they not really rather a joy?

The ancient study of Ayurveda teaches us why the early morning so helps one’s spiritual advancement toward pure love of God. The controlling forces of the creation—the three modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance—affect our consciousness, activities, and even the time of day or year. In early morning we more easily achieve goodness and, beyond that, transcendence. Passion increases with the day, as we consume our time with occupations and making money. At night, ignorance prevails, inciting inclinations toward degradation and crime.

Even if we don’t understand the workings of nature’s modes, most of us find focusing the mind difficult when pressed with the day’s demands. The early-morning hours can clear our consciousness, mellow our actions.

The challenge of focusing on spiritual practices at other times of the day is like trying to travel during a traffic jam, when arriving at our destination is a protracted business at best. When everyone else is on the road, we don’t want to be there. But during the off times, the same journey is fast and easy. Similarly, while we can spend time with Lord Krishna at any time and place, the early morning is an open highway. Our devotional thoughts can move freely, unimpeded. While nothing material, including time, can hinder spiritual life, if we’re sincere about spiritual progress we’ll aim to build our day and life around the favorable circumstances.

Logic and knowledge alone may not be enough to sustain us through a lifetime of daily practice. We’re part of the Lord, the reservoir of pleasure, so we also seek pleasure. To throw off the bedcovers each morning and embrace the day, our early-morning chanting and study must be a source of pleasure.

One can say, dogmatically, that the early-morning devotions are pleasure, and that one who practices regularly will surely come to feel the pleasure. The great spiritual teacher Rupa Goswami tells us that even if devotion to Krishna tastes bitter, by practice it will turn to sweetness. But while waiting to feel that joy, we may become discouraged, like the shopper at the end of a long line who decides to shop elsewhere. Therefore, we cannot hope to achieve perfection simply by following a formula because it is the formula. We must feel a real connection with Krishna, which is joyful even in the stage of practice.

Is the practice hard? As I look at the young student who thinks it is, I’m not sure. I pray that Krishna will awaken him to the feeling that he is truly and completely with the Lord.

We can come to love worshiping Krishna early in the morning as naturally and easily as I loved being with my father. After all, Krishna is the most lovable person. All good qualities reside unlimitedly in Him, His love for each of us is unbounded, and we know enough about Him from the Vedas to saturate our minds and hearts with love for Him and with thoughts of His greatness. If we just look at Him fully, and hear Him fully, with focus and dedication, will we not find joy in His presence?

The Early Morning Practice of Devotion

This is the general program Srila Prabhupada gave us, in line with the traditional practices of saintly, pure devotees of Lord Krishna.

  • Rise before sunrise, preferably by 4:00 A.M.
  • Bathe and dress in clean clothes.
  • Gather with others, if possible, and spend half an hour in responsive singing of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and other glorification of the Lord. Generally, devotees gather in a special room in their home where there are pictures or deity forms of Krishna, Lord Caitanya, and Srila Prabhupada. (Many devotees travel daily to a temple outside their home.)
  • If possible, worship the sacred Tulasi plant.
  • Chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra quietly to oneself. Devotees usually count the number of mantras they chant on a string of 108 beads. Initiated devotees in ISKCON chant at least sixteen times around the beads daily.
  • Read the scriptures and discuss their meaning and application according to the teachings of great devotees. Our main scripture for morning study is the Srimad- Bhagavatam.

Holding Fast In Times Of Stress

Complexity: 
Easy

from Back To Godhead Magazine, #34-03, 2000

There's a lot of talk these days about how to relieve stress. We often feel stress because of change, and change comes under the larger headings of fate and time, and of Krishna’s will. How does a devotee of Krishna handle the stress of feeling his life suddenly subject to upheaval?

A devotee turns to the scriptures for shelter. The Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam are full of advice about how to think and act in times of difficulty, and they are also filled with descriptions of the inevitability of change in the material world.

In the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna speaks a series of verses to answer Arjuna’s question about the nature of the transcendentalist. I remember reading in Gandhi’s autobiography that he used to read daily that particular section (from verse Bg 2.55 to the end of the chapter). The instructions contained in those verses are universally applicable for those wishing to stay fixed in transcendence while living in the material world.

Verse Bg 2.57 is particularly relevant: “In the material world, one who is unaffected by whatever good or evil he may obtain, neither praising it nor despising it, is firmly fixed in perfect knowledge.”

