Q. The Hare Krishna mantra is supposed to be uttered as Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, still some chant it in the reverse way. Why is this so? Rama-avatara was before rather than after Krishna-avatara; therefore, Rama’s name should appear first.
A. I have seen two versions of the Kalisantarana Upanisad. In one the maha-mantra begins with Hare Krishna and in the other it begins with Hare Rama. However, this is the only place that I have seen this maha-mantra mentioned in which it begins with Hare Rama.
In the Gaudiya sampradaya this nama-mantra is consistently referred to as the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Predating the sampradaya, both the Agni and Brahmanda Puranas glorify this maha-mantra and describe it as beginning with Hare Krishna. Sanata-kumara Samhita describes how to chant it thus: “The words Hare Krishna are repeated twice, then Krishna and Hare are both separately repeated twice. In the same way, Hare Rama, Rama and Hare are repeated two times.”
Ramacandra may have appeared in this world before Krishna, but Krishna is nonetheless the origin of Ramacandra, being the source of all avataras—svayam bhagavan.
Krishna’s primal position is described thus is in Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.85.31) where Devaki tells Lord Krishna:
“O Lord of the universe, O original Supreme Person, by a portion of a portion of a portion of yourself you create, maintain, and destroy the material universes. Now I take shelter of you.”
Sridhara Swami comments on this verse as follows: “The first portion mentioned here is the purusa-avatara.” The purusa-avatara is the source of all the avataras, save and except for Krishna, who although appearing as if an avatara, is the source of the purusa-avatara. Srimad-Bhagavatam states this after mentioning the principal avataras: ete camsa-kalah pumsah krishnas tu bhagavan svayam, “All of the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord, but Lord Sri Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead.”
When Ramacandra passed through the Dandakaranya forest, the sages residing there in meditation desired to become his devotees in the emotion of transcendental conjugal love. However, Ramacandra informed them that in this incarnation he was not able to fulfill their desire because he had taken a vow to have only one wife—eka patni vrata. He then told them that they could only attain this devotional status in relation to his appearance as Krishna. Thus Krishna is transcendentally more complete than Ramacandra in that he has greater capacity to reciprocate in varieties of love. In this sense he is supreme and whatever we find in Ramacandra is also there in Krishna along with something more as well. Thus Ramacandra and all the avataras have their origin in Krishna.
Furthermore, the name Rama in the maha-mantra does not necessarily refer to Ramacandra. It can also refer to Balarama, who also has his origin in Krishna in spite of the fact that within the lila he appears has Krishna’s older brother. This Rama considers himself a servant, friend, and well-wisher of Krishna.
Finally the name Rama in the maha-mantra can also refer to Krishna himself, Radha-ramana. However, there is no harm in chanting this mantra beginning with Hare Rama. Mahaprabhu taught that we should chant it constantly, and when our chanting becomes constant—entering eternity—we will go beyond all sense of beginning and end.
Q. I would like to ask a question about raganuga-bhakti sadhana. I read about raganuga-bhakti in a book. I like the idea of this way of worship very much, and if possible I want to practice this way of worship. However I worship Devi and not Krishna. Is there a way to practice raganuga-bhakti sadhana for those who worship a Deity other than Krishna?
A. Raganuga-bhakti involves following (anuga) those who have spiritual raga for God. Raga indicates strong attachment that transcends reverential love. This kind of love is expressed only in Krishna’s Vraja-lila, not even in any other lila of Krishna, what to speak of in the lila of his avatars. Attachment obscures objectivity. Thus those on the raga-marga who have such attachment for God see him as Radha-Krishna—a picture of God in which his Godhood is obscured.
