Mantra Meditation: Commonly Asked Questions
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Q. What is the Hare Krsna maha-mantra?
A. A mantra is a transcendental sound vibration that delivers the mind from material anxieties. Of all mantras, the Hare Krsna mantra is the maha-mantra, the great mantra. Composed entirely of God's names, it appears in the ancient Sanskrit scriptures called the Upanisads: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The name Hare addresses the spiritual energy of God. It's like calling out "O energy of God!" The name Krsna means "all-attractive" and thus calls upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Rama, another name of God, means "the highest pleasure."
Q. How does the Hare Krsna maha-mantra work?
A. The greatest teacher of the Hare Krsna mantra is Lord Caitanya, the incarnation of Krsna who appeared five hundred years ago in India. About the maha-mantra He once said, "It cleans the heart of all the dirt accumulated for many lifetimes and puts out the fire of material life, of repeated birth and death." According to the Vedic literature, we experience difficulties in life only because we have lost touch with our original, pure consciousness. In that original, spiritual state we do not suffer birth, death, disease, or old age. This spiritual nature—our real identity—is always present within us, but we have temporarily forgotten it. Chanting Hare Krsna is therefore not an artificial imposition on the mind. Rather, it clears the dust from the mirror of the mind so that we can see our original consciousness—our identity as eternal parts of the Supreme. By chanting the name Krsna, Krsna is present (the names of God are not different from God), and His presence purifies us and brings us transcendental happiness. To chant, one should simply repeat the mantra and hear the sound vibration. One can sing it (alone or in a group) or softly repeat it to oneself.
Q. How do you know the chanting is not some kind of hypnotism?
A. A hypnotic trance is an induced state that resembles deep sleep and makes one susceptible to external suggestions. People who regularly chant Hare Krsna do not show these symptoms. Nor is the chanting part of the hypnotist's repertoire. The Hare Krsna maha-mantra concerns only the spirit soul on the transcendental platform. In India especially, persons in the guru-disciple succession have chanted it for thousands of years, and the scriptures recommend it as a standard form of meditation.
Q. How does chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra differ from other forms of meditation?
A. It is the easiest form of meditation, and the one most recommended by bona fide saints, sages, and scriptures. On the other hand, it is very difficult to correctly perform the kind of meditation in which one sits silently without moving. To do so one has to give up all material desires and practice meditating alone for a long time in a secluded place. The so-called meditation practiced by popular yoga clubs is an imitation of the solitary, mystic meditation. It is a complete farce to practice such "meditation" while living in a big city and maintaining habits like intoxication and illicit sex. Yet anyone anywhere can enjoy immediate results by performing the simple meditation of chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. Therefore the Vedic scriptures have recommended it as the only practical meditation for this age.
Q. Do you have to change your way of life to benefit from the chanting?
A. No. Lord Caitanya emphasized that to attain the full benefits one need only chant Hare Krsna in a humble state of mind. In other words, one should humbly call out to God and pray to be engaged in His service. But one doesn't have to live in a special community or shave his head or dress in a certain way. Nor does one have to leave his family or occupation. Of course, those who have received the mantra from a genuine spiritual master, and who agree to follow some basic rules for avoidance of sinful life, will make very rapid advancement. In any case, one is advised to associate with others who are chanting Hare Krsna.
Q. What is the goal of chanting?
A. Our spiritual master Srila Prabhupada once said that the chanting of Hare Krsna results in more chanting of Hare Krsna. In other words, since chanting develops love of God, it is not merely a means to an end. Chanting God's names in devotion is itself both the means and the end.
Q. How will chanting mantra help the world?
A. The only difficulty with the world is its lack of God consciousness. So the more that people take to the chanting of God's names, the more auspiciousness there will be. Otherwise, the world will continue to move toward the brink of destruction. The chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is not an exercise for a few. It is meant to bring peace to the whole world.
Q. What's so special about the Hare Krsna mantra? Couldn't you get the same effect by chanting Coca-cola Coca-cola, or any other sound, over and over again?
