The Way of Chanting and Knowing Kṛṣṇa
Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. This is transcendental sound vibration. It will help us to cleanse the dust from the mirror of the mind. At the present moment we have accumulated so much material dust on the mirror of the mind, just as on Second Avenue (New York City) there is dust and soot over everything due to the heavy traffic. Due to our manipulation of material activities, a great deal of dust has collected over our mind’s clear mirror, and as a consequence we are unable to see things in perspective. This vibration of transcendental sound (the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra) will cleanse away this dust and enable us to see clearly our real constitutional position. As soon as we come to understand “I am not this body; I am spirit soul, and my symptom is consciousness,” we will be able to establish ourselves in real happiness. As our consciousness is purified by this process of chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, all our material miseries will disappear. There is a fire that is always blazing over this material world, and everyone is trying to extinguish it, but there is no possibility of extinguishing this fire of the miseries of material nature unless we are situated in our pure consciousness, in our spiritual life.
One of the purposes for Lord Kṛṣṇa’s descent or appearance in this material world is to extinguish the fire of material existence for all living entities by setting forth the dharma.
glānir bhavati bhārata
tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham
vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
sambhavāmi yuge yuge
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend Myself. To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.” (Gītā 4.7–8)
In this verse the word dharma is used. This word has been translated into English in various ways. Sometimes it is translated as “faith,” but according to Vedic literature, dharma is not a kind of faith. Faith may change, but dharma cannot be changed. The liquidity of water cannot be changed. If it is changed – if, for instance, water becomes solid – it is actually no longer in its constitutional position. It is existing under a certain qualifying condition. Our dharma, or constitutional position, is that we are part and parcel of the Supreme, and this being the case, we have to dovetail or subjugate our consciousness to the Supreme.
This position of transcendental service to the Supreme Whole is being misused due to material contact. Service is implicit in our constitutional position. Everyone is a servant, and no one is a master. Everyone is serving someone or other. Although the president may be the chief executive of the state, still he is serving the state, and when his services are no longer required, the state disposes of him. To think to oneself, “I am the master of all I survey,” is called māyā, illusion. Thus in material consciousness our service is being misused under various designations. When we can become free from these designations, that is to say, when the dust has been cleared from the mirror of the mind, we will be able to see ourselves in our actual position as eternal servants of Kṛṣṇa.
One should not think that his service in the material world and his service in the spiritual atmosphere are the same. We may shudder to think, “Oh, after liberation will I still be a servant?” This is because we have experience that being a servant in the material world is not very enjoyable, but transcendental service is not like this. In the spiritual world there is no difference between the servant and the master. Here, of course, there is distinction, but in the absolute world everything is one. For instance, in the Bhagavad-gītā we can see that Kṛṣṇa has taken the position of servant as the chariot driver of Arjuna. In his constitutional position, Arjuna is the servant of Kṛṣṇa, but in behavior we can see that sometimes the Lord becomes the servant of the servant. So we should be careful not to carry materialistic ideas into the spiritual realm. Whatever we have materially experienced is but a perverted reflection of things in spiritual life.
When our constitutional position, or dharma, is deteriorated due to the contaminations of matter, the Lord Himself comes as an incarnation or sends some of His confidential servitors. Lord Jesus Christ called himself the “son of God,” and so is a representative of the Supreme. Similarly, Mohammed identified himself as a servant of the Supreme Lord. Thus whenever there is a discrepancy in our constitutional position, the Supreme Lord either comes Himself or sends His representative to inform us of the real position of the living entity.
Therefore, one should not make the mistake of thinking that dharma is a created faith. In its proper sense, dharma cannot be divorced from the living entity at all. It is to the living entity what sweetness is to sugar, or saltiness is to salt, or solidity is to stone. In no case can it be cut off. The dharma of the living entity is to serve, and we can easily see that every living entity has the tendency to serve himself or others. How to serve Kṛṣṇa, how to disentangle ourselves from materialistic service, how to attain Kṛṣṇa consciousness and become free from material designations is all taught as a science by Śrī Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad-gītā.
