Los Angeles Sankirtan
According to the eternal Vedic calendar, this material world is now well advanced into the Age of Kali, the iron age of quarrel, during which the attractiveness of the temporary manifestations of material Nature constantly increases. Consequently, living entities taking human birth here are immediately drawn by their senses to work toward securing material objects for the purpose of sense enjoyment. By engaging in such fruitive activities and taking temporary pleasure in the results, these living entities develop a strong identification with the material bodies in which they are situated. It is stated in all the revealed scriptures that the true identity of the living entity is eternal spirit soul, which is wholly transcendental to material Nature. This spirit soul is described as being an infinitesimal and subordinate part of the all-knowing and blissful Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna. But as a result of this material entanglement, the soul is thinking he is the body and that he can be happy by enjoying its senses. Due to this attachment to the ever-changing material Nature, with its endless cycle of creation, maintenance and destruction, and its dualities (such as heat and cold, pleasure and pain) the living entities are sometimes enjoying and sometimes suffering in ever-varying situations. In addition, everyone is sure to suffer the fourfold miseries of old age, disease, death and rebirth. As the body decays and dies, the spirit soul transmigrates to a new form, suited to enjoy according to the desires he manifested in the old.
This deluded existence is certainly frustrating to the fallen conditioned soul, who has by his own nature an eternal desire to enjoy. Being transcendental to the material Nature, he can derive no satisfaction from the temporary engagement of his senses in material sense gratification. According to the scriptures the soul finds true bliss and the perfection of existence when he is fully engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Supreme Lord.
Unfortunately, due to their captivation by material attractions, the human entities in this dark age are wasting their lives and intelligence by acting only according to the bodily propensities for eating, sleeping, mating and defending, and they are therefore falling ever more deeply into the complexities of material existence.
Seeing this fallen and miserable condition of the living souls in this age, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, out of His causeless mercy, appeared here 500 years ago in Bengal, India, in the Golden Form of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Rather than appearing in His original form as the Personality of Godhead, the Lord appeared as a perfect devotee Of Lord Krishna in order to set a perfect and practical example. We can therefore follow this example in reviving our blissful spiritual consciousness as loving servants of God.
Lord Chaitanya taught that engagement in devoted service for the pleasure of the Lord is the most effective method for clearing away our material contamination and reviving our Krishna (God) Consciousness. He particularly emphasized that Sankirtan, the congregational chanting of the Holy Names of the Lord, is the most essential part of this process, teaching that without this chanting there is no way to revive our spiritual consciousness in this age. He was therefore constantly engaged in chanting the Maha Mantra, or Great Chanting for Deliverance Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare and He instructed his followers to attempt to follow this example.
The Lord instructed His disciples to go out to the people in general and preach this philosophy of devotional service, and to encourage all to chant the Holy Names. He taught that work done in spreading this Krishna Consciousness process is the most pleasing service to Lord Krishna, who desires that all the fallen souls should turn to Him in order to be eternally blissful in His service.
In 1966 one pure devotee, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, who is in direct disciplic succession from Lord Chaitanya Himself, came to the United States in order to spread Krishna Consciousness throughout the Western World. Since his coming he has mercifully accepted several hundred followers as his disciples. He has instructed these disciples to continue his work by publicly engaging in Sankirtan activities for the glorification of Lord Chaitanya.
The basic principle underlying these Sankirtan activities may be explained as follows: the Lord's Name, Krishna, means All-attractive. It can be understood from this that the Lord's Name, His form, His pastimes, His service and all other personal qualities are perfectly attractive in themselves. In most circumstances it is therefore not the policy of devotees engaged in Sankirtan to attempt to convince people they should engage in devotional service by logical argument, although the perfectly complete Vedic philosophy is available for that. Rather, we simply attempt to expose people to our activities in Krishna Consciousness, and we invite them to participate with us.
Contact with Lord Krishna by any means immediately brings a feeling of true spiritual pleasure to the soul of the conditioned living entity. This taste of real satisfaction after ages of frustration in seeking happiness from the material energy, where it is not to be found, changes the course of that living entity's meanderings in material existence. This revived higher taste for spiritual activity will lead one back to Lord Krishna's association, until he can engage fully in the activities of devotional service, permanently ending his material entrapment.
Lord Krishna is so attractive that, if a person hears the Lord's Name but once, even by chance, or takes a bit of Prasadam (the spiritualized remnants of foodstuffs offered to the Lord), the course of his life is permanently altered and he is sure to return to Krishna's association in the near future. It is the bliss of Krishna conscious activities which is the strongest argument in bringing people back to Godhead.
An example of spreading Krishna Consciousness is found in the activities of the devotees at the Los Angeles Radha Krishna Temple, who are engaged in a full program of Sankirtan throughout the greater Los Angeles area. We are working under the loving guidance of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, in order to attract all people to participate in praising and serving the Supreme Lord.
The present Los Angeles Temple is a small church containing a number of large rooms. This building has been renovated by the devotees to include a beautiful temple room, where worship of the installed Deity is performed; and also a nicely decorated activity room for informal gatherings and the taking of Prasadam. These rooms are decorated with beautiful pictures of Lord Krishna, Lord Chaitanya, Their associates and Their pastimes. Throughout the week public services are held in the temple, which include the chanting of the Hare Krishna Mantra and lectures by the devotees on The Bhagavad Gita As It Is, which forms the essence of all Vedic literature, as translated and explained by His Divine Grace.
