By Sri Nandanandana dasa (Stephen Knapp)
In the Bhagavad-gita (4.7), Sri Krishna clearly explains, “Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion–at that time I descend Myself.”
From all that we have learned in the previous chapters about the holy name of the Lord, we can understand that during this age of Kali-yuga it is the holy name, especially in the form of the Hare Krishna mantra, that is the present incarnation of the Lord and His energy for this present age. Between the time of Sri Caitanya 500 years ago, and the next avatara of the Supreme in His form as Lord Kalki, who appears at the end of the age of Kali-yuga, who or what is there for us to take shelter? It is this maha-mantra, the holy sound of Hare Krishna. As the Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila, 17.22) and the Padma Purana says, the Hare Krishna maha-mantra is the sound incarnation of Krishna, and anyone who chants this mantra is in direct association with Krishna and can be delivered from the clutches of the material energy.
So the names of the Lord are also the same energy of the Lord. They are identical. By chanting Hare Krishna we are in immediate contact with God. This is further elaborated in the Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya-lila, 17.131-133), which explains that there is no difference between the Lord’s name, form, or personality, and they are all transcendentally sweet. Krishna’s name is the same as Krishna Himself, and is not material in any way. It gives spiritual benedictions and is full of pleasure.
In this way, the more we engage in chanting these names, the more purified we become, and the more we can chant these names purely, or more spiritually. This means that as we become more spiritualized, the more the names can exhibit their true potency. Then the more we can derive the ultimate benefits from this transcendental sound vibration.
The point is, just as we can take shelter of the Lord when He is appearing in one of His forms on earth, we can also take shelter of His holy names. The holy name is the incarnation of the Lord in this age.
This also means that the more we associate with these names through any number of ways, the more positive effect they will have on us, both individually and socially. We can chant these names in japa meditation, quietly chanting for our own benefit, or we can chant these names in the congregational singing of them. Or we can also merely think about them and chant them in our mind. In any way we do this, they will bring about a spiritual effect. Of course, the more spiritualized we become, the more dynamic that effect will be.
For example, as we associate or practice the chanting of this maha-mantra, it will purify us from our bad habits, addictions, and negative thought patterns, and help us rise above the more debased tendencies that we may have. It will help us reach our higher potential, think more clearly, give us peace of mind, realize who we are and how best to live our life, and so on. It can also protect us from dark forces that may be lurking nearby, and that may try to pull us down into unwanted thoughts and activities or experiences. Socially, it will also raise the consciousness of humanity, help reduce the tendency toward crime, assaults, robberies, rapes, corruption, greed, lying, and so on. It will help put humanity on the right track. It can clear our consciousness so that we can recognize the various levels of the illusion around us, the basis of wicked activities, and show us how to be free of such things. Therefore, the sound of the holy names needs to be broadcast or chanted through the streets of towns and cities. This is easy when people gather in groups to do this and practice chanting together. It will bring a subtle and spiritual relief to those who hear it, and also help pave the way for a more positive future for society, and provide spiritual development for those who join in the chanting.
People may not think of it very seriously at first. The more materialistic people are, the less attractive they may be to something that is genuinely spiritual. But that is the diseased condition of a materialistically motivated society. They may stoop to any level to get more money, power, position, influence, and sensual pleasure. But the more spiritual a person becomes, the more he or she will see the futility and superficiality of such desires, which only keep one chasing a temporary dream like needing another fix from a drug for another temporary high. In the end, when the high is gone, you are still left with nothing. But the spiritual joy is free and only increases with one’s experience with the spiritual dimension. The maha-mantra is the channel through which the spiritual dimension descends into this material world. Therefore, we need to take advantage of it in any way we can. Otherwise, the darkness of materialism, and any philosophy that is based or promotes such darkness, will only increase and drag humanity farther and farther away from any real happiness and constructive and progressive way of living.
For this reason, the importance of associating with the holy names cannot be emphasized enough. It is our choice whether to do so or not. God does not force this on anyone, but the information has been supplied by His arrangement that we should see that it is to our benefit to utilize this methodology and experience the power of the holy names in this Hare Krishna maha-manta. It is indeed the incarnation of the Lord in the easiest way for any of us to approach Him. Anyone can chant this mantra. No one is restricted. We only need to give it a chance, then become steady at it and take it seriously. Then the name can begin to act in all kinds of ways.
Quite honestly, when I was younger I used to smoke cigarettes. But when I started chanting the holy names on a regular basis, which at the time was only for about 15 minutes a day, or two rounds of 108 names each, I felt an inner strength I had not felt before. I wondered what I should first do with this inner power. I decided I would give up smoking once and for all. And that is what I did. I put more concentration on chanting, felt a higher taste and strength, and gave up smoking and never looked back, and never started smoking again. This is a very simple example, for the holy names of the maha-mantra have the power to do much more than that, which I have also experienced. But this simple example shows what can be done and how the maha-mantra can help anyone in any number of ways.
So, if we all took to this association with the spiritual realm, then we can see how so many dark tendencies of humanity can be overcome, and how our higher abilities can be awakened. Our love, compassion, morals, empathy, kindness, sympathy, forgiveness, cooperation, managerial abilities, insights, and so on, can all increase, not just individually but also socially on a mass scale. It can change the world. And these names can give more power in a healthier and more natural way than whatever power can be obtained by any dark practices that promise to assist us for temporary material awards or benefits, which always have unwanted side effects or consequences. This is the power of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra through which we can associate with the Supreme Lord and experience the spiritual realm, and surround ourselves with it, and raise ourselves to a higher level of awareness.
(An excerpt from the new book, “The Power of the Maha-Mantra,” by Stephen Knapp)