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Practices, see also Sadhana

#2 Sadhana with Mahatma dasa

Complexity: 
Easy

- the importance of spiritual association (sat-sanga)

Our consciousness and behavior are certainly affected by the company we keep. This is especially true for those who want to enhance their spiritual consciousness. In this episode, Mahatma dasa explores some of the many reasons why building relationships with spiritually-focused people can profoundly help awaken our own Krishna consciousness.

#3 Sadhana with Mahatma dasa

Complexity: 
Easy

In episode #3 of his Sadhana series, Mahatma dasa gives many practical hints about how to develop a strong practice of bhakti-yoga. He discusses how we humans develop habits, and the benefits of becoming habituated to behavior which helps us advance in spiritual life and become truly fulfilled.

Begging for the Nectar of the Holy Name

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Medium

Recently I took time out from traveling and lecturing to work on my practice of japa (quiet chanting on beads). Although I have been following Srila Prabhupada’s order to chant at least sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra daily, I knew my japa had become poor and needed special care. I tried doubling the minimum quota and chanted in the early-morning hours in the company of other chanters, but my first discovery was that the more I chanted, the more dry it felt. And I could not control my mind.

I began reading statements in Prabhupada’s books that glorified the holy names of Krishna. The scriptural claims that chanting is easy and full of nectar seemed to contradict my own experience. But as I went on chanting and reading, I began to understand that my gut feeling about my own japa was not the last word in understanding the holy names.

The more I read, the more I became encouraged about the glories of the holy name. Was I wrong to think I was benefitting from the holy name, even if I felt no ecstasy while chanting? No. To be encouraged in that way is not wrong.

Srila Prabhupada states that the change of heart that comes by chanting should appear in one’s daily activities. He quotes Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who says that detachment from material life is itself an important symptom of the good result of chanting Hare Krishna. Tears and other such bodily ecstatic symptoms are not always shown even by the most advanced devotees, and those symptoms may even by imitated by a pseudo devotee (prakrita-sahajiya).

Therefore, Prabhupada mentions symptoms of “steady ecstasy” as results to watch for in effective chanting. Those symptoms, mentioned in The Nectar of Devotion, include pridelessness, intense utilization of time, forbearance, attraction for chanting, attachment to living in Krishna’s holy abode, and always expecting Krishna’s mercy.

So it isn’t wrong to believe we are benefitting when we chant our rounds, even in the beginning. I decided to be optimistic and be grateful for even the simple gains of staying alert and awake, hearing the correct pronunciation of the mantra, sitting up straight, and chanting at a brisk pace.

Devotees at every ISKCON temple are making significant progress during the japa hours, as long as those devotees are sincerely trying. And not just in the temple buildings but wherever devotees chant their japa and strive to utter and hear the holy names, gains are being made. When we chant Hare Krishna, either privately or in public, benefit comes not only to the individual chanters but to the nonchanters also. Among the benefits that come to human society from chanting the holy name, Srila Prabhupada mentions peace, material prosperity, political progress, and all-around good fortune.

Even when we don’t notice the good qualities developing in a chanter or in society, we should have faith that the holy name is all-powerful and that its influence is improving everyone’s life.

For the person who chants, sinful reactions are vanquished. Therefore he gives up illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling. And even if one cannot completely give up all traces of bad habits, one is released from past karma.

Great benefits come to anyone who utters the holy names. Whether I feel dry or “wet” when I am chanting, the chanting works to destroy sins, provided I don’t deliberately commit sins on the strength of chanting. “If one chants the holy name of the Lord, even in a helpless condition or with-out desiring to do so, all the reactions of his sinful life depart, just as when a lion roars all the small animals flee in fear.” (Garuda Purana)

I want to improve. I want to avoid offenses and chant with attention and devotion. But even when my rascal mind roams out of control, the holy name reigns supreme. I chant with this faith: “If a person unaware of the effective potency of a certain medicine takes that medicine or is forced to take it, it will act even without his knowledge because its potency does not depend on the patient’s understanding. Similarly, even though one does not know the value of chanting the holy name of the Lord, if one chants knowingly or unknowingly, the chanting will be very effective” (Bhagavatam 6.2.18-19).

