Question: I have been chanting this mantra: ‘Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare’ as taught by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada Ji in his books. But time and time again I read (mostly on the internet) that one should not chant self-prescribed mantras, and that one should receive a mantra from a Guru. I won’t find a Guru unless I really sincerly want to find God and have purified myself. So until such a time that I meet my Guru, how do I carry on my Sadhana? Can I continue chanting the above mantra?
Thank you for writing. It is very nice to hear that you have taken up a serious sadhana of mantra japam under the guidance of Sri Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s teachings.
There are two categories of mantras delineated in the shastras. One is the vaidika-mantra, or mantras of the Vedas (such as Gayatri, etc.), and the other is the nama-mantra, or mantras composed of the Lord’s names. By definition a vaidika-mantra will possess three aspects, namely a seed letter (such as ‘om’, ‘srim’, ‘hrim’, etc.) which invokes the divinity, a deity to whom the mantra is directed, and a function or offering to the deity (such as ‘namah’, ‘svaha’, etc.). Such vaidika-mantras must be received directly from the guru through the process of upadesha, or initiation. This category of mantra has many rules and regulations associated with the chanting of the mantra. It is not that one may chant the mantra at any time or at any place. Prior to the chanting of the mantra one must undergo purification both externally and internally. This involves bathing (and other procedures from the ‘yama’ and ‘niyama’), meditational postures (asana), breath control to make the mind peaceful (pranayama), withdrawal of the senses from the sense objects (pratyahara), and absorption on the deity (dharana). These six steps of yoga help one to purify oneself, first externally, and then internally. Once situated in purity one may then begin one’s mantra sadhana, provided one finds a suitably pure and peaceful location.
Such mantras require one to be completely dedicated to their sadhana under the guidance of a qualified guru. These mantras should not be chanted whimsically, as there is all chance of committing mistakes in our sadhana, resulting in us incuring negative reactions.
Nama-mantras are quite different from the vaidika-mantras, as they are composed only of the Lord’s name. Such mantras carry the exact same potency as the vaidika mantras, but in a manner accessable to all. When we analyse the power source of all mantras, we will come to understand it is the name alone which empowers the mantra. For example, one may take a mantra such as ‘om namo bhagavate vasudevaya’. If one were to just chant ‘om namo, om namo, om namo’, one will not receive the effect of the mantra. On the other hand, if one were to just chant ‘vasudeva, vasudeva, vasudeva’, one would receive the benefit of the mantra, for it is Vasudeva’s name which empowers the mantra. We find countless examples in the Puranas of people calling out the name of the Lord and receiving His full anugraha, His merciful glance, despite not being trained in Vedic mantras. Draupadi was saved by Lord Krishna in the assembly of the Kurus simply by invoking His divine name. Similarly, Ajamila was saved from the messengers of Yama simply by calling Narayana at the time of death. The great rishi, Valmiki, was previously a sinful hunter, but by chanting the name of Rama he was transformed into a great saint. The power of the Lord’s name has been demonstrated through countless histories as recorded in the ancient Puranas. The full potency of the Lord is present within His holy name:
namnam akari bahudha nija sarva shaktih
“In the names of the Lord exist all of the Lord’s energies.”
The Hare Krishna maha-mantra is a nama-mantra, a mantra composed only of the Lord’s names. Hari, Krishna, and Rama, along with their eternal consorts, are invoked with this divine chant. Being a nama-mantra, there are no hard and fast rules for chanting this maha-mantra, nor does one need to receive the mantra from a guru through upadesha:
tatrarpita niyamita smarane na kalah
“There are no restrictions (niyamas) for chanting the Lord’s name; neither must one take consideration of the time or circumstances.”
The nama-mantras are the Lord’s special mercy to the fallen souls of the Kali-yuga. Those of us with no proper spiritual qualification can still attain the Lord and associate with Him through His divine name. In this present age of Kali-yuga, it is especially recommended that one chant this Hare Krishna maha-mantra. It is described in the shastras that this hari-nama-sankirtana is the yuga-dharma (religious process) for this age:
krite yad dhyayato vishnum
tretayam yajato makhaih
kalau tad dhari-kirtanat
“Whatever result was obtained in Satya-yuga by meditating on Vishnu, in Treta-yuga by performing sacrifices, and in Dvapara-yuga by serving the Lord’s lotus feet can be obtained in Kali-yuga simply by chanting the names of Sri Hari.”
Kalau tad dhari-kirtanat – in the age of Kali, it is Hari-kirtana, the chanting of the Lord’s names, that delivers us. In fact, due to our own disqualifications, no other process of self-realization will be effective in this age of Kali, other than the chanting of the Lord’s names:
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
“In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting of the holy name of Sri Hari. There is no other way, no other way, no other way.”
Seeing our very fallen condition in the age of Kali, the Lord blesses us with the simplest and most powerful of religious processes, nama-sankirtana. It is for this reason that Sukadeva Goswami describes the Kali-yuga as follows:
kaler dosha-nidhe rajan
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krishnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet
“My dear king, although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one great quality about this age: simply by chanting the names of Krishna, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.”
In the Srimad Bhagavatam we even find that the age of Kali is actually considered the best of all ages. Though the age is full of sins and faults, it remains the best of all ages by virtue of the yuga-dharma being so powerful:
kalim sabhajayanty arya
guna jnah sara-bhaginah
“Those who are actually advanced in knowledge are able to appreciate the essential value of this age of Kali. Such enlightened persons worship Kali-yuga because in this fallen age all perfection of life can easily be achieved by the performance of sankirtana (chanting of the Lord’s names).”
According to the Kali-santarana Upanishad, the Hare Krishna mahamantra is the taraka-mantra for this age. It is the great mantra of deliverence for all, and anyone may take to its chanting regardless of birth, caste, religion or qualification.
The Upanishad instructs us as follows:
hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare
ity shodashakam namnam kali-kalmasha-nashanam
natah parataropayah sarva-vedeshu drishyate
“The Hare Krishna maha-mantra, composed of 16 names and 32 syllables, is the only means to countract the evil-effects of Kali-yuga. In all the Vedas it is seen that to cross the ocean of nescience there is no alternative to the chanting of the Lord’s holy names.”
I hope this has answered your questions. Please continue chanting the maha-mantra sincerely and your spiritual life will become perfect.