A lecture given by HH Kadamba Kanana Swami Maharaja, 30 January 2011, Radhadesh, Belgium (Kirtan weekend)
Glorifying the Supreme Lord
So today’s topic is kirtana. What else could it be? Because after so much chanting one becomes absorbed. I don’t know if you have the same experience but there is an echo; I woke up this morning with lots of kirtana echoing in my head and even in the night from time to time it was there. That is how one can conquer the mode of ignorance and how one can become gudukesa, or a conqueror of sleep, how even during sleep the holy name continues to echo in one’s mind. In this way one can continuously fill the consciousness with the chanting of the holy name of the Lord, kirtaniyah sada harih. Kirti, means fame or glory of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and one can either chant the holy name of the Lord or one can describe the qualities, the pastimes of the Supreme Lord. We remember that Ananta Sesa was unlimitedly glorifying the Supreme Lord with His unlimited hoods and never coming to an end. It is said that the mouth of Lord Ananta is the jewel case of glorification of Krsna and if one wants to glorify Krsna then one must pray to Balarama and then one can actually glorify.
There are many levels on which chanting is experienced; in the beginning stages we can chant while struggling with material attachments and our chanting of the holy name is dissipating the fog within our consciousness, it is gradually clearing the consciousness. In this way the chanting will remove all the impurities from the heart, anartha upasamam saksad bhakti-yogam adhoksaje. This process of devotional service can remove the impurities from the heart. So most of us are simply looking for purification in this chanting and are looking for shelter, mad-asraya, looking for shelter in Krsna, shelter from the pangs of material existence, from the struggle with the three modes of material nature, for some relief. The chanting not only gives us a relief during the activity of the chanting but it will produce a lasting effect within the heart and it penetrates into our entire consciousness. By hearing and chanting in this way one begins to automatically remember Krsna.
Remembrance of Krsna is another essential aspect. It is said that there are nine processes of devotional service, beginning with sravanam kirtanam visnu smaranam and these first three are described as the bhagavata- marga, which is particularly the process that Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to give- hearing, chanting and remembering are going hand in hand. I’ll give a little example from my personal experience to illustrate the point. In the early 70’s I was in Amsterdam and was involved with music and also I was very interested in India so I was interested in raga. And I met a musician from America named Burton Green who was a piano player and he suggested that we have a jam session and play ragas. So I said, ‘ya, great! Ragas! Spiritual sound from India- lets go!’ and we sat down and started the ragas and lots of people with percussion and everyone was really into it. And then he said, ‘let’s do some mantra as well!’ so why not some mantra also? it’s sort of raga-mantra, same sort of thing; spiritual sound from India. And then he started to chant the Hare Krsna maha mantra. And we were all chanting along and really getting into the spiritual sound of the mantra. That was about all I knew about the maha mantra at that time, nothing more.
Later though, after having heard about Krsna, then naturally upon hearing the name Krsna, immediately remembrance comes. Now since we have heard about Krsna, immediately as soon as I say Krsna, we see the peacock feather, the yellow dhoti, lotus eyes and if you know more then there’s kajal around His eyes and kaustubha gem and a turban decorated with so many jewels, mother of pear nails and reddishness in so many places, a chest like a doorway and thighs like the trunk of elephants…and one can just carry on with the qualities of Krsna and then one can just think, ‘Krsna! Krsna!’ engaged in so many amazing pastimes and we chant every day, ‘Radha Madhava,’ ‘Giri Varadhari…’ and I’m thinking giri varadhari- lifting Govardhana Hill. And then the thing that I like the most about that pastime is that it is described that Krsna had unlimited cowherd boy friends who each had unlimited calves and they all fit under that hill of an otherwise limited size. So somehow or other Krsna made it possible and that is sort of touching me with appreciation, that the Lord is providing for everyone and no one is excluded. In that way of remembrance of Krsna is not only a remembrance of His qualities and His pastimes but it is also remembrance with appreciation and in that appreciation we find a beginning of developing actual attachment to Krsna.
