Thursday, June 3, 2010

Word of Mouth

Lord Krishna “My dear friends, the cows are also charmed as soon as they hear the transcendental sound of the flute of Krishna. It sounds to them like the pouring of nectar, and they immediately spread their long ears just to catch the liquid nectar of the flute.” (A gopi speaking to her friends, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 21)

In the world of advertising, nothing is as effective in gaining potential clients as word of mouth. A business can distribute as many fliers and run as many television advertisements as they want to, but what really brings customers through the doors is a recommendation from a friend or family member. This same principle can be applied to preaching, or the distribution of the glories of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Word of mouth advertising relies on the recommendations of friends and family members. Advertising can be found everywhere. Wherever we turn, we see a new commercial or a new billboard which is promoting a new product, restaurant, or television show. Network television could not function without paid advertisements. There are hundreds upon hundreds of cable channels in existence today, and none of them would be on the air it if wasn’t for paid advertising from companies wanting to attract new customers.

Social networking With the barrage of advertisements that we are subjected to every day, it becomes difficult to figure out which products to try and which ones to avoid. For this reason, the most effective form of advertising is word of mouth. This form of promotion relies on average citizens doing the advertising for the company, voluntarily and without any pay. For example, a person may try a new type of cold remedy. Seeing that it works for them, they are likely to recommend the product to their friends and family. Other people will be more receptive to these recommendations since they are coming from a close confidante. Our friends and family love to share their passions with us, and vice versa. Our friends understand our likes and dislikes, so they aren’t likely to recommend something to us that we won’t like.

The beauty of the unsolicited advice given by friends and family is that the sentiments are genuine. Advertisers are after only one thing: a profit. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for profit is the reason why businesses operate. Our friends and family aren’t interested in this sort of thing though. They like to share their interests with us because they think it will make us happy. If they try a new restaurant and have a good experience, they are likely to tell us, “Hey, you should try such and such a place. The food was great.” Nowadays with the social networking revolution, people can use websites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter to get the word out even faster.

If a company has a genuinely good product, their customers will do all the advertising for them. They will tell their friends and family, who will in turn tell their friends, and so on and so on. Just one good recommendation can turn viral very quickly. This is the best way for a company to “get the word out”, so to speak.

Lord Krishna Devotees of God can use the same principle to spread the word about Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There is only one God, even though people may refer to Him by different names. In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme is addressed in more specific terms than just “God”. The word “God” can mean different things to different people, but it generally refers to the most powerful person, that entity which controls everything.

To more accurately describe God’s position, the Vedas refer to the Supreme Lord as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This description is more accurate because it accounts for God’s primary features. He is most certainly supreme, for there can be no one greater than Him. He is a person just like us in that He is purusha, or spirit. When we think of a person, we think of man and his fallibility, but the term “person” really refers to purusha, or spirit. Matter is known as prakriti and spirit is known as purusha. What identifies us is purusha, for that is what resides within our body. Spirit is always superior to matter. In the same manner, God is also purusha but His controlling capabilities are much greater than ours. He is the controller of the entire creation, including all matter and spirit. So in this regard, He is also known as param-purusha and adi-purusha, meaning the greatest spirit and the original person.

“The highest perfection of the eyes is to see Krishna and Balarama entering the forest and playing Their flutes and tending the cows with Their friends.” (A gopi speaking to her friend, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 21)

Krishna and Balarama The term Godhead implies that God can take many forms. Since He is the original person and ultimate controller of everything, He can expand Himself into an unlimited number of forms, ananta-rupam. Lord Krishna is described as the Supreme Godhead because He is the original form of God. Krishna means one who is all-attractive, and this is most certainly true about the Lord. If we see pictures of Him, we will see a beautiful young boy who has all good features. He is bluish in hue, wears a peacock feather in His hair, and carries His flute. The sound emanating from this flute is like none other. It captures the minds of all who hear it, and fills their hearts with transcendental bliss.

Since God is so wonderful, it is important to spread His glories to others. We are all suffering today due to forgetfulness of Krishna, or God. Our dedication to serving matter is great evidence of this fact. Though most people claim to belong to a particular religious group, we see that they make the aim of their lives the perfection of some material issue. For example, there are so many special interest groups in America. Each group deals with a particular cause, and while some of their goals may be very noble, in the end, they are seeking to adjust something relating to matter. Curing cancer, fighting poverty, lobbying for specific rights, etc. - all fall under the material category since they relate to the body. Our bodies are made up of matter, which as mentioned before, is inferior to spirit.

“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.24)

Spirit is immutable and incapable of being destroyed. Since the soul is so wonderful, it naturally makes sense that realizing its presence would make us happy. Our bodies were created at some point, so they are also destined for destruction. Knowing this, only an unintelligent person would give the body priority over the soul. Even greater than our own soul is that of the Supreme Lord’s, or God. He is the fountainhead of all spirit and matter, the creator of Brahman, which is the Absolute Truth. Real religion means connecting with God and engaging in His service.

Lord Chaitanya In this age especially, since people are so attached to matter, it becomes very hard for genuine devotees to get people to turn their attention towards God. Lord Chaitanya, Lord Krishna’s most recent incarnation, who appeared on earth some five hundred years ago, especially stressed the need for preaching. In previous ages, the adherence to dharma, or religiosity, was more prevalent in society, so most people already knew about Krishna. In this age however, most everyone is fallen due to the influence of Kali Yuga. To rescue the fallen souls, Lord Chaitanya asked everyone to take up devotional service to God. Practicing devotional service certainly furthers our own condition, but Lord Chaitanya asked everyone to go one step further and become a guru. “Wherever you go, whomever you meat, simply tell them about Krishna and His instructions. That is the highest mission in life.”