A. No. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the incarnation of God who inaugurated mass public chanting of Hare Krsna five hundred years ago in India, said this about the chanting of God's names: "My dear Lord, You have innumerable names, and in each name You have invested all Your transcendental energies." In other words, by chanting and hearing God's holy names we're in the presence of God Himself. And since Krsna is the reservoir of all pleasure and purity, the more we chant Hare Krsna the more we feel spiritual pleasure and cleanse our minds of material misconceptions. Could you chant Coca-cola Coca-cola for very long without becoming bored and disgusted? Hardly. But from morning till night you can chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, and you'll feel new and new spiritual pleasure every moment. How can this be?—the Hare Krsna mantra is a unique kind of sound vibration: the namavatara, or God's incarnation in His holy names.
Q. I've been to several yoga groups that chant Hare Krsna. Is there any difference between their chanting and yours?
A. Yes. Many so-called gurus include the chanting of Hare Krsna in a veritable smorgasbord of meditation techniques, all of which supposedly lead the meditator to a realization of God as Brahman, the impersonal "white light." But in the Bhagavad-gita God Himself emphatically denies this idea: "There is no truth superior to Me," says Lord Krsna. "I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman.... Those who worship My personal form are the most perfect." So nondevotional chanting of Hare Krsna is not really the way to reach life's ultimate goal—pure loving devotion to Krsna, or God. There is an old saying: "Milk touched by the lips of a snake becomes poison." Beware of snakelike "gurus" who would use the Hare Krsna mantra for their own ends. The chanting should be heard from the lips of a devotee of the Lord.
The Hare Krsna mantra is actually a spiritual call for the Lord to engage us in His devotional service. The work Hare addresses God's spiritual energy, Krsna means "the all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead," and Rama, another name of God, means "the reservoir of the highest pleasure." In essence, when we chant Hare Krsna we're saying, "O Lord, O Energy of the Lord, please let me serve You." So unless we hear the Hare Krsna mantra from the Lord's pure devotee, whose only motive is to serve Him with love, then the sound vibration will not have the desired effect.
Q. How does chanting make you self-realized?
A. Self-realization means finding out who we rally are and acting accordingly. Now we're thinking "I'm an American" or "I'm an Englishman" or "I'm a white male ornithologist" or "I'm a black woman poet." All these physical and mental designations just cover our real identity as spiritual emanations form the Supreme Spirit, God. By chanting Hare Krsna we lift away these coverings and begins to experience ourselves as pure spirit, or consciousness—transcendental to our body and mind and free from all material designations. The more we chant, the more we become attracted to Krsna, and eventually we realize our eternal identity as His loving servant. This realization is self-realization in the highest sense.
Q. Is chanting a kind of meditation? I thought meditation was something you did silently, sitting still in a quiet place.
A. Yes, chanting Hare Krsna is a kind of meditation—the easiest and most effective kind for the modern age. The Vedic scriptures advise, "Chant the holy name, chant the holy, chant the holy name of God! There is no other way, no other way, no other way to achieve spiritual perfection in the present age of quarrel and hypocrisy." Of course, silent meditation was possible thousands of years ago, when people lived much longer than we do and had much stronger bodies and keener minds than we do. But it's not at all possible today. Today we need the easy yet powerful meditation of chanting Hare Krsna—anytime, anyplace. Simply say the mantra over and over again, pronouncing it very distinctly and hearing it very attentively.
Q. What about the Hare Krsna devotees I see chanting and dancing on the street? Is that also meditation?
A. Yes. This public chanting is a special type of meditation called sankirtana—the mass public chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra. Of al kinds of meditation, chanting Hare Krsna is the best, and of all ways to chant Hare Krsna, sankirtana is the most joyous, easy, and quickly effective. "All glories to sankirtana!" declared Lord Caitanya, and He encouraged His followers to chant together publicly as much as possible. Since the International Society for Krsna Consciousness is following directly in the disciplic succession form Lord Caitanya, sankirtana is an important part of our activities. From such enthusiastic glorification of the Lord's holy names, both the chanters and the passersby derive immense spiritual benefit.
