Kṛṣṇa Consciousness—the Yoga for the Modern Age

harinam sankirtan

…So by the grace of Lord Caitanya, this movement is already introduced in the Western countries, beginning from New York. Our saṅkīrtana movement was first introduced in New York in 1966. At that time I came and began to chant this Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra in Tompkins Square. I was chanting there for three hours with a small mṛdaṅga (drum), and these American boys assembled and gradually joined, and so it is increasing. First of all it was started in a New York storefront, 26 Second Avenue, then we started our branches in San Francisco, Montreal, Boston, Los Angeles, Buffalo, Columbus. We now [1970] have twenty-four branches, including one in London and one in Hamburg. In London they are all American boys and girls, and they are preaching. (Srila Prabhupada from The Science of Sef Realization)

The Science of Self Realization
By His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Chapter 5

Kṛṣṇa Consciousness—the Yoga for the Modern Age

Nowadays, we find yoga being taught in numerous courses and touted in mass-market books as a means to achieve health, lose weight, develop mental powers over others, achieve success in making money, or increase sexual potency. But real yoga is something entirely different. Here, Śrīla Prabhupāda lets us in on some ancient secrets about the real thing.

ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaṁ bhava-mahā-dāvāgni-nirvāpaṇaṁ
śreyaḥ-kairava-candrikā-vitaraṇaṁ vidyā-vadhū-jīvanam
ānandāmbudhi-vardhanaṁ prati-padaṁ pūrṇāmṛtāsvādanaṁ
sarvātma-snapanaṁ paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam
[Cc. Antya 20.12]

All glories to the saṅkīrtana movement. Paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam.

Nimi Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, when He was only a sixteen-year-old boy, introduced this saṅkīrtana movement five hundred years ago in Navadvīpa, India. It was not that He manufactured some religious system, just as nowadays so many religious systems are being manufactured. Actually, religion cannot be manufactured. Dharmaṁ tu sākṣād bhagavat-praṇītam [SB 6.3.19]. Religion means the codes of God, the laws of God, that’s all. Certainly we cannot live without obeying the state laws, and similarly we cannot live without obeying the laws of God. And in the Bhagavad-gītā (4.7) the Lord says that whenever there are discrepancies in the prosecution of religious activities (yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata) and there is a predominance of irreligious activities (abhyutthānam adharmasya), at that time I (Kṛṣṇa) appear (tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham). And in the material world we can see the same principle demonstrated, for whenever there is disobedience of state laws, there is the advent of some particular state officer or policeman to “set things right.”

Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu is worshiped by the Gosvāmīs. There were six Gosvāmīs: Rūpa Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, Jīva Gosvāmī, Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, and Śrī Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī. There are three meanings of go. Go means “land,” go means “cow,”and go means “senses.” And svāmī means “master.” So gosvāmī means that they were masters of the senses. When one becomes master of the senses, or gosvāmī, he can make progress in spiritual life. That is the real meaning of svāmī. Svāmī means that one is not servant of the senses, but master of them.
One of these six Gosvāmīs, Rūpa Gosvāmī, was the head, and he compiled a nice verse in honor of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He says:

anarpita-carīṁ cirāt karuṇayāvatīrṇaḥ kalau
samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasāṁ sva-bhakti-śriyam
hariḥ puraṭa-sundara-dyuti-kadamba-sandīpitaḥ
sadā hṛdaya-kandare sphuratu vaḥ śacī-nandanaḥ
(Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi 1.4)

Kalau means this age, this age of Kali, the Iron Age, which is very much contaminated, an age of quarrel and disagreement. Rūpa Gosvāmī says that in this age of Kali, when everything is disagreement and quarrel, “You have descended to offer the highest love of God.” Samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasām: and not only the topmost, but a very brilliant rasa, or transcendental humor. Puraṭa-sundara-dyuti: Your complexion is just like gold, like the luster of gold. “You are so kind that I bless everyone [the Gosvāmīs can bless because they are masters of the senses] that this form of the Lord, Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, may always remain dancing in everyone’s heart.”

When Rūpa Gosvāmī first met Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu at Prayāga, Lord Caitanya was chanting and dancing in the street, “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa.” At that time also Rūpa Gosvāmī offered one prayer.

Namo mahā-vadānyāya kṛṣṇa-prema-pradāya te: [Madhya 19.53]

“Oh, You are the most munificent of all incarnations because You are distributing love of Godhead.”

Kṛṣṇa-prema-pradāya te/ kṛṣṇāya kṛṣṇa-caitanya-nāmne gaura-tviṣe namaḥ:

“You are Kṛṣṇa Himself, because if You were not Kṛṣṇa You could not distribute kṛṣṇa-premā, or love of God, for love of Kṛṣṇa is not so easily acquired. But You are distributing this love freely to everyone.”

