hare krishna maha mantra


Vaishnava texts state that just as a sleeping person is awakened by the calling of his/her name, similarly that chanting of the Holy Names of God can awaken us from our dream of material life. There are many names of God. Secondary names of God describe the Lord’s majesty, compassion, omniscience and mercifulness. Whereas primary names describe the Lord in His full personal aspect. Chanting the names of God is a practice that exists in all religions.

Mohammed, for example, exhorted his followers to, ‘Glorify the name of your Lord, the most high’ (Koran 87.2); Saint Paul wrote, ‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Romans 10.15); Buddha stated, ‘All who sincerely call upon my name will come to me after death, and I will take them to paradise’ (Vows of Amida Buddha 18); King David preached, ‘From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised (Psalms 113.3); and the Vaishnava scriptures say, ‘Chant the Holy Name, chant the Holy Name, chant the Holy Name of the Lord. In this age of quarrel there is no other way, no other way, no other way to attain self-realization (Brihan-naradiya Purana 3.8.126). There are many wonderful descriptions of the value of chanting in the Vaishnava literary tradition. Chanting is a meditation, a religious practice and a way of life.

Chanting Hare Krishna Hare Krishna/ Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama/ Rama Rama Hare Hare, is the process of awakening our spiritual identity. We are not these bodies which are made of matter. We are the life or soul (atma) within the material body. Our spiritual identity is eternal and it is realized through pure chanting of the Holy Names of God. This chanting can be performed as a meditation on prayer beads or japa mala. Japa beads are something like the Christian rosary or Muslim zikr. The maha-mantra can also be sung. Such congregational chanting (where one person leads the chanting and others follow in unison) is called kirtan. Kirtan is usually accompanied by traditional drums called mridangas, cymbals called karatalas and various other instruments. Kirtan is spiritually enlivening.

The Vedic literatures recommend the chanting of Hare Krishna in this modern age. The chanting purifies the heart or consciousness and evokes spiritual realization. The word ‘Hare’ refers to Lord Hari – a name of Krishna that indicates His ability to remove obstacles from His devotees’ path. ‘Hari’ means ‘He who takes away all inauspiciousness.’ ‘Hare’, in a higher sense, is a vocative (ie. that which calls out) form of ‘Hara’. Mother Hara or Srimati Radharani embodies the Divine Feminine energy. ‘Krishna’ means ‘all-attractive’ and refers to the original form of God.

Krish means the attractive feature of the Lord’s existence and na means spiritual pleasure. The combination of these ‘krish’ and ‘na’, krishna, means, ‘the absolute person who gives spiritual pleasure through His all-attractive qualities’. In the ancient Sanskrit (the language of Ancient India) language, na refers to the Lord’s ability to check samsara, or the cycle of repeated birth and death; and krish means sattartha, or ‘existential totality’ ie. ‘the Lord who embodies all of existence and who can help the living entities overcome the repeated suffering of birth and death’. Rama is a reference to Krishna’s older brother, Balarama and Lord Ramachandra (an incarnation of the Lord). ‘Rama’, however, refers to Radha-Ramana which is a name of Krishna meaning, ‘the one who brings pleasure to Radharani’. This mantra contains confidential names of the Lord that embody the essence of the Divine. It is a prayer, spoken from the core of the heart, that means, ‘O Lord, O Divine energy of the Lord! Please engage me in Your service!’

(from Steven Rosen’s The Hidden Glory of India)

January 1997 was a time of serious introspection.  In hindsight I would say it was a fast-forwarding of Krishna’s mercy, a breakthrough. 

On the 13 January I watched a television documentary on John Paul Getty.  His life both extraordinary and sad.  He was wealthy but poor in spirit.  On one occasion he had a servant present his son with a $1.50 invoice for eating a hamburger at Getty’s home!  I watched the grainy black-and-white figure in the documentary work through about 20 locks to get into his house!  A house that looked more like Fort Knox than a home.  All aspirations in me to become Alexander the great were crushed.