Q. How did so many Australians take up the chanting of Hare Krsna?
A. In 1965 His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada journeyed from India to give the Western world the teachings of Lord Caitanya. The Lord's essential teaching is that simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, anyone can reach the highest perfection of life—love of God, or Krsna. With complete faith in the ultimate success of his mission, Srila Prabhupada began chanting Hare Krsna regularly in a small park on New York's Lower East Side. Gradually he attracted some young disciples and taught them how to chant Hare Krsna and perform other devotional services for the Lord. From this small beginning, the chanting has gradually spread to many millions of people throughout the world.
Q. What's the best way to start chanting Hare Krsna?
A. As Lord Caitanya said, "There are no restrictions of time and place for chanting Hare Krsna." Just say the mantra over and over and listen carefully. You can chant alone or with your family or friends—or you can visit the nearest Hare Krsna center and chant with the devotees there. Each morning and evening the devotees get together and chant, and you're welcome to join in. But whatever way you do it, simply chant Hare Krsna and your life will be sublime.
Q; Does chanting have anything to do with reincarnation?
A. Definitely. The whole process of reincarnation depends on what you're thinking about at the time of death. If you're thinking about a dog, you could become a dog in your next life. If a husband is thinking about his wife, he could become a woman. Similarly, if the wife is thinking about her husband, she could become a man. But if you are thinking about Krsna, you will go to the spiritual world. There you'll have a spiritual body, so that you can associate with Krsna. If you are not thinking of Krsna, you're sure to take birth again in this material world—perhaps as a human being, perhaps as an animal or a plant. This is not desirable of course, because everyone who takes birth in the material world must undergo the miseries of disease, old age, death, and rebirth. So, as the Vedas explain, we should remember Krsna at the time of death. And the easiest way to do this is to chant His holy names, the Hare Krsna mantra.
Q. Does chanting Hare Krsna give you good karma?
A. No. The. Hare Krsna mantra gives you no karma whatsoever. Good karma means you will get riches, aristocratic birth, advanced education, and beautiful bodily features. But in order to enjoy these opulences you have to take on another material body. This is a bad bargain, because no matter how good your karma is, you will still have to get old, get sick, die, and take birth again—perhaps as a poor, ignorant, ugly, or lowborn person, or even as a plant or an animal. This is called the cycle of birth and death. So whether you have good karma or bad karma, it is all actually bad. It is like being on a ferris wheel. Sometimes you're going up, but the next moment you're headed back down. You take birth, die, and take birth again endlessly.
But by chanting Hare Krsna you free yourself from both good and bad karma. You don't have to take on a material body to enjoy the results of good karma or suffer the results of bad karma. You attain to your svarupa-siddha, your original spiritual identity. Actually, everyone has a unique, timeless relationship with Krsna in the spiritual world. You may become one of Krsna's servants or friends. As such, your body will be free from karma, and full of eternity, knowledge, and bliss.
Q. Is chanting Hare Krsna a form of yoga?
A. Yes. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna affirms that of all forms of yoga, bhakti-yoga (devotional service to Him) is the highest. And the best way to perform bhakti-yoga is to chant Krsna's names. In Sanskrit yoga means "to link up" with the Supreme Person, and the Hare Krsna mantra is a transcendental sound vibration that puts you directly in touch with Lord Krsna Just as the sound vibration of a telephone puts you in touch with friends in distant places.
Q. Where does the Hare Krsna mantra come from?
A. Sometimes people say that it's from India, but really the Hare Krsna mantra is like the sun: it may appear first in the East and only later appear in the West, but that doesn't make it Indian. As an old Bengali song informs us, "The sound of the Hare Krsna mantra is coming from Krsna's planet in the spiritual sky."
Q. What's the history of the Hare Krsna mantra?
A. Great sages were chanting the Hare Krsna mantra millions of years ago, in fact, the Vedic literatures say that the Hare Krsna mantra is nitya, timeless. Five hundred years ago Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya taught that chanting Hare Krsna is the best way for everyone to become self-realized in the present age. He predicted that the Hare Krsna mantra would reach every town and village in the world. In 1965 His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada came to America and began fulfilling that prediction, and his disciples are carrying on his work.
