Q. Why do we refer to congregational chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra as Harinama rather than Krishnanama?
A. Hari is a name of God that means “he who takes away.” This name is used with the understanding that ultimately God takes everything away from us except our relationship with him. However, in the nitya lila of Vrindavana, the residents refer to Krishna as Hari because he has stolen their hearts. We want Krishna to steal our hearts as well, thus we refer to the chanting of his name as Harinama. If you think like this and do Harinama, pure love of God (prema) will come quickly. It’s that simple. Jaya Jaya Harinama cid-anandamrta dhama!
Q. In the scripture it says that if one chants the name of Krishna then prema will come quickly, but this is not my experience. Can you explain this?
A. Sometimes scripture makes statements like this because to realized souls the material conditioning of others appears to be insignificant and temporary in relation to that which practitioners are now connected with—the grace of the holy name of Krishna. From the realized soul’s perspective, it appears that prema will come quickly, if one’s heart is truly stolen by Hari.
I encourage devotees to actually think of how Krishna charms the inhabitants of Vrindavana in the hope that this ideal will inspire them to attend to the serious work at hand—cleansing the heart. Cleansing the heart through spiritual practice (bhajana kriya) does take time, but it is important to know why it is worth doing. Furthermore, a little experience goes a long way. However, a little experience is just that, and to get more taste for hearing (sravanam) and chanting (kirtanam) there is a lot in the way of heart cleaning to be done. Through chanting, one’s negative impulses are overcome (anartha nivrtti) and one becomes fixed in devotion (nistha). Continuing on in devotion, one attains a genuine taste for chanting (ruci) and becomes fully attached to Krishna (asakti). Then love for Krishna begins to dawn in one’s heart (bhava), which is followed by prema—pure love for Krishna. Only after one passes through all these stages of devotion will prema come—so get serious about chanting and devotional practice. Then you can be sure that Krishna will show his full mercy in time and prema will come.
Q. I was told that if one chants the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on beads out loud, the mantra loses its spiritual potency. Will you comment on this?
A. Srila Rupa Goswami has written in his Caitanyastaka of Stava-mala that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu chanted the Hare Krishna mantra in a loud voice—hare krsnety ucchaih—while counting the names that he chanted on a string with knots tied on it. So there should be no objection to loud chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on beads, and certainly the mantra does not lose any spiritual potency from this.
Q. The scriptures say that there are nine processes of devotional service—hearing, chanting, remembering, etc. In my understanding the most effective type of devotional service in this age is to chant the holy names of God. What then is the importance of the other eight processes of devotional service?
A. In Kali-yuga the other eight expressions of bhakti are subordinate to nama-kirtana and should thus be performed in conjunction with chanting Krishna nama. If they are performed in this way, they will have more power. If not, they will still be beneficial even in this age.
Q. Why is the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, which is central to our practice, not specifically mentioned in the main texts of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, specifically Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Caitanya-caritamrta?
A. Both the Gita and the Bhagavatam extol the virtues of Krishna kirtana. In Bhagavad-gita Sri Krishna describes great souls as devotees who are constantly engaged in Krishna kirtana, satatam kirtayanto mam. The Bhagavatam begins and ends with emphasis on Krishna kirtana. Indeed, Krishna kirtana is stressed throughout the book, kirtanad eva krishnasya mukta sanga param vrajet. However, it is true that the Hare Krishna mantra is not mentioned in these scriptures. One reason for this is that the scope of these scriptures is broader than other texts that minister directly and exclusively to Gaudiya Vaisnavas. While the Gita and the Bhagavatam emphasize kirtana, specific information about kirtana for the followers of Mahaprabhu will be found in Gaudiya-specific texts. Along with Caitanya-caritamrta, the Caitanya Bhagavata of Vrindavana dasa Thakura is a core Gaudiya Vaisnava text. There we hear Mahaprabhu speak through the pen of Vrindavana dasa Thakura about what names he personally recommends chanting in kirtana. Therein, while explaining the import of the famous harer nama harer nama sloka, Mahaprabhu cites the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and says, ei sloka nama bali’ laya maha-mantra sola-nama batrisa-aksara ei tantrasadhite sadhite yabe premankura habe sadhya-sadhana-tattva janiba se tabe: “This verse is called the maha-mantra. It contains sixteen holy names of the Lord and is composed of thirty-two syllables. If you continually chant this maha-mantra, the seed of love of God will sprout in your heart. Then you will understand the goal of life and the process for achieving it.” (CB 1.14.145-147)
Later, Vrindavana dasa writes, jaya jaya ‘hare-krsnera’-mantrera prakasa jaya jaya nija-bhakti-grahana-vilasa: “All glories to the one who inaugurated the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. All glories to the one who enjoyed the pastime of accepting his own devotion.” (CB 2.6.117).