Srila Prabhupada’s purport begins, “There is always some upheaval in the material world which may be good or evil.” This is a classic statement by Srila Prabhupada. I have had this line reverberating in my mind ever since I first read it, and it seemed to address my life at different times when there were upheavals. Upheavals can be anything from government collapse to tidal waves and earthquakes to losing our job or our particular service to Lord Krishna. Here Srila Prabhupada calls such unfortunate occurrences “normal.”

Prabhupada told us, “Don’t expect smooth sailing in this world.” He meant that being devotees of Krishna doesn’t protect us from rough seas. Arjuna certainly didn’t enjoy smooth sailing as he fought against friends and family in the Battle of Kurukshetra. Krishna’s only promise was that He had already accomplished what He wanted Arjuna to do; Arjuna should act as His instrument, and Krishna would stand before him on the chariot.

Srila Prabhupada continues: “One who is not agitated by such material upheavals, who is unaffected by good and evil, is to be understood to be fixed in Krishna consciousness.”

There it is, how we should respond to inevitable change: When, after years of peace, we or someone we know is suddenly afflicted with disease or loss of income or some other drastic change, we should remain unaffected.

“As long as one is in the material world there is always the possibility of good and evil because this world is full of duality. But one who is fixed in Krishna consciousness is not affected by good and evil, because he is simply concerned with Krishna, who is all-good absolute. Such consciousness situates one in a perfect transcendental position, called, technically, samadhi.”

Krishna is the anchor in any storm. He will never change. Therefore, if we are fixed on Krishna, then we will remain fixed in the face of any calamity. Otherwise, if our attachment and fixity are on matter, and our faith was based on the idea that matter won’t change in our particular situation, then when our small world dissolves and our plans go spinning off into meaninglessness, our complete sense of identity will also spin off. A devotee is fixed on Krishna, not on matter. And Krishna doesn’t change.

Of course, saving ourselves from unnecessary stress is not the main reason to become Krishna conscious, but a rewarding dividend of practicing devotional service is to be able to hold on to the one trustworthy person, and to a realized sense of identity. Thus whatever faith we have invested in matter we should invest in Krishna so that we can develop the ability to turn to Krishna always, and to live in remembrance of Him. Krishna finishes His answer to Arjuna’s question by saying, “This is the way of the spiritual and godly life, after attaining which a man is not bewildered. If one is thus situated even at the hour of death, one can enter into the kingdom of God.” (2.72)

Sticking to Our Practices

It’s a shame, therefore, that we see devotees undergoing change who give up their sadhana, their daily spiritual practices. Often the stress doesn’t have to be so calamitous. It can simply be a new, more hectic schedule or a temporary illness. In one sense, it’s not so unusual to neglect sadhana at such times because sadhana is based on regulation. When regulation is disturbed, sadhana seems more difficult to perform. Still, it’s a shame. Krishna is the anchor in our lives. If during a storm we let go of our anchor, what shelter do we have? Of course, it’s not that we really let go of Krishna, but we abandon our method of connecting with Him. When things change, we suddenly give up the shelter we need most.

Perhaps we each need to examine whether giving up sadhana, or even reducing sadhana, is really required. Another way to see our lives is to say, “If I do anything during this difficult time, let it be chanting Hare Krishna.” Everything else can come after. Chanting is not a luxury for a devotee; neither is hearing about Krishna. Hearing and chanting are how we sustain our spiritual lives.

The Greatest Gain

Since Srila Prabhupada mentioned samadhi, let’s examine another reference to that state. In the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (6.20-23), Krishna explains:

In the stage of perfection called trance, or samadhi, one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. 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 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.

Samadhi is the greatest gain because it rests on the real happiness of the self living in the truth of Krishna consciousness. Having attained samadhi, a person is not shaken by difficulty. In the last paragraph of his purport, Prabhupada writes, “As long as the material body exists, one has to meet the demands of the body.… But a person who is in pure bhakti-yoga … does not arouse the senses while meeting the demands of the body. Rather, he accepts the bare necessities of life, making the best use of a bad bargain, and enjoys transcendental happiness in Krishna consciousness. He is callous toward incidental occurrences—such as accidents, disease, scarcity, and even the death of a most dear relative—but he is always alert to execute his duties in Krishna consciousness.”