In this way the saṅkīrtana movement was inaugurated in Bengal, India, in Navadvīpa. In this sense, the Bengalis are very fortunate that in their country this movement was inaugurated by Lord Caitanya, who predicted:

pṛthivīte ache yata nagarādi grāma
sarvatra pracāra haibe mora nāma

“In all the villages and towns all over the world, everywhere, this saṅkīrtana movement will be preached.”

That is His prediction.

So by the grace of Lord Caitanya, this movement is already introduced in the Western countries, beginning from New York. Our saṅkīrtana movement was first introduced in New York in 1966. At that time I came and began to chant this Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra in Tompkins Square. I was chanting there for three hours with a small mṛdaṅga (drum), and these American boys assembled and gradually joined, and so it is increasing. First of all it was started in a New York storefront, 26 Second Avenue, then we started our branches in San Francisco, Montreal, Boston, Los Angeles, Buffalo, Columbus. We now [1970] have twenty-four branches, including one in London and one in Hamburg. In London they are all American boys and girls, and they are preaching. They are not sannyāsīs, nor are they Vedāntists, nor Hindus, nor Indians, but they have taken this movement very seriously. Even in the London Times there was an article headlined, “Kṛṣṇa Chant Startles London.” So we have many in the movement now. All my disciples, at least in this country, are Americans and Europeans. They are chanting, dancing, and distributing a magazine, Back to Godhead. Now we have published many books—the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and Īśopaniṣad. It is not that this movement is simply a sentimental movement. Don’t think that these boys are dancing out of some religious sentiment or fanaticism. No. We have the highest philosophical and theosophical background.
As an illustration, let us consider Caitanya Mahāprabhu. While He was preaching, He went to Benares, the seat of Māyāvādī sannyāsīs. The followers of Śaṅkarācārya are mostly seen in Benares. When Caitanya Mahāprabhu was there, He was chanting and dancing. Some of the people very much appreciated this, and so He quickly became famous. One prominent sannyāsī, Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī, leader of many thousands of Māyāvādī sannyāsīs, was informed: “Oh, from Bengal one young sannyāsī has come. He is so nicely chanting and dancing.” Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī was a great Vedāntist, and he did not like the idea. He said, “Oh, he is a pseudo sannyāsī. He is chanting and dancing, and this is not the business of a sannyāsī. A sannyāsī should always engage himself in the study of philosophy and the Vedānta.”

Then one of the devotees who did not like the remarks of Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī came back and informed Lord Caitanya that He was being criticized. So the devotee arranged a meeting of all the sannyāsīs, and there was a philosophical discussion on the Vedānta between Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī and Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu. These accounts and philosophical discussions are given in our Teachings of Lord Caitanya. It is remarkable that Prakāśānanda himself with all his disciples became Vaiṣṇavas.

Similarly, Caitanya Mahāprabhu had a great discussion with Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya, the greatest logician of that time, who was also Māyāvādī, impersonalist, and he was also converted. So Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s movement is not mere sentimentalism. There is a very rich background if one wants to understand this saṅkīrtana movement through philosophy and logic. There is ample opportunity, for this movement is based on science and on the authority of the Vedas. But it is all simplified. That is the beauty of this movement. Whether one is a great scholar or philosopher or a child, he can take part without any difficulty. Other systems of self-realization, the jñāna process or yoga process, are also recognized, but it is not possible to practice them in this age. That is the verdict of the Vedas:

kṛte yad dhyāyato viṣṇuṁ
tretāyāṁ yajato makhaiḥ
dvāpare paricaryāyāṁ
kalau tad dhari-kīrtanāt
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 12.3.52)

In the Satya-yuga, the Golden Age, it was possible to execute the meditation process. For instance, Vālmīki Muni meditated for sixty thousand years to get perfection. But where is our old age? Besides that, for the meditation process, as described in the Bhagavad-gītā, one has to select a secluded place, he has to execute it alone, he has to sit down in a rigid posture, he has to lead a life of complete celibacy, and so on. There are many rules and regulations. Thus aṣṭāṅga-yoga meditation is not possible. If one is satisfied by imitating, that is a different thing, but if one wants perfection, then he has to execute all the eight stages of aṣṭāṅga-yoga. If this is not possible, then it is a waste of time.

What is the ultimate goal of the yoga process or meditation? Contact with the Supreme, the Supersoul, the Supreme Lord, is the aim and object of all yoga processes. Similarly, philosophical research, the jñāna process, also aims at understanding the Supreme Brahman. These are recognized processes, undoubtedly, but according to authoritative description, they are not practical in this Iron Age of Kali. Therefore one has to take to this process of hari-kīrtana. Anyone can practice without prequalification. One doesn’t have to study philosophy or Vedānta. This was the purport of Lord Caitanya’s meeting with Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī.