Q. What does the Hare Krsna mantra mean?
A. The Hare Krsna mantra is the sound representation of Krsna Himself. So it is impossible to talk about the meaning of the Hare Krsna mantra in the same way we would discuss the meaning of an ordinary word. The meaning of the Hare Krsna mantra is self-contained.
This is not true of ordinary words. For instance, the word "water" is different from the substance water. If you are thirsty and say "water, water, water," you will remain thirsty. But Krsna is not different from His name. So when we say "Krsna," He is actually present. We can experience His Qualities of eternity, knowledge, and bliss in the sound vibration of His name. That is the meaning of the Hare Krsna mantra. But you can't understand it intellectually—you'll have to chant the Hare Krsna mantra and experience its transcendental meaning for yourself.
Q. How will I know if the chanting is working for me?
A. It will be self-evident. If you eat a good meal, you know when you're satisfied. You don't need to be told. In the same way, when you chant the Hare Krsna mantra, you'll know beyond a doubt that it's working for you. The Vedas say that by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, you will experience transcendental pleasure—a spiritual pleasure much more satisfying than the pleasures of the bodily senses. So one of the first signs that the mantra is working for you will be that you'll lose interest in gross pleasures like gambling, intoxication, illicit sex, and meat-eating. By experiencing a higher pleasure, you'll forget about lower pleasures. That's how you'll know the chanting is working.
Q. What are the instruments I see the Krsna people playing when they chant in the streets?
A. When the chanters go out into the streets, they play the mrdanga (which in Bengali means "the drum you can walk with") and karatalas, small hand cymbals. Five centuries ago Lord Caitanya and His followers traveled through India's towns and villages and chanted to the accompaniment of these same instruments. The traditional drums are made of clay and break quite easily, so it has proven a wise idea to manufacture them out of fiberglass. In quieter settings chanters may also play the harmonium (a hand-pumped organlike instrument) and the tamboura (a stringed drone instrument).
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was especially fond of the mrdanga and karatalas, and he personally taught his disciples how to play them. As the famed poet Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura wrote three centuries ago, "The spiritual master is always happy to chant the Lord's names, dance in ecstasy, and play musical instruments for the Lord's pleasure."
Q. When I meditate I want to experience higher energy levels. Does chanting help you do this?
A. Yes. Actually, everything we experience is simply a combination of the Supreme Lord's energies. Krsna has three principal energies. First there's the spiritual energy, which is eternal and full of knowledge and bliss. Then there's the material energy, which is temporary and full of ignorance and distress. Between these two is the Lord's marginal energy, which is made up of the living beings (ourselves) who emanate from Him. Our situation is that we can be in contact with either the material energy or, the spiritual energy, and according to the choice we make, we experience either recurring material discomforts (like disease, old age, and rebirth) or eternal spiritual pleasure. By chanting Hare Krsna we can again experience the eternal knowledge and bliss of the spiritual energy, actually, Lord Krsna has invested all His spiritual energy in the Hare Krsna maha-mantra.
Q. What's the best time of day to chant?
A. Lord Caitanya said we should always chant Krsna's names—twenty-four hours a day. If that's not possible, then chant whenever you can; there are no hard and fast rules.
Q. Why chant "Krsna"? Why not just say "God, God"?
A. The word "president" describes the highest post in a country or company, but don't we want to know the name of the person who occupies the post? In the same way, the word "God" describes the highest of all posts, that of the supreme controller, but don't we want to know His name? The Vedic literatures tell us that God's original name is Krsna. Of course, God has many other names—such as Govinda, Yahweh, Jehovah, and Allah—but Lord Caitanya (the incarnation of God for this age, who appeared in India in 1486) recommended the chanting of Hare Krsna.
Q. Isn't it limiting God to call Him by a name?
A. Actually, isn't it limiting God not to call Him by a name? All of us have names, so why shouldn't He? As the Vedic literatures explain, God has millions of names, but Krsna ("the all-attractive one") is the most universal.
Q. Will chanting Hare Krsna put you in samadhi?
A. First of all we might ask, "Just what is samadhi" As the Bhagavad-gita explains, "Samadhi, or trance, is the state in which one completely restrains his mind from material mental activities by practice of yoga. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness and enjoys himself through transcendental senses, in his relationship with the Supreme."