On Sunday afternoons a special festival is held which includes chanting Hare Krishna, the offering and distribution of a feast of many delicious Prasadam preparations, and, frequently, simple plays and transcendental puppet shows depicting stories from the Vedic writings. All these activities are designed to inform the guests about the philosophy of devotional service to the Lord, and especially to involve them in these transcendental, blissful activities of devotional life. The basic principle again is that if the devotees make Lord Krishna's temple and the activities carried on there very pleasing to the Lord, then He will attract increasing numbers of people to participate in these affairs.
In addition to these events, it is the business of the devotees to go out and attempt to contact as many people as possible in the large Los Angeles community. This is done in order to expose them to the Holy Names and to preach Krishna Consciousness, as well as to invite them to attend our temple events.
This work is primarily done by Sankirtan parties of 5 to 20 people, who travel wherever there are numbers gathered for the pursuit of enjoyment. These parties publicly chant Hare Krishna and talk about Krishna Consciousness to those who gather to watch and listen. In Los Angeles these parties visit downtown shopping areas, entertainment centers and parks, and also colleges and universities. As the summer season advances, these activities have also been extended to the many beach communities along the west Coast.
An example of how these Sankirtan parties operate is found in their evening activities on Hollywood Boulevard, the main entertainment center in Los Angeles. A group of perhaps 10 devotees arrange themselves attractively on rugs along the sidewalk and chant Hare Krishna and dance to the accompaniment of traditional Indian musical instruments. Attracted by the beautiful sounds, dress and appearance of the dancing devotees, a crowd of interested onlookers soon gathers to watch and listen. Between Kirtans (chants) one of the devotees preaches to the crowd, explaining briefly this process for the glorification of the Supreme Lord, and inviting the people to join in the singing. Throughout the evening other devotees circulate through the crowd talking to people individually about Krishna Consciousness and inviting them to the temple, selling Back to Godhead Magazine and taking collections for the maintenance of temple activities and the propagation of Krishna Consciousness. Although the money collected in this way, to be used for the service of Lord Krishna, could be secured by other means, these collections are taken for the spiritual benefit of the contributor. Even if a person is not interested in chanting Hare Krishna or visiting the temple, if he can be induced to simply give a contribution, that offering is accepted by the Lord through His devotee as an act of service, and such an activity revives that person's dormant taste for devotional service to the Lord.
Devotees from this temple are also beginning to teach courses on Krishna Consciousness at several colleges and universities throughout the area. This is done in order to help young students understand that the perfection of education is to know the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, who is the Fountainhead of all knowledge. The knowledge that we are all living parts of the Supreme Person and that, therefore, it is our constitutional, blissful nature to act in devotional service, is to acquire truly beneficial education.
Also forthcoming is a weekly program on a popular F.M. radio station (KPFK-WBAI) which will enable us to reach a wider audience with this most auspicious message. There are no restrictions on the means which can be used to spread Krishna Consciousness. The devotee strives to utilize everything available to him for the pleasure of the Lord, and in this way everything becomes spiritual. In these ways the Sankirtan movement daily presents more and more members of the Los Angeles community with the chance to engage in Krishna Consciousness. These activities lead to a positive, blissful life of spiritual realization, culminating in one's eternal loving relationship with Lord Krishna. The gradually growing response from the people of Los Angeles is encouraging to the devotees, as it indicates that the Lord is pleased by our service. It is ultimately Lord Krishna who calls the fallen souls to Godhead, and when He is pleased by His devotee's service, He rewards him with ever-increasing opportunities to further His purpose. As it is this service itself which is the highest bliss of spiritual life, we members of the Los Angeles Sankirtan Party take this opportunity to express our eternal gratitude to our Spiritual Master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, for giving us this work of spreading Lord Chaitanya's Sankirtan Movement.
The founding of the Ohio State University Yoga Society and the establishment of a new ISKCON center in Columbus, Ohio, by Hayagriva and Pradyumna, two disciples of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad, was undertaken on direct instructions from Srila Prabhupad in the fall of 1968.
Since then, devotees from nearby New Vrindaban Ashram, along with some sincere students, have helped spread the movement all over Ohio. Kirtans on the OSU campus and weekly love feasts have attracted many to inquire into the chanting-and-hearing meditation on the transcendental sound vibration of the Hare Krishna Mantra, recommended by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as the most efficacious method for attainment of spiritual realization. Devotees chanted with Poet Allen Ginsberg and a beautiful gathering of one thousand students at Ohio Wesleyan, and the response to Kirtan, the philosophy of The Bhagavad Gita and our Prasadam feasting has been very enthusiastic at Ohio University in Athens.
The headquarters of Krishna Consciousness activities for Columbus and the surrounding region are newly located in a large house at 318 East 20th Avenue, Columbus, where ecstatic chanting and the teaching of all aspects of a functioning spiritual life are offered to those who wish to join in experiencing it. Classes are 7 a. m. daily, and 7 p. m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.