Realizations


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)

This article is dedicated to Inno, Emina, Simone, Wepener, Ingrid, the BYS students at Wits and UJ and all those who want to know the techniques of mantra meditation.

I first spoke to Hare Krishna devotees in Cape Town in February 1997. Most of the devotees were in their early twenties. They wore eastern clothes. And they seemed to be happy. They were always chanting which sometimes frustrated me because I wanted to speak to them. I had so many questions.

The devotees had something I had been ardently looking for – a method of self-realization that connected them to God twenty-four hours a day. What was this? The chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Yes. It was that simple: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama/Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Their spiritual lifestyle complemented their constant chanting of the mantra. They refrained from intoxicants, meat-eating, gambling and were celibate. Everything they seemed to know – the philosophy, wisdom and practices of Krishna consciousness – was attributed to a teacher named A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Aside from the obvious pleasure they derived from chanting, the devotees substantiated their practices with quotes from the Vedas. My second or third meeting with the devotees took place amidst the Parthenon-like architecture of the University of Cape Town (UCT). On this particular occasion, I approached a scholarly young woman named Rati. It was an incongruous situation. I was talking to a western girl, dressed in a sari, about the Ancient Indian spiritual culture. And this conversation was taking place amidst the neoclassical columns and steps of a university campus in Africa!

We philosophized on the Bhagavad-gita before Rati launched into an explanation of the chanting. I asked her, ‘How long should we chant?’ Rati answered matter-of-factly, ‘Twenty-four hours a day’. There was a distant look in her eyes as she quoted a verse from an ancient Sanskrit writing called the Brihad-aranyika Purana: harer nama harer nama/harer nama eva kevalam/kalau nasty eva nasty/eva nasty gatir anyatha. In this age of Kali the method for self-realization is the chanting of the holy names, the chanting of the holy names, the chanting of the holy names. There is no other way, there is no other way, there is no other way’.

After reading Juan Mascaro’s Bhagavad-gita I was convinced that I could become ‘enlightened’ or ‘self-realized’ through spiritual knowledge and principled living. Impressed by my knowledge of Hinduism and my interest in the Vedas, Rati encouraged me to read Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is. We spoke again, a few days later, and she asked me if I had gained anything significant from the book. I replied, ‘Determination’. Prabhupada seemed, however, to be repeating the same thing over and over again in his ‘purports’ or commentaries to the Gita – chant Hare Krishna. Hare Krishna Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama/Rama Rama Hare Hare. It was the same message and practice the devotees advocated.

Rati carefully pulled some wooden prayer beads from a cloth bag and, very gently, extolled the glories of chanting the mantra. ‘These are for you’, she said. There was no need for me to chant, I thought. I was quite happy reading the Bhagavad-gita. Sensing my apprehension, Rati said, ‘Just try’. ‘Okay’, I replied. That night I chanted on the beads for about half-an-hour. The chanting had a profound effect on me. Everything slowed down. The mantra seemed to open my perceptions and my ability to see the unity of God’s creation. All the knowledge in the Bhagavad-gita assumed a tangible form in the chanting of Hare Krishna.  Statements of Krishna like, ‘I am the light of the sun and the moon’, ‘I am the strength of the strong’ and ‘of bodies of water I am the ocean’ made perfect sense.  The chanting gave me a sense of God’s presence within and without myself.

I saw Rati the next day. ‘How was it?’ she said. ‘I feel like there is no need to read the Bhagavad-gita now. The chanting seems to encapsulate everything Krishna says in the Gita.’ ‘Well, the two go hand-in-hand’, she said. Rati was very convincing.

‘The living entities are combinations of the material nature and the spiritual nature.  Such living entities are seen not only on this planet but on every planet, even on the highest, where Brahma is situated.  Everywhere there are living entities; within the earth there are living entities, even within water and within fire.  All these appearances are due to the mother, material nature, and Krsna’s seed-giving process.  The purport is that the material world is impregnated with living entities, who came out in various forms at the time of creation according to their past deeds’ – A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita As It Is 14.4 Purport

ISKCON Mayapur, 19 March 2001

I made friends with Gulap Kali today.  Gulap is a female elephant, and her stable is near Srila Prabhupada’s Samadhi.  Gulap was orphaned when the Ganga flooded, and adopted by the devotees of ISKCON Mayapur.  She has been engaged in the service of Sri Sri Radha-Madhava ever since.  She has the good fortune of carrying Radha-Madhava on her head during the Elephant Procession around the Temple Compound every Saturday night.  I have been told that she was once in a kirtan procession at the Yoga Pitha (next door to ISKCON Mayapur) and tears were streaming down her eyes as she danced with the devotees in ecstasy.  I called out to her – ‘Gulap’ – but she was a little shy.  Her minder allowed me to stroke the top of  her trunk.  And she acceded.