When I gave special attention to my chanting by raising the quota, the results were unspectacular. But rather than dwell on my own inadequacy, I turned to the scriptures and I began to feel grateful for the gift Srila Prabhupada has given us. Srila Prabhupada writes, “We had fallen into abominable lives as meat-eaters, drunkards, and woman-hunters who performed all kinds of sinful activities, but now we have been given the opportunity to chant the Hare Krishna mantra. Therefore, we should always appreciate this opportunity” (Bhagavatam, 6.2.34).

I found it helpful to remember the personal mercy of Srila Prabhupada, who had saved me from a suicidal course. Prabhupada himself did not take credit. He said it was the mercy of the holy name, which he brought to us on the order of his spiritual master. Nevertheless, I received that gift from my spiritual master. As an attempt to repay him (guru-dakshina), I will go on chanting and telling others about the chanting. When people ask me how I feel when chanting, I may admit that I feel dry due to my offenses against the holy name. But I will also point out that the medicine of the holy name is working.

Spending extra time trying to improve my chanting has convinced me that I have a lot of work to do, and that this is the most important area of my practice. As taught by Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the chanting of Hare Krishna is the best and only means for deliverance of all souls in Kali-yuga, the present degraded age. Since this chanting is so important to Lord Chaitanya and to Srila Prabhupada, how can I dare neglect it? The holy name is the most munificent person, Krishna, who is eagerly waiting to give us all the benefits of His direct association. Faith in God, purity of heart, and ultimately love of God are all direct results of proper chanting of the holy names.

So as stated in the Chaitanya-caritamrita (Adi-lila 8.28), “As a result of chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, one makes such great advancement in spiritual life that simultaneously his material existence terminates and he receives love of Godhead. The holy name of Krishna is so powerful that by chanting even one name, one very easily achieves these transcendental riches.”

We have all heard similar powerful and inspiring statements from the scriptures about the glories of the holy name. It is good to accept them as axiomatic, regardless of our own limits in spiritual experience. But that is not enough. Chanting is worth working on so that the day will come when not only will we quote the scriptures as a matter of policy but we will say with full conviction, “Chant Hare Krishna, and your life will be sublime.”

What to Offer During Arati

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Medium

During Arati several articles are offered to the Deity while ringing a bell: incense, ghee lamp, water, cloth, flowers, yak-tail fan and peacock fan.

The articles used in Arati represent the material elements in their pure form and correspond to the sense objects. In other words, the Arati articles are satisfying to the senses and represent our offering all the elements in the Lord’s creation back to the Lord for His satisfaction.

The conch shell blown at the beginning and end of each Arati drives away inauspicious elements. The sound of the bell is dear to the Lord and embodies all music. Flowers and incense provide beautiful aromas for the Lord’s pleasure. The ghee lamp represents lighting someone’s way. Offering water in the conch shell represents offering a mixture of auspicious items offered above or touched to the head of an honored guest as part of reception. It is a way to welcome the Lord and make Him feel at home. The handkerchief represents offering new cloth.

The yak-tail camara and the peacock fan are both aspects of kingly service. The camara keeps flies away, while the peacock fan provides a cooling breeze.

The Music

Aratis must be accompanied by the singing of the Hare Krishna mantra. Srila Prabhupada taught that chanting was the most important part of deity worship. Worshipers attending the Arati may sing, or the devotee offering the Arati may sing or play a recording.

A Day of Service to the Deity

Complexity: 
Medium

Deity worship means caring for the Lord as a person. By serving the Deity we understand ourselves to be His servant, with practical service to offer. Krishna is a person, and when we care for Him He reciprocates with us by purifying our heart and bringing us closer in our relationship with Him.

Here’s what a typical day of service to the temple Deity might entail:

The Lord is awakened early in the morning; then He receives a snack and is worshiped with a traditional ceremony known as Arati.