The word sādhu in the verse quoted above, beginning paritrāṇāya sādhūnām refers to a holy man or a saintly person. A saintly person is tolerant, very kind to everyone, is a friend to all living entities, is no one’s enemy, and is always peaceful. There are twenty-six basic qualifications for a holy man, and in the Bhagavad-gītā we find that Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself gives the following verdict:
bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ
samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
“Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination.” (Gītā 9.30)
On the mundane platform, what is morality for one person is immorality for another, and what is immorality for one person is morality for another. According to the Hindu conception, the drinking of wine is immoral, whereas in the Western world, wine drinking is not considered immoral but is a common thing. So morality is dependent on time, place, circumstance, social position, etc. There is, however, a sense of morality and immorality in all societies. In this verse Kṛṣṇa points out that even if one is engaged in immoral acts but at the same time is fully in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he is to be considered a sādhu or a saint. In other words, although a person may have some immoral habits due to his past association, if he is engaged fully in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, these habits are not to be considered important. Whatever the case, if one becomes Kṛṣṇa conscious, he will gradually be purified and will become a sādhu. As one progresses in executing Kṛṣṇa consciousness, his bad habits diminish and he attains to saintly perfection.
In this regard there is the story of a thief who went on a pilgrimage to a holy town, and en route he and the other pilgrims stopped to rest overnight at an inn. Being addicted to stealing, the thief began making plans to steal the other pilgrims’ baggage, but he thought, “I’m going on a pilgrimage, so it doesn’t seem appropriate that I should steal this baggage. No, I shall not do it.” Nonetheless, due to his habit, he could not keep his hands off the baggage. So he picked up one person’s bag and placed it in another place, and then another person’s bag and placed it elsewhere. He spent all night placing different bags in different places, but his conscience bothered him so that he could not take anything from them. In the morning, when the other pilgrims awoke, they looked around for their bags and couldn’t find them. There was a great row, and eventually, one by one, they began to find the bags in various places. After they were all found, the thief explained: “Gentlemen, I am a thief by occupation. Being that I am habituated to stealing at night, I wanted to steal something from your bags, but I thought that since I am going to this holy place, it is not possible to steal. So I may have rearranged the baggage, but please excuse me.” This is the characteristic of a bad habit. He does not want to commit theft anymore, but because he is habituated, sometimes he does. Thus Kṛṣṇa says that one who has decided to refrain from his immoral habits and make progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is to be considered a sādhu, even if out of past habit or by chance he yields to his fault. In the next verse we find that Śrī Kṛṣṇa says:
na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati
“He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kuntī, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.” (Gītā 9.31)
Because one has committed himself to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, it is proclaimed here by Śrī Kṛṣṇa that within a very short time he will become saintly. One may pull the plug out of an electric fan, and the fan may still go on even though the juice has been disconnected, but it is understood that the fan will soon come to a stop. Once we take shelter of the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, we turn the switch off for our karmic activities, and although these activities may still revolve, it is to be understood that they will quickly diminish. It is a fact that whoever takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness does not have to endeavor independently to become a good man. All the good qualifications will automatically come. It is stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that one who has attained Kṛṣṇa consciousness has simultaneously attained all good qualities. On the other hand, if a person is devoid of God consciousness and yet has many good qualities, his good qualities are to be considered useless, for he will not in any way be prohibited from doing that which is undesirable. If one is devoid of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he is sure to commit mischief in this material world.
evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
naiti mām eti so ’rjuna
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Gītā 4.9)
The mission for which Kṛṣṇa appears is here further explained. When He comes with some mission, there are some activities. Of course there are some philosophers who do not believe that God comes as an incarnation. They say, “Why should God come to this rotten world?” But from the Bhagavad-gītā we understand otherwise. We should always remember that we read the Bhagavad-gītā as scripture, and whatever is spoken in the Bhagavad-gītā must be accepted, otherwise there is no reason in reading it. In the Gītā Kṛṣṇa says that He has come as an incarnation with a mission, and along with His mission there are some activities. We can see, for example, that Kṛṣṇa is active as chariot-driver for Arjuna and engages in so many activities on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra. just as when there is war one person or nation may side with another person or nation and show partiality, Lord Kṛṣṇa on the battlefield shows some partiality and sides with Arjuna. Actually, Kṛṣṇa is not partial to anyone, but externally it appears that He is partial. This partiality, however, should not be accepted in the ordinary sense.