When the Vedānta philosophy was thoroughly discussed between Lord Caitanya and Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī, Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī first of all asked Caitanya Mahāprabhu, “I understand that You were a very good scholar in Your early life. [Lord Caitanya was actually a very great scholar. His name was Nimāi Paṇḍita, and at the age of sixteen He defeated a great scholar from Kashmir, Keśava Kāśmīrī.] And I understand that You are a great Sanskrit scholar, and that especially in logic You are a very learned scholar. You were also born in a brāhmaṇa family, and now You are a sannyāsī. How is it that You are chanting and dancing and not reading the Vedānta?” This was the first question asked by Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī, and Lord Caitanya replied, “Yes, the reason is that when I was initiated by My spiritual master, he said that I am fool number one. ‘You don’t discuss the Vedānta,’ he told Me. ‘You will simply spoil Your time. Just take to this chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, and You will be successful.’ ” That was his reply.

Of course, Caitanya Mahāprabhu was not a fool, and certainly the Vedānta is not for fools. One needs sufficient education, and one must attain a certain status before he can understand the Vedānta. In each and every word there are volumes of meanings, and there are many commentaries by Śaṅkarācārya and Rāmānujācārya, huge volumes in Sanskrit. But how can we understand Vedānta? It is not possible. It may be possible for one person or two persons to understand, but for the mass of people it is not possible. Nor is it possible to practice yoga. Therefore, if one takes to Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s method, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, the first installment of gain will be ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanam: [Cc. Antya 20.12] all the dirty things will be cleansed from the heart simply by chanting. Chant. There is no expenditure and there is no loss. If one simply chants for one week, he will see how much he will progress in spiritual knowledge.

We are attracting many students simply by chanting, and they are understanding the entire philosophy and becoming purified. This Society’s movement started only four years ago, in 1966, and we have so many branches already. The American boys and girls are taking it very seriously, and they are happy. Ask any one of them. Ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanam. They are cleansing the dirty things from the heart, simply by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare.

The next point is bhava-mahā-dāvāgni-nirvāpaṇam: as soon as the heart is cleansed of all dirty things, then all the problems of material existence are immediately solved. This world has been compared to dāvāgni, which means a blazing fire in the forest. In this material existence no one wants unhappiness, but it comes by force. That is the law of material nature. No one wants fire, but wherever we go in a city the fire brigade is always active. There is always fire. Similarly, there are many things that no one wants. No one wants death—there is death. No one wants disease—there is disease. No one wants old age—there is old age. They are there, against our will, against our desire.

Thus we should consider the state of this material existence. This human form of life is meant for understanding, not for wasting valuable life like animals by eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. That is not advancement of civilization. The Bhāgavatam says that this body is not meant for working hard simply for sense gratification.

nāyaṁ deho deha-bhājāṁ nṛ-loke
kaṣṭān kāmān arhate viḍ-bhujāṁ ye
(Bhāg. 5.5.1)

To work very hard and satisfy oneself by sense gratification is the business of hogs, not human beings. The human being should learn tapasya. Especially in India, so many great sages, so many great kings, and so many brahmacārīs and sannyāsīs have passed their lives in great tapasya in order not to go further to sleep. Lord Buddha was a prince who gave up everything and engaged himself in tapasya. This is life. When King Bhārata, under whose name India was named Bhārata-varṣa, was twenty-four years old, he gave up his kingdom, his young wife, and young children and went away for tapasya. When Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu was only twenty-four, He gave up His young wife, mother, everything. There are many, many examples. India is the land of tapasya, but we are forgetting that. Now we are making it the land of technology. It is surprising that India is now no longer propagating this tapasya, for India is the land of dharma:

dharma-kṣetre kuru-kṣetre [Bg. 1.1].

But it is not only in India; everywhere in this age of iron everything is degraded, degraded in this sense:

prāyeṇālpāyuṣaḥ sabhya kalāv asmin yuge janāḥ (Bhāg. 1.1.10).

In this age of Kali the duration of life is diminished, and men are not moved to understand self-realization, and if they are, they are invariably misled by so many deceitful leaders. The age is very corrupt. Therefore Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s process of chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa is the best and the simplest method.

harer nāma harer nāma
harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva
nāsty eva gatir anyathā
[Adi 17.21]

“In this age of Kali there is no other religion than glorifying the Lord by utterance of His holy name, and that is the injunction of all the revealed scriptures. There is no other way, there is no other way, there is no other way.”

This verse appears in the Bṛhan-nāradīya Purāṇa. Harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam. Simply chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. There is no other alternative. Kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā. In this age, Kali, there is no other alternative for self-realization. So we have to accept it.

