“In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Krishna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krishna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.5.32)
yajanti hi su-medhasaḥ
Shaved heads. Saffron robes. Karatalas clanging to a familiar beat. The constant chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. To some this is a nuisance, while to others it’s the thing they’ve been searching for their whole lives. It is sharanagati experienced for real, surrender to the Divine that should be the way of life all the time. These things taken together are known as the sankirtana-yajna, and though it has only recently appeared to gain in prominence, it is not a manufactured system.
Sankirtana was not the creation of some famous mind. It was not invented in the past by someone who had amazing, out of body experiences. Yajna means sacrifice and in the Vedas there is mention of yajna everywhere. The reason is that sacrifice is a tool only available to the human species. The animals lack the intelligence necessary to voluntarily take up restriction. They don’t know what it is to go on a diet. They don’t know that stopping themselves from doing certain things will benefit them many years down the road.
Kirtana is a Sanskrit word that means “to describe.” When discussing spiritual topics, the word takes the meaning of describing the Supreme. Whatever you want to call Him, there is an origin to everything. In the Vedas He is described to be a person, or purusha. Since He is the original person, He is the adi-purusha. Every reaction has an initial cause. When you ascend the chain of causes and reach the initial one, you have found God. Therefore He is also known as sarva-karana-karanam, the cause of all causes.
A great way to describe someone or something is to put words to song. For this reason the Vedas consist of millions of verses that can be sung. They are in praise of the Supreme Lord and His deputies. When you take sankirtana and yajna together, you get the sacrifice of chanting the holy names in congregation. Sankirtana is more powerful than ordinary kirtana since there are more people involved. It is a natural amplification system.
Yajna is synonymous with Vishnu, which is another name for God. As He is the first beneficiary in all yajnas, one of God’s other names is Yajneshvara. Chanting the holy names in congregation is a way to please the Supreme Lord. It is not an invented process, since it comes down from time immemorial. Though in prior ages perhaps the chanting took place quietly in a secluded area, the sacrifice was still the same. Writing books about God is also kirtana. Thus we have the famous Ramayana and the many Puranas of the Vedic tradition.
On television we see commercials for new weight loss products. These are breakthrough inventions created through the combination of accepted knowledge and practical experience. These products are touted as new, like nothing we’ve seen before. In a material existence there is duality, so some things work for some people and other things don’t work as well. So there is some success seen in using these products. There is no doubt of this.
Sankirtana-yajna is spiritual. It is not invented by anyone, and so it has no flaws. The human being has four primary defects. They have imperfect senses, they tend to cheat, they make mistakes, and they are easily illusioned. This means that anything the human mind conjures up will be flawed to some degree. Not so for sankirtana-yajna, since it comes down from the flawless authority that is the Supreme Lord.
As sankirtana describes God and yajna is done to please Him, the inventor of the system would have to be as good as God. After all, they are capable of delivering the one person that no one seems to be able to spot. They are bringing the most powerful person in the universe into proximity. They are doing it not with brute force or strained mental effort. They are doing it simply through sound.
If sankirtana-yajna were invented by someone, that inventor would have to be equal to God. Yet man can never achieve this status. They can become godly, like a deva, but they can never be the supreme deva. Chanting the holy names as a sacrifice is a way to practice bhakti-yoga, which is the mysticism of devotion. There is no magic or illusion, since the Supreme Lord empowers the process. He enables the link to Him to be made through investing potency in the holy name itself. That name is identical to Him, and therefore those names are an integral aspect to bhakti-yoga practice.
The yoga systems we are most familiar with are invented. They are concocted by a flawed brain, and so the results are flawed as well. They don’t deliver the Supreme Lord directly. And without gaining His association, there is no point to spiritual life. Material life is known to be a waste of time, as everything finishes with death. The soul is what continues on, and so its satisfaction is what matters most.
In this age the sankirtana-yajna is introduced to society by a special personality named Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Though His complexion is not the same as Bhagavan Krishna, He is the same Supreme Lord. He delivers the fallen people of the age by bringing them together in glorifying God. The intelligent will take up this sacrifice, which comes down from authority.
Congregationally chanting holy name,
From Chaitanya this process came.
Still existing from time before,
Effective in any of ages four.
Though by results to be awed,
Never created by mind flawed.
By Krishna Himself process empowered,
From fearless devotees mercy showered.