So sravanam kirtanam smaranam– hearing, chanting and remembering- are three activities which are combined, they come together. Sometimes it has been said that hearing is the oil of the lamp of chanting. By hearing we become more and more inspired to chant again and again and again. Sometimes due to our conditioning there is not so much taste then we may read a little bit before we start chanting and then again the enthusiasm arises to chant the holy name. In this way sravanam kirtanam visnu smaranam is the Bhagavata-marga. That piano player, Burton Green, I never thought much of it but I got the holy name from him somehow or other and then years later I was reading the Prabhupada Lilamrta and it said that in the early days of Matchless Gifts storefront, the devotees had found an old string board of a piano at the garbage and they had brought it to the temple and sometimes during the kirtana someone would play it and especially a piano player names Burton Green use to hammer on those strings! So I somehow or other got it in some sort of parampara.
The offering in chanting
Anyhow, in chanting the holy name there are various aspects and one aspect in chanting is our offering, in what we ourselves are putting into the chanting. Whether we chant softly in japa or whether we chant in kirtana it is the same thing-how much we apply ourselves and how much we are becoming absorbed in hearing. Srila Prabhupada said that attentive chanting means to hear oneself chanting and that is where, when chanting japa, the energy is going- hearing, one must hear the chanting. At the same time we are trying to pronounce the chanting nicely and clearly with enthusiasm. In this way we are chanting the holy name. In kirtana or in sankirtana we are carried by the energy of others, all together we are making our offering and we are swept in a wave. And kirtana leaders take us to different moods and we’ve had many yesterday. In that way we have so many different ways of becoming absorbed in focusing on Krsna.
The darshan in the chanting
So the element of the offering in the chanting is one element. The other element is the darshan of Krsna, that Krsna is personally present, that Krsna is His name.
nama cintamanih krsnas
purnah suddho nitya-mukto
(Padma Purana, quoted in Cc. Madhya Lila 17.133)
The Padma Purana is mentioning that Krsna is non-different from His name. Keeping that in mind the Adi Purana is quoted in the Nectar of Devotion as explaining that when we are chanting the holy name that we are directly associating with Krsna. Now in the initial stages of chanting that is something one remembers in the back of his mind that this name is Krsna, we are now associating with Krsna, Krsna is present. And sometimes at moments we feel the presence of Krsna also within the chanting of the holy name, at least something we can emotionally perceive. Then gradually as one becomes purified in the chanting and one comes to more advanced levels in chanting the holy name then it is described that not only are we meditating on Krsna, that’s not everything, but it is also that Krsna appears in our meditation. So Krsna is an active party to the whole thing. Krsna appears in our meditation.
There are several references to that; for example, in the Caitanya-candamrta, Srila Prabhodananda Sarasvati is speaking about this topic and praying, ‘Oh my Lord, when will You appear in My meditation.’ Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura is saying, ‘My Lord, may You always remain on the pathway of my mind.’ Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Jagannatha Puri was so absorbed in remembering Krsna and in always chanting the glories of Krsna and in only hearing about Krsna that whatever He saw it was related to Krsna. When He saw the ocean, it was the Yamuna- any water was the Yamuna. Any hill- Govardhana! As simple as that; He saw the Yamuna, He saw Govardhana and He jumped in the ocean in great enthusiasm. While He was in that ocean, He floated for a long time and only later He came back to the shore when He was caught in the net of a fisherman. The fisherman was shocked to see that he had an unusual person in his net. It was very pale because Caitanya Mahaprabhu had been under salty water for a long time and the body elongated because due to ecstasy, the joints of the body had become loose- don’t ask me how that works- but with that the length of His body had increased tremendously and then when the fisherman had caught that huge ‘thing’ in his net and touched it, he became overwhelmed by some very overpowering force and immediately he started jumping up and down on the beach and started to chant, ‘Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.’ It was beyond himself and he thought that he was being overpowered by a ghost. But the associates of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, they had appeared on that scene and they calmed down the fisherman and pointed out that this is Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. “It can’t be! I’ve seen Him many times and He doesn’t look like this!”Well sometimes He does and the vaisnavas chanted very loud. Then Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to His external senses and all His joints went back to normal somehow or other. And then He explained, “what is all this noise? What is all this noise? I was in Vrndavana, I was just witnessing the pastimes of Krsna and then all this noise and you brought Me here! Why have you brought Me here?”
So Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was directly in Vrndavana in His chanting. And not only Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu but also His followers like Srila Rupa Gosvami, like Sanatana Gosvami or like Srinivasa Acarya. One book that is described as authorised in the Caitanya Caritamrta purports by Srila Prabhupada is the Bhakti-ratnakara. The Bhakti-ratnakara is a book about the history of the vaisnavas , at the time of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and also after. It describes Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis, it also describes Gopal Bhatta Gosvami, it describes Srinivasa Acarya and so on. And in all these personalities we find that Krsna began to manifest Himself to them and He began to appear in pastimes and they began to see Krsna in pastimes.
