In The Quest for Enlightenment Śrīla Prabhupāda makes it clear how important it is for everyone to practice Krishna consciousness, devotional service to Lord Krishna. Of course, living in the association of Krishna’s devotees in a temple or āśrama makes it easier to practice devotional service. But if you’re determined, you can follow at home the teachings of Krishna consciousness and thus convert your home into a temple.
Spiritual life, like material life, means practical activity. The difference is that whereas we perform material activities for the benefit of ourselves or those we consider ours, we perform spiritual activities for the benefit of Lord Krishna, under the guidance of the scriptures and the spiritual master. The key is to accept the guidance of the scripture and the guru. Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gītā that a person can achieve neither happiness nor the supreme destination of life—going back to Godhead, back to Lord Krishna—if he or she does not follow the injunctions of the scriptures. And how to follow the scriptural rules by engaging in practical service to the Lord—that is explained by a bona fide spiritual master. Without following the instructions of a spiritual master who is in an authorized chain of disciplic succession coming from Krishna Himself, we cannot make spiritual progress. The practices outlined here are the timeless practices of bhakti-yoga as given by the foremost spiritual master and exponent of Krishna consciousness in our time, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, founder-ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
The purpose of spiritual knowledge is to bring us closer to God, or Krishna. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gītā (18.55), bhaktyā māṁ abhijānāti: “I can be known only by devotional service.” Knowledge guides us in proper action. Spiritual knowledge directs us to satisfy the desires of Krishna through practical engagements in His loving service. Without practical application, theoretical knowledge is of little value.
Spiritual knowledge is meant to direct us in all aspects of life. We should endeavor, therefore, to organize our lives in such a way as to follow Krishna’s teachings as far as possible. We should try to do our best, to do more than is simply convenient. Then it will be possible for us to rise to the transcendental plane of Krishna consciousness, even while living far from a temple.
Chanting the Hare Krishna Mantra
The first principle in devotional service is to chant the Hare Krishna mahā-mantra (mahā means “great”; mantra means”sound that liberates the mind from ignorance”):
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare
You can chant these holy names of the Lord anywhere and at any time, but it is best to set a specific time of the day to regularly chant. Early morning hours are ideal.
The chanting can be done in two ways: singing the mantra, called kīrtana (usually done in a group), and saying the mantra to oneself, called japa (which literally means “to speak softly”). Concentrate on hearing the sound of the holy names. As you chant, pronounce the names clearly and distinctly, addressing Krishna in a prayerful mood. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the sound of the Lord’s names. Chanting is a prayer to Krishna that means “O energy of the Lord [Hare], O all-attractive Lord [Krishna], O Supreme Enjoyer [Rāma], please engage me in Your service.” The more attentively and sincerely you chant these names of God, the more spiritual progress you will make.
Since God is all-powerful and all-merciful, He has kindly made it very easy for us to chant His names, and He has also invested all His powers in them. Therefore the names of God and God Himself are identical. This means that when we chant the holy names of Krishna and Rāma we are directly associating with God and being purified. Therefore we should always try to chant with devotion and reverence. The Vedic literature states that Lord Krishna is personally dancing on your tongue when you chant His holy name.
When you chant alone, it is best to chant on japa beads (available from www.Krishna.com ). This not only helps you fix your attention on the holy name, but it also helps you count the number of times you chant the mantra daily. Each strand of japa beads contains 108 small beads and one large bead, the head bead. Begin on a bead next to the head bead and gently roll it between the thumb and middle finger of your right hand as you chant the full Hare Krishna mantra. Then move to the next bead and repeat the process. In this way, chant on each of the 108 beads until you reach the head bead again. This is one round of japa. Then, without chanting on the head bead, reverse the beads and start your second round on the last bead you chanted on.
Initiated devotees vow before the spiritual master to chant at least sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra daily. But even if you can chant only one round a day, the principle is that once you commit yourself to chanting that round, you should try complete it every day without fail. When you feel you can chant more, then increase the minimum number of rounds you chant each day—but don’t fall below that number. You can chant more than your fixed number, but you should maintain a set minimum each day. (Please note that the beads are sacred and therefore should never touch the ground or be put in an unclean place. To keep your beads clean, it’s best to carry them in a special bead bag, also available from www.Krishna.com .)
Aside from chanting japa, you can also sing the Lord’s holy names in kīrtana. While you can perform kīrtana individually, it is generally performed with others. A melodious kīrtana with family or friends is sure to enliven everyone. ISKCON devotees use traditional melodies and instruments, especially in the temple, but you can chant to any melody and use any musical instruments to accompany your chanting. As Lord Caitanya said, “There are no hard and fast rules for chanting Hare Krishna.” One thing you might want to do, however, is order some kīrtana and japa audiotapes from Temple Services.