I bathed in Ganga around noon.  I visited the Jagannath Temple down the road from our Temple.  I took darsan of Jagannath-Baladeva-Subhadra and bought some maha-prasada at the little gift shop next to the Temple.  I also purchased a hand-woven dhoti at the hand-loom behind the Temple.

We took the ferry to Navadvipa.  By Krishna’s grace we met our brahmacari host Advaita Acarya prabhu.  Looking at the majestic white dome of Srila Prabhupada’s Samadhi Mandir, Advaita Acarya remarked, ‘It is getting late.  Srila Prabhupada instructed his disciples to build the Mayapur Temple, but most of them are sick now.’  He mentioned how Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja had brought up this point in a lecture in Mayapur.  The ferry chugged along with its cargo of bicycles, women in colourful saris and men in gamchas and dirty shirts.  When will the Temple be built?

We just managed to get a train from Navadvipa to Howrah.  I decided not to go to Jagannath Puri, as it was outside of the authorized programme my Temple President, Sikhi Mahiti prabhu, had prescribed for me.  The beautiful green rice paddy fields of Gauradesa almost took my breath away.  Sadly, we were going back into the city.  Gaurakishore Babaji Maharaja – the Spiritual Master of Srila Prabhuapada’s guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur – told Bhaktisiddhanta that Calcutta was hell.  ‘Never leave Vrindavan’, he instructed him.  Why, then, did Bhaktisiddhanta make Calcutta the headquarters of the Gaudiya Matha?  And why did he leave his body in Calcutta?  Did he disobey his guru?  Vrindavan is a state of consciousness.  Lord Chaitanya, for example, danced ecstatically before Lord Jagannath at the Ratha Yatra Festival singing, ‘Mora mana Vrindavan! Mora mana Vrindavan!’ (‘My mind is Vrindavan!  My mind is Vrindavan!).  Similarly, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was always in Vrindavan consciousness and, therefore, never left Vrindavan – even when he was physically in Calcutta.

Calcutta was like a black-and-white ink sketch:  sooty, full of crows, full of dust and noisy.  We spent three hours at the station trying to buy tickets.  To no avail.  We crossed the Ganga, and tried to get ‘Tourist Quota’ tickets (tickets reserved for tourists) at Fairlie Place.  No luck there. I informed Padmanabha prabhu that the clerk had recommended we return tomorrow.  Padmanabha prabhu said, ‘No problem’.

20 March 2001 – Taking the train from Navadvipa Station to Howrah Station

My train to Howrah Station was delayed by 3 hours at Navadvipa Station.  Padmanabh and I visited the ISKCON Preaching Centre at Lake Avenue, Calcutta.  We were directed to an ISKCON Guest House called Geeta Bhavan (‘Gita House’).  Geeta Bhavan had been donated to ISKCON by a wealthy Calcutta businessman.  We were hungry so we left our bags in the room, hailed a cab and combed the streets of Calcutta looking for the Govinda’s Restaurant.

Here are some points about the Purusa-avataras.  To understand these different forms of God helps us to gain a better understanding of Vishnu tattva and our Vaishnava Siddhanta as presented by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

1. Karanadakasayi Visnu (Maha Visnu). He rests on the Causal Ocean (karana means ‘causal’).  All the universes emanate from Him when He throws His glance on the material sky. He is the Supersoul of the collective universes. The universes manifest through the pores on His skin.

2. Garbhodakasayi Visnu (Hiranyagarbha Visnu).  He is the Supersoul of the aggregate of living entities (the “Universal Supersoul”).

