“People can hold meetings to glorify the Lord in their respective languages and with melodious songs, and if such performances are executed in an offenseless manner, it is certain that the participants will gradually attain spiritual perfection without having to undergo more rigorous methods.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Introduction)
In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the Kali Yuga, man is generally unfortunate, short-lived, and always under duress. Stress does not even have to be a bad thing, for anxiety, ulcers and constant pain and worry are much bigger problems than ordinary stress. To find relief from the struggles encountered daily, one need not look further than the heavens, the upper planetary realm where the Supreme Lord and the divine figures reside. From His causeless mercy, God makes the processes most effective at allowing others to know Him also the most readily available. This is a simple principle that should never be forgotten. The more difficulty there is in a religious practice, the further it is away from the constitutional position of the soul. Since the name, forms, pastimes and glories of the Supreme Being are what the spirit souls roaming the land of earth are meant to immerse their minds in, something as simple as an assembly held to discuss these aspects can provide full enlightenment. Eternal happiness can come about as quickly as attending a meeting and hearing what is discussed.
Why are we short-lived in the Kali Yuga? What is a yuga anyway? The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, and rather than be taken as a sectarian treatise targeted for a select few individuals, the correct viewpoint is to understand that the Vedas are all-inclusive; they are meant to be heard and understood by every class of men, from every type of background. We know that there must have been a point in time when the earth was created, for that is how objects around us come into being. Indeed, our current body was the result of past work performed, growth and development cycles that started before we even had the ability to remember things. We know from the authority of our parents that we existed within the womb for nine months and then finally emerged into a land unknown to us.
Just as the bodies of the living entities come into existence, so the entire cosmic manifestation goes through cycles of creation and destruction. It is said that Lord Vishnu, the four-armed form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, exhales just once to create the many universes. And when He inhales, everything gets destroyed. As time and space represent the limits to our understanding, they do not apply to the Supreme Lord or to the divine energy in general. Therefore there is actually not just one creation, as that would put God’s abilities under the jurisdiction of time. Rather, this world and other worlds go through cycles of creation, millennia of manifestations if you will. Each creation has an allotted time of existence, and to further understand the conditions in society and how to cope in it, there are divisions to this one time period, which is known as a yuga, or maha-yuga.
“The whole cosmic order is under Me. By My will it is manifested again and again, and by My will it is annihilated at the end.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.8)
The Kali Yuga is the last of the four divisions, and it is marked by the tenuous standing of dharma. Religiosity, piety, righteousness, or occupational duties – these are the many ways to translate dharma, though the word itself relates to an essential characteristic. As time goes by, man’s fealty to dharma, the established codes of conduct passed down by the authority figures, dwindles. In the Kali Yuga, dharma stands as a table with only one leg, with the other three wiped out in favor of vice, sin and overall debauchery.
The allure of sinful activity is that it will somehow bring happiness. “Just eat a little bit more. Just have some more beer. Just cheat on your wife this one time. Just make one more wager and then you’ll be satisfied.” Obviously, these temptations aren’t so fast to go away. By giving in to them what results is a loss of peace of mind and rationale. In a society where sinful behavior is rampant, there will not be any happiness. What’s even worse is that the symptoms will not be properly understood; recognizing them will not lead to a proper identification of the problem.
That adherence to dharma should diminish over time is not that surprising. In America, deference to pious behavior in society was much higher than it is today as recently as fifty years ago. In many communities, there was rampant poverty, also much worse than it is today, but since the families were more centered on religious life, the children had morals instilled in them. Hard work, discipline, respect for life and other values remained even in the harshest of conditions. As that adherence to piety gradually diminished, however, so did man’s ability to interact with his fellow man. Hence the Kali Yuga is known for quarrels erupting over the most trivial things. Cut someone off on the highway and you could trigger a meltdown from the other driver. Wear a jersey of a sports team that someone else doesn’t like and you can get beaten up if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So, what can be done to fix the problem? The holy names of the Lord, especially those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are meant to deliver the fallen people of this age. How can these names be disseminated, and who will be willing to accept them, especially given man’s affinity for sinful life? The best way to spread the holy names is through congregational chanting, wherein groups of devoted individuals chant the sacred mantras in a call-and-response fashion. Bring the holy name to the masses and you will have a revolution in thought and behavior.
As people don’t like to be bothered in the street, another effective way to spread the glories of the Supreme Lord that everyone is inclined to worship is to hold meetings, public gatherings where discourses on Krishna philosophy, or bhakti-yoga, can take place. Krishna is the complete manifestation of the Supreme Lord. Shri Krishna is fully opulent, all-powerful, and has a transcendental sweetness that is unique. With karma, the expectation is to have a nice reward, a fruit at the end that tastes sweet. Since Krishna is the reservoir of all sweetness, there can be no tastier fruit than His constant association. The public assembly discussing Krishna’s nature, pastimes and teachings can bring that delight to a large number of people.