Setting Up Your Altar
You will likely find that your japa and kīrtana are especially effective when done before an altar. Lord Krishna and His pure devotees are so kind that they allow us to worship them even through their pictures. It is something like mailing a letter: You cannot mail a letter by placing it in just any box; you must use the mailbox authorized by the government. Similarly, we cannot imagine a picture of God and worship that, but we can worship the authorized picture of God, and Krishna accepts our worship through that picture.
Setting up an altar at home means receiving the Lord and His pure devotees as your most honored guests. Where should you set up the altar? Well, how would you seat a guest? An ideal place would be clean, well lit, and free from drafts and household disturbances. Your guest, of course, would need a comfortable chair, but for the picture of Krishna’s form a wall shelf, a mantelpiece, a corner table, or the top shelf of a bookcase will do. You wouldn’t seat a guest in your home and then ignore him; you’d provide a place for yourself to sit, too, where you could comfortably face him and enjoy his company. So don’t make your altar inaccessible.
What do you need for an altar? Here are the essentials:
1. A picture of Śrīla Prabhupāda.
2. A picture of Lord Caitanya and His associates.
3. A picture of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Krishna.
In addition, you may want an altar cloth, water cups (one for each picture), candles with holders, a special plate for offering food, a small bell, incense, an incense holder, and fresh flowers, which you may offer in vases or simply place before each picture. If you’re interested in more elaborate Deity worship, ask any of the ISKCON devotees or write to Temple Services.
The first person we worship on the altar is the spiritual master. The spiritual master is not God. Only God is God. But because the spiritual master is His dearmost servant, God has empowered him, and therefore he deserves the same respect as that given to God. He links the disciple with God and teaches him the process of bhakti-yoga. He is God’s ambassador to the material world. When a president sends an ambassador to a foreign country, the ambassador receives the same respect as that accorded the president, and the ambassador’s words are as authoritative as the president’s. Similarly, we should respect the spiritual master as we would God, and revere his words as we would His.
There are two main kinds of gurus: the instructing guru and the initiating guru. Everyone who takes up the process of bhakti-yoga as a result of coming in contact with ISKCON owes an immense debt of gratitude to Śrīla Prabhupāda. Before Śrīla Prabhupāda left India in 1965 to spread Krishna consciousness abroad, almost no one outside India knew anything about the practice of pure devotional service to Lord Krishna. Therefore, everyone who has learned of the process through his books, his Back to Godhead magazine, his tapes, or contact with his followers should offer respect to Śrīla Prabhupāda. As the founder and spiritual guide of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, he is the instructing guru of us all.
As you progress in bhakti-yoga, you may eventually want to accept initiation. Before he left this world in 1977, Śrīla Prabhupāda authorized a system in which advanced and qualified devotees would carry on his work by initiating disciples in accordance with his instructions. At present there are many spiritual masters in ISKCON. To learn how you can get in touch with them for spiritual guidance and association, ask a devotee at your nearby temple, or write to the president of one of the ISKCON centers listed at the end of this book.
The second picture on your altar should be one of the pañca-tattva, Lord Caitanya and His four leading associates. Lord Caitanya is the incarnation of God for this age. He is Krishna Himself, descended in the form of His own devotee to teach us how to surrender to Him, specifically by chanting His holy names and performing other activities of bhakti-yoga. Lord Caitanya is the most merciful incarnation, for He makes it easy for anyone to attain love of God through the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra.
And of course your altar should have a picture of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Śrī Krishna, with His eternal consort, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is Krishna’s spiritual potency. She is devotional service personified, and devotees always take shelter of Her to learn how to serve Krishna.
You can arrange the pictures in a triangle, with the picture of Śrīla Prabhupāda on the left, the picture of Lord Caitanya and His associates on the right, and the picture of Rādhā and Krishna, which, if possible, should be slightly larger than the others, on a small raised platform behind and in the center. Or you can hang the picture of Rādhā and Krishna on the wall above.
Carefully clean the altar each morning. Cleanliness is essential in Deity worship. Remember, you wouldn’t neglect to clean the room of an important guest, and when you establish an altar you invite Krishna and His pure devotees to reside as the most exalted guests in your home. If you have water cups, rinse them out and fill them with fresh water daily. Then place them conveniently close to the pictures. You should remove flowers in vases as soon as they’re slightly wilted, or daily if you’ve offered them at the base of the pictures. You should offer fresh incense at least once a day, and, if possible, light candles and place them near the pictures when you’re chanting before the altar.
