Devotees of the Lord
Krishna consciousness at home
Chanting the Hare Krishna Mantra
Anyone can chant the maha-mantra: hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare / hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare. This mantra has only three words. Hare refers to the energy of the Lord; krishna, the original name of the Lord, refers to His all-powerful and all-attractive form; and rama refers to the first expansion of the Lord, the abode of all pleasure. Look here for a more detailed and philosophical explanation of the maha-mantra.
To start, you simply repeat these names, or, if you like, you can sing these names to any melody that sounds appropriate to your ears. There are no hard and fast rules for chanting the holy name, but it is best to try to pronounce the name clearly and hear the name as you chant it. This will give the quickest result. One can chant as long as one likes. The longer one chants and the more one hears, the more one will feel the spiritual effect of the mantra cleansing the mirror of the consciousness and purifying it of the long conditioning keeping us entangled in the material nature.
There are standard melodies for chanting, and they can be obtained on tape or CD from the BBT Mail Order department nearest you. But to start, you can chant in any way you like and make the same advancement. Usually when devotees chant together, one person leads by chanting the mantra to one of many melodies, and all the others follow by chanting the same melody. This group chanting is called kirtan.
You can also chant swiftly and softly to yourself. When you chant to yourself, you say the mantra in a flowing way again and again. This type of chanting is called japa. You can easily do it by making a set of beads yourself or by purchasing a set of beads from the BBT or ISKCON outlet nearest you. When you chant on beads, you chant one full mantra on each bead. You hold the beads in the right hand, between the thumb and middle finger, and pull the beads one after another. One-hundred-eight beads form a string of beads, plus one head bead to show when you have chanted around all 108 beads. One-hundred-eight mantras is called a round. Devotees chant at least 16 rounds, which takes about two hours, every day. They usually chant early in the morning, when the atmosphere is peaceful and conducive to spiritual advancement.
It is easy and inexpensive to purchase a set of ready-made beads. But if you cannot do that, you can also make a set of beads yourself. Purchase 108 small, round wooden beads with a hole in the middle of them to pull a string through. You also need one more bead larger in diameter for the final head bead, to show the finish of each round.
Although the beads can be of any color you like, they should be wooden and not painted, and better all the same color. The best wood is called Tulasi wood since it is sacred and has the best effect on the consciousness of the chanter. If you bought beads from a center or temple and they are Tulasi, then please use those instead of making your own.
String the beads by first making a knot. Then place a wooden bead on the string and pull it close to the knot. Then make another knot and place the next bead on the string, and keep repeating the process of placing a pearl and making a knot till all 108 beads are strung tightly together. Then join the two ends of the string by putting the ends through the head bead and tying one final knot on top. Now you have your new set of beads and are ready to chant japa. Happy chanting!
Bead bags are also available to help you hold the beads in your hand. These are more difficult to make unless you are expert at sewing, and it is better to order one in the mail.
Although chanting the maha-mantra is sufficient to bring you to the point of liberation in love of Godhead, usually everyone needs the help of the other aspects of Krishna Consciousness to purify the heart and mind more. A most powerful means of purification of the mind and intelligence is Srila Prabhupada's books. Books like the famous Bhagavad-gita, the song of Krishna, and Srimad-Bhagavatam, as well as Srila Prabhupada's other books, are essential reading for one who wants to become God conscious. All the information you need to become a pure loving servant of the Lord is available in these books, for they are spoken either by God Himself or about Him by His eternal associates.
It is not necessary to know Sanskrit, the original language of the Veda, because Srila Prabhupada has made understanding easy by translating these books into the English language with a fluid and clear commentary that has won the praise of scholars throughout the world.
Try to read at least one hour a day, although more is better. Better still, gather your family together and read the books aloud for them to hear and to purify your homelife. The transcendental sound (sabda brahma) of the Vedic literature will enter deep within your heart and instill Krishna consciousness. You can personally associate with Srila Prabhupada by reading these books. He has said, "I will not die. I will live forever through my books." If you have questions about the books, try asking some devotees through the Talk To Us page, or better yet, come to the nearest temple or invite a devotee to your home.
Most ISKCON centers have a few devotees whose main business is to hold programs outside the temple. You can contact the temple and arrange for some of these devotees to come to your home. You can either have a private program just for your family, or you can invite neighbors and friends to share in the opportunity to hear from practicing Vaishnavas.
Usually the devotees come with musical instruments to accompany the congregational chanting, and sometimes the guests join in and also dance in ecstasy. Devotees will also supply prasadam, books, and devotional paraphernalia to help you practice Krishna consciousness at home. If you are lucky, they might have a spiritual slide show with them, and they will be prepared to speak on the philosophy and answer any questions or challenges that come.
You might even want them to stay in your house overnight after the program and have another program for you personally in the morning.
Guests visiting a temple of Krishna for the first time are often puzzled by the ceremonial offering of vegetarian dishes to the form of Lord krishna on the altar -- and understandably so. After all, what does the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Lord want with our little plate of rice and vegetables? Has He suddenly become hungry? Hasn't He created countless tons of food? Isn't God self-sufficient? Does Krishna really need those offerings of food?
In fact, Krishna does ask for these offerings, not because he needs our rice and vegetable, but because He wants our devotion. In the Bhagavad-gita (9.26) He says, "If one offers me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it."
