“Talking of Krishna or singing of Krishna is called kirtana. Lord Chaitanya also recommends kirtaniyah sada harih, which means always thinking and talking of Krishna and nothing else. That is called Krishna consciousness.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality Of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)Download this episode (right click and save)
In this age there is no other way. The point is made three times, for emphasis. Whereas in the Satya Yuga you could achieve perfection through meditation, today the conditions aren’t ideal. Who has the time to properly meditate? Not just sitting on the floor for five minutes and then returning to the daily stresses - actually focusing on the Divine in order to enter trance is very difficult in the age of technology. There are warnings for drivers to not use their handheld devices while operating a vehicle. Such a warning shouldn’t be necessary, but the temptation of distraction is often too great to pass up. Distractions of that kind are everywhere.
In the Treta Yuga it was religious sacrifice. Large quantities of clarified butter offered in just the right manner by an expert priest would win you tremendous pious credits. In the third age, Dvapara, it was elaborate deity worship.
In this age it is simply the sankirtana yajna, the sacrifice of chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. These names can be chanted in any manner, but there is special emphasis on kirtana.
The Sanskrit word is taken to mean “congregational chanting,” but what exactly does that entail? Using concepts of which we are already familiar can provide a better understanding.
1. Like Christmas carols
A song says that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” People in some parts of the world don’t have a grasp on how cold winter can really be. In the Northeast in the United States there is snow and cold temperatures, welcomed in by the Christmas season.
One of the traditions is to sing carols. Sometimes groups go door to door to sing the songs, out of sheer joy. They wish to celebrate the season and the person who is to be honored, Jesus Christ.
Kirtana is like singing Christmas carols, but all the time. God’s mercy is there year-round. He doesn’t take a break in making sure the sun rises and sets at the appropriate times. He doesn’t skip a day in providing food.
The soul should be happy, and in its constitutional position, its dharma, it gets tremendous happiness through service. One way to serve is to sing the glories of God. When done in public, others benefit from hearing the transcendental sound.
2. Like a choir in church
Church tends to be serious. It is the place to confess your sins, to ask for blessings from God, and to remember that there is a person upstairs who judges. One aspect of church is the choir. They sing various songs, but again the purpose matches the Christmas carols. The aim of spiritual life, religion in general, is to serve, worship, and love God.
Kirtana is like the choir in church, but not restricted to a specific environment. This travelling type of chanting, the sankirtana movement, was inaugurated in the modern age by Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a preacher incarnation of the Supreme Lord.
If you don’t like the church environment, you don’t have to go. Is the president of the local temple a crook, someone who is in it for the money instead of helping people? You can avoid such a person and still receive the benefits of kirtana. So many kind and merciful souls have taken sankirtana to the people instead of waiting for them to arrive.
3. Basic call and response
This is where kirtana stands apart. Hearing is sufficient for reaching the perfection of life. Just hear about God. Shravanam is the Sanskrit word. The practice of delivering the sound is known as Hari-katha. Rama-katha and Krishna-katha are essentially identical terms. The idea is to hear about God, who is known as Bhagavan since He is a person. A person, purusha, has different ways that He enjoys prakriti. Just hearing about His enjoyment in the right mood can bring perfection in life.
Hearing is passive and chanting is active. Kirtana is special because it can be both passive and active, on either side. The people leading the chanting are obviously actively engaged. They become passive when they hear the response from the people listening. This means that the other side usually just doesn’t sit and listen. They participate, as well. Just from responding once to a line of the maha-mantra, a person accrues so much spiritual merit. From the potency of kirtana we see that age, gender, ethnicity, language or other material designations are no barriers for reconnecting with the best well-wishing friend of every living entity.
Kirtana in Sanskrit dictionary to find,
But how to modern day can define?
Like Christmas carols happily singing,
Glories of God to people bringing.
Or choir in church found,
But not to location bound.
Benefit everywhere to response and call,
No barriers, mercy available to all.