Please try the things we’ve suggested so far. It’s very simple, really: If you try to love God, you’ll gradually realize how much He loves you. That’s the essence of bhakti-yoga.
Prasādam: How to Eat Spiritually
By His immense transcendental energies, Krishna can actually convert matter into spirit. If we place an iron rod in a fire, before long the rod becomes red hot and acts just like fire. In the same way, food prepared for and offered to Krishna with love and devotion becomes completely spiritualized. Such food is called Krishna prasādam, which means “the mercy of Lord Krishna.”
Eating prasādam is a fundamental practice of bhakti-yoga. In other forms of yoga one must artificially repress the senses, but the bhakti-yogī can engage his or her senses in a variety of pleasing spiritual activities, such as tasting delicious food offered to Lord Krishna. In this way the senses gradually become spiritualized and bring the devotee more and more transcendental pleasure by being engaged in devotional service. Such spiritual pleasure far surpasses any material experience.
Lord Caitanya said of prasādam, “Everyone has tasted these foods before. However, now that they have been prepared for Krishna and offered to Him with devotion, these foods have acquired extraordinary tastes and uncommon fragrances. Just taste them and see the difference in the experience! Apart from the taste, even the fragrance pleases the mind and makes one forget any other fragrance. Therefore, it should be understood that the spiritual nectar of Krishna’s lips must have touched these ordinary foods and imparted to them all their transcendental qualities.”
Eating only food offered to Krishna is the perfection of vegetarianism. In itself, being a vegetarian is not enough; after all, even pigeons and monkeys are vegetarians. But when we go beyond vegetarianism to a diet of prasādam, our eating becomes helpful in achieving the goal of human life-reawakening the soul’s original relationship with God. In the Bhagavad-gītā Lord Krishna says that unless one eats only food that has been offered to Him in sacrifice, one will suffer the reactions of karma.
How to Prepare and Offer Prasādam
As you walk down the supermarket aisles selecting the foods you will offer to Krishna, you need to know what is offerable and what is not. In the Bhagavad-gītā, Lord Krishna states, “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, I will accept it.” From this verse it is understood that we can offer Krishna foods prepared from milk products, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains. (Write to Temple Services for one of the many Hare Krishna cook books.) Meat, fish, and eggs are not offerable. And a few vegetarian items are also forbidden—garlic and onions, for example, which are in the mode of darkness. (Hing, or asafetida, is a tasty substitute for them in cooking and is available at most Indian groceries or from Temple Services.) Nor can you offer to Krṣṇa coffee or tea that contain caffeine. If you like these beverages, purchase caffeine—free coffee and herbal teas.
While shopping, be aware that you may find meat, fish, and egg products mixed with other foods; so be sure to read labels carefully. For instance, some brands of yogurt and sour cream contain gelatin, a substance made from the horns, hooves, and bones of slaughtered animals. Also, make sure the cheese you buy contains no rennet, an enzyme extracted from the stomach tissues of slaughtered calves. Most hard cheese sold in America contains rennet, so be careful about any cheese you can’t verify as rennetless.
Also avoid foods cooked by nondevotees. According to the subtle laws of nature, the cook acts upon the food not only physically but mentally as well. Food thus becomes an agent for subtle influences on your consciousness. The principle is the same as that at work with a painting: a painting is not simply a collection of strokes on a canvas but an expression of the artist’s state of mind, which affects the viewer. So if you eat food cooked by nondevotees—employees working in a factory, for example—then you’re sure to absorb a dose of materialism and karma. So as far as possible use only fresh, natural ingredients.
In preparing food, cleanliness is the most important principle. Nothing impure should be offered to God; so keep your kitchen very clean. Always wash your hands thoroughly before entering the kitchen. While preparing food, do not taste it, for you are cooking the meal not for yourself but for the pleasure of Krishna. Arrange portions of the food on dinnerware kept especially for this purpose; no one but the Lord should eat from these dishes. The easiest way to offer food is simply to pray, “My dear Lord Krishna, please accept this food,” and to chant each of the following prayers three times while ringing a bell (see the Sanskrit Pronunciation Guide):
1. Prayer to Śrīla Prabhupāda:
nama oṁ viṣṇu-pādāya Krishna-preṣṭhāya bhū-tale
śrīmate bhaktivedānta-svāmin iti nāmine
namas te sārasvate deve gaura-vāṇī-pracāriṇe
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, who is very dear to Lord Krishna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet. Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Caitanyadeva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism.”