3.  Ksirodakasayi Visnu.  He is the Supersoul of each individual living being.

‘But worldly people take a contrary view and give the service of Godhead the second or subsidiary place to morality on the assumption that moral living may easily dispense the same.  There are people who admit the existence of God in their practical conduct as a means of establishing themselves in moral life as if Godhead is a mere steward and caterer of their worldly conveniences and comforts.  They opine that Godhead exists only for making us moral and not for our service.  To make Him exist for morality is to make Him an order-supplier.  Such misguided persons make a show of serving God for a time in order that while leading a life of gross worldliness they may pass before the world as self-restrained holy personages, but their purpose is to turn their so-called object of worship into an Impersonal Entity in the long run.  Godhead exists in His Transcendental Form that is visible only to His devotees who render their services for the gratification of His Senses.  Neither conventional morality, which are divorced from the service of Godhead and are practised for the sensual gratification of men, has any place in the conduct of those who live for the gratification of the Senses of God.  All morality, sanctity, good manners, patience, humility, and every other good quality of the head and heart are alway anxious to serve the purpose of the devotees if they are accepted for the worship of God.  Thus it should be admitted on all hands that to seek to separate morality from theism and to imagine Godhead Himself to be subservient to the rules of conventional morality, is nothing short of undiluted atheism’

[Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, ‘Spiritual Morality and Aesthetic Culture’ p.107-8]

Pankajanghri prabhu taking us on a tour of Mayapur

18 March 2001, ISKCON Mayapur

Pankajanghri prabhu gave Bhagavad-gita class in the evening.  His words were simple, but profound: ‘There is the theoretical understanding, ‘I am eternal servant of Krishna’; and  there is the practical application based on sadhu, sastra and guru.  Many cannot put this into practice.  Then, there are those who put this into practice but cannot practice for long.  And there are those who practice for long, but who still fall away.  Devotional service can be quite testing‘.

I met Pankajanghri some hours later behind Radha-Madhava’s kitchen.  He was pacing up and down in the darkness, chanting his japa.  I offered him my obeisances.  I was surprised when he did the same back.  Senior devotees normally just fold their palms and say, ‘Hare Krishna!’  He reminded me of a schoolboy.  Youthful, despite his age.  He was very humble.  I asked him about the wooden Deity of Lord Chaitanya in Prabhupada’s rooms.  He dead-panned, ‘Clay’.  The Deity was made from clay.  I had some pictures of Radha-Madhava which I had bought at one of the gift shop booths on the Campus.  I asked him to write something at the back of one of the photos.  He asked me what I should write.  I said, ‘I just want your blessings, prabhu’.  He wrote, ‘May you always think of Radha-Madhava’.

Pankajanghri prabhu changed track and said, ‘It’s my birthday today’.  I said, ‘But I thought it was at your birthday the other day’.  He replied, ‘Yesterday.  That was our tithi.  Tithi is the according to the moon.  Today is our actual birthday’.  He went on, ‘One Vaisnava near here from the Gaudiya Math is a hundred years old.  He says, ‘Trees live to be a hundred’.  So, what’s the big deal about having a birthday?’.  I said, ‘It is different.  You are a Vaishnava’.  Pankajanghri then asked, ‘What is your name?’  ‘Michael’.  ‘How long have you been at the Temple?’ I said, ‘Here?’ ‘No.  In ISKCON’.  ‘Four years’.  ‘And you are uninitiated?’  I told him about my meeting with Radhanath Maharaja and he said, ‘He’s accepted you.  That’s real initiation.  You are fortunate to have a Spiritual Master!’

Since Pankajanghri prabhu is such a revered pujari (priest of the Deity), I wanted to ask him a pertinent question.  So I asked,’What is the essence of Deity worship?’  He replied, ‘You have to understand who you’re dealing with.   The Deity is not just wood or stone.  If you think like that, it’s because you think you are made of blood and marrow.  The Deity is spiritual.  Krishna mercifully comes in the form of the Deity for our benefit.  We should always have the consciousness that the Lord is sentient.  The Lord can, of course, alternate between matter and spirit, spirit and matter’.  His words shed new light on Deity worship for me.  He continued, ‘We have to be careful of offences.  In the beginning we are absent-minded.  We have bad thoughts and commit seva-aparadhas [offences while serving the Deity].  As we progress, there is improvement.  Everntually, after some years, our consciousness develops by serving the Deity.  We can take that consciousness outside the Temple and see the Lord everywhere’.

I thanked Pankajanghri prabhu, and took his leave.

Next Page »