THE OTHER DAY I was reading the Bhagavatam and I came upon this verse: "Whoever carefully recites the mysterious appearances of the Lord with devotion in the morning and in the evening gets relief from all miseries of life." (Bhag. 1.3.29) In his purport, Srila Prabhupada refers us to Bhagavad-gita 4.9, where Lord Krsna says, "One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna." If we understand Krsna's incarnations why They appear and the nature of Their activities we can become free of misery. Not only of misery, but of repeated birth and death.
Because the avataras are mysterious, Srila Prabhupada says, "only [to] … those who carefully try to go deep into the matter by spiritual devotion is the mystery discovered."
Srila Prabhupada makes it sound enticing. What is this devotion to which he refers? What is the depth of this mystery we are meant to understand? Does one who worships the Lord's incarnations come to understand the source of Parasurama's power to kill disobedient kings, Buddha's ability to create faith, or Rama's fame? If we hear carefully, will we see Balarama's beauty? Will Lord Kapiladeva's transcendental teachings suddenly enlighten our hearts?
In the Age of Kali, the holy name of Krsna is the primary incarnation of the Lord. The Bhagavatam assures us, "Living beings entangled in the complicated meshes of birth and death can be freed at once by even unconsciously chanting the holy name of Krsna, which is feared by fear personified." (Bhag. 1.1.14)
This is the secret: we cannot see or appreciate Krsna or His incarnations with our blunt material senses, but when we chant the holy name our spiritual senses are gradually uncovered, and we see the spiritual reality the reality of ourselves and the reality of Krsna's appearance and pastimes.
Chanting Hare Krsna cleans the dust from the mirror of the mind. Why does the mind need cleaning? Because the dirt and clouds of material identification seem inseparable from the soul. Just as a person seeing clouds passing over the moon may think the moon and the clouds are moving together, so we may think we are moving with our material body in this world. It's not true. When the mind and heart are cleansed, we will understand that.
Krsna is revealed only through devotional service, and devotional service begins with hearing and chanting. If one is fortunate enough to hear from a pure devotee, who speaks from sastra, then at once one can enter the mysterious region of Krsna's nature. Srila Prabhupada writes in The Nectar of Devotion:
The maha-mantra (Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) is also simply an address to the Lord and His energy. So to anyone who is constantly engaged in addressing the Lord and His energy, we can imagine how much the Supreme Lord is obliged. It is impossible for the Lord to ever forget such a devotee. It is clearly stated in this verse that anyone who addresses the Lord immediately attracts the attention of the Lord, who always remains obliged to him.
When we make an effort to chant the holy names, Krsna becomes grateful, and He will reciprocate with our desire to understand Him. We may even be struggling to chant purely, but Krsna magnifies whatever good we do and gives us His mercy. Thus we are able to enter into the mystery of His appearance in this world, and at the time of death go to Him.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami travels extensively to speak and write about Krsna consciousness. He is the author of many books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.