The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, also referred to reverentially as the Maha Mantra (“Great Mantra”), is a sixteen-word Vaishnava mantra which first appeared in the Kali-Santarana Upanishad, and which from the 15th century rose to importance in the Bhakti movement following the teachings of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
The Hare Krishna mantra is composed of 3 Sanskrit names in the vocative case: Hare, Kṛṣṇa and Rāma. “Hare” stands for the vocative of Harā, a name of Rādhā, Krishna’s eternal consort or Shakti.
According to A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Harā refers to “the energy of God” while Krishna and Rama refer to God himself, meaning “He who is All-Attractive” and “He who is the Source of All Pleasure”. Prabhupada explains Rama:
…Mahā-Viṣṇu is actually an expansion of Balarāma, who is Kṛṣṇa’s first expansion and, in the Vṛndāvana pastimes, His brother. In the mahā-mantra-Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare-the word Rāma refers to Balarāma. Since Lord Nityānanda is an expansion of Balarāma, Rāma also refers to Lord Nityānanda. Thus Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Rāma addresses not only Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma but Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityānanda as well. (from Introduction to Sri Caitanya-caritamrta 1975 Edition)
The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is repeated, either out loud (kirtan), softly to oneself (japa), or internally within the mind (manasa-japa). A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda describes the process of chanting the Maha Mantra as follows:
“…This simple method of meditation is recommended for this age. By practical experience also, one can perceive that by chanting this mahamantra, or the Great Chanting for Deliverance, one can feel a transcendental ecstasy coming through from the spiritual stratum….“
On Chanting the Hare Krishna Maha-Mantra
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda,
Founder and Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
As explained on the cover of the record album, this transcendental vibration — by chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare — is the sublime method for reviving our Krishna consciousness. As living spiritual souls we are all originally Krishna conscious entities, but due to our association with matter since time immemorial, our consciousness is now polluted by material atmosphere. In this polluted concept of life, we are all trying to exploit the resources of material nature, but actually we are becoming more and more entangled in her complexities.
This illusion is called Maya, or hard struggle for existence over the stringent laws of material nature. This illusory struggle against the material nature can at once be stopped by revival of our Krishna consciousness.
Krishna consciousness is not an artificial imposition on the mind. This consciousness is the original energy of the living entity. When we hear the transcendental vibration, this consciousness is revived. And the process is recommended by authorities for this age. By practical experience also, we can perceive that by chanting this maha-mantra, or the Great Chanting for Deliverance, one can at once feel transcendental ecstasy from the spiritual stratum. When one is factually on the plane of spiritual understanding, surpassing the stages of sense, mind and intelligence, one is situated on the transcendental plane.
This chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is directly enacted from the spiritual platform, surpassing all lower states of consciousness — namely sensual, mental and intellectual. There is no need of understanding the language of the mantra, nor is there any need of mental speculation nor any intellectual adjustment for chanting this maha-mantra. It springs automatically from the spiritual platform, and as such, anyone can take part in this transcendental sound vibration, without any previous qualification, and dance in ecstasy.
We have seen it practically. Even a child can take part in the chanting, or even a dog can take part in it. The chanting should be heard, however, from the lips of a pure devotee of the Lord, so that immediate effect can be achieved. As far as possible, chanting from the lips of a nondevotees should be avoided, as much as milk touched by the lips of a serpent causes poisonous effect.
The word Hara is a form of addressing the energy of the Lord. Both Krsna and Rama are forms of addressing directly the Lord, and they mean “the highest pleasure, eternal.” Hara is the supreme pleasure potency of the Lord. This potency, when addressed as Hare, helps us in reaching the Supreme Lord.
The material energy, called as Maya, is also one of the multipotencies of the Lord, as much as we are also marginal potency of the Lord. The living entities are described as superior energy than matter. When the superior energy is in contact with inferior energy, it becomes an incompatible situation. But when the supreme marginal potency is in contact with the spiritual potency, Hara, it becomes the happy, normal condition of the living entity.
The three words, namely Hara, Krishna and Rama, are transcendental seeds of the maha-mantra, and the chanting is a spiritual call for the Lord and His internal energy, Hara, for giving protection to the conditioned soul. The chanting is exactly like a genuine cry by the child for the mother. Mother Hara helps in achieving the grace of the supreme father, Hari, or Krishna, and the Lord reveals Himself to such a sincere devotee.
No other means, therefore, of spiritual realization is as effective in this age, as chanting the maha-mantra:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
Chanting in the age of Kali-Yuga, as the only means
In this age of logic, argument and disagreement, the chanting of Hare Krishna is the only means for self-realization. Because this transcendental vibration alone can deliver the conditioned soul, it is considered to be the essence of the Vedanta-sutra, as it is stated by Lord Brahma in the Kalisantarana Upanisad that the essence of all Vedic literature is the chanting of these holy names of Krishna:
hare krishna hare krishna / krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama / rama rama hare hare
iti sodasakam namnam / kali-kalmasa-nasanam
natah parataropayah / sarva-vedesu drsyate
“These sixteen words of the Hare Krishna mantra are especially meant for counteracting the sins of the age of Kali. To save oneself from the contamination of this age there is no alternative but to chant this maha-mantra. After searching through all the Vedic literatures one cannot find a method of religion for this age so sublime as the chanting of Hare Krishna.”
According to the material conception, there is duality between the name, form, quality, emotions and activities of a person and the person himself, but as far as the transcendental vibration is concerned, there is no such limitation, for it descends from the spiritual world. In the spiritual world there is no difference between the name of the person and the quality of the person. Of course in the material world there is a difference. Because the Mayavadi philosophers cannot understand this, they cannot utter the transcendental vibration.