I carried on with my strict regimen of swimming and exercise in January and February.  My notebooks contained aphoristic entries such as – selfhood involves a sloughing off of illusion.  Around this time, I saw another documentary about a cold-hearted hitman named Klukinsky.  Klukinsky left his family at the dinner table on Christmas day to go out on “business”.   He froze the bodies of his victims in freezer-containers so the forensic detectives would be unable to ascertain when they had died.  When the judge asked him why he had killed so many people he gruffly replied, ‘It was business’.  The interviewer asked him if he had ever regretted his actions.  Klukinsky replied, ‘I can’t change yesterday’.  Then he paused.  There was an occasion where he felt a little bad.  He was about to kill a man with a chainsaw when he called out, ‘Jesus!   Jesus!  Save me Jesus! Oh, Lord Jesus, save me!’  Klukinsky said, ‘After that, I found it difficult to finish my work’. 

On the 9th of February I read from the Book Of Daniel.  The Angel Gabriel told Daniel, ‘I am here to tell you what is written in The Book Of The Future‘.  I took it that The Book Of The Future dealt with the ‘extended present’ of the Eternity and not really past, present and future as we know it.  That night I dreamt of  two large volumes, with gilded Roman lettering –  The Book Of Jewels and The Ancient Book.  I found out later that later that The Bhagavad-gita is sometimes called the ‘Jewel of the Vedas’; and the Srimad Bhagavatam is called Bhagavata Purana or the ‘Ancient History of God’.

On 11 February 1997, I decided to give up eating meat for Lent.   On the 12th of February, I meta Hare Krishna monk, Nicholas.  Nicholas had a book table outside the Standard Bank in Rondebosch.  When I told him I had become a vegetarian the day before, he gave me a copy of the Hare Krishna cookbook,  The Higher Taste.  He also gave me a book called The Science Of Self Realization.  He answered my questions about the devotees’ lifestyle.  I was impressed by their simplicity.  They shared rooms and slept on camping-mats.  They chanted the Hare Krishna mantra ‘all the time’ and served God in all their actions.  I wanted to know more.

My first contact with India was through Grandpa Jerry. He had served as a Doctor in the British Military Administration in Lucknow for most of the Second World War. My Grandparents were married in ‘The Church Of The Holy Name’ in Wodehouse Road, Mumbai. My father was born in the cool Hill Station of Nilgiry Hills; and his brother, Clayton, in Srinagar. I won a book-prize in matric for English Literature about Rudyard Kipling’s life in India.  I never really paid much thought to this.

My grandparents spent their old age in the coastal town of Scottburgh in Kwazulu Natal.  It was Grandpa Jerry, again, who explained the meaning of the word Natal to me. Though he had held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army, and was awarded an OBE, the villagers at Abbeydorney barricaded the road when he came home. They did not like the fact an Irishman had served the British.

Grandpa Jerry knew a lot about martial history. He would go on and on about the armies of the world. He had a lot of respect for the Indian army – their infantry, cavalry and the famous gurkhas. He often spoke of life in India. The Reidys had also lived in Kenya – so there was a wealth of books and stories on East Africa, the Mau Mau and African wildlife. They had accumulated kists from Burma, busts from Indonesia and other souvenirs – like the little jade ashtray on the coffee-table – from Hong Kong. We have photos of this.

My Grandfather told me if I ever got swept out into the Indian ocean I should just tread water, because there was a warm current that would bring me back to the shore.  Once, at Park Renie, I nearly got swept out to sea.  I panicked, and struggled against the mighty Ocean.  Fortunately, a few breakers plunged me back spluttering to the shore.  Clayton pointed to the horizon and said if you go far enough in that direction you would reach Australia.  He pointed in a north-easterly direction and said, ‘And if you go in that direction, you will reach India’.  My childish mind tried to grasp the possibilities of reaching foreign lands.  I couldn’t even swim fifty metres into the Ocean, let alone reach a foreign shore!

My research of the Abolition of the Slave Trade led me into the Indian Ocean once again. This time I got swept into the intellectual current of Ethics, Western Philosophy and Economic History.  I began to question, very seriously, the need for an institution as cruel as Slavery.  Studying the Slave Trade was like opening a Pandora’s Box to the evils of this world. I started to look within my own heart as I questioned my role in the processes of history. I felt lost. I was way out of my depth. Fortunately, for me, I met the Hare Krishna’s during this time. They taught me how to chant the maha-mantra – Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare HarThe/Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare – which brought serenity to my mind. The chanting was the warm current that would carry me to the shore of my aspirations.  Sometimes words or a metaphor can have a more profound meaning in a later context.