In this verse Kṛṣṇa also points out that His descent into the material world is transcendental. The word divyam means transcendental. His activities are not in any way ordinary. Even today, in India, at the end of August the people are accustomed to celebrating Kṛṣṇa’s birthday, regardless of sect, just as in the Western world Jesus Christ’s birthday is celebrated at Christmas. Kṛṣṇa’s birthday is called Janmāṣṭamī, and in this verse Kṛṣṇa uses the word janma in referring to “My birth.” Because there is birth, there are some activities. Kṛṣṇa’s birth and activities are transcendental, which means they are not like ordinary births and activities. One may ask how it is that His activities are transcendental. He is born, He takes part in a battle with Arjuna, He has a father by the name of Vasudeva and a mother, Devakī, and a family – what can be considered transcendental? Kṛṣṇa says, evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ – we must know of His birth and activities in truth. When one knows of Kṛṣṇa’s birth and activities in truth, the result is: tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma naiti mām eti so ’rjuna – when he leaves this material body, he is not born again but goes directly to Kṛṣṇa. This means that he becomes a liberated soul. He goes to the eternal spiritual world and attains his constitutional position full of bliss, knowledge, and eternality. All this can be obtained simply by knowing in truth the transcendental nature of Kṛṣṇa’s birth and activities.
Ordinarily when one quits the body he has to take up another body. The lives of the living entities are going on simply due to the living entities’ changing dress from one body to another – transmigration of the soul – according to the work of the living entities. At the present moment we may think that this material body is our actual body, but it is like a dress. In reality we do have an actual body, a spiritual body. This material body is superficial compared to the real spiritual body of the living entity. When this material body becomes old and worn out, or when it is rendered useless by some accident, we put it aside as we might put aside a soiled or ruined suit and take up another material body.
navāni gṛhṇāti naro ’parāṇi
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny
anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Gītā 2.22)
In the beginning the body is the size of a pea. Then it grows to become a baby, then a child, a young boy, a youth, a grown man, and an old man, and finally, when it becomes useless, the living entity changes into another body. The body is therefore always changing, and death is simply the ultimate change of the present body.
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.” (Gītā 2.13)
Although the body is changing, the dweller within the body remains the same. Although the boy grows into manhood, the living entity within the body is not changed. It is not that the self who was there as a boy has gone away. Medical science agrees that at every moment the material body is changing. Just as living entities are not bewildered by this, an enlightened man is not bewildered when the body undergoes its ultimate change at death. But a person who does not understand things as they are laments. In the material condition we are simply changing bodies all the time; that is our disease. It is not that we always change to a human body. We may change to an animal body or a demigod body depending on our activities. According to the Padma Purāṇa there are 8,400,000 species of life. We can take on any of them at death. But Kṛṣṇa promises that one who knows His birth and activities in truth is freed from this cycle of transmigration.
How does one understand Kṛṣṇa’s birth and activities in truth? This is explained in the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā:
yāvān yaś cāsmi tattvataḥ
tato māṁ tattvato jñātvā
“One can understand Me as I am, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of Me by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.” (Bg 18.55)
Here again the word tattvataḥ, “in truth,” is used. One can understand the science of Kṛṣṇa in truth by becoming a devotee. He who is not a devotee, who does not strive for Kṛṣṇa consciousness, cannot understand. At the beginning of the fourth chapter also Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna (Gītā 4.3) that He is explaining this ancient science of yoga to him because Arjuna is “My devotee and My friend.” For one who simply makes an academic study of the Bhagavad-gītā, the science of Kṛṣṇa remains a mystery. The Bhagavad-gītā is not a book that one can just purchase from the bookstore and understand by scholarship alone. Arjuna was not a great scholar, nor a Vedāntist, nor a philosopher, nor a brāhmaṇa, nor a renunciant; he was a family and military man. But still Kṛṣṇa selected him to be the recipient of the Bhagavad-gītā and the first authority in the disciplic succession. Why? “Because you are My devotee.” That is the qualification to understand the Bhagavad-gītā as it is and Kṛṣṇa as He is – one must become Kṛṣṇa conscious.
