Sankirtana – The Foremost Benediction


By Gopijana-Vallabha Dasa

OF THE MANY transcendental activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, foremost is the sankirtana program. Sankirtana is the congregational chanting of the name, fame and pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna. As part of sankirtana, devotees chant and dance in the streets, distribute books about Krishna and distribute prasada (food offered to Krishna)-all to glorify Krishna, the Supreme Lord.

Sankirtan--ISKCON Chanting Hare Krishna in the streets of New York City, 1974.

Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the father of sankirtana, is actually Krishna Himself, but in the disguise of a devotee of Krishna. He appeared five hundred years ago to revive the original pure God consciousness of all living entities. Only by reviving this consciousness within oneself can one achieve steady, unwavering peace and happiness. Understanding this to be the real need of everyone, Sri Krishna, who is not only omniscient but omnipresent, being seated within the heart of every living entity, appeared as Lord Caitanya.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

In spreading the sankirtana movement, Lord Caitanya set the perfect example for anyone who aspires to become a devotee of Krishna and thus attain an eternal life of bliss and knowledge. Caitanya Mahaprabhu was not concerned with acquiring self-esteem, many followers, or a great reputation, but wherever He went He always chanted the holy name of Krishna: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Even though He is in fact the Supreme Person, He presented Himself with a meek and humble attitude. Thus He gained the respect of everyone He met and convinced everyone to join Him in sankirtana.

The present-day International Society for Krishna Consciousness is working to fulfill Lord Caitanya’s prophecy that in this Kali-yuga (the Age of Quarrel) the holy name of Krishna will be heard in every city, village and town. It is to execute such an ambitious mission that His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada left his homeland, India, at the advanced age of seventy and sailed to the United States to found the Krishna consciousness movement. Following in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya, Srila Prabhupada performed sankirtana, alone but with undeterred spirit, for over a year, until a few young men, attracted by his sincere presentation, became his disciples. In the seven years since then, more than seventy Krishna consciousness temples have sprung up all over the globe, with thousands of devotees taking up Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana banner.

Sankirtan--ISKCON Chanting Hare Krishna in the streets of New York City, 1974.

One may ask how so much interest and activity could be generated in so short a time. It is the plan of the Supreme Lord, Krishna, without whose sanction not even a blade of grass can move. Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita:

yada yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata
abhyutthanam adharmasya
tadatmanam srjamy aham

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Bg. 4.7)

Lord Krishna comes in the form of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to distribute the real process of self-realization for this age-sankirtana, the congregational chanting of Krishna’s holy names. Many forms of self-realization and yoga are popular today, but to achieve the quickest and most perfect result, one should take direction from Krishna Himself, the Supreme Lord. In Srimad-Bhagavatam, the cream of all the Vedic literatures, Vyasadeva, who is the literary incarnation of Krishna, predicts the appearance of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He declares:

Krishna-varnam tvisa Krishnam
yajnaih sankirtana-prayair
yajanti hi su-medhasah

“In this Age of Kali, people who are endowed with sufficient intelligence will worship the golden incarnation of the Lord [Caitanya Mahaprabhu], who is accompanied by His associates, by performing sankirtana. (Bhag. 11.5.32)

Anyone desiring freedom from the anxiety and disappointment of material life can seriously take up the chanting of Hare Krishna and thus realize the goal of life. The human form of life is not meant simply for eating, sleeping, mating and defending like animals; it is meant for self-realization. The Vedanta-sutra states, athato brahma-jijnasa: human life is meant for understanding the Absolute Truth. And what is that Absolute Truth? Krishna states in Bhagavad-gita:

mattah parataram nanyat
kincid asti dhananjaya
mayi sarvam idam protam
sutre mani-gana iva

“O conqueror of wealth [Arjuna], there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.” (Bg. 7.7)

aham sarvasya prabhavo
mattah sarvam pravartate
iti matva bhajante mam
budha bhava-samanvitah

“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Bg. 10.8)

Thus by taking perfect information from the perfect source, Krishna, one achieves the perfect result-devotional service to Krishna. Chanting and hearing are the recommended means of achieving devotional service. Since Krishna is all-powerful, He is present as His name, qualities, form, pastimes and paraphernalia. Therefore simply by chanting and hearing Krishna’s name, one associates with Krishna directly. Thus one is liberated from the influence of the material energy and comes under the influence of Krishna’s spiritual potency. This is the perfection of life.

Gopijana-vallabha dasa earned his BA in economics and philosophy from Cornell University in 1969 and shortly thereafter joined the Krishna consciousness movement. He is the President of ISKCON’s New York City center, which sponsors an especially enthusiastic sankirtana program.

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