Three principles that define the life of a Hare Krishna devotee are: sankirtan, service mood, and avoiding criticism of other devotees.
Srila Prabhupada often said that he didn’t introduce the chanting of Hare Krishna. He often quoted the scriptures to explain that the Holy Names of God are declared to be the panacea for this day and age. Besides, he repeatedly reassured us that Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu introduced the Krishna consciousness movement around five hundred fifty years ago. And the modus operandi of Lord Chaitanya was simple: congregational chanting of Hare Krishna or also known as the ‘sankirtan’ movement.
Sankirtan literally means coming together to chant. Considering the fragile nature of our existence and the fickle nature of our mind, our best spiritual efforts are feeble and fall short of what is expected to attract the Lord’s attention towards us. Therefore our great hope is to be connected to like-minded devotees who also seek to gain the mercy of the Lord by chanting and hearing the Lord’s pastimes.
In sankirtan, we attract a power beyond our own; a spiritual energy descends, as predicted in the scriptures. Therefore Srila Prabhupada often emphasised that devotees should come together to practise Krishna consciousness and not depend on their own individual strength. In fact, Srila Prabhupada even said that one who thinks he can make spiritual advancement alone, without association of devotees, is in hallucination. Considering the power of distractions and temptations in this degraded age of Kali, our hope therefore is the powerful association of other sincere devotees of Krishna.
Along with sankirtan, we need the second principle of ‘menial service attitude’.
When we come together with other human beings, there is a good chance of conflict. Ego clashes and quarrel is second nature in this age called ‘kali’ which translates as quarrel and hypocrisy. When we are alone, there is a good chance of hypocrisy; therefore we need sankirtan. And when we are together with other devotees we could quarrel; therefore we need a genuine service attitude. This combination of service attitude and sankirtan keeps us spiritually alive and refreshed.
But there is a trap laid out by the illusory forces, and the most sinister form is: criticism of other devotees.
When we serve for a long time, we may compare, complain or criticize others. The ego could get the better of us. Therefore to avoid speaking and even thinking negatively of others is critical for our spiritual success. It’s tempting to pass a snide remark on another sincere spiritual practitioner or sometimes we may not ourselves speak negatively, but we don’t mind hearing others’ speak ill of devotees. But in either case, we have polluted our consciousness and that takes the spiritual juice out of our practises. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu declares to all His devotees that if we simply do two things: chant Hare Krishna and don’t offend others, we could be delivered from all sufferings of material existence.
Thus the three principles of sankirtan, service and freedom from a critical mentality are the foundation of happy Krishna consciousness practises.
By Vraja Bihari Das