“The devotees can constantly think of the object of worship, the Supreme Lord, in any of His features, Narayana, Krishna, Rama, etc., by chanting Hare Krishna. This practice will purify him, and at the end of his life, due to his constant chanting, he will be transferred to the kingdom of God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 8.8, Purport)
A good strategy is required in order to be successful in any venture. Whether we’re playing sports, video games, gambling, running for political office, or even starting a business, a proper game plan and strategy can make the difference between success and failure.
Most aspiring entrepreneurs create a business plan prior to starting their business. The existence of this document shows potential investors and venture capitalists that the business founder has thought seriously about what it will take to make the business successful. Success doesn’t just happen on its own, for it requires a roadmap that must be followed in the beginning stages before the company has its first customer. In the game of chess, the players that are the most successful are the ones that have a strategy from the outset, thinking one or two moves ahead of the current situation in the game. Politicians spend millions of dollars on campaign consultants and television advertising as part of their strategy to win more votes than their opponent at the ballot box. The candidate with the better public relations strategy will have a much greater chance of winning the election. The game of American football requires a strategy from both teams right from the outset. Before the ball is even snapped signaling the start of a play, both the offense and defense map out and designate a task for each player on the field. The team which can outthink their opponent will have a better chance of winning the game.
A good strategy is one that correctly identifies one’s own strengths and weaknesses, and those of their competition. A game plan must be forward thinking, anticipating any potential pitfalls and hurdles that may come up. Most importantly however, one must be able to change their strategy when necessary. An example of this was seen in the sport of professional tennis. In the 2004 Wimbledon men’s final, Andy Roddick was tied at one set all with defending champion Roger Federer, when he took a lead over Federer in the third set. Unfortunately, rain then halted play. In men’s tennis, players are not allowed to receive coaching during a match, but since there was a rain delay, both players were allowed to consult with their families and coaches while play was halted. Roddick had been playing a great match, being very aggressive. This play had taken Federer aback and he was having a hard time adjusting to it. During the rain delay, Federer’s good friend advised him to change his strategy and to start charging the net. Federer would heed this advice, and as soon as play resumed, Federer came back to win the third set and eventually the match. Federer was able to adjust his strategy to the situation, and Roddick was not.
According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, a good strategy is also required for one to be successful in spiritual life. Living entities are spirit souls at their core, and due to their desires, or karma, they have been forced to accept bodies with material qualities. Since we all have different desires, we see varieties in species, 8,400,000 to be exact. The human form of life is considered the best because it represents the chance for the soul to understand and love God, and thereby break out of the repeated cycle of birth and death in the material world. In order to understand God, one must follow a proper game plan under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master. Not all strategies are the same when it comes to self-realization. The Vedas declare that each creation of the material world is divided into four Yugas, or time periods. The first time period is when man is completely pure. This purity diminishes by one fourth through each successive period. We are currently in the fourth period, known as Kali Yuga, where dharma, or religiosity, exists only at one fourth its full strength.
For each age, the Vedas recommend a specific method of self-realization as being most effective. In the first age, known as Satya Yuga, tapasya was the recommended path for spiritual realization. Tapasya is the voluntary practice of austerities in hopes of advancing in spiritual realization. Great saints and sages used to meditate for thousands upon thousands of years in order to increase their devotion to God. Men could do this because society was completely pure and thus everyone could utilize the full capacity of their brains. In the second age, known as Treta Yuga, the practice of yajna, or elaborate sacrifice, was recommended. The great kings of the world would regularly perform yajnas such as the Vajpayee, Rajasuya, and Ashwamedha in hopes of receiving benedictions from God. In the Dvapara Yuga, the age that followed, the practice of archanam, or deity worship was recommended. The deity is the physical representation of the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna, usually in the form of a statue or a picture. Worshipping the Lord’s deity is as good as worshipping Him directly.
In this age of Kali, the recommended practice is sankirtana, or the congregational chanting of the Holy names of the Lord. This process was inaugurated by the Lord Himself in His incarnation as Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who appeared on earth some five hundred years ago in India. We live in an age of great material advancement, unprecedented in human history. Unlike the people who lived in the Satya Yuga, most of us don’t perform any kind of tapasya, which in turn has left our senses unrestricted. Due to this fact, our capacity for spiritual understanding has diminished. Involved primarily in worrying about eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, our minds have no time to think about God or to ponder the question of why we are put on this earth. However, the Lord is so nice that knowing this, He has incarnated in the form of His holy name. The practice of sankirtana takes activities that we already perform, like singing and dancing, and spiritualizes them. There is no difference between God and His name, so when we chant His name or read about Him in books or talk about Him or sing songs glorifying Him, then He automatically comes to us. God is one even though he may be called by many different names in the various religions of the world. In the Vedas, God’s original name is Krishna, which means “all-attractive”. Simply by calling out Krishna’s name, we are performing direct worship of God.
To practice sankirtana, the great acharyas have prescribed the constant recitation of the Maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” for everyone. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada directed all his disciples to chant sixteen rounds of this mantra on their japa beads every day. One round of japa is performed by repeating a specific mantra 108 times, so completing sixteen rounds can take a few hours, but it is well worth the investment. There are no restrictions on chanting since God is for everyone. Any person, be they a man or woman, Hindu or Christian, black or white, can take up this chanting process. It may seem trivial, but it makes a huge difference in one’s quality of life. By chanting God’s name, we automatically think of Him and our love for Him grows. Following this strategy, we are sure to be successful in fulfilling the real mission of life, to know and love God.