Our sadhana is not a selfish act. I remember that when I was in charge of ISKCON’s first temple in Boston, I sometimes had to counsel devotees who had had some calamity in their families. I often referred to this purport. A relative’s death is not a signal that we should abandon our spiritual lives. Our obligation is different. Prabhupada says that a devotee is callous toward incidental occurrences, and he lists all the typical sources of misery—accidents, disease, scarcity, and the death of a relative. “He endures all such incidental occurrences because he knows that they come and go and do not affect his duties. In this way he achieves the highest perfection in yoga practice.”

Callous means tough. We should be tough, not shaken by every whimsical wind passing through the material world. Our hearts should not feel tugged at by every grief and happiness. Matter changes; that is its nature. A transcendentalist does not become affected by it.

How do we come to the platform of samadhi? It takes knowledge. Prabhupada has made that knowledge accessible to us in his books. Here he states that not only do we need knowledge, we need to stay fixed in our duty. That is the key. If we are fixed in Krishna consciousness, then we will stick to our Krishna conscious duty.

Devotees may then ask, “What about when our duty changes because of some upheaval in the material world?”

Then we may have to examine what really constitutes our duty. The basis of our duty is our sadhana and the understanding that we are the eternal servant of Krishna. We tend to allow ourselves to identify with what has become the status quo for us, the work for which we are often appreciated. We think of ourselves as writers or managers or cooks or mothers. Krishna may, at any time, change that designation, however. Therefore, we must see our ultimate duty as taking shelter of the holy names and following the four regulative principles according to our vows, and we should embrace this duty no matter in what condition of life we find ourselves. We must also regularly hear about Krishna. These activities constitute a devotee’s unchanging duty. If our service to Krishna is changed, we can take up a new service. After all, we are servants. Such dutifulness will provide real shelter. It is a tangible way in which to connect with Krishna.

The upheavals: scarcity (of money or food); disease (which comes in so many varieties); accidents (to the body, to our property); and death. A devotee continues to do his service.

Ultimately, Krishna is behind whatever changes take place in this world. We can remember that and quicken our philosophical perception of life by carrying through with all the items of sadhana. By associating with devotees, taking shelter of the holy name, and hearing the voice of God as He presents it in scripture, we can develop the understanding and steadiness required.

Not Emotionless

Of course, we are not stone, and we have not achieved samadhi. We will feel emotion about the things happening around us. I have felt assured that Krishna did not condemn Arjuna for crying or shaking before the battle, nor for his fears or attachments. Rather, Krishna condemned Arjuna for not acting on His order despite those obstacles. To grieve and feel afraid or insecure in the midst of upheaval is human. We don’t have to pretend to be unmoved if we are quaking inwardly. Neither should we pretend we are callous if we’re actually upset. What is required of us is not pretense but steadiness. We should not give up our duty under any condition.

There is real shelter in Krishna consciousness. As Gandhi said about his own turning to scripture, “When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad- gita and find a verse to comfort me. I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day.”

We have that access to Krishna and to solace. By opening the scriptures and reading something, we come in touch with something sublime, with the voice of God.

We can become Krishna conscious. That means we can see Krishna’s hand in every situation. If we see Krishna’s hand, we won’t be bewildered into laying blame on others for our misfortune. We can achieve that freedom, but we have to practice Krishna consciousness to achieve it. All the items of sadhana will give us the strength and knowledge to function as devotees.

Seeing Krishna’s hand doesn’t mean that we can or even need to always understand the reasons behind His actions. We simply accept that His plans are inconceivable to us. We don’t even need to inquire into them. Our faith is that Krishna is our well-wishing friend; everything is happening by His arrangement for our own good.

Of course, that requires faith, and times of difficulty must especially become times of faith. Faith means to place our trust in something sublime. It means we cannot always see the way; it’s too dark ahead. It means that even though Krishna is not always showing us the goal and the solution to the obstacles we will encounter on our way to the goal at every instance, we follow Him anyway. It means following Him even when He is not revealing Himself to us. If we go before the deity and don’t see Krishna, if we chant the holy name and don’t hear “Krishna,” and in the absence of any other form of revelation, we continue to follow, then that is faith.

Somehow, therefore, serve Krishna with body, mind, and words. Our duty is Krishna consciousness. Although practicing our sadhana and performing our service may sometimes take creativity, we should never lose sight of our real position as Krishna’s eternal servants.