Then He is massaged with oil, bathed with water, dried with a towel, dressed, and ornamented with jewelry, flowers, flower garlands, and Tulasi leaves.

Then the Lord receives breakfast and His next Arati.

At noon He is offered lunch and an Arati, after which He takes a nap. On awakening, He receives a snack and another Arati.

In the evening He receives His evening meal and another Arati. Then He is dressed in His night clothes, offered another arati, and laid to rest in His bed.

Deity worship in a temple usually follows all of these functions daily. (Most temples of Krishna are also the home of other Deities, such as Radha, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and others.)

Deity worship at home often includes some of the above items but is usually much less extensive. At home, one offers the Deity whatever level of service one can maintain as a daily practice.

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

Complexity: 
Medium

Perhaps the main reason for the widespread dismissal of religion as “blind faith” is that many systems of theistic thought are not backed up by any verifiable direct interaction with the Supreme Person. Why is this so, we may ask, if the Supreme Person is as readily accessible as the proponents of bhakti-yoga claim? The following statement from Srimad-Bhagavatam [2.6.41] suggests an interesting answer to this question:

"The great thinkers can know Him [Krishna] when completely freed from all material hankerings and when sheltered under undisturbed conditions of the senses. Otherwise, by untenable arguments, all is distorted, and the Lord disappears from our sight."

As indicated here, one of the most important principles of bhakti-yoga is that higher realization is impossible until the material senses are brought under control, In the materially conditioned state of consciousness, the jivatma (living entity) desires to enjoy his material situation and is completely preoccupied with the barrage of stimuli presented by his material senses. ‘With his sensory channels overloaded, the jivatma is unable to perceive the presence of the Supersoul (the form of the Supreme Person in one’s heart), although constitutionally able to do so. Since direct access to the Supreme Person is denied the jivatma with uncontrolled senses, he is prone to indulge in fanciful speculations that simply lead him further and further from the truth.

To understand some of the practical problems involved in controlling the senses, we must first understand the concept of the material mind. As already pointed out (Bhakti-yoga—A Method of Nonmechanistic Science: Part I), the jivatma is a complete conscious individual and, as such, is inherently able to carry out the mental functions of thinking, feeling, and willing. Yet the machinery of the body includes a psychic subsystem that duplicates some of these functions. This subsystem acts as an intermediate link between the natural senses of the jivatma and the sensory apparatus of the body. Before reaching the jivatma, data from the bodily senses pass through this subsystem, which enriches and modifies them by additional information representing various thoughts, feelings, and desires.

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This intermediate link consists of two components, one of which is the brain. Modern science conceives the brain to be the seat of all mental functions. According to Bhagavad-gita, however, the mind has an additional component (known in Sanskrit as manah, or “material mind”) that is distinct from both the brain and the conscious self. This material mind serves as a connecting link between the brain and the self. Since the material mind is composed of a kind of material energy, it could, in principle, be studied by ordinary empirical methods. At present there is no widely accepted scientific theory of the material mind, but parapsychological research may provide the basis for such a theory.

A discussion of the higher physics of the material mind would take us far afield, so here we shall simply make a few remarks about the functional relationship between the material mind and the brain. According to Bhagavad-gita, the material mind interacts directly with the brain, and the conscious self interacts with the material mind through the agency of the Supersoul. The relationship between the brain and the material mind is like that between a computer and a computer programmer. Consider a businessman who has programmed a computer to process his accounts. The computer, with its own memory and data-processing facilities, is an extension of the man’s mind. Although the man is a complete person in his own right, he may come to depend heavily on the computer, and thus any damage to it would greatly impair his ability to conduct his business affairs. Similarly, the brain is a computerlike extension of the material mind, and even though the material mind can function independently of the brain, the mind tends to become dependent on the brain for the execution of certain data-processing operations.

