Why we do what we do
Is it Hinduism? What are those yellow lines on your face? Why do you sing and dance on the streets? In this section, we attempt to answer your questions on the practices within the Hare Krishna movement. It’s an eye opener, we promise! A few basic questions are below, but feel free to look at the different categories in detail!
And if you’ve still got questions after this, ask your question in the box to the right (or below on your mobile) and we’ll be in touch!
In a very small nutshell they are as follows: The soul is spirit and the body is matter. The body is a vehicle for the soul. The body is temporary but the soul endures. The soul is never born and never dies. It is unchanging, primeval and a spiritual spark of life within the body. The soul is conscious and blissful by nature. When the soul identifies with matter it mistakenly imagines that the body is the self. In its original state the soul is unlimitedly happy, but when it forgets its divine nature it struggles to achieve even temporary pleasure.
The soul is looking for the happiness it once had but in the wrong place. Just as the sunshine comes from the Sun, so the souls emanate from the supreme source. That ultimate reality is known in the Vedas as Brahman, Narayana or Krishna. That Godhead is not merely an impersonal energy, but the energetic source of all existence. The souls are infinite and dependant on Godhead, just as the rays depend on the Sun.
God has attributes such as a form and beauty. God has compassion and love. ll souls emanate from the Supreme Being and share his loving nature, as sparks emanating from a fire share, in a very small degree, the fire’s heat and light. Some souls leave their relationship with the Supreme to experience life apart in the world of matter.
Over countless births, layers of psychic conditioning cover their remembrance of their original nature and the hearts of these forgetful or ‘conditioned’ souls grow hard. By hearing the spiritual messages such as in the Bhagavad-gita, and applying them in their lives, the hearts of those souls will once again become soft and they will return to their original home with the Supreme.
The word ‘soul’ is an English version of the Sanskrit word atma, which means ‘the self.’ The atma is the source of consciousness in the body. The body is a complex arrangement of chemicals, none of which are conscious. The body is the unconscious, external covering of the conscious soul.
When the pleasure is material it’s temporary, it has a beginning and an end, and it results in frustration. Because of this, material pleasure can never lead to a sense of fulfilment. We’ll always be left wanting more – and that’s a shame, because there’s a much better way to be happy. The Bhagavad-gita says that we’ll be happier enjoying a permanent pleasure that comes from deep within and which doesn’t depend on external things.
Meditation means to hold one thought within the mind for a period of time; to deeply contemplate it, even to become absorbed in it to the exclusion of all other thoughts. The original yoga texts say that the mind is constantly fluctuating from thought to thought. One thought leads to another, and another – a chain of thoughts. These thoughts come from sensory stimulation from our current environment, or they can come, unexpectedly, from incidents in our past lives.
The total effect is like ripples on a lake of water. The yogis say that the bottom of the lake is where you have dropped a precious golden ring, but the constant waves of thought prevent you from seeing any deeper than the surface. Meditation stills the waves of thought and allows you to see your deeper self.
The main practise in awakening our spiritual nature is known as yagya, the turning around of our consciousness from self-centred to God-centred. It involves offering our words, wealth, time and intelligence to God. Some of this is done as part of daily life, and some is done in powerful ritualised practises.
There are four main ingredients for yagya and they have been practised, say the Vedas, from the very dawn of creation. The universe has four seasons that revolve over many millions of years. Each one of the four yagya activities is most appropriate for a particular season. The Spring of Satya Yuga requires meditation on Vishnu within the heart; for Treta Yuga fire sacrifices are most important; in the Dwapara Yuga opulent temple worship is the recommended process; but in the Winter Age of Kali Yuga the chanting of the ‘Names of Hari’ is the most effective yagya process.
Indeed, the Brihan-Naradiya Purana says hari-nama eva kevalam: ‘the chanting of the holy name of Hari (Krishna) is the only way.’ When Sri Chaitanya appeared in India he promoted the chanting of the names of Krishna as both a personal practise and a collective, congregational and musical practise. The result of his teachings, and of those who followed him, is the modern-day Hare Krishna movement.
The ‘idols,’ as you call them, are the essential point of focus within a temple. Although the Abrahamic faiths proscribe the worship of ‘graven images’ and subject anyone who does so to punishment, it is important to understand the reasoning behind this form of worship.
Firstly, it should be noted that imaginary images, conceived in the fertile mind of a man and executed by an artisan in wood or stone, are also forbidden in the Vedic tradition. No good can come from worshipping an imaginary God. The devotees of Krishna are in complete agreement with Judaism, Christianity and Islam on this point. But God does have an actual form, and this revealed form can be worshipped.
The archa-vigraha is the form of God fashioned in a material element such as wood, stone or metal and installed with authorised rituals and mantras. Krishna can turn spirit into matter and matter into spirit, so His consecrated statue should never be mistakenly identified as being made of matter. The sacred image is one way that the invisible and untouchable God makes Himself available to the senses of the devotee.
Yes. If we have not exhausted our stock of karmic reaction before the end of one life, we take birth again and continue in another life. This is sometimes known as transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation. So the soul passes through one life after another. The soul is the passenger in the body, and the body is the vehicle. The soul remains the same but the bodies change.
In each life the soul passes through successive stages of birth, youth, old age, dwindling and death, and each time the soul mistakenly identifies with the body. In one life the soul thinks: “I am a man” or “I’m quite rich,” and in the next “I am a woman and a mother, and this is my husband.” In yet another, the soul thinks: “I am a horse,” and “I quite like this grass.” The soul may go down through many species of life before coming up again to the human body. It is like being pinned to a wheel, a wheel of changing bodies – a revolving wheel of reincarnation.
In modern western philosophy, betting that God actually exists because it involves less risk is called Pascal’s Wager. The argument is named after the seventeenth century French mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-62) who said that every one of us is in fact betting that either God exists or that He doesn’t. He urges us to bet that He does, since if we do, and He does exist, it will lead to eternal life. We will have led a good life and only have lost a little income or perhaps some personal pleasure along the way.
But if we use our life in denial of Him – in effect betting that He doesn’t exist – we may lose everything in the life after this .
Hare and Krishna (Hare is pronounced Huh-ray) are the first two words of a great mantra mentioned in the Vedas, and the mantra recited by Krishna people each day. It goes like this:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare
Krishna means ‘all attractive,’ and Hare means ‘the eternal energy.’ The other word is Rama (pronounced like ‘drama’) which means ‘supreme pleasure.’ A mantra is a sound formula with the potency to uplift and enlighten those who repeat it. The word is derived from mana (the mind) and trayate (to protect and free). The ultimate reality is described in the Vedas by many names, and Hare, Krishna and Rama are three of those names. When the first Americans and Europeans saw the devotees of Krishna in the 1960s they termed them the ‘Hare Krishna Movement’ or ‘The Hare Krishnas,’ and the name has stuck.