Bhakti-yoga—A Method of Nonmechanistic Science: Part III

Complexity: 
Easy

The term science refers to knowledge we can reliably verify by practical methods. So to study a subject scientifically, we must clearly understand how to use our senses to obtain trustworthy knowledge of what we are studying. This article, which concludes a series from the book Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science, examines how a person can take advantage of his innate transcendental senses to obtain direct knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, who is the ultimate object of study in the science of bhakti-yoga.

One of the basic principles of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is that the Absolute Truth is not an impersonal void but rather the Supreme Person, full of variegated attributes. The Supreme Person, Krishna, possesses unlimited personal qualities, and He also performs unlimited transcendental activities in reciprocation with the innumerable jivatmas (living beings) who enjoy His association in a state of pure consciousness. The goal of one who practices devotional service is to revive that state of pure consciousness and enter Krishna’s personal association.

Service to Lord Krishna can take many forms, but since becoming aware of our relationship with Krishna requires that we first hear about Him. the process of hearing (shravanam) is fundamental. Hearing about the attributes and pastimes of Krishna reminds the materially conditioned jivatma of his own natural relationship with the Lord. Gradually, as the jivatma continues hearing, his desire to know about Krishna increases, and simultaneously his attachment to the affairs ofthe material bodyand mind diminishes.

The philosophy of bhakti-yoga holds that knowledge of the Absolute must descend directly from the Absolute. Krishna is the original source of all material forms, and He is also the source of the literature of bhakti-yoga. This literature consists of scriptures that are either directly produced by Krishna Himself or else written by persons who are directly linked with Krishna in a transcendental relationship. Bhagavad-gita is a scripture of the former type, and Srimad-Bhagavatam and Chaitanya-caritamrita are scriptures of the latter type. As we have already pointed out (BACK TO GODHEAD, Vol. 16, No. 9), the subject matter of bhakti-yoga is preserved and disseminated by a community of gurus and sadhus (highly advanced souls), whose role in the regulation of transcendental knowledge is like that of the community of experts in a scientific field.

All literature is simply information encoded in sequences of symbols, and unlimited amounts of information about Krishna can be encoded in this form. But since Krishna is all-pervading, information about Him differs from information describing ordinary configurations of matter. In our everyday experience we encounter patterns of symbols arranged according to the conventions of a language so as to represent certain events in a limited region of time and space. When we hear or read this information we are able to interpret the coded patterns, and as a result we become aware of a mental image of the events. But this mental image is something quite different from the events themselves.

In contrast, when a jivatma perceives information describing the Supreme Person, the resulting mental images actually bring the jivatma into direct contact with the Supreme Person. Since Krishna is all-pervading, images and sounds representing Krishna are nondifferent from Krishna Himself, and the jivatma can directly understand this identity when free of his material conditioning. Such understanding cannot, of course, be simply a matter of manipulating material symbols; it directly involves the higher sensory and cognitive faculties of the conscious self.

Since this point is quite important, let us explore it in greater detail. According to the philosophy of Bhagavad- gita, nothing is different from Krishna and yet nothing is Krishna except His own primordial personality. This seeming paradox is resolved in the following way: Krishna is the cause and the essence of all phenomena, and in this sense all phenomena are identical with Him; yet the phenomena of this world are merely external displays projected by Krishna’s will, and His real nature is His eternal personality. The Absolute is highly specific, and therefore only certain symbolic patterns, and not others, can represent Krishna. By means of these patterns Krishna can make Himself available to the conditioned jivatma, and thus these material configurations are, nondifferent from Krishna in a direct personal sense. Such configurations remind the jivatma of Krishna, by whose mercy the jivatma soon revives his own higher vision and can see the Lord directly.

This explanation may convey some idea of how the embodied jivatma, restricted entirely to material modes of sense perception, can begin to perceive the transcendental Supreme Person. In the initial stages of bhakti-yoga, the jivatma’s perception of Krishna may seem to be completely dependent on the interactions of matter, but the essence of the jivatma’s experience is not material. We can begin to understand this by considering that matter itself is a manifestation of Krishna and that material perception is simply a limited, impersonal way of seeing Him.

In the highest stage of realization, the reciprocation between the jivatma and Krishna has nothing to do with the material manifestation. This relationship does not depend on the material body of the jivatma in any way, and it continues after the body has ceased to exist. According to the philosophy of bhakti-yoga, the material manifestation represents only a minor aspect of the total reality. There is a higher realm, inaccessible to material sense perception but nonetheless full of variegated form and activity. Since we are concerned here with how a materially embodied person can acquire knowledge, we shall not discuss this higher realm in detail. (Readers interested in this subject may consult Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya-Caritamrita.)