Purport by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे |
हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे ||
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare
O Supreme Energy of the Lord, O Lord Krishna,
please kindly engage me in your transcendental service.
The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is known as the mahāmantra, or the greatest of sound vibrations. The mahamantra is a thirty-two syllable mantra chanted requesting Harā (another name of His supreme pleasure energy, personified by Srimati Radharani), and the Supreme Lord (given by two of His names, Krsna, the All-Attractive One, and Rama, the Reservoir of Pleasure) an opportunity to serve Them.
There are four cosmic ages, namely, Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, and Kali Yuga. Satya Yuga is known as the “Golden Age”, for values of truth and virtues were at the peak. In Treta Yuga (the age where Lord Sri Ramacandra appeared), vice was introduced. Then, Dvapara Yuga (the age when Sri Krsna appeared on Earth) took place, where vice and virtue was leveled off. Following Dvapara Yuga is the darkest age, known as Kali Yuga. It began approximately five thousand years ago, after Sri Krsna left the world. Throughout each age, the prescribed method of salvation changed. In Satya Yuga, strict penances and austerities was the path of salvation. Then, Treta Yuga introduced the concept of conducting sacrifices as mentioned in scriptures. Dvapara Yuga’s method of salvation comprised of developing personal relations with the Lord.
In Kali Yuga, however, lifespan, intelligence, and qualities are significantly lowered. Therefore, performing severe penance and austerities is impractical. Conducting sacrifices per scriptures is immensely difficult, for those scriptures are not easily accessible, and conductors of such sacrifices are not present on Earth. Receiving personal association and forming relations with the Lord was only fortunate for a few. Therefore, such methods are not practical and applicable for this age. Therefore, the Brhad Naradiya Purana has claimed:
harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā
“Only the Holy Name, Only the Holy Name, Only the Holy Name, is the only way. There is no other way, no other way, no other way in this Age of Kali”
Therefore, it is clearly indicated that in Kali Yuga, the only method of salvation is by chanting the holy name of God. However, the most powerful mantra for salvation was hidden in confidentiality until this age. It wasn’t until the late fifteenth century when the mahamantra was openly revealed by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Typically, the Lord does not incarnate on Earth during Kali Yuga, until the very end. However, this Kali Yuga was especially fortunate to have Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s incarnation of gold appear on earth. Through His mission to spread the movement of devotional service in degraded age, He brought the Hare Krsna mahamantra openly for all to benefit.
The inner meaning of the 16 Words of the Mahamantra is as follows:
[Hare] = O Hari! Having captured my mind, please free me from material bondage.
[Kṛṣṇa] = O Kṛṣṇa! Please attract my mind by pulling it to You.
[Hare] = O Hari! Please capture my mind by Your unsurpassed sweetness.
[Kṛṣṇa] = O Kṛṣṇa! Please purify my mind with knowledge about devotional service given to me by Your own devotee.
[Kṛṣṇa] = O Kṛṣṇa! Please make me able to relish Your transcendental name, form, qualities, pastimes, etc.
[Kṛṣṇa] = O Kṛṣṇa! ([This explanation of “Kṛṣṇa” is missing from the translation)
[Hare] = O Hari! Please make me fit to serve You.
[Hare] = O Hari! Please make me able to relish Your transcendental name, form, qualities, pastimes, etc.
[Hare] = O Hari! Please direct me to do some particular service for You.
[Rāma] = O Rāma! Let me hear about Your most cherished pastimes in the company of Your dearest devotees. (Sri Radha is called ramā because her association gives pleasure to Sri Kṛṣṇa. Because Sri Kṛṣṇa is with that ramā, He is called “rāma”)
[Hare] = O Hara (Sri Radha)! Please reveal to me Your most cherished pastimes with Your beloved Sri Kṛṣṇa.
[Rāma] = O Rāma! Please reveal to me Your most cherished pastimes with Your beloved Sri Radha.
[Rāma] = O Rāma! Please engage me in remembering Your transcendental name, form, qualities, pastimes etc.
[Rāma] = O Rāma! Please make me fit to serve You while remembering Your transcendental name, form, qualities, pastimes etc.
[Hare] = O Hari! Having accepted me as one of Your own servitors, please enjoy me as You please.
[Hare] = O Hari! Please enjoy me in Your transcendental way. This is my humble request at Your lotus feet
Prabhupada Lecture July 10, 1971 Los Angeles, CA, USA
So this mahā-mantra, Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, is being chanted by Brahmā with his four mouths. Brahmā-jape catur-mukhe. Brahmā means Lord Brahmā, and jape means he is chanting, catur-mukhe, with his four heads. Within this universe, only Brahmā has got four heads. And Lord Śiva sometimes exhibits five heads. So it is explained here that Lord Brahmā is also chanting this Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, Hare Rāma Hare Rāma Rāma Rāma Hare Hare, with his four mouths. Still he is chanting. He does not think that he is satiated. This transcendental name is so sweet that either you chant with your one mouth and one tongue or with one thousand mouths or one thousand tongues, still, you will never feel tired. That is the purport of this song. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, he lamented that “This Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, Hare Rāma Hare Rāma Rāma Rāma Hare Hare, these names are so sweet that how I can relish the transcendental sweetness with one tongue and one mouth? If God would have given me millions of tongues and millions of mouths, then I would have relished a little of it.” So he lamented. Here also it is said that Nārada Muni, he has got always with him a tampura, and he is traveling all over the universe constantly. He cannot stay in any place more than a few seconds, and he has no companion. But his only companion is that tampura and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. Therefore it is said here, nārada-yabe, vīṇā-yantre, kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare.
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