Gopala Krishna is the young cowherd, the lover of Radha conquered by her love. The fact that he is the paramananda (supreme bliss), the purna brahma (ultimate Reality), etc., is suppressed by the force of his devotees’ love. Thus Brahma marveled at the measure of their love:
aho bhagyam aho bhagyam nanda gopa vrajaukasam
yan mitram paramanandam purna brahma sanatanam
“O how lucky, O how lucky are Nanda Maharaja, the cowherd men, and all the residents of Vrindavana. There is no limit to their good fortune because the source of supreme bliss, the eternal, Supreme Brahman, has become their intimate friend.”
Krishna is the face of God that corresponds with this kind of spontaneous love (raga). Devi on the other hand has an entirely different function in terms of her commonly known relationship with the material world. However, in her highest manifestation she is involved in the play of Radha-Krishna in Vraja, where she is known as Yogamaya and appears as the elderly Paurnamasi. Our Gaudiya acarya Sri Sanantana Goswami worshipped the Deity of Yogamaya. It is she who facilitates the lila of Radha-Krishna. Following Krishna like his shadow, she knows his will before it manifests and thus facilitates his play of love in intimacy with his dear most devotees. Under her influence he forgets that he is the supreme God.
Thus while raganuga-bhakti by its very definition involves the cultivation of intimate love for Krishna and has no application with regard to other gods or goddesses, Devi does play a role in this love affair. If anyone wants to practice raganuga-bhakti, he or she should follow in the footsteps of those who have raga—the devotees of Vraja—in response to whose pure hearts God appears as Gopala Krishna. Devi has her place there, but encourages her devotees interested in raganuga-bhakti to find her there and adjust their worship accordingly.
In closing, it should be noted that the choice to tread the raga-marga is really a choice of heart and not merely an intellectual decision. Real raganuga-bhakti involves considerable spiritual realization.
Q. I have read that there are some devotees of Rama and Sita who follow the path of raganuga-bhakti sadhana. How is this possible if this path is only for Krishna bhaktas?
A. By definition it is not possible. Some persons have manufactured such a process in relation to Ramacandra, but how can anyone become Rama’s wife when he himself took the vow of eka patni vrata? When the sages of Dandakaranya approached Rama in this regard he told them they could only become his conjugal partners in relation to his appearance as Krishna. Thus he blessed them and they attained gopi bhava. Rama lila is attained by the maryada-marga, which is worship of Rama steeped in reverential love. This path is in direct contradiction to the raga-marga, which is the path of lawless love. Think about it.
Q. What is the role of arcana or the worship of the Deity of Krishna in raganuga-sadhana-bhakti?
A. Arcana is more closely related to vaidhi-bhakti than it is to raganuga-bhakti. However, a refined process of arcana intended to nourish one’s culture of raga-bhakti is recommended by Rupa Goswami, sravanot kirtanadi vaidhi-bhaktyuditani tu yanyangani ca tanyatra vijneyani manisibhih.
In his Bhakti-sandarbha, Sri Jiva Goswami has explained that those bhaktas who have developed some interest in the path of raganuga-bhakti sadhana, but who do not possess such a deep hankering as the jata-ruci raganuga-bhaktas—those who have attained real feeling (ruci or bhava)—should combine the principles of vaidhi-bhakti with the performance of raganuga sadhana. Indeed, Sri Rupa and his contemporaries established Deities of Radha-Krishna and engaged their followers in arcana. While they themselves were engaged in bhava-seva of the Deity and thus were involved in direct service unobstructed by the medium of ritual, they simultaneously established standards of ritualistic worship for beginners on the raga-marga, for whom arcana is largely symbolic.
In raganuga-bhakti the Deity on the altar represents a still picture of the motion picture of Krishna lila. Deity worship is a window to the world of spontaneous love in which one progresses from worshipping to being that worship. As worship turns to bhava, one cultivates that bhava and identifies with it. When this identification is complete, one reaps the fruit of divine reciprocation that corresponds with that bhava: entrance into the lila in a particular mood of love. This what it means to attain Krishna—attaining Krishna prema. Krishna is that face of the Absolute that corresponds with the highest love.