The yoga of chanting Hare Krsna is the easiest and most practical way to attain samadhi in the present age. Anyone, even a child, can chant Hare Krsna. All you have to do is focus your mind on the transcendental sound vibration of the maha-mantra, and you'll absorb your consciousness in the Supreme, which is the same result that hatha-yogis formerly achieved after much difficulty,
In ages gone by, a hatha-yogi would go to the forest and hold difficult postures for many years so that he could focus his attention on the Lord in his heart. Of course, this is hardly possible for us today; a lotus posture makes us uncomfortable after only a few minutes. But you can chant Hare Krsna for hours, whether you're standing, walking, sitting, dancing, or whatever.
No matter what you're doing, the maha-mantra keeps your mind in spiritual consciousness, Krsna consciousness. And this is samadhi.
Q. I want to get back in harmony with nature. Can chanting help me do that?
A. For sure. Say you're walking along a forest path at 6 a.m. As you notice the sandy floor under your feet, the stream flowing nearby, the sun on the horizon, the cool breeze, and the sounds of the birds, you're experiencing what the Bhagavad-gita singles out as the five basic natural elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Beyond these five are subtler elements like your mind (which takes in all these experiences) and your intelligence (which sorts them out). As the Gita also explains, the source of all these natural elements is Lord Krsna. So when you chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, you're in harmony with nature, because you're in harmony with nature's source.
Q. Can't I harmonize with nature by backpacking, jogging, or surfing?
A. Perhaps, in some limited sense. But we also have to realize that no matter how much we harmonize with nature, she'll finally stop the music. We'll all have to get old and diseased and die, and then our backpacking, jogging, and surfing days will be over. But in Lord Krsna's transcendental world everyone lives in lasting harmony, and by chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra we can go there. That way we'll never have to come back to this world of birth and death. (Otherwise, by the law of karma, a backpacker might come back as a mountain goat, a jogger as a terrier, a surfer as a shark.)
Q. Can chanting Hare Krsna help me to see God in nature?
A. Yes. Of course, even without chanting, you can still get something of a glimpse of Him. For instance, in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna says, "Of bodies of water, I am the ocean.... I am the light of the sun and moon.... I am the pure taste of water." So whether you chant or not, the ocean shows you something about His greatness; the sun and moon. His brilliance; and the taste of water, His purity. And when you chant the maha-mantra, the more you'll see Krsna's presence in all these things. And what's more, when you chant you'll experience Krsna's full personality, because the Lord is fully present in His names.
Q. Can chanting help me get in harmony with my inner self? If so, how?
A. Yes, chanting Hare Krsna can also help you do that. As we were saying earlier, all the basic natural elements (the elements that make up our surroundings and our bodies) come from Lord Krsna. And so does the spiritual or conscious element—the inner self. The inner self is the soul, which animates the body with consciousness. Most people aren't aware of the inner self. They think the self is the body, and they try to satisfy the body instead of the real self within. But when you chant Hare Krsna, you feel harmony with your inner self, because your inner self is in harmony with Krsna, the Supreme Self.
Q. I've read that if I chant Hare Krsna, I'll become self-realized. But I've also read that if I chant Hare Krsna, I'll become God-realized. Which is it?
A. It's both. Say you want to look at yourself, but you're out in the countryside on a pitch-black night; you'll have to wait till you see the sun coming up. In the same way, if you want to realize your self, you'll have to realize Krsna, the Supreme Self: when the Krsna sun comes up, your darkness about self-realization will disappear. When you chant Hare Krsna, you're becoming both God-realized and self-realized.
Q. How long will it take me to become self-realized by chanting Hare Krsna?
A. Why not right away? The Vedic literatures give many examples of people who have taken up the chanting of Hare Krsna and have quickly achieved the highest level of self-realization. Generally, of course, self-realization is a gradual process. It may not happen all at once. But if you chant sincerely and patiently, then Krsna will disclose everything to you, even in this one lifetime.
