“The name of Krishna and Krishna are nondifferent, but we cannot realize this intellectually. We have to practice chanting Hare Krishna to realize it. When we actually advance in devotional service and chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra offenselessly, we will realize that Krishna and His name are nondifferent.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 12)
The most important tenet presented by those following the bhakti school of spirituality, or devotional service, is that the sound vibration representation of the Supreme Lord, i.e. the holy name, is non-different from the person it represents. Therefore simply repeating, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, with firm faith and enthusiasm is enough to realize the presence of God and take to His service for the rest of the time spent on earth. Such a practice will bring about a change in consciousness, with a resulting mindset being so pure that no amount of attack from the impeding forces coming from material nature, the body and the mind, or other living entities will ever break the devoted yogi from his connection to the Supreme Consciousness. While these principles are easy enough to describe and teach to others, real understanding only comes about through practical application. There is only so much that a mental exercise can do towards attaining the final goal. Time must be spent implementing these ideas for there to be results.
The simple example of acquiring a high school diploma illustrates the need for practical field work very nicely. At the most basic level, the passing of high school indicates that the student has achieved a certain level of understanding and thought, especially as it pertains to subjects like math, science, reading, writing and social affairs. But in order to complete high school, one must traverse upwards through the twelve grades eventually leading up to graduation. At the beginning of the process, we could tell the student what he or she needs to do in order to successfully complete the required courses, but the intellectual understanding wouldn’t bring about the proper mindset that is required at the end. For instance, we could tell a student that they will have such and such understanding at the end of the process, that they will be able to read properly and solve mathematics problems, but unless and until they take the courses and do the necessary work, they won’t be able to properly realize what this understanding entails.
As another example of the same concept, young children and adolescents are often told of the difficulties faced by parents. A good mother or father will constantly worry about their child. “Did they eat enough today? Are they doing their homework? What if they constantly defy my wishes and never do anything I ask of them? What will happen if they don’t pass their courses in school and don’t end up getting a good job later on in life? What if they never get married and have to live the rest of the life alone?” These worries are present to some degree or another in every parent, and simply understanding these fears prior to entering marriage and having children provides a good foundation for expectation.
Nevertheless, it is not until the first child is born that the person previously instructed on all the ins and outs of parenthood really gets a feel for what others go through. That first drive home from the hospital with your son or daughter sitting in the backseat immediately brings a desire to protect, wherein the interests of the newborn, helpless individual are taken to be of utmost importance. Every second is spent in the child’s company in the early years, with the primary intention of having them grow up to be independent. In this sense, the attached parent is only asking for future separation pain, for the child will grow up to be independent and not reliant on the parents for anything. Because of the desired result, the job of a parent, especially a mother, becomes the most thankless task, one that proves beneficial for the person being served, while ultimately leaving the loving parent all alone.
In the realm of spirituality, the answers to all of life’s puzzling questions, realizations that remove all doubts, can be found in bhakti, which is love or devotion to the Supreme Lord. While other processes of spirituality such as meditational yoga, intense study of the scriptures, and sacrificing the rewards of work to higher causes signal elevation in consciousness from the animalistic mindset inherited at the time of birth, it is not until the loving propensity of the soul is allowed to burst out and act without impediment that a permanent shift to a blissful consciousness can be achieved. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the ideal candidate for receiving the endless love just ready to be supplied by the love-starved conditioned soul, who has been thrown around in the clothes dryer known as material existence for far too long.
While Krishna may be considered a sectarian figure, the god of the Hindus, His appeal is universal. The Supreme Lord, to be the most powerful and pervading entity, must be the worshipable figure for every single person. Just because one person is born in India and another in America doesn’t mean that they should have different objects of worship. After all, what is the difference in their makeup? If we were to switch the two people at birth, they could very easily grow up to become accustomed to their surroundings. Therefore a simple geographical shift can bring about all the requirements conjured up by those who take family lineage and place of birth to be the determinant factors for caste, stature and corresponding religion. Krishna is a Sanskrit word that means “all-attractive”; therefore His is the perfect name to use when addressing God.
The celebrated scriptures of the Vedic tradition, such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata, describe Krishna as blackish in complexion, having the bodily hue similar to that of a dark raincloud. He wears a peacock feather in His hair and holds a flute in His hand. Instead of being invisible or an old-man, Krishna never ages in appearance. He always looks like he’s around sixteen years of age. In this way His attractiveness never diminishes. Since He is Bhagavan, He has full control over the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom. He holds these qualities simultaneously and to the fullest extent. Proof of His abilities has been well-documented in the Vedic texts, which describe His innumerable pastimes enacted on this and many other planets. Since Krishna exists eternally, His activities know no end. Though He appeared on this earth five thousand years ago and took part in playful sports in the land of Vrindavana, Krishna’s pastimes never stop. Just as the sun is always rising in some part of the world, Krishna-lila is always taking place in some planet in the many universes in existence.