2. Prayer to Lord Caitanya:
namo mahā-vadānyāya Krishna-prema-pradāya te
kṛṣṇāya Krishna-caitanya-nāmne gaura-tviṣe namaḥ
[Cc. Madhya 19.53]
“O most munificent incarnation! You are Krishna Himself appearing as Śrī Krishna Caitanya Mahāprabhu. You have assumed the golden color of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You.”
3. Prayer to Lord Krishna:
namo brahmaṇya-devāya go-brāhmaṇa-hitāya ca
jagad-dhitāya kṛṣṇāya govindāya namo namaḥ
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krishna, who is the worshipable Deity for all brāhmaṇas, the well-wisher of the cows and the brāhmaṇas, and the benefactor of the whole world. I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Krishna and Govinda.”
Remember that the real purpose of preparing and offering food to the Lord is to show your devotion and gratitude to Him. Krishna accepts your devotion, not the physical offering itself. God is complete in Himself—He doesn’t need anything—but out of His immense kindness He allows us to offer food to Him so that we can develop our love for Him.
After offering the food to the Lord, wait at least five minutes for Him to partake of the preparations. Then you should transfer the food from the special dinnerware and wash the dishes and utensils you used for the offering. Now you and any guests may eat the prasādam. While you eat, try to appreciate the spiritual value of the food. Remember that because Krishna has accepted it, it is nondifferent from Him, and therefore by eating it you will become purified.
Everything you offer on your altar becomes prasādam, the mercy of the Lord. Flowers, incense, the water, the food—everything you offer for the Lord’s pleasure becomes spiritualized. The Lord enters into the offerings, and thus the remnants are nondifferent from Him. So you should not only deeply respect the things you’ve offered, but you should distribute them to others as well. Distribution of prasādam is an essential part of Deity worship.
Everyday Life: The Four Regulative Principles
Anyone serious about progressing in Krishna consciousness must try to avoid the following four sinful activities:
1. Eating meat, fish, or eggs. These foods are saturated with the modes of passion and ignorance and therefore cannot be offered to the Lord. A person who eats these foods participates in a conspiracy of violence against helpless animals and thus stops his spiritual progress dead in its tracks.
2. Gambling. Gambling invariably puts one into anxiety and fuels greed, envy, and anger.
3. The use of intoxicants. Drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, as well as any drinks or foods containing caffeine, cloud the mind, overstimulate the senses, and make it impossible to understand or follow the principles of bhakti-yoga.
4. Illicit sex. This is sex outside of marriage or sex in marriage for any purpose other than procreation. Sex for pleasure compels one to identify with the body and takes one far from Krishna consciousness. The scriptures teach that sex is the most powerful force binding us to the material world. Anyone serious about advancing in Krishna consciousness should minimize sex or eliminate it entirely.
Engagement in Practical Devotional Service
Everyone must do some kind of work, but if you work only for yourself you must accept the karmic reactions of that work. As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gītā (3.9), “Work done as a sacrifice for Viṣṇu [Krishna] has to be performed. Otherwise work binds one to the material world.”
You needn’t change your occupation, except if you’re now engaged in a sinful job such as working as a butcher or bartender. If you’re a writer, write for Krishna; if you’re an artist, create for Krishna; if you’re a secretary, type for Krishna. You may also directly help the temple in your spare time, and you should sacrifice some of the fruits of your work by contributing a portion of your earnings to help maintain the temple and propagate Krishna consciousness. Some devotees living outside the temple buy Hare Krishna literature and distribute it to their friends and associates, or they engage in a variety of services at the temple. There is also a wide network of devotees who gather in each other’s homes for chanting, worship, and study. Write to your local temple or the Society’s secretary to learn of any such programs near you.
Additional Devotional Principles
There are many more devotional practices that can help you become Krishna conscious. Here are two vital ones:
Studying Hare Krishna literature. Śrīla Prabhupāda, the founder-ācārya of ISKCON, dedicated much of his time to writing books such as the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the source of the Ajāmila story. Hearing the words-or reading the writings-of a realized spiritual master is an essential spiritual practice. So try to set aside some time every day to read Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books. You can get the books from www.Krishna.com.
Associating with devotees. Śrīla Prabhupāda established the Hare Krishna movement to give people in general the chance to associate with devotees of the Lord. This is the best way to gain faith in the process of Krishna consciousness and become enthusiastic in devotional service. Conversely, maintaining intimate connections with nondevotees slows one’s spiritual progress. So try to visit the Hare Krishna center nearest you as often as possible.
The beauty of Krishna consciousness is that you can take as much as you’re ready for. Krishna Himself promises in the Bhagavad-gītā (2.40), “There is no loss or diminution in this endeavor, and even a little advancement on this path protects one from the most fearful type of danger.” So bring Krishna into your daily life, and we guarantee you’ll feel the benefit.