“My dear King, although Kali-yuga is full of faults, there is still one good quality about this age. It is that simply by chanting the holy name of Krishna, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 12.3.51)
With every progressive achievement, be it in the area of technology or philosophy, there are tradeoffs, bad things that come along with the good. As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”, there’s no such thing as advancement without retreat in other areas. The advent of computers and the programming required for their operation serve as great examples in this regard.
Computer programming is a field that arose out of the desire for increased productivity, driven by the desire for profit. Why put an army of workers on a project when you can have a computer do the job for you? The computer doesn’t require social security, health benefits, or even personal interaction; therefore it serves as a much easier entity to manage than an employee. Productivity is the driving force behind technology. A proprietor starts a business to earn a profit, to make a good living while being their own boss. The key to earning profits is to limit your expenses. The easiest way to keep your expenses down is to increase the output of work from the staff that you already employ. Computers are helpful in this regard because they don’t require much added expenditure, yet the output can increase greatly.
For a computer to perform the required tasks for a specific project, it needs to be programmed. Aside from the hardware configuration, at the heart of the device is the operating system, which serves as the foundation for all the functions the computer will perform. The operating system sets the ground rules; it tells you how memory will be allocated, how programs will look and feel, and how quickly operations can be performed. The developers, those who write the programs, need to tailor their programs to the target operating system. In the early days of computers, there was no such thing as Windows, or a system with a user-friendly graphical interface that allowed for the use of a mouse. All input/output was performed through terminal systems which had limited features as far as visuals were concerned. Not only were programs written to run on these terminal systems, but the development was done on these machines as well. Writing a program involves adhering to the syntactical and semantic constructs of the language being used, which means that the computer scientist must know how to declare and assign variables, write and call functions, and properly perform assignment and loop operations. Program languages are generally locked down very tight, so the slightest mistake in coding syntax will result in a compiler error. An error during the compilation of the program prevents the program from ever becoming an executable, meaning that the program can never be used by anyone unless and until all compiler errors are fixed.
When programming on a terminal/command line interface system, fixing compile errors is not that easy. Sometimes these errors aren’t even that easy to find; you could have a program with a thousand lines of code that has an error on line 535. Actually navigating to that line would be quite difficult on a system that didn’t have a mouse or copy and paste functions. As time went on, however, operating systems took a giant leap forward, and with this advancement programming became much easier. On today’s Windows-based systems, there are visual interfaces that allow programmers to generate new programs very quickly. In the latest releases of these IDEs [integrated development environments], compiler errors can actually be identified on the fly, as the program is being written. Auto-complete allows for the automatic generation of significant pieces of code during the time of writing. Variable names are also immediately verified, for many programming languages are case sensitive. Depending on the language, if a variable is declared with a capital letter in the beginning, and the same variable is called later on but written out in all lower case, the compiler will not recognize the variable. Auto-complete allows the developer to quickly find the correct spelling of the previously declared variable.
While it is much easier to write a program these days, there are inherent tradeoffs, some of which are quite unpleasant. Since the newer operating systems do much of the work in the background for you, they are generally slower in completing their operations. This means that the same program written on a terminal system could run much faster than it would on a Windows-based system. This may not make a difference for a simple user-interface program that doesn’t process many requests, but for a larger program that say is parsing through very large files, the difference in execution times is quite notable. Another issue that is managed automatically on the newer systems is memory. Depending on the hardware configuration of a computer, there is a set amount of memory that can be allocated to all the concurrently executing programs. In this scenario, memory management is quite important, for you don’t want a program to eat up memory that it doesn’t need, but you also want it to have enough memory to perform its necessary functions. In the past, memory management was an art form, something handled explicitly by the developer in their code. The newer systems have garbage collection mechanisms where dynamic memory management is taken care of behind the scenes. While this is beneficial most of the time, memory leak issues can arise, causing the computer to crash. These issues aren’t easily diagnosed either since the memory management is not handled explicitly in the code.
These concerns relating to computers and programming show us that even the greatest advancements have tradeoffs built in. In order to get something favorable, one must put up with an unfavorable condition. There are seemingly similar issues to contend with in spiritual life. In this age, the recommended method for attaining self-realization is sankirtana, or the congregational chanting of the holy names of God. While there are thousands upon thousands of different names for the Supreme Lord, the names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are considered the best. Krishna is a word that describes God’s original all-attractive form. Rama refers to Krishna’s celebrated incarnation of Lord Rama. Rama also means one who gives pleasure. Chanting Hare Krishna means associating with God’s all-attractiveness, which also gives eternal pleasure to the soul.