Bhakti-yoga allows the consciousness of the individual, who is always seeking a pleasurable object to focus on, to tap into the train of Krishna’s divine sports, a transcendental car that never stops; it just keeps on rolling along. This train can accept passengers at any time, and those who wish to remain onboard never have to depart. Every need and want is met, as the only desire is to associate with Krishna or one of His non-different forms known as avataras for all of eternity in a variety of transcendental mellows, or rasas. We like to travel and take up hobbies because the lifestyle we have at home sometimes becomes monotonous and boring. Yet if we were able to have all of our desires for variety and enjoyment met in one place, why would we ever want to travel far away? The bhakti mindset achieves this very condition, essentially turning the mind into the greatest amusement park, one filled with rides and attractions all related to Krishna and His exploits.
This all sounds wonderful, but how do we actually go about acquiring the proper consciousness? It is in this area that bhakti’s true supremacy is revealed. Unlike other rewards in the realm of spirituality which come about through strict regulation and difficult practice followed for an extended period of time, Krishna consciousness can come about in one second. As long as one constantly chants the names of the Lord found in the maha-mantra and refrains from sinful activities like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, there is every chance of a purified consciousness coming about in a very short amount of time. Even if one is averse to chanting the name of Krishna because it is viewed as sectarian, if there is another authorized name available to repeat which represents the same Supreme Lord then there is no harm.
The key is the holy name after all, as it represents the person that it addresses. The same can’t be said of any other entity or object. We may chant the word “television” over and over again, but that won’t put our favorite program on right in front of us. With Krishna, thoughts of His pastimes and the sounds of songs glorifying Him are not different from Him. The very name of Krishna is the Lord Himself. These concepts are certainly difficult to understand, especially for the conditioned soul who has been trapped in a cycle of birth and death fueled by the desire for material enjoyment since time immemorial. But through steady practice in bhakti, the realization of the potency of Krishna’s name can be had.
The solution of “chant Hare Krishna” applies to every situation. If there is poverty, the remedy is a purification of consciousness. Statistics show that in free countries poverty is almost always caused by poor life decisions, such as dropping out of high school and having children out of wedlock. Chanting the name of Krishna in the discipline of bhakti-yoga solves these problems because illicit sex is automatically eliminated, and the thirst for higher knowledge never ceases. The sincere soul will always want to increase their knowledge acquiring capabilities so that they can read and hear about Krishna even more. Indeed, the legendary acharyas loved Krishna so much that they dedicated their whole lives to describing His glories in book, poetry and song form. The length and breadth of the literature compiled by the vishnu-bhaktas, or devotees of Vishnu[Krishna], are unmatched in human history. Normally when a book is published or a newspaper article written, the relevance of the content is lost as time goes on. If the writer only focuses on current events or some specific political or social issue, once a new issue takes on a higher importance or when the matter in question gets resolved, the previously written words lose their importance.
With books about Vishnu there is never any chance of diminution in importance. The relevance of the compiled works remains for as long as God continues to be worshiped. A great example of this is seen with Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama. Rama is non-different from Krishna; therefore His name is included in the famous maha-mantra, the sacred formula that purifies consciousness. Rama is also a historical personality who appeared on earth many thousands of years before Krishna’s advent in Mathura. Hanuman, as a faithful and dear servant, exhibited strong devotion and bravery in acting for Rama’s benefit. Therefore Rama granted Hanuman the boon of remaining on earth for as long as the Lord’s glories and pastimes, which are nicely related in the Ramayana poem, continued to be told on earth. Since the Ramayana is still glorified today, we can understand that Hanuman is still alive and deriving the topmost transcendental pleasure from hearing about his beloved Rama.
A fact which might get overlooked in all of this is that Hanuman’s relevance hasn’t decreased at all. Since he performed such wonderful service for Rama, he was obviously praised and adored during the Lord’s time on earth many thousands of years ago. But since he is always tied in consciousness to Rama and His inexhaustible activities, Hanuman remains relevant for as long as the object of his affection is glorified. Therefore simply through bhakti, which is Hanuman’s only engagement, the devotee’s thoughts, words and deeds remain ever worthy of hearing about. The works which describe Krishna’s glories and attributes are just as everlasting in their importance as is Krishna Himself. Therefore those who author these praises remain objects of worship for all of time.
“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.40)
Presented with the wonderful theoretical and historical evidence about bhakti, there really is no reason not to at least try the practices so fervently recommended by those who purified their minds by wrapping their thoughts and desires around the interests of the Supreme Lord. The name of Krishna is the key element; it can save us from any and all calamity. Only one who is extremely wise and lacking in false ego will have the fortitude and courage necessary to find eternal life in bhakti. The proof of the tangible results offered by devotion to Krishna is well-represented, but not until we actually take the steps ourselves to see what the fuss is about will we gain any benefit. With bhakti-yoga there is no loss, as Bhagavan becomes powerless when facing His dearmost devotees. Divine love is such a potent force that Krishna Himself cannot convince the devotees to stop their desire to serve Him. Therefore there is no chance for any sincere bhakta to fail in their endeavor. Just as Krishna cannot stop anyone from loving Him, He can’t allow anyone who is dedicated in their desire to perform bhakti to ever go permanently back to the miserable way of life that is the material existence.