Later still in the same book, he writes, apane sabare prabhu kare upadese krishna-nama maha-mantra sunaha harise hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare prabhu bale kahilana ei maha-mantra iha japa’ giya sabe kariya nirbandha: “The Lord personally instructed everyone, ‘Hear the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and be happy, “hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare.” This is the maha-mantra. All of you go and chant this mantra according to the prescribed number.’ ” (CB 2.23.75-77)
Q. Is the subtle body consisting of the mind, intelligence, and false ego gradually transformed to a spiritual mind, intelligence, and real ego to accompany the soul to the spiritual realm or is the subtle body simply dissolved? Does the spiritual body, which is dormant, consist of its own mind, intelligence, and ego?
A. Srila Rupa Goswami explains that one’s material mind becomes spiritualized in bhava-bhakti just as an iron rod placed in fire becomes like fire. Through chanting and devotional service, one’s heart is softened by the ingress of suddha sattva (pure goodness), which consists of the samvit and hladhini saktis, and thus one’s mind and intelligence begin to function spiritually. At this stage they no longer get in the way of the soul’s communion with Krishna. Such a mind and intelligence are eternal in their own way, as a spiritualized mind and intelligence. Therefore, we place the bodies of great souls in samadhi and worship their forms, their thoughts, and their insights.
At the same time, one’s nitya svarupa (eternal identity) in Krishna lila is wholly spiritual, rather than spiritualized. It has a mind and intelligence of its own. However, while we may distinguish between a spiritualized mind and a spiritual mind, the practical reality is that they are both spiritual. Indeed, Dhruva Maharaja went to Vaikuntha in his spiritualized sadhaka-deha. Similarly, one may appear in Gaura-lila in a fully spiritualized, eternally youthful sadhaka-deha. This is a great mystery.
Q. Is thinking of Krishna the same as chanting his name?
A. The nature of the mind is such that it is not very conducive to spiritual culture unless it is harnessed by bhakti (bhava-bhakti). In discussing dhyana (meditation), Bhagavad-gita 6.5 says as much, atmaiva hy atmano bandhur atmaiva ripur atmanah. Before the mind is harnessed by bhakti, one’s ability to meditate on Sri Krishna’s form, qualities, and lilas is limited, as deep meditation begins at the stage of asakti. It is one thing to think of Krishna with the mind and another to meditate on him. Actual meditation brings the soul in direct contact with Krishna, whereas thinking of Krishna with one’s mind does not. This is especially true in Kali-yuga. While Krishna’s form, qualities, and lilas are nondifferent from him, they are not more merciful than he is. However, Krishna’s holy name, while nondifferent from him, is nonetheless more merciful than he is.
Thus we see the glory of nama-sankirtana, the mercy of Harinama! Simply chanting Krishna nama with the tip of one’s tongue brings about actual meditation. Therefore, our meditation should begin with chanting—nama smaranam. This in turn is followed by meditation on the form and qualities of Krishna (rupa smaranam, guna smaranam) and ultimately meditation on Krishna’s pastimes (lila smaranam), all of which are present in Harinama. Meditation is the fruit of kirtana in Kali-yuga and thus represents an advanced stage of bhakti.