Q. What if you chant Hare Krsna but don't achieve full realization in this life?
A. In case you don't complete the process in this lifetime, you'll get a chance in your next lifetime to take up where you left off. As the Bhagavad-gita assures, you'll be born in a rich or scholarly family, so that you'll have facility for completing your self-realization. This is one of the great benefits of chanting Hare Krsna even a little bit, because if someone doesn't chant at all, his karma will likely carry him to a lifetime as a plant or animal.
Q. To chant do I have to be a vegetarian?
A. No, but it helps. If you're eating flesh, it's not possible to experience the full benefit of chanting Krsna's names. It's best to eat prasada, "the Lord's mercy," vegetarian foods that have been offered to Krsna with love. By eating this spiritual food you'll purify your body and mind, and then the chanting will act more powerfully for you. Amazingly, self-realization begins with the tongue: you taste spiritual food and chant Krsna's names. If you do these two things as often as you can, you'll experience an ever-increasing spiritual pleasure.
Q. How can I be sure I'll see Krsna just by chanting His name?
A. As with practically everything else you do, you have to start out with a little faith. Suppose you go to a travel agent, and he says he can give you a ticket to fly to Paris. Now, if you're not going to believe him, then what's the sense in going to him? You have to have a little faith that if you get the ticket and board the plane, you'll get to Paris. In the same way, you'll need a little faith to take up the process of chanting Hare Krsna. But if you do take it up, you're sure to see Krsna in the end.
Q. I'm afraid I'm a rather materialistic person. I want a compatible mate, a reasonable amount of money, healthy children, and things like that. Can I still chant?
A. Definitely. Whoever you are, whatever you do, and whatever it is you want out of life, just chant Hare Krsna, and your life will be sublime.
Q. I get the feeling that if I start chanting, then sooner or later I'm going to have to give something up. What's the catch?
A. There are no hard and fast rules for chanting the maha-mantra. So you never have to give up anything. But if you're actually serious about achieving self-realization, the Vedic literature says there are four things you should avoid: intoxicants, meat-eating, illicit sex, and gambling. These four items are material contaminations—the soul doesn't need them at all—and if we want to become spiritually pure, we should try to get free from them. And chanting Hare Krsna makes it easy. By chanting Hare Krsna, you come directly in touch with Krsna, the supreme reservoir of pleasure. So the pleasure you taste by chanting Hare Krsna is more than enough to make the so-called pleasures of material life seem just completely insignificant.
Q. But what if I don't want to give up these things? What if I'm not ready?
A. Then chant Hare Krsna anyway. It's up to you. But if you're actually serious about spiritual life, why not become ready? Why keep doing things that just get you more materially entangled? It's common sense. If you're trying to build a fire, why pour water on it?
Q. I've heard about all kinds of mantras besides Hare Krsna. Is there any difference?
A. We don't even have to talk about so-called mantras like "VROOSH" and "ZING." But you may have come across some of the thousands of authentic mantras that appear in ancient India's Vedic literature. As this same literature explains, the Hare Krsna mantra is more powerful than all the rest combined, and in this age it's the best mantra for bringing you complete self-realization. So you can understand why it's called the maha-mantra, "the great mantra."
Q. I've read about plants responding to sound. If you chant Hare Krsna, does it have any effect on them?
A. Yes. A great spiritual master named Haridasa Thakura once said that the maha-mantra benefits even lower life-forms, like plants. All living beings (plants included) are actually spirit souls. It's just that they're wearing different kinds of bodily garments, depending on how much they've developed their consciousness in past lives. Plants have a comparatively undeveloped consciousness, but if you expose them to the sound of the maha-mantra, that will restimulate it. But mainly, the maha-mantra will develop your consciousness. It's already much more developed than the plants', and if you use it to chant Hare Krsna, then when this lifetime is over, you'll be ready to return to the spiritual world.