And what is this Kṛṣṇa consciousness? That is the process of cleansing the dust from the mirror of the mind through the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. By chanting this mantra and by hearing the Bhagavad-gītā, we can gradually attain to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānām – Kṛṣṇa is always present within our heart. The individual soul and the Supersoul are both sitting in the tree of the body. The individual soul (jīva) is eating the fruit of the tree, and the Supersoul (Paramātmā) is witnessing. As the individual soul begins the process of devotional service and gradually begins to develop his Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the Supersoul who is seated within begins to help him dust all the impurities from the mirror of the mind. Kṛṣṇa is a friend to all saintly persons, and the attempt to become Kṛṣṇa conscious is a saintly endeavor. Śravaṇaṁ kīrtanam – by chanting and hearing one can come to understand the science of Kṛṣṇa and thereby come to understand Kṛṣṇa. And upon understanding Kṛṣṇa, one can, at the moment of death, go immediately to His abode in the spiritual world. This spiritual world is described thus in the Bhagavad-gītā:
na śaśāṅko na pāvakaḥ
yad gatvā na nivartante
tad dhāma paramaṁ mama
“That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by ﬁre or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world.” (Gītā 15.6)
This material world is always dark; therefore we require the sun, moon, and electricity. The Vedas enjoin us not to remain in this darkness but to transfer ourselves to the world of illumination, the spiritual world. The word darkness has a twofold meaning; it not only means without light, but it means ignorance.
The Supreme Lord has manifold energies. It is not that he comes to this material world to perform activities. It is stated in the Vedas that the Supreme Lord has nothing to do. In the Bhagavad-gītā Śrī Kṛṣṇa also says:
triṣu lokeṣu kiñcana
varta eva ca karmaṇi
“O son of Pṛthā, there is no work prescribed for Me within all the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I need to obtain anything – and yet I am engaged in prescribed duties.” (Gītā 3.22)
We should therefore not think that Kṛṣṇa is required to descend upon this material world and engage in so many activities. No one is equal to or greater than Kṛṣṇa, and He has all knowledge naturally. It is not that He has to undergo penances to acquire knowledge or that He at any time has to receive knowledge or attain knowledge. At all times and in all conditions He is full of knowledge. He may be speaking the Bhagavad-gītā to Arjuna, but at no time was He ever taught the Bhagavad-gītā. One who can understand that this is Kṛṣṇa’s position does not have to return to the cycle of birth and death in this material world. Being under the influence of illusion, we spend our lifetimes trying to make adjustments to this material atmosphere, but this is not the purpose of human life. Human life is meant for understanding the science of Kṛṣṇa.
Our material needs are these: the problem of eating, of mating, of sleeping, of defending ourselves, and of acquiring sense gratification. These are common both to human beings and to animals. The animals are busily engaged trying to solve these problems, and if we are also only engaged in solving them how are we any different from the animals? The human being, however, has a special qualification whereby he can develop transcendental Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but if he does not avail himself of this, he is in the animal category. The defect of modern civilization is that it puts too much stress on solving these survival problems. As spiritual living beings it is incumbent upon us to extricate ourselves from this entanglement of birth and death. We should therefore be careful not to miss the special opportunity of human life. Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself comes to deliver the Bhagavad-gītā and to help us to become God conscious. Indeed, this very material creation is given to us to utilize for this cultivation. But if after receiving this chance and this gift of human life we do not utilize them to develop Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we shall be missing this rare opportunity. The process for cultivation is very simple: śravaṇaṁ kīrtanam – hearing and chanting. We have nothing to do other than listen, and by listening carefully, enlightenment is sure to come. Kṛṣṇa will surely help, for He is seated within. We only have to make the effort and spare a little time. We will not need anyone to ask us whether we are making progress. We will know it automatically, just as a hungry man knows that he has been satisfied by a full meal.
Actually this process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness or self-realization is not very difficult. Kṛṣṇa taught it to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gītā, and if we understand the Bhagavad-gītā just as Arjuna did, we will have no problem in coming to the perfectional state. But if we try to interpret the Bhagavad-gītā according to our own mundane academic mentality, we spoil it all.
As stated before, this chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa is a process by which all contaminations due to material association are removed from the mirror of the mind. There is no need for external help in reviving our Kṛṣṇa consciousness, for Kṛṣṇa consciousness is dormant within the self. In fact, it is the very quality of the self. We have only to invoke it by this process. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is an eternal fact. It is not a doctrine or set of beliefs imposed by some organization. It is within all living entities, whether they be human being or animal. When Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu was passing through the jungles of South India some five hundred years ago, He chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa, and all the animals – the tigers, elephants, and deer – joined Him in dancing to the holy names. Of course, this depends on the purity of the chanting. As we progress in chanting, purification is sure to come.