When Krishna asks us to offer Him food, we should understand that He is actually inviting us to reawaken our eternal loving relationship with Him. At first we comply in a mood of faith mixed with duty; later, as our realization matures, we do it with affection and love. Just as anybody naturally offers the best he has to his beloved, the devotee offer Krishna his wealth, his intelligence, his life, and his vegetarian food.
Krishna is the ultimate beloved of everyone, but how can we offer gifts to a beloved we don't yet know? The Vedic tradition can guide us. If you would like to try, but can't follow all the procedures, you can remember that when the great devotee hanuman and his companions were building a bridge of large, heavy stones for King Rama, an incarnation of Lord Krishna, a little spider also pleased the Lord by carrying the largest pebbles he could.
First, reserve a special place for the offering. It can be a tabletop or an entire room converted into a temple. The altar basically consists of a raised platform with a picture of Lord krishna and His eternal consort Srimati Radharani on it, a picture of Lord Caitanya and His eternal consorts (the panca-tattva), and a picture of the spiritual master.
From the shopping to the cooking, meditate on pleasing Krishna. Look for the freshest and best fruits and vegetables. Shopping in supermarkets requires care and attention. There is more to it than simply avoiding obvious meat, fish and eggs. Take the time to read every label. Keep in mind that nowadays virtually everything contains some product of animal origin, although this may not be so easy to ascertain. And don't assume that products stay the same; they change.
Watch out for rennet (made of the lining of a calf's stomach and used to make cheese), gelatin (boiled bones, hooves and horns, used to set foods), lecithin (if it is not marked "soy lecithin," it may come from eggs), and animal fats. Many products have it. And if a product has a blank label or its origin is difficult to determine, don't buy it; the manufacturer doesn't want you to know what's inside. The same goes for products that are overly or exclusively coded with the infamous E-numbers.
There are also a number of products with specific characteristics that make them unsuitable for offering. Mushrooms are unofferable and you will not find them in the Vedic kitchen. According to the Ayur Veda they increase the mode of ignorance. On top of that their nutritional value is practically zero. Digesting mushrooms takes more energy than they could ever give you.
Unions and garlic are also on the list. Although their medicinal values are highly praised in the Ayur Veda, transcendentalists are recommended not to take them because they strongly increase the mode of passion, which leads to loss of concentration, patience and tolerance. Besides the commonly known types of drugs -- heroine, alcohol, tobacco, etc. -- also coffee, black tea and cacao are considered intoxication due to their effect on the mind. According to the Ayur Veda these substances shorten the life span.
A number of these products can be easily replaced. In the Vedic kitchen we use asafetida instead of onions and garlic. Chocolate and other cacao-products are easily matched and sometimes even surpassed by carobe, a powder coming from the fruits of the Carob tree (Ciratonia siliqua). Similarly, according to many the different surrogate coffees, such as chicory, taste better than real coffee. And after tasting the hugh variety of herb and fruit teas, you will not find it difficult to renounce the tannic-acid rich black tea that affects the stomach wall.
Offer foods in the mode of goodness, such as grains, beans, milk products, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Countless recipes are available in the many cookbooks published by ISKCON and available to you by mail order. By cooking according to these established methods, you can achieve delicious results with only a small amount of practice.
One must cook in clean surroundings, with as little external distraction as possible. Make sure the family pet is not in the kitchen while you are cooking or offering. Please do not taste the food while preparing it, for you are cooking for the Lord and want Him to be the first to enjoy the preparations.
After you have finished the preparations, place a portion of each on new plates and bowls you have purchased just for this purpose. Bring the dishes to your home altar and place them before a picture of the Lord. One should bow down before the altar and, after rising, chant the Hare Krishna mantra for a five or ten minutes. Those more advanced in the process chant three specific meant for offering food. But to start with, chanting Hare Krishna will do fine.
When you finish chanting, take the dishes back to the kitchen, transfer the food (now prasadam) into normal eating bowls, and wash the offering plates. After carefully putting the offering plates away ready for the next offering, distribute the prasadam from the offering plate, as well as the remaining preparations that were still in their original cooking pots in the kitchen (all that food is also offered simultaneously with the offering on the altar and is also called prasadam), and enjoy the transcendental taste of the spiritual realm. If you like, before the meal you can also recite the same prayers for honoring prasadam as the devotees in ISKCON do.
The standard mantras for offering food and honoring prasadam can be found here.
Come to the Sunday feast program at your local Hare Krishna temple. There you will find a variety of activities with many dedicated devotees to help you become more and more Krishna conscious. Look in the listing of the centers throughout the world and join with the other ISKCON members in chanting, feasting, drama, lectures, slide shows, or films, and spend your Sunday afternoons in a most spiritually enjoyable fashion.
When you are home, you might want to distribute Krishna conscious books, prasadam, or CDs to those you know or meet, or share with them what you have learned about the philosophy. Invite them to your home for a small program, or invite them to come with you to the temple on Sunday. As you advance and become convinced of the necessity of spiritual life, your house can also become a center for Krishna consciousness in your area.
Those who are able can donate to the temple each month to help maintain the temple and preaching programs. One can also give donations to the traveling preachers who visit. Every donation you give to the Vaishnavas is given back a thousand times more in your next lifetime. When a Vaishnava uses your hard-earned money in the service of the Lord, you achieve automatic spiritual advancement, as if you did the service yourself. One should use one's life, energy, wealth, intelligence, and words in the service of the Lord. So engage as much as possible in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, the prescribed method of spiritual realization in this present age (Kali-yuga).
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