Some years ago I wrote an editorial about the challenge of coming up with a one-line reply to the question “What is Hare Krishna?” The cover story of this issue of BTG suggests one possibility: “It’s a worldwide movement to engage people in chanting the names of God.”
On the authority of the Vedic scriptures, we acknowledge that about five hundred years ago, Krishna – God Himself – descended in Bengal as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The Bhagavad-gita tells us that Krishna appears periodically to reestablish religious principles. As Lord Chaitanya, He revealed the universal religious process for the current age: the congregational chanting of the names of God. Because Hare Krishna devotees follow that religious process, a mention of chanting is a fitting reply to “What is Hare Krishna?”
Since Srila Prabhupada is the founder-acharya of the Hare Krishna movement, or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the focus of his teachings naturally defines the movement’s identity, and he emphasized above all else the chanting of Hare Krishna. Even the publication and distribution of books about Krishna, which he pushed with relentless energy, was meant to get people to take up the spiritual practice of chanting.
To get an idea how much Srila Prabhupada spoke and wrote about chanting, consider that the book Sri Namamrita: The Nectar of the Holy Name, a compilation of Prabhupada’s teachings about the holy name, is nearly six hundred pages long. Chanting Hare Krishna is another compilation, its 230 pages containing much material not found in Sri Namamrita.
Prabhupada’s motivation to spread the chanting of the holy name stems from his mood of being the humble servant of Lord Krishna, Lord Chaitanya, and the succession of gurus from Lord Brahma to his own spiritual master. But there’s more to it than “blindly following their order,” a phrase he often spoke to describe himself. No doubt he was a dedicated servant of the Lord, but he was also a fully realized servant constantly in touch with Krishna by the pure chanting of His name.
When Prabhupada embarked on his voyage to America, he didn’t know what to expect. Almost no one he knew in India offered any encouragement. The people of the West were covered by the modes of ignorance and passion – how could they possibly accept the sublime message of Lord Chaitanya? But Prabhupada had the special power of absolute faith in the holy name. He knew that in carrying the holy name across the sea he was carrying Lord Krishna Himself, who can drive away the darkness of even the darkest hearts.
Krishna as the holy name worked His magic, and Prabhupada’s movement grew. Reminiscent of Lord Chaitanya’s travels in South India, those transformed by Prabhupada’s direct association went on to transform others by giving them the gift of the holy name.
Lord Chaitanya predicted that His name would be chanted in every town and village of the world. Because He is Krishna, we chant His name every time we chant the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Srila Prabhupada also instructed us
to chant the Pancha-tattva mantra – the names of Lord Chaitanya and His four closest associates: (jaya) shri-krishna-chaitanya prabhu nityananda shri-advaita gadadhara shrivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrinda.
Prabhupada especially promoted the chanting of these two mantras, but he encouraged people to chant any genuine name of God that was familiar to them. Just chant, he would say, and see how you advance in God realization.
– Nagaraja Dasa