What Is Prashadam?

Krishna is the Supreme Lord (isvara) and the Supreme Enjoyer (purusa).  The living entity, or the jiva, is the enjoyed (prakriti).  It is the jiva’s eternal function to serve God.  That is called sanatana-dharma, or ‘eternal religion’.  We are all servants of God.

Since Krishna owns everything, it is only proper to honour His proprietorship by offering everything back to Him.  The Supreme Lord does not need our meagre offerings.  What He wants is our devotion.  The Bhagavad-gita, therefore, describes the process of sanctification of food – patram puspam phalam toyam/yo me bhaktya prayacchati/tad aham bhakty-upahrtam/asnami prayatatmanah – ‘If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I will accept it’.  Sanctified foodstuffs are called prasadam, the ‘mercy’ of the Lord.  Krishna is also known as bhava-grahi janardana – in other words, He sees the intent behind our offering.  Our offerings, therefore, should be imbued with love for Him.

Offering Food To Krishna 

The process of offering foodstuffs to the Deity of the Lord in the Temple is restricted to brahmana-initiated Vaishnavas. Devotees, however, understand that everything should be offered to the Lord.  Therefore, a simple process for offering foodstuffs to the Lord is prescribed for the uninitiated or the lay-person.  Such offerings are made before pictures of one’s personal guru, Srila Prabhupada, the disciplic succession and Deities of the Lord.

Vaishnava Kitchen Etiquette

I read an interview one of Prabhupada’s female chefs in a Back To Godhead magazine where Prabhupada emphasized three important factors in the preparation of devotional offerings – cleanliness, quality of ingredients and consciousness.

1.  Our kitchen should be suci or clean.  The cooking paraphernalia of a suci kitchen is the exclusive property of the Lord.  The Lord also has a separate plate, cup and various thalis (bowls) to eat from.  Strict devotees make sure their own condiments (spoons, cups and plates) are not mixed with those reserved for the Lord.  This generally means that our own condiments, and those reserved for guests, are stored outside of the kitchen.

Devotees do not taste food until it has been offered.  Nor do they eat from the Lord’s pots, or with the Lord’s cooking equipment.  If the Lord’s equipment is used by mistake, it is considered contaminated and should not be used cooking or offering to the Lord again. Eating, which is considered unclean, is also prohibitted in a suci kitchen.  We do not use the sink to wash our plates or hands after eating.  The kitchen sink is for washing vegetables, cleaning the Lord’s pots and running water for cooking.  Devotees generally wear shoes reserved kitchen use only (‘kitchen shoes’) as a further standard of cleanliness.  Women (and men with long hair) generally cover their hair while cooking.

The cook should, ideally, be suci or clean.  On the strictest level this means that cook should have showered and should be wearing clean cloth.  If you eat, evacuate, go outside or enter a toilet then you are considered ‘dirty’ again.  If you touch your eyes, nose or ears you should wash your hands (in a suci basin outside of the kitchen).  Women should not enter the kitchen while they are “off the altar” (ie. during their monthly period).  We are also considered contaminated if we take rest for longer than 45 minutes.  If we do so, and we want to follow the highest standards of cleanliness, then we should take bath and put on fresh clothes.  We should not eat with an apron from the kitchen on either.

2.  We should use the best quality foodstuffs if we can.  If possible, we should use organic vegetables, pure cow’s ghee, non-irradiated spices, sea salt or pure salt.  Ideally, we should grow our own fruit, vegetables and shrubs for Krishna and milk cows bred exclusively for the pleasure of the Lord.  This is not always possible in modern cities.  Soya, mushrooms, cakes made with flour, bread and canned foods are not offered to installed Deities in the Temple.  They can, however, be offered to pictures of the Lord at home (in the case of mushrooms they should be growing naturally in a field, not on stool).  According to the Manu Samhita and Hari Bhakti Vilasa (a Vaishnava manual for etiquette), we cannot offer Krishna onions or garlic.  A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, however, permitted the offering of brinjal, tomatoes and carrots which are often excluded from a strict Vaishnava diet.

