This series systematically explains some of the important philosophical concepts that form the foundation of the Vedic culture and the Krsna consciousness movement.

PART I: The Sanskrit word mantra means "to free the mind" from illusion. The soul can be compared to a jewel lying on the bottom of a lake. If the waves of the mind are being agitated by illusion, the water picks up mud, and the jewel cannot be seen. But if the surface of the water is calm, the jewel can be clearly seen on the bottom. Similarly, if the mind is liberated from the waves of illusion and ignorance, the pure soul will be reflected by the mind like the jewel in the calm lake.

Mantra meditation can free the mind from illusion because the mantrais a spiritual sound, unlike common, material sounds. The word water, for example, describes an object, but the word water is not identical with the object water. If you are thirsty, you may say "water" as many times as you like, but that won't quench your thirst You have to obtain the water and drink it. The word water does not have any thirst-quenching potency.

mantra, however, has inherent power. It is not meant to describe a separate object; the mantra itself produces the result.

There are many kinds of mantra. In former times, various mantraswere used to obtain different results from sacrifices. Today, mantras are being advertised and sold for purposes ranging from "becoming God" to "improving one's money-making abilities."

In the Vedic literature we find a wealth of information on mantras. TheSrimad-Bhagavatam, which deals with the essence of spiritual life, rejects materially motivated religion. It therefore rejects the chanting of a mantrafor purposes other than spiritual upliftment.

In the Brhan-naradiya Purana we find a very specific injunction about selecting the best mantra: "In this age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means for self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Krsna."

The Hare Krsna mantra is specifically mentioned in the Kali-santarana Upanisad: "After searching through all the Vedic literature, one cannot find a method of religion more sublime for this age than the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."

The Caitanya-caritamrta (Antya 7.11) states, "The fundamental religious system in the age of Kali is the chanting of the holy name of Krsna."

One might ask. "Is there anything wrong with other mantras?"

If a mantra has been invented or pieced together from other mantras,it simply won't have any effect If it is sold for someone's personal gain, or received by someone who is materially motivated, it won't work either. There may be effects like relaxation or stress reduction, but there will not be the transcendental effect of liberation from material bondage. In other words, there won't be a permanent spiritual effect but at best a temporary effect on the material body or mind.

Spiritual development is not cheap. Slogans like "Everybody has his own way," "All roads lead to Rome," "It is all a matter of my own intuition," "We are all God," "Any mantra is just as good as the other," and so on are only an indication of ignorance of the direct way to "Rome." If someone wants to go to Rome, he must purchase a ticket for Rome.

The Vedic scriptures provide guidance for the quickest and most effective means of self-realization or God consciousness. The Vedasdescribe that so-called spiritual activities which disregard authorized scriptures are an unnecessary disturbance in society. Furthermore, it is stated in the Padma Purana that if one is not properly instructed by a bona fide spiritual authority, the mantra one might have received will not have any effect.

Besides the Hare Krsna mantra, there are many other bona fidemantras used by devotees of Krsna. But the Vedic scriptures declare that simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra one receives the benefits of all other mantras. Therefore, chanting Hare Krsna is the most important spiritual activity.

What about other types of spiritual practices besides mantrameditation? According to the Vedas, there is a continuous cycle of four ages, with each age manifesting particular material and spiritual characteristics. In each age a particular process for self-realization is recommended.

In Satya-yuga, when people are all spiritually inclined and live a very long time, the recommended method of self-realization is meditation. In Treta-yuga, the spiritual quality of the people is diminished by twenty-five percent. The predominant process of self-realization is the performance of elaborate sacrifices. In Dvapara-yuga, characterized by half divine and half demoniac qualities, self-realization is achieved by worshiping the Deity in the temple. And in Kali-yuga, the present age, divine qualities are steadily declining toward an entirely materialistic and demoniac civilization. The only effective method for self-realization is the chanting of the Hare Krsnamantra.

This is confirmed in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (12.3.52): "Whatever result was obtained in Satya-yuga by meditating on Visnu, in Treta-yuga by performing sacrifices, and in Dvapara-yuga by serving the Lord's lotus feet can also be obtained in Kali-yuga simply by chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra."