The process of shravanam, or hearing, is complemented by the process of kirtanam, or glorifying the Lord by singing or reciting His names, qualities, and pastimes and by discussing these with others. We have argued (back to godhead, Vol. 16, No. 10) that the process of bhakti-yoga is scientific in the sense that it is a practical method of obtaining verifiable knowledge about the Absolute Truth. In the science of bhakti-yoga, however, the researcher approaches the Absolute with an attitude of reverence and devotion, in stark contrast to the aggressive and exploitative approach prevalent in modern science. By glorifying Krishna, the jivatma can awaken his natural love for Krishna, and then Krishna will be fully accessible to him on a personal level.

One important form of kirtanam is the chanting of Krishna’s names. Krishna has innumerable names, and there are innumerable ways to chant them, but by far the most common way of performing kirtanam is to chant the Hare Krishna mantra:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

The Sanskrit term mantra refers to a pattern of sound that has a purifying effect on the mind. The Hare Krishna mantra consists of two names of the Supreme Person (Krishna and Rama) and one name of His energy (Hara). Grammatically the mantra is in the vocative case, so it is, in effect, an address to the Lord and His energy.

The names that constitute the Hare Krishna mantra are examples of patterns of symbols that directly represent the absolute person and therefore have an absolute, inherent meaning. According to the philosophy of bhakti-yoga, Krishna’s holy names are nondifferent from Krishna Himself, and one who chants and hears these names is brought into personal contact with Him. A person who has awakened his higher sensory capacities can actually perceive Krishna in His name. For others, the chanting of Krishna’s names purifies them by reminding them of Krishna, and thereby brings about this awakening.

One can obtain the results of chanting the holy names of the Lord by using any names that are actually connected with the Supreme Person and that are not mere concoctions of the material imagination. In His Sikshashtaka (Eight Verses of Instruction), Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the great teacher of bhakti-yoga who appeared in India in the fifteenth century, describes the significance of chanting the holy names of God:

O MyLord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, in Your holy name there is all good fortune for the living entity, and therefore You have many names, such as “Krishna” and “Govinda,” by which You expand Yourself. You have invested all Your potencies in those names, and there are no hard and fast rules for remembering them. My dear Lord, although You bestow such mercy upon the fallen, conditioned souls by liberally teaching Your holy names, I am so unfortunate that I commit offenses while chanting the holy name, and therefore I do not achieve attachment for chanting. (Sikshashtaka 2).

From this statement we see that the conditioned jivatma, benumbed by his preoccupation with the material mind and senses, will initially feel little desire to chant the Lord’s holy names. Yet by regularly chanting the holy names and following the regulative injunctions of bhakti-yoga, the jivatma gradually awakens his transcendental taste for the name and attains the stage of loving reciprocation with Krishna.

Since the goal of one who chants the names of God is to develop love for Him, one must chant with an attitude compatible with this emotion. Caitanya Mahaprabhu described this attitude as follows:

One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others, can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord. (Sikshashtaka 3).

Generally a person who has no direct knowledge of the Supreme Person cannot understand at first what it might mean to love the Supreme. But such a person can lay the groundwork for this understanding by adopting a nonexploitative attitude toward the Supreme Person and His creation. Indeed, this attitude is the key to success in bhakti-yoga. For one who wishes to exploit the Supreme, the Supreme will remain unknowable. But if one truly gives up the desire for such exploitation, then the Supreme Person will reveal Himself by His own mercy.

Once, in a letter to Max Born, Albert Einstein declared that his goal was to capture the Absolute Truth. Unfortunately, Einstein went about it the wrong way. The Absolute Truth cannot be forcibly captured by a minute part of the Absolute, but according to the philosophy of bhakti- yoga, the Absolute can be captured by love. Once one attains this love, direct knowledge of the Absolute becomes readily available. Yet, ironically, the development of this love is incompatible with the desire for knowledge or power. Knowledge is indeed a by-product of the process of bhakti-yoga, but it cannot be the goal of that process, for the key to the process itself lies in a fundamental reassessment of one’s innermost goals.

Although superficially this reassessment may seem simple, carrying it out requires a deep insight into one’s own psychology. By bringing the inner self into personal contact with the Absolute, the process of bhakti-yoga enables one to attain this insight. Only by this means can one capture the Absolute—once all desire to conquer the Absolute has been forsaken.