There is another similar verse in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In the Twelfth Canto, Third Chapter, Parīkṣit Mahārāja was informed by Śukadeva Gosvāmī of the faults of this age, and now all the symptoms of the age of Kali are apparent. In the conclusive portion, however, Śukadeva Gosvāmī said, kaler doṣa-nidhe rājann asti hy eko mahān guṇaḥ: “My dear king, this age, Kali, is full of faulty things, but there is one good opportunity.” What is that? Kīrtanād eva kṛṣṇasya mukta-saṅgaḥ paraṁ vrajet: “Simply by chanting this Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra one can become liberated and go back to Godhead.”
This is practical and authorized, and one can also test himself to see how he is advancing simply by chanting. This Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is not something new, something that we have introduced or manufactured. It is authorized on the Vedic principles, authorized by ācāryas like Caitanya Mahāprabhu and others. And the method is very simple; there is no loss. We are not charging anything, we are not asking for fees and giving the people some secret mantra and promising them that within six months they will become God. No. This is open for everyone—children, women, girls, boys, old people—everyone can chant and see the results.

To further this end we not only are establishing New Vṛndāvana, our farm project in West Virginia, but are establishing other spiritual communities, such as New Navadvīpa and New Jagannātha Purī. We have already started New Jagannātha Purī in San Francisco, and the Ratha-yātrā festival is going on. This year there will be a great ceremony of Ratha-yātrā in London also. There will be three cars, for Jagannātha, Subhadrā, and Balarāma, and they will be taken to the River Thames. And America has imported New England and New York, so why not New Vṛndāvana? We should especially establish this New Vṛndāvana, because Lord Caitanya recommended, ārādhyo bhagavān vrajeśa-tanayas tad-dhāma vṛndāvanam: “ Kṛṣṇa, the son of Nanda Mahārāja, in the Vṛndāvana-dhāma of Vrajabhūmi, is the supreme worshipable Deity, and His place Vṛndāvana is also worshipable.” The Western boys and girls are taking to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and they should have a place like Vṛndāvana. Swami Kīrtanānanda, who went to Vṛndāvana with me two years ago, knows what Vṛndāvana is like, so I have instructed him to construct at least seven temples. In Vṛndāvana, there are five thousand temples of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, but the most important temples are seven, established by the Gosvāmīs. Our program is to live in New Vṛndāvana, depend on agriculture and cows as an economic solution, and peacefully execute Kṛṣṇa consciousness, chant Hare Kṛṣṇa—that is the Vṛndāvana scheme. Yuktāhāra-vihārasya… yogo bhavati duḥkha-hā (Bhagavad-gītā 6.17). This human form of life isn’t meant for increasing artificial needs. We should be satisfied just to maintain the body and soul together, and the rest of the time we should enhance our Kṛṣṇa consciousness, so that after leaving this body we won’t have to take another material body, but will be able to go back home, back to Godhead. That should be the motto of human life.

Material life means eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, and spiritual life means something more than this. This is also the difference between animal life and human life. In animal life, the common formula is eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. A dog eats, a man also eats. A man sleeps, and a dog also sleeps. A man has sex life, and the dog also has sex life. The dog defends in his own way, and man also defends in his own way, maybe by atomic bombs. These four principles are common to human beings and animals, and advancement of these four principles is not human civilization but animal civilization. Human civilization means athāto brahma jijñāsā. In the Vedānta-sūtra the first aphorism is athāto brahma jijñāsā: “Now is the time for inquiry about Brahman.” That is human life. As long as one is not spiritually inquisitive, jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam, he is an animal, because he lives according to these four principles, that’s all. He must be inquisitive to know what he is and why he is put into these miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease. Is there any remedy? These matters should be questioned. That is human life; that is spiritual life.

Spiritual life means human life, and material life means animal life. That’s all. We have to make the adjustments that are recommended in the Bhagavad-gītā. Yuktāhāra-vihārasya. For instance, because I am going to be a spiritual man does not mean that I shall give up eating. Rather, my eating should be adjusted. The Bhagavad-gītā describes what class of food is first class, in goodness, and what class of food is in passion, and third class, in ignorance. We have to raise ourselves to the sattvic (goodness) platform of human civilization, then revive our transcendental consciousness, or Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Everything is there in the śāstras. Unfortunately, we do not consult them.

evaṁ prasanna-manaso
mukta-saṅgasya jāyate
(Bhāg. 1.2.20)

Unless one is liberated from the clutches of these three modes of material nature, he cannot understand God. Prasanna-manasaḥ. One must be a Brahman-realized soul. Brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā na śocati na kāṅkṣati (Bg. 18.54). These injunctions are there, so one should take advantage of these śāstras and preach. That is the responsibility of intelligent men. The mass of people know that God is great, but they do not know how great God actually is. That we will find in the Vedic literature. That is our duty in this iron age. That is hari-kīrtana, paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam: glorification of the Supreme.

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