On encountering Hare Krsna devotees chanting on the street, people respond with every reaction from amusement to anger. Few understand what the chanting is all about. To many, it seems a frivolity, often inspiring the remark "Get a job!"

But there's nothing frivolous about chanting the names of God. Srila Prabhupada had great faith in the transformative power of chanting. He told us that simply by chanting Hare Krsna we would become self-realized. He spoke from experience and on the basis of the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who emphasized chanting as the most effective means of God-realization in the present age.

Prabhupada saw his disciples mature spiritually by chanting. And he stressed that if we continued to chant sincerely, we would attain spiritual perfection.

In the Siksastaka, or "Eight Teachings," Lord Caitanya Himself listed seven spiritual benefits of chanting:

• Chanting cleans the mirror of the heart. Lord Caitanya compares the heart, or the consciousness, to a mirror in which one sees oneself. The dust of lifetimes of material pursuits sullies our consciousness, blocking a clear vision of our true identity as spiritual beings. Chanting the holy names washes away that dust, allowing us to finally see who we really are.

• Chanting puts out the fire of material existence. We think we're the body, and that brings on limitless sufferings, chief of which are disease, old age, death, and rebirth. Because chanting awakens our true identity, it delivers us from repeated lifetimes of misery at the hands of nature.

• Chanting is like a moon, spreading good fortune. Even in the early stages of practice, a chanter feels the lightening of a great burden. Because God and His names are identical, the blessings invoked by chanting are incalculable.

• Chanting is the life of all knowledge. Without spiritual knowledge, we eternal beings are doomed to stay in this temporary place where we can never be fully satisfied. The essence of spiritual knowledge is to know our eternal relationship with Krsna. By removing the material covering, chanting awakens that knowledge, which lies dormant within us.

• Chanting expands the ocean of transcendental happiness. Any spiritual happiness is far beyond anything attainable through material endeavors, but the highest spiritual pleasure comes from our relationship with Krsna. As the purity of our chanting increases, so does our love for Krsna, the key to an ever-deepening relationship with Him. Lord Caitanya gives the example of an ocean to show the amount of happiness that awaits us even an ordinary ocean isn't big enough to hold it; an ever-expanding ocean is needed.

• Chanting lets us taste the nectar of happiness at every step. We eventually become satiated by any kind of material pleasure, but the spiritual happiness unlocked by chanting Hare Krsna is always new and fresh.

• Chanting bathes us in full satisfaction. Restoring our long-lost relationship with Krsna fully soothes the soul.

Lord Krsna longs for us to return to Him, and our heartfelt plea spoken in the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is just what He wants to hear.

Nagaraja Dasa