3.  The quality of our consciousness is the most important factor in the preparation of foodstuffs for the Lord.  Cleanliness and quality of ingredients are servants to the principle of good consciousness.  We should be Krishna consciousness ie. situated in spiritual consciousness.  How do we achieve this?  We should, if possible, be chanting a minimum of 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra.  Our kitchen should be clean, like the altar of our Temple.  We should not cook if we are in bad consciousness (for example if we are angry or feeling lusty thoughts).  We should listen to spiritual discourses or devotional music and only discuss spiritual subject-matters or subjects related to our cooking service with the other cooks.  We can also chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.

A Simple Food Offering

The following is a very basic method of offering, usually within a devotee’s kitchen or on a simple altar with pictures of the Lord.  In a more sophisticated Temple set-up, the devotee would close the curtain of the alter while offering food, and perform a more elaborate ritual before offering food to the Lord.

Devotees perform acamana (pronounced ‘ah-cha-mun’) before the process of offering.  Acamana is a purificatory process involving mantras and the sipping of water from an acamana cup and acamana spoon.  (This process need not be followed by beginners).  The devotee takes the acamana spoon in his right hand and pours three drops of water on the same right hand.  The devotee then pours three drops of water on the left hand and chants ‘Om keshavaya namah’, then sips the water from the base of the palm of the hand.  Having done this, the devotee pours three drops of acamana water on the bell and then takes the bell in his/her left hand.  The bell has to be rung while the mantras for offering are recited.  The bell is only stopped when the final mantras have been chanted.  Devotees usually take off their socks, aprons and head-coverings when offering bhoga to the Lord.

Devotees do not feel themselves qualified to offer foodstuffs directly to the Lord.  The devotee, therefore, offers the food to the Spiritual Master, all the time reciting the Spiritual Master’s mantras.  The devotee then offers the food to Lord Chaitanya, reciting Rupa Goswami’s prayers (namo maha vadanyaya).  The devotee finally offers the bhoga to Radha and Krishna, reciting the relevant mantras.  While offering the bhoga to Lord Chaitanya and Radha-Krishna, the devotee thinks himself the servant of his guru and understands that his guru is actually performing the offering.  The offering will be offered from disciple to guru, through the entire guru succession, until it finally reaches Krishna.

The following mantras are recited three times before the pictures of (1) Srila Prabhupada; (2) The Pancha Tattva/Gaura-Nitai; and (3) Radha-Krishna:

1.  Prayers To The Spiritual Master (Srila Prabhupada Pranati)

nama om vishnu-padaya/krishna-presthaya-bhutale/srimate bhaktivedanta/svamine iti namine‘I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krishna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet’

namas te sarasvate-deve/gauravani-pracarine/nirvesesa sunyavadi/pascyata-desa tarine‘Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Sarasvati Goswami.  You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Caitanyadeva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism’

2.  Prayer To Lord Chaitanya (Sri Gauranga Pranama)

namo maha-vadanyaya/krishna-prema-pradayate/krishnaya krishna-caitanya/namne gaura-tvise namah‘O most munificent incarnation!  You are Krsna Himself appearing as Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  You have assumed the golden colour of Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna.  We offer our respectful obeisances unto You’

3. Prayer To Lord Krishna

namo brahmanya-devaya/go-brahmana hitaya ca/jagad hitaya krishnaya/govindaya namo namah‘Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krishna, who is the worshipable Deity for all brahminical men, who is the well-wisher of cows and brahmanas, and who his always benefitting the whole world.  I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Krishna and Govinda.’

hare krishna hare krishna/krishna krishna hare hare/hare rama hare rama/rama rama hare hare

On reciting these mantras the devotee humbly beseeches the Lord to accept these offerings, ‘Please, my Lord, accept these offerings from Your servant.’  The devotee then stops ringing the bell, and leaves the altar room.   The devotee then bows at the side of the altar.  The Lord may now accept the devotee’s offering.