Why would people be interested in attending such gatherings? It is seen that there is already the tendency to congregate. The church is the weekly gathering place for the religiously inclined, and the bars and nightclubs the places to go to for fun and enjoyment. If these places don’t fancy you, then there are the coffee shops and restaurants. Irrespective of the nature of the place, the fatigued worker looking for relaxation enjoys getting out of the house and spending some time out in public with other people.
The Vaishnava gathering, the assembly where Krishna is talked about, provides the best of all worlds. The dedication to religion found in the church is present when discussing Krishna. In fact, the interaction is quite unique, as the verses from the sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana that are discussed can be studied over and over again, day after day, with new revelations revealed along the way. The more one practices bhakti-yoga and the more they hear about Krishna, the more the covering of nescience enveloping their soul comes off. Every individual life form is fully intelligent; we just don’t notice this because of the covering of maya. Even the ant is cognizant of Krishna’s status as the Supreme Lord, but due to past karma and the resultant reactions, the ant is in a form of body not conducive to acting upon the natural love felt within the heart for God.
The friendly atmosphere of the night club is also there in the Krishna gathering, except that there is no need for darkness. For the night club experience to be enjoyed, there must be intoxication. The music is so loud and the lighting so dim that the patrons really have nothing else to do except drink. If the lights were on bright and everyone could hear each other talk, what need would there be for inebriation? With the Krishna gathering, full sobriety is a prerequisite for understanding the truths of life espoused in the sacred texts. Moreover, the congregational chanting that takes place brings bliss and happiness to those who are not distracted in mind.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.26)
The sumptuous food available in the restaurants can also be found in the Krishna gathering. Part of the typical worship program involves the offering of food to the deity of the Supreme Lord. It is said in the Bhagavad-gita that if anyone offers Krishna a leaf, flower, fruit or water, He will gladly accept it. This means that God cannot be invisible or formless. Moreover, He is a personality with arms, legs, ears and a mouth. He is different, however, in that His features are not limited. He is all-pervading and simultaneously situated in the spiritual sky of Goloka Vrindavana, so He can hear every prayer offered to Him and enjoy every tasty prasadam dish presented in a mood of love and devotion.
The offered food gets returned to the worshiper in a sanctified form, becoming prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. This food is then distributed to the guests at the assembly. In this way there is a very simple formula for gaining enlightenment, happiness and a worthwhile occupation of free time. No matter what the person’s background, this simple formula can be followed. Chant a few mantras, listen to topics about Krishna, and eat prasadam. Who could be against this? The more these programs are done, the more they get repeated. In fact, people can follow the same formula in their homes, inviting their friends and family over for a night of Krishna-related fun. Why worship once a week when you can meditate on Krishna every day? Why just enjoy the restaurant food when you can taste Krishna’s mercy all the time? Why suffer the ill effects of intoxication when you can enjoy Krishna’s sweetness in full sobriety?
Though the sacred Vedic texts were composed in Sanskrit and its derivative languages, these gatherings need not be limited to a particular language. Across any land, amongst any group of people, the same subject matter can be discussed. This is what it means to be transcendental. Krishna is God for everyone, not just for the Hindus. Any type of food in the mode of goodness prepared even to the local style can be accepted by Krishna, for the Lord doesn’t just listen to the prayers of those residing in India. The gopis of Vrindavana always thought of Krishna when the Lord left for Mathura and Dvaraka. Were they bereft of His company? Did Krishna forget them? Did He not hear every single one of their prayers offered from many miles away? Krishna was always with them, even though physically He may have been many miles away.
Simply attending these assemblies on a regular basis can provide all perfection, without having to make any extraneous endeavor. No need to travel to the Himalayas, starve yourself for weeks on end, or quit your job and live as a mendicant. Other methods of spiritual life can certainly help, provided that the aim is genuine and authorized, but just following behavior that we are already accustomed to and prefer can bring the desired benefits. The key to the assembly, or any activity in bhakti for that matter, is the holy name. The aim of the gathering is to spread Krishna’s transcendental sound vibrations in a palatable way, in a manner that can be accepted, understood, and relished by every one of the participants. This way everyone can go home and eagerly anticipate the next meeting, the next time they will get to hear about their beloved Krishna.
To hear at meeting place should everyone gather,
About Him who has in His hair peacock’s feather.
The delight of Vrindavana, of Yadu’s fame,
Complete form of Godhead, Krishna is His name.
Gathering place you already prefer to go to,
Why not meet to discuss He of bluish hue?
Don’t need to quit your job or to the mountains run,
Chant Krishna’s names together and enjoy the fun.
In the present age of Kali man is unfortunate,
Forces of sin upon mankind do conglomerate.
No other way for salvation except chanting,
The holy names of the Lord, never forgetting.
Visit the Vaishnava assembly and the truth learn,
Invite people to the home and spiritual merits earn.
To the deity of Shri Krishna offer food in goodness,
Distribute prasadam, happily relish the sweetness.