It is said that the gopis were dressing Srimati Radharani, who was preparing for a meeting with Krsna. So they were making a lot of work for the dressing, so many arrangements! Just the tilak alone was a huge thing! Just the tilak alone was meant to make the head of Krsna spin! That was the idea; that kind of tilak! So they were spending a lot of time on that tilak and then they showed Srimati Radharani a mirror. And then mean while, Krsna had appeared there and stood behind Her and when She looked in the mirror, suddenly Krsna was there! So it is described that Rupa Gosvami was witnessing this and that just then, everyone started laughing when Radharani had a great shock when we saw Krsna in that mirror. Everyone laughed and Rupa Gosvami also and one vaisnava was passing and was thinking that Rupa Gosvami was laughing at him and so on, which of course was not a fact but he thought like that. Later Sanatana Gosvami clarified the nature of Rupa Gosvami…
So there are some stories in the Bhakti-ratnakara describing how Rupa Gosvami was also here and there- here in the material world and also in the spiritual world. Or how Krsna would appear to Sanatana Gosvami and bring him some milk while he was Pavana-sarovara. And things like that were going in the pastimes of the gosvamis. Also Srinivasa Acarya found himself in the middle of a Holi pastime and when he came to his external senses, he was covered. He saw the Holi in the spiritual world and he was in a trance and when he returned to external consciousness he saw himself coloured. So many stories and many more but I have very little time left because this class is meant to end early.
By the strength of Srila Prabhupada’s mercy…
So in conclusion, we can see from these descriptions about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and about the gosvamis, the miracle of the holy name. We can see to what an extent the experience of chanting the holy name can go. Of course for us, we may never get there this lifetime- at least not at the speed we are going. Some years ago in Germany they had on the autobahn where there is no speed limit, they had a sign and the sign said- ‘Turtles to the right…’ and then you saw a whole line of turtles walking and then in the middle lane there’s medium speed and then in the fast line there is unlimited speed. But all the turtles to the right…so in the sankirtana movement of Lord Caitanya there also are different lanes and many of us may be in the turtle lane, what to do. And if you then look at Rupa Gosvami, Sanatana Gosvami, Srinivasa Acarya in the fast lane, it’s just inconceivable. Whhhosh! They flash their lights….they don’t even sleep, they just fly by and we are looking at, ‘how is this all possible? This is inconceivable!’
So in this way we are just struggling a bit but we do our best, our best to be faithful, faithful in chanting. And then we come together and have these kirtan gatherings and tank up and get some energy. We will walk away from here with something, with some strength, some energy to apply ourselves again. And then in the end, we are very optimistic because we know that there is the mercy of Srila Prabhupada. And that mercy of Srila Prabhupada extends even further than what Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu brought. It is said that Lord Nityananda made a channel in order to make Krsna prema descend into this world. Then Prabhupada brought it to the modern world in the west and then Prabhupada, on the strength of his extraordinary service, he attracts Krsna and by attracting Krsna, he can even attract the mercy of Krsna upon those who are not very pure and serious at all. And that is our hope that simply by taking shelter of Srila Prabhupada that Krsna’s mercy can be attracted.
And then Prabhupada said on many occasions, according to Deena Bandhu, once in Portland Prabhupada said that, ‘if you follow 4 regulative principles and you chant 16 rounds daily, then at the end of life you will go back to Godhead.’ And he said, ‘I guarantee it, I guarantee it, I guarantee it…’ 3 times. So that’s pretty good! I remember that often, I need to remember that because I am only chanting for shelter and I know that my chanting is poor, I know that all that I’m offering is broken names and that I’m not really chanting very purely. But I have hope, asa-bandha, hope against hope that with Prabhupada’s mercy it will be possible to go back to Godhead. Therefore let us come together again and again and let us chant together again and again so that we can feed off each other’s strength and inspiration and in that way carry on faithfully, just simply faithfully chant throughout a lifetime and take shelter of these four regulative principles. And then we have all hope by the words of Srila Prabhupada, by his service that we can go back to Godhead. And then I’m sure we can get Krsna prema also- latest is at the door of the spiritual world!
Okay thank you so much.