Preaching is certainly easier said than done, but this simple formula provided by Lord Gaurahari can help us achieve success. The first step is that we must take up devotional service ourselves. Our message will not be genuine if we are not practicing the devotional principles. The great Vedic saints are all known as acharyas, for they led by example. True devotion to God can never be quantified and it is not something one can achieve simply by performing rituals; it is more a state of mind. Devotional service is also known as Krishna consciousness, or bhakti-yoga. Yoga means linking of our soul with the Supreme Soul, or God. Krishna consciousness means that we are always thinking of God no matter where we are. If we are not directly engaged in His service, we are at least thinking of His glories or contemplating how we can go about serving Him more.

Hare Krishna The great acharyas tell us that the best way to achieve this level of consciousness is to regularly chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Hare refers to God’s energy and Krishna and Rama are two of God’s primary names. Why is it important to address God’s energy? Well, that is what we are striving to be. Contrary to the opinion of many impersonalist philosophers, we living entities can never become God. It seems silly that anyone would think this possible, but this sort of thinking is very prevalent in India. God is always God; He has never become God, nor will He ever stop being God. That is the very definition of Absolute. As living entities, the best we can do is to become His perfected energy. We are already His energy, but we don’t realize it. Krishna is the energetic, and the living entities are His energy.

By chanting Hare Krishna, we are asking God and His great devotees to help us in achieving perfection. Hare Krishna is the perfect prayer because it doesn’t involve asking for anything material. Many times we’ll approach God when we are in trouble or if we want something. This isn’t why God exists. He is most certainly capable of giving us anything we want, but He is not meant to be an order supplier. He is there to be our supreme object of pleasure, someone who can give us transcendental happiness. This type of happiness is considered the highest because it slips past the surly bonds of material existence.

Along with this chanting routine, we are advised to refrain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. Simply chanting is enough to deliver perfection in life, but it is important that we don’t fall back down to a hellish condition. These four activities are considered the most sinful because they keep us tightly bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death. Sin means anything that keeps us divorced of our relationship with God. Currently we are in a separated state, for the energy and the energetic are not together. Therefore we can conclude that material life itself can only exist in sin. Once sins are eradicated, the pure spirit soul returns to its original home in the spiritual sky.

Lord Krishna So let’s say that we regularly chant the maha-mantra, at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads, and also refrain from the four primary sinful activities. Does this mean our work stops here? While it is certainly nice to practice devotional service, one can perform an even higher service to God by spreading the glories of devotional service to others. In fact, there is no higher discipline than bhakti-yoga. It is more than just a discipline; it is the original occupation of man. Therefore, in the Vedic tradition, religion is commonly referred to as sanatana-dharma and bhagavata-dharma. Dharma is an occupational duty, something that can never change. God is ever-existing and so is the discipline which keeps one connected with Him. Therefore the word sanatana is placed in front of dharma to convey the idea of eternality. Bhagavata is a conjugation of the word Bhagavan, so that also implies direct service to the Supreme Godhead.

How do we spread God’s glories to others? In this age, no one wants to hear about God. If a politician merely mentions the word, people go into a tizzy. “Why are you imposing your religious values on me? Don’t preach to me. You think you’re better than me?” It is natural for people to feel this way. People are apprehensive towards religion because they have yet to encounter a bona fide system which provides any lasting results. Bhagavata-dharma, however, is the highest system of religion; something which applies to all people, from all walks of life.

“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.21)

The easiest way to get others to become devotees is to simply talk about Krishna. This was Lord Chaitanya’s recommendation, and by doing a quick study, we can see just how effective this method is. Just as our friends and family trust our recommendations for where to shop and where to eat, they will also be open to hearing about religious beliefs, provided that we genuinely believe in them. The easiest way to lead is by example. It is an undeniable truth that people will follow the example of great leaders and other respected personalities. If our parents are vegeterians and refrain from drinking alcohol, we are more likely to follow suit. If our teachers set a good example, we’ll have a high ethical standard to which to model our behavior after.

Devotees of God automatically acquire all good qualities. If we can convey the point that this standard of behavior is the result of engaging in pure devotional service to God, others are more likely to take up the discipline. We have no idea of the profound influence our actions have on others. By regularly engaging in devotional service, we can set a good example for others to follow.

Lord Gaurahari Just as word of mouth proves to be most effective when selling a product, simply telling others about Krishna is the easiest way to induce others to take up devotional service. We simply have to petition others to take up the chanting process. This petitioning can be done in person, over the phone, and even over the internet. Whichever method we are most comfortable with, that is the path we should choose. And unlike the products and services that are advertised on television, chanting does not cost anything. There is no harm in giving it a try. Even a little devotional service performed in this life can go a long way.

Even if we can’t cajole our friends and relatives to take up devotional service through our words, there is still yet another way to preach the Lord’s glories. We simply have to chant His name out loud as much as possible. Since God is Absolute, His name has just as much potency as any of His other personal features. This means that Hare Krishna is a transcendental sound vibration; something which can penetrate through the wall of nescience that envelops us all. If a person hears this beautiful sound enough times, they are sure to become inclined towards chanting themselves. In this way, we see that there are so many options available to us. Lord Gaurahari is the most munificent incarnation of God, for not only did He freely distribute pure love for Krishna to everyone He met, but He empowered future generations of devotees to do the same. If we simply rely on Krishna and put all our faith in Him, He will surely guarantee our success.