Nowadays many persons advocate silent meditation. This requires the withdrawal of the senses from all objects, complete concentration, and freedom from all bodily and mental disturbances. The Bhagavad-gita(6.13-14) specifically stipulates the necessity for complete freedom from sex desire for one who wants to perform silent meditation.

These conditions were easily fulfilled in Satya-yuga, the golden age, the age for which this process was recommended. People were by nature spiritually inclined. There were no factories, no pollution, no stress, and hardly any disease. The climate was ideal, and nature provided fruits, grains, and vegetables abundantly. The atmosphere was peaceful, and people lived long lives.

If we look at our present age, Kali-yuga, however, we find a situation extremely unfavorable for such meditation. The Srimad-Bhagavatam(1.1.10) provides us with an accurate description of the characteristics of this age: "In this iron age of Kali men have but short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky, and, above all, always disturbed."

Now just imagine someone trying to meditate by withdrawing his senses from all external objects. The whole day he is bombarded by advertisements designed to agitate his senses. Everywhere there are noises from cars, radios, sirens, and airplanes. His whole education has been focused on principles of sense gratification make money so that you can enjoy.

While he is sitting and trying to meditate and forget his body, he is being painfully reminded of a lifetime of material advancement Aches and pains from lack of exercise, from the ingestion of innumerable chemicals, and from bad eating habits disrupt his meditation. If he conquers these obstacles, his mind is tirelessly racing through millions of topics, preventing his concentration. After battling all these obstacles, he faces the danger of simply falling asleep.

The Vedas do not recommend silent meditation for our present age because it is practically impossible to execute successfully. The chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, however, works on a different principle. Instead of withdrawing the senses from all objects, we engage them actively in a spiritual way. This is much easier and more practical.

Instead of not hearing anything, we hear the transcendental sound of Krsna's name. Instead of not touching anything, we touch the chanting beads. Instead of not seeing anything, we can look at a picture of Krsna. Instead of not saying anything, we engage our tongue in vibrating the holy name of Krsna. In this way the senses are fully spiritually engaged.

Silent meditation requires a special solitary place, whereas chanting Hare Krsna can be done anywhere at home, in the park, or even in an airplane. There are no rigid rules for this chanting. Noises and other sense objects cannot easily distract a serious chanter, since his senses are already fully occupied with the mantra.

Although Kali-yuga is full of faults, there is still one good quality about this age. It is that simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom. Srimad-Bhagavatam 12.3.51

The Technique of Chanting Hare Krsna

There are two ways of chanting. One is called japa, and the other is called kirtana. Kirtana is congregational chanting, often accompanied by traditional Vedic instruments, and japa is individual chanting.

Anyone can chant Hare Krsna. Education, age, or financial status don't matter. The chanting is free and can be done successfully by children, adults, or old people.

The best time for japa is in the early morning hours, when the atmosphere is still quiet and the mind is not yet preoccupied with daily activities. If that is not possible, any time will do. Simply repeat the mantra Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare softly but distinctly. You should pronounce the mantra in such a way that you can hear it clearly.

Devotees chant with beads, both for counting and to help their concentration. Hold your beads in your right hand, between the thumb and middle finger, beginning after the big center bead. Chant the mantra once on each bead. By the time you get back to the big bead, you will have chanted the Hare Krsna mantra 108 times. This is called one "round." Then turn the beads around and start the second round. (Don't go over the center bead, which is known as "the Krsna bead.") In the beginning, one round may take you fifteen minutes or so. When you get used to the chanting, however, you will probably chant one round in six to eight minutes.

You can begin with one round a day and gradually increase. Initiated devotees in the Hare Krsna movement chant sixteen rounds every day. This takes about two hours. Once you chant a certain number of rounds daily, never go below this number. It is far better to chant two rounds every day than eight rounds one day and none the next. Regulation is important in making spiritual progress.

The main principle of chanting is to listen attentively to the sound of themantra. The mantra is chanted by the tongue and immediately caught by the ear. If any distracting thoughts come into your mind, just focus your full attention on the sound of the Hare Krsna mantra, and the thoughts will leave. Just try to hear the mantra, and the purifying effect will take place.

(To be continued.)