Together, the material body and the material mind act as a kind of false self, in which the real self (the jivatma) rides as a passenger. The false self is not conscious in its own right, though it seems conscious because it is animated by the jivatma. Both the brain and the material mind are mechanisms for symbol manipulation, and so they resemble man-made computers. The “thoughts” of the material mind are mere patterns of symbols, which are represented by actual thoughts only when perceived by the jivatma. But the embodied jivatma tends to accept the “thoughts,” “feelings,” and “desires” of the material mind as his own, and thus he falsely identifies himself as the persona these patterns of symbols represent.

Since the material mind is the director of the material senses, we can control these senses by controlling the mind. Most of us, however, have never made a real effort to practice such control. So we may tend to underestimate both its importance and the difficulties involved in achieving it. We get some idea of these difficulties when we consider the powerful role that habit plays in our normal activities. The material mind is a reservoir of elaborate programs governing everything from gross movements to subtle attitudes, and thus our mental life consists of a succession of conditioned thoughts and feelings unfolding inexorably according to their own logic and the stimuli of the senses.

Since we normally tend to identify the self with the material mind, we have no real idea what it would be like to be free from the material mind’s endless torrent of mundane images and associations. The Bhagavad-gita [ 6.7] describes such freedom as follows:

"For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquility. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same."

Once the material mind is under control, the natural senses of the jivatma are free to perceive the Supreme Person directly.

In bhakti-yoga one achieves control of the material mind and senses by following certain positive and negative injunctions. The negative injunctions restrict one from activities that tend to agitate the material mind and distract one from the process of self-realization. The most fundamental of these injunctions prohibit indulgence in intoxication, meat-eating, illicit sexual affairs, and gambling. We do not have sufficient space to discuss in detail the psychological dynamics of these activities, but we may note simply that those who engage in them tend to become more and more preoccupied with the actions and reactions of their material senses.

For many scientific experiments, success depends on our carefully adjusting the physical conditions in the experimental apparatus. The process of bhakti-yoga is an experiment in which the body and the material mind are the experimental apparatus, and in which the negative injunctions are necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for success. These injunctions are essential. A person who neglects them will not be able to free himself from material entanglement, and his “transcendental realizations” will indeed be nothing more than products of self-deception.*

We stress this point because there are many watered- down systems of yoga or meditation that neglect even the most basic rules for sense control. Seeking self- realization through such systems is like trying to ignite wood while pouring water on it.

The positive injunctions of bhakti-yoga prescribe activities that directly engage the jivatma in service to the Supreme Person, Krishna. Ultimately these activities awaken the jivatma’s natural love for Krishna. As a corollary to this reawakening, the jivatma automatically loses his attraction for the manifestations of his material mind, which are false theatrical displays inherently less interesting than the absolute reality of Krishna. Thus by engaging in active service to Krishna, one is able to attain the goal of mental control and free one’s senses for further service to Krishna.

The ultimate goal of one who practices bhakti-yoga is to serve Krishna directly—a goal attainable when one is freed from entanglement in the affairs of the material mind and senses. One can readily obtain this freedom, in turn, by performing service to Krishna. Bhakti-yoga may thus seem like a vicious circle, but in practice it is a gradual process of development. First, one must bring the material mind under moderate control by adhering to the negative injunctions. Then one must render practical service to Krishna under the guidance of the guru. This service invokes Krishna’s mercy, and one attains some realization of the Lord. As a result, one’s attachment to the material mind is lessened, and one can further serve Krishna on a higher platform of realization. This leads one to further freedom from material desire and further realization of one’s constitutional nature as a servant of Krishna. Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.2.19-20] sums up this process and its results as follows:

"As soon as irrevocable loving service is established in the heart, the effects of nature’s modes of passion and ignorance (effects such as lust, desire, and hankering) disappear from the heart. Then the devotee is established in goodness, and he becomes completely happy. Thus established in the mode of unalloyed goodness, the man whose mind has been enlivened by contact with devotional service to the Lord gains positive scientific knowledge of the Personality of Godhead in the stage of liberation from all material association."