Q. Does the Hare Krsna mantra improve your self-awareness?
A. Yes. It acts much the way an alarm clock wakes you up from a dream. For instance, when you're asleep you might think you're a king living it up at your palace, or a skindiver being eaten alive by a shark—but when the clock goes off, "Wait. I'm really John So-and-so." And you know you were just dreaming, because it only lasted a few minutes and then it was over. Now, the thing is, the feeling of being "John So-and-so" is only going to last sixty or seventy years, at most, and then it will be over, too. So what is it but a long, drawn-out dream? People spend lifetime after lifetime as "John So-and-so," "Bill Such-and-such," and on and on. But the "self they're aware of is just a temporary body in a temporary situation—just a dream. If you want to enjoy complete self-awareness and wake up to your inner self, even within this lifetime, then you can chant the maha-mantra. The sound of Krsna's names keeps you aware of who you really are: a spirit soul, part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit, Krsna.
Q. Can chanting Hare Krsna help me to see God?
A. Yes. Actually, the only reason we can't see God now is that our hearts are covered over with "dust." This dust is our ignorance—the misconception that we are the body, and that we can be happy only by enjoying material pleasures. But when we chant Hare Krsna, we're in immediate contact with God, because He's nondifferent from His name. This spiritual contact thoroughly cleanses the dust from our hearts. We realize that we're not the body, and that only by associating with Krsna can we be truly happy. It is then—when we're fully purified—that Krsna reveals Himself to us, just as the sun reveals itself to us through a clean window.
Q. Can I chant Hare Krsna while I'm doing yoga?
A: Chanting Hare Krsna is yoga. Yoga means "linking up with the Supreme," or Krsna—and Krsna is present in His name—so if you chant Hare Krsna, you're doing the ultimate yoga. You're in direct touch with Krsna.
Actually, the original purpose of yoga exercises was simply to quiet the mind and senses so that the yogi could meditate on Krsna in his heart: Now opportunists have watered yoga down and turned it into a health fad.
So ... yes, chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra while you're doing your yoga exercises. And chant it anytime and anywhere. Stay "linked up" with Krsna. That's real yoga.
Q. I don't understand Sanskrit. Will the Hare Krsna mantra work for me?
A. Absolutely. The maha-mantra is like fire: it will bring you warmth and light, whether or not you understand it.
Q. What if I'm tired of formulas for spiritual enlightenment? What !f I just want to relate to people?
A., That's fine, If you chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, you'll enter the ultimate interpersonal relationship. Krsna, the Supreme, is present in His name. So by chanting His name purely, you'll rediscover your unique relationship with Him.
In the spiritual world, some liberated souls relate to Krsna as the Absolute and meditate on Him with awe and reverence. Others relate to Him as master and serve Him with a sense of duty and respect. And still others relate to Him as a friend and joke and play with Him. Some even relate to Him as their child and take care of Him. And others relate to Him as their lover.
If you think about it, you'll begin to see that whatever relationships you've experienced in this material world are feeble, short-lived imitations of the lasting relationships that the residents of the spiritual world enjoy with Krsna. The way to revive your own relationship with Krsna is to chant His names.
Q. Why should I start chanting Hare Krsna?
A. For starters, here are four good reasons: birth, old age, disease, and death.
Sooner or later, we all have to face old age, disease, death, and birth (or shall we say rebirth). Of course, in our modern world we've managed to push these miseries fairly well out of sight. We've isolated the old people in the nursing homes and the diseased, dying, and newborn in the hospitals. And our TV screens, feature films, newspapers, and billboards bombard us with images of youth, beauty, and health.
But we can fool ourselves only so long. Our turn will come. And then we'll have to trade in our present body and get another, and on it will go, life after life. India's Vedic literatures call this phenomenon the cycle of birth and death.
But if we chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, we'll revive our long-forgotten relationship with Lord Krsna. And Krsna promises He'll be our swift deliverer.
Q. Would it be a good idea to tell a dying person to chant Hare Krsna ?
A. It would be a great idea. The Vedic literatures say, ante narayana-smrtih: remember Krsna at the end. of your life and you'll go to live with Him in the spiritual world. And the best way to remember Krsna is to chant His names.
What you're thinking about when you pass away will determine what happens to you in your next life. If you're thinking about your pet dog, you might come back with four legs instead of two. But whatever you come back as, you're sure to get old and diseased and die, and, you're sure to get another material body-unless you remember Krsna.
If you chant Krsna's names, you'll return to' the spiritual world and live there forever.
