“O conquerer of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.7)
मत्तः परतरं नान्यत्
किञ्चिद् अस्ति धनञ्जय
मयि सर्वम् इदं प्रोतं
सूत्रे मणि-गणा इव
mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat
kiñcid asti dhanañjaya
mayi sarvam idaṁ protaṁ
sūtre maṇi-gaṇā iva
“I had a weird encounter once, in relation to chanting the maha-mantra. I forget how the conversation started, but in explaining what I was doing, I revealed that I was chanting on a regular basis. I had a routine down, based on the recommendation of the acharyas.
“I was surprised by the reaction of this person. They wanted to know the purpose of the chanting. They were already familiar with mantras. They informed me that there are mantras for practically anything a person could want.
“Good grades. Relief from stress. Increased concentration. Improvement in health. Atonement for sin. Paying respect to a high authority figure, as a kind of business transaction.
“Just what exactly was my reason? Why was I chanting the maha-mantra? What was the exact purpose? They wanted to know where I fit into this paradigm they created.
“I wasn’t sure how to answer. I had never thought in those terms. I didn’t really know about those other mantras. I know the Vedas can serve many purposes, that it is like a person picking fruit from a tree. The different fruits could represent different areas of interest within a material existence.
“What would you say is the best response? Why do we chant the maha-mantra? I know there are other mantras in a similar category. Why do we say the names of Hari? Is it to avoid rebirth? Are we trying to end the cycle of birth and death?”
Such desires may be there at the beginning. It is only natural. We sign up for the gym membership when we are in bad shape. If not bad, then at least we think we require some kind of improvement. We go to school in order to learn. We take that training class at the office because it is mandatory.
चतुर्-विधा भजन्ते मां
जनाः सुकृतिनो ऽर्जुन
आर्तो जिज्ञासुर् अर्थार्थी
ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino ‘rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
Shri Krishna describes that the people who approach Him tend to fall into four general categories. They have something in common in that they all want something. It is not like they are looking to hang out or they want to stay by His side or hear more about Him.
That is usually the end result, however. If I approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead to fulfill my desires, He may or may not come through. Since He is known as Hari, He might actually take everything away. In a few years’ time, I might be begging and pleading on the floor for mercy, so little do I have left.
The end result is auspicious. I will be in a better place. This is because Krishna is the source of everything. He applies oversight. He is not obligated to deliver on my demands or requests. He is my greatest well-wisher, and sometimes the best way to improve a person’s situation is to remove their attachments.
ज्ञात्वा मां शान्तिम् ऋच्छति
jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati
“The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.29)
In the beginning, chanting the maha-mantra might help to ease my tensions. After all, there is an accompanying steadiness when focusing on those sacred words: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
I might see an improvement in health. I might better understand the world around me. I might discover a long-term purpose. If chanting with others, in what is known as sankirtana, I might feel alive for the first time, as if meeting the potential with respect to output through activity.
If we really want to understand the maha-mantra, it is for paying respect to the people. I may chant a certain mantra to get good health. But who is providing that benefit? Are they not a person? If so, what is their disposition? What occupation are they in? Why not do something for their benefit, instead of just taking?
A wise person asks of the origin. They are not content with just extracting the benefit. They are curious as to what empowers the specific words used. Why these Sanskrit names instead of just random sounds?
Within the mood of bhakti, a person wants to give. The mantra becomes their expression of love and appreciation. They want to stay with the people referenced in the mantra. They want to always be conscious of Krishna, and they always want to serve; hopefully in a manner resembling the unflinching dedication exhibited by the energy, who is addressed as Hare.
For whatever to aspire,
No truth to Him higher.
The person mantra behind,
All auspiciousness to find.
Therefore in this way dedicated,
Not for my benefit predicated.
To serve Radha and Krishna vow,
To finally feel alive now.