What is Krishna Consciousness?
By Ananta Sesa Dasa
The Vedic Care Charitable Trust follows the principles of Vaishanavism. Many supporters of the VCC are well versed in Krishna Consciousness; however, since the VCC welcomes every spiritual seeker, it seems appropriate to take a bit of time to discuss the history and philosophy of the movement.
Krishna Consciousness is our original spiritual understanding, which means that its history is actually as old as the universe. However, we will start the history a little more recently.
The Vedic culture (Veda means sacred knowledge) began in India over 5000 years ago. This culture is so named because of it’s spiritual and ritualistic adherence to the Vedas. The four Vedas (Rg-veda, Sama-veda, Atharva-veda, and Yajur-veda) were delivered to the people of India by Vyasadeva in order to make this most ancient wisdom available to all. The Vedas are very technical and difficult for the common person to understand, so other writings were brought into being as a way of bringing wisdom and truth to the less intelligent of society. These works were the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Contained within the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad-Gita, considered by many to be the Bible of the Hindus, but of course, it is really the Bible of humanity.
The Bhagavad-Gita tells the story of a conversation held between the great warrior, Arjuna, and Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personification of the Godhead. Taking the role of guru, or spiritual coach, Krishna carefully guides Arjuna towards spiritual awakening and full knowledge. This text is left as humanity’s instruction manual. Its teachings are simple and to the point, but sadly, human ego drove some to abandon the true message of Krishna Consciousness, and instead to manipulate it to serve their own sense gratification for power and wealth.
Because of this corruption, Lord Krishna entered the world. This time, he appeared as a devotee of Krishna called Lord Caitanya (1486-1534). Caitanya fought against the corruption caused by ego and initiated a spiritual awakening through the sankirtan movement. The sankirtan movement, which is the chanting of the holy names, is the simplest method of reviving our dormant Krishna Consciousness.
The teachings of Lord Caitanya have been passed down from guru to initiate for the last 500 years, which brings us to the founder of Krishna Consciousness in the West, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada (1896-1977). Shortly before his death in 1933, Prabhupada’s teacher, Bhaktisiddhanta Swami, instructed him to bring this ancient knowledge to the West. Prabhupada was finally able to make this a reality in 1965.
Swami Prabhupada arrived in New York in the fall of 1965 virtually penniless, but he was able to set up a small store front temple at the former Matchless Gifts giftshop on 2nd Street. From there he began to chant, give teachings from the Bhagavad-Gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and other important scriptures. Very slowly people started to notice, listen, and begin to follow the teachings from this spiritual coach. As the 60s moved on, and with the help of some prominent figures such as Allen Ginsberg and George Harrison, the movement grew in popularity and attracted many followers. (It attracted our own Gurudas in 1967).
During the final years of his life, Prabhupada travelled around the world 14 times and wrote over 50 books. He worked tirelessly to make Krishna Consciousness the world-wide movement that it is today.
The basic philosophy of Krishna Consciousness begins with the idea that we are not the physical bodies that we believe we are. Material conditioning has made us accept many falsehoods. Instead, we are spirit soul, which is part and parcel of Krishna.
In the beginning, humans existed in their original constitutional position, as the appendages of God. There was no sense of ego or desire to become anything more. We simply served the Lord and fulfilled His Divine Will. However, as time went on, a false ego developed within humans. This ego insisted that mankind was not just an appendage of God, but rather was its own person. With that mentality, desire for sense gratification developed and grew.
The created world had so many allurements, beauty, sex, wealth, power, entertainments, and so forth, that humanity forgot its true nature. As a result, we spent our time seeking these allurements and trying to find happiness within them. Of course, this is impossible. Any happiness found in this world is temporary, and when it is gone, it leaves a gap that brings misery. Suffering is the common state of existence for one who has forgotten one’s true nature.
True happiness can only be found in the eternal, which means letting go of all our temporary attachments and surrendering to Krishna. By doing so, we may return to our original constitutional positions as servitors of the Lord and find genuine happiness through that service. But how do we do this?
Lord Caitanya taught that the easiest method for reviving our dormant Krishna Consciousness, our love of Krishna and understanding of our true self, was through the chanting of the Holy Names of God. Within the Vedic traditions, the name of God, the image of God, or anything else associated with God is identical to God. So, when we chant the names of God, we are bringing Him into our presence.
The greatest desire of humanity is to see and know God. “I really want to see you Lord,” George Harrison sang in My Sweet Lord. There is a great deal of doubt and skeptism in this world about the existence of God, even from so-called believers. Like Doubting Thomas, they want proof, but it seems no proof is forthcoming. Another line from Harrison; however, says “it won’t take long my Lord”. This is acknowledgement that if one begins the process of chanting the Holy Names that one will quickly experience God and have the proof that is desired. One will soon be in the presence of God.
The chanting that Lord Caitanya spoke of is called the Maha-Mantra (the Great Mantra). It is comprised of three of the names of God: Hare, Krishna, and Rama.
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Rama Rama, Hare Hare
Hare is the spiritual energy of God, and also represents the feminine aspect of the divine as Radha. Krishna, a name that implies universal attraction, is the Supreme Personification of the Godhead. Rama, who entered the world in human form, is the supreme enjoyer. It is through Him that we find true happiness. (Readers from a Christian background may find a strong similarity to the Trinity. Krishna would equate to God the Father, Rama to God the Son, and Hare as the Holy Spirit.)
Lord Caitanya taught that a devotee of Krishna should chant this mantra on a string of japa beads (similar to a rosary). The string contains 108 beads, and one chants the mantra once on each bead. After 108 times, one round of japa is completed. Caitanya advised that one should chant 64 rounds each day. In this way, the mind would constantly be focused upon Krishna to the exclusion of everything else. Recent spiritual guides, such as Srila Prabhupada, have lessened the number to 16 rounds per day due to the pressures and duties of modern life.
The key point is to ensure that one is constantly thinking of Krishna. The process of Bhakti-yoga requires that one offer devotional service to the Lord with love. So, one’s actions should be directed toward the service of the Lord and one should always be thinking of the Lord. In this way, one will remember and regain one’s original position as servitor of the Lord, and not be bothered by suffering from the illusions of the material world.