Q. I'm aware that chanting is the best way to get ready for death. But why rush it—why not just wait until we get old?
A. How do you know, you're not old already? Actually, "old" just refers to someone who's about to die, and who can be sure the "someone" isn't him? You don't have any guarantees that you'll live to be ninety. Better to start chanting the maha-mantra now.
Another thing to consider: when you die, your mind and body will be going through all kinds of changes, and it will be impossible to chant unless you've been practicing.
Q. Why so much talk about death? What about happiness here and now?
A. You're right. We all want happiness here and now. But we have to know where to look for it.
Trying to find happiness in satisfying your body is like trying to eat pudding that has sand in it.
Whatever bodily happiness you experience is temporary; it won't last. And besides, it comes mixed with old age, disease, death, and rebirth. So when you opt for bodily happiness, you get a huge quotient of sand.
But the spiritual happiness you'll find in your relationship with Krsna is one-hundred-percent pure, and it lasts forever. And if you chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, you can experience this lasting spiritual happiness for yourself, here and now.
Q. How can just a sound give you so much happiness?
A. The Hare Krsna maha-mantra isn't an ordinary sound. Krsna is present in His names, and because Krsna is the reservoir of all spiritual pleasure, His names are also full of pleasure. That's why a great spiritual master once said he wanted millions of ears to hear Krsna's names and millions of tongues to chant them.
Q. How can I find more time for chanting? I like it, but I'm usually too busy.
A. We're all busy, but eventually we have to die. And then what? By the law of karma, anyone who is not God-realized will have to stay in the cycle of rebirth and death. So our real business should be to become God-realized and get out of the karmic cycle. And chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is the surest way to do that.
Q. If I want to take up chanting, do I need a teacher?
A. Not to start. But if you want your chanting to give you lasting results, then you'll take instruction from a bona fide spiritual master. As the Vedic literatures point out, "Unless one receives instruction from a bona fide spiritual master in the authorized disciplic succession, then his mantra will have no effect."
Q. If I chant Hare Krsna, will I be able to levitate?
A. Even if you could overcome the law of gravity, you'd still be under the law of karma. You'd still have to undergo old age, disease, death, and rebirth. But if you want to overcome the law of karma and, when you pass on, levitate all the way to the spiritual world, then chant the mahamantra.
Q. Why not keep the Hare Krsna mantra secret, like other mantras?
A. If something can actually do some good for others, then who but a rascal would keep it secret and sell it for a fee? The flare Krsna maha-mantra can deliver everyone from the karmic cycle of rebirth and death. So Sri Krsna Caitanya, the incarnation of God for this age, ordered His followers to spread the maha-mantra "to every town and village."
Q. If you chant a mantra in public, won't it lose its power?
A. A mantra can never lose its power. (Here we're not talking about the nonsense syllables that phony gurus are marketing nowadays. These "mantras" never had any power to begin with.) At any rate; a mantra is a combination of sacred sounds—names of God and His energies. So just as God is inexhaustible, a mantra is inexhaustible. Unlimited numbers of people can chant it unlimitedly, and it will always have its power. And the Hare Krsna mantra is known as the maha-mantra. Maha means "great," or "the most powerful."
Q. I don't see that everybody has to chant Hare Krsna. Don't all paths lead to the same place?
A.If you take a flight to Paris and your friend takes a flight to London, you'll go to Paris and he'll end up in London. It's not that you'll both arrive in Paris. Now, the Vedic literatures explain that life's highest destination is to revive our relationship with Lord Krsna in the spiritual world, and that the path is the chanting of the Lord's names. So if you're doing something else, you'll end up in a different place.
Q. God is everywhere. So why chant Hare Krsna? I'm already "back to Godhead," right here and now.
A. That may be, but there's a difference. For instance, the state government is running both the university system and the prison system. So it's all the same, in a way, but where would you rather be—Sydney University or Long Bay?
Similarly, God controls both the spiritual and material worlds. But the material world is a place where people who've forgotten Him go through all kinds of trouble—until, finally, they come to their senses and revive the relationship. And the best way to do that, is to chant God's names. Then, as you say, you'll be "already back to Godhead, right here and now," and when you pass away you'll live with Krsna eternally in the spiritual world.