Chanting this mantra, whether out loud [kirtana] or to one self [japa], is considered the only religious practice worth adopting for the people of this age. Since this method is a little different from the methods of ages past, we could classify it as an advancement, the moving forward of religious practice. After all, everyone seems to be intrigued by the idea of evolution, the concept of coming up with a better, smarter way of doing something in comparison to the methods employed by generations past. While advancements in other areas of life certainly do bring tradeoffs, this is not the case with chanting Hare Krishna.
At the beginning of creation, man was so intelligent that he could memorize thousands and thousands of Sanskrit verses after only hearing them once. These verses served as the religious doctrine, the scriptures if you will. Since these truths were passed down through an oral tradition, they were referred to as shrutis, or that which is heard. There was no need for books; the mind could be delivered simply by hearing. As time went on, however, mankind’s mental abilities diminished, thus the need for books arose. The advent of the written word certainly seemed like an advancement. Books allowed for the eternal truths of life, the Vedas, to be written down and saved for future generations to look over. Unlike with the memory capacity of the average human being, books had no limits to how much information they could contain. A person could go on writing and writing if they were passionate enough, as was the case with Vyasadeva. Lord Krishna partially incarnated on earth many thousands of years ago as a great writer and spiritual master named Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, also known as Vyasadeva. He had memorized all Vedic knowledge, but for the benefit of future generations, he decided to have everything written down into book form.
Yet for the people of this age, even reading is too much of a chore. There is so much time spent maintaining the body for satisfying the senses that there is really no inclination for reading all of Vyasadeva’s works. For this reason, the chanting process was inaugurated. Simply chant Hare Krishna wherever you go and you will always be in connection with God. With this system, it seems that a potential tradeoff could be the decrease in intelligence. In days past, by either reading books or hearing the shrutis, a person could become an expert Sanskrit scholar, acquiring knowledge about the soul and its constitutional position in relation to God. With this new system, it appears that no one will be able to learn Sanskrit or deep philosophy since they are just chanting all the time.
Though chanting is a simplified method geared towards attracting those who lack an interest in high philosophy, it is actually a tool of deliverance as well. Chanting Hare Krishna is part of the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Yoga means the linking of the soul with the Supreme Divine Entity. This Supreme Object of Pleasure lives in the spiritual sky, but He kindly accompanies the fallen individual soul in its descent to the material world. The Lord expands Himself as the Supersoul and rests within the heart of every living entity, side by side with the soul of the individual. Perfection in life is achieved when the individual soul is linked up with the Supersoul. When this link is achieved, one is said to be in perfect yoga.
“Thus established in the mode of unalloyed goodness, the man whose mind has been enlivened by contact with devotional service to the Lord [bhagavad-bhakti-yogatah] gains positive scientific knowledge of the Personality of Godhead in the stage of liberation from all material association.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.20)
Bhakti means love or devotion, and the term taken on its own doesn’t really have much significance. We can love our dog, cat, family member, nation, or community, but this love doesn’t really advance the condition of the soul. The soul is the basis of our identity, an identity which is never removed. The soul always exists, even through birth and death. In order to further the condition of the spirit soul, bhakti needs to be directed in the right area, it needs to be purified. Bhagavad-bhakti is the discipline which directs our love and devotion to Bhagavan, which is another name for God. Bhaga refers to fortunes, so Bhagavan is one who possesses all fortunes. This is a very nice term to describe God because no conditioned living entity can meet these requirements. Those who direct their bhakti towards Bhagavan also become fortunate. If God is fortunate, then obviously anyone who loves Him purely will be equally as fortunate. This is why sometimes great devotees like Narada Muni and Lord Shiva are also referred to as Bhagavan.
Whether we memorize all Vedic instruction through hearing, read the same information in a book, or simply chant the Lord’s names, the ultimate goal is to practice bhagavad-bhakti, or pure devotional service. In this way, we see that there is no tradeoff in chanting Hare Krishna. It brings one to the platform of devotional service, the only valid pathway towards the desired liberation of the soul. Though the ultimate reservoir of pleasure has made the method for transcendental realization easier for the people of this age, there is no tradeoff in the end-result. Those who chant the sacred maha-mantra with rapt attention and reckless abandon will be rewarded with Krishna’s association in the spiritual world. Love for God is not dependent on academic scholarship, the ability to process information quickly, or knowledge of the Sanskrit language. When arriving at the topmost spiritual platform, all other qualities, except for pure bhakti, are checked at the door.
The sankirtana movement inaugurated by Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna’s incarnation as a preacher, represents advancement and simplification. This is a feature unique to the spiritual discipline of bhagavad-bhakti, for no material advancement is free of tradeoffs. Lord Chaitanya, by establishing the supremacy of the engagement known as devotional service, showed us the way. We simply require the good sense to follow His lead.