How to make progress on spiritual path?
Well we have endless questions in our mind with respect to creation, purpose of our existence, why there is so much suffering & inequality in the world, to name a few. And we may even get answers to our questions if we refer to authorized scriptures. However, simply to have knowledge is not enough if we want to seriously progress in our spiritual life.
In the material concept of life we are busy in the matter of sense gratification as if we were in the lower, animal stage. A little elevated from this status of sense gratification, one is engaged in mental speculation for the purpose of getting out of the material clutches. A little elevated from this speculative status, when one is intelligent enough, one tries to find out the supreme cause of all causes-within and without. And when one is factually on the plane of spiritual understanding, surpassing the stages of sense, mind, and intelligence, he is then on the transcendental plane.
One needs to follow a process to progress in spiritual life. So the question is which process? Is the process sublime and to whom we should reach out for the guidance.
The process starts with Hearing (Sravanam) this is the first step in devotional service. In this age it is very difficult to follow thoroughly the regulative principles and studies of the Vedas which were formerly recommended. However, if one gives aural reception to the sound vibrated by great devotees and acaryas, that alone will give him relief from all material contamination. Therefore it is the recommendation of Caitanya Mahaprabhu that one should simply hear from authorities who are actually devotees of the Lord. Hearing from professional men will not help. If we hear from those who are actually self realized, then the Nectarine Rivers, like those which are flowing on the moon planet, will flow into our ears.
One can easily get authorized audios of lectures on Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad-Bhagvatam online or from other devotees associated with Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. The word authorized here is very important as there are many unauthorised versions freely available online. One should be very careful in what they hear, as it is the first and the most important step in devotional services.
The next important step in executing devotional service is Chanting (Kirtanam), the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is enacted from the spiritual platform, and thus this sound vibration surpasses all lower strata of consciousness-namely sensual, mental, and intellectual. There is no need, therefore, to understand the language of the mantra, there is neither any need for mental speculation nor any intellectual adjustment for chanting this maha-mantra (maha means “great”; mantra means “sound that liberates the mind from ignorance”). It is automatic, from the spiritual platform, and as such, anyone can take part in the chanting without any previous qualification.
Kṛṣṇa or Christ- the name is the same. The main point is to follow the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures that recommend chanting the name of God in this age. The easiest way is to chant the maha-mantra: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Rama [O Supreme Enjoyer] and Kṛṣṇa [O all-attractive Lord] are names of God, and Hare [is the energy of God]. So when we chant the maha-mantra, we address God together with His energy. Chanting is a prayer to Kṛṣṇa, so in the beginning of the Hare Kṛṣṇa maha-mantra we first address the internal energy of Kṛṣṇa, [Hare] that means “O Radharani! O Hare! O energy of the Lord!” When we address someone in this way, he/ she usually say, “Yes, what do you want?” The answer is, “Please engage me in Your service”.
Just as there are males and females in the material world, similarly, God is the original male (purusa), and His energy (prakrti) is the original female. This energy is of two kinds, the spiritual and the material. At present we are in the clutches of the material energy. Therefore we pray to Kṛṣṇa that He may kindly deliver us from the service of the material energy and accept us into the service of the spiritual energy.
In the Narada-pancaratra it is stated that all the Vedic rituals, mantras, and understanding are compressed into the eight words Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare. Similarly, in the Kali-santarana Upanishad it is stated that these sixteen words, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, are especially meant for counteracting the degrading and contaminating influence of this materialistic age of Kali.
This chanting is exactly like the genuine cry of a child for its mother’s presence. Mother Hara helps the devotee achieve the Lord Father’s grace, and the Lord reveals Himself to the devotee who chants this mantra sincerely.
God has kindly made it very easy for us to chant His names, and He has also invested all His powers in them. Therefore the names of God and God Himself are identical. This means that when we chant the holy names we are directly associating with God and being purified. Therefore, we should always try to chant with devotion and reverence. The more attentively and sincerely you chant these names of God, the more spiritual progress you will make.
How and when can we chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra?
You can chant these holy names of the Lord anywhere and at any time, but it is best to set a specific time of the day to regularly chant. Early morning hours are ideal. As you chant, pronounce the names clearly and distinctly, addressing Kṛṣṇa in a prayerful mood. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the sound of the Lord’s names.
When you chant alone, it is best to chant on japa beads. This helps you fix your attention on the holy name. Each strand of japa beads contains 108 small beads and one large bead, the head bead. Begin on a bead next to the head bead and gently roll it between the thumb and middle finger of your right hand as you chant the full Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. Then move to the next bead and repeat the process. In this way, chant on each of the 108 beads until you reach the head bead again. This is one round of japa. Then, without chanting on the head bead, reverse the beads and start your second round on the last bead you chanted on.
You can start with two rounds per day and gradually increase the number of rounds you chant every day. As per scriptures, if we are not chanting 64 rounds per day we are considered as fallen souls. However, to chant 64 rounds it will require about 7-8 hours on daily basis which is not possible for many of us in this age of Kali. So as a mercy, Srila Prabhupada has recommended that we should chant minimum 16 rounds per day and 25 rounds on the day of Ekadsahi. (This occurs on the eleventh day after the full moon and the eleventh day after the new moon). If you are a working professional you will have to take out about 2 hours for chanting 16 rounds every day. However, many of us may find it difficult given long working hours and commuting time. Therefore, there is a need to balance the material life and spiritual life. This can be made possible by living a disciplined life. Early to bed and early to rise is the key here. Many devotees rise early in the morning to chant (around 4:00 am) and are able to finish 16 rounds before starting for the office. Changing your schedule all of sudden is also not advisable unless you are strong and determined. You need to gradually move towards your goal, if you normally get-up late in the morning i.e. after 6:00 am, you can wake-up at 5:00-5:30 am to start with and then gradually move towards 4:00-4:30 am. In Vedic scriptures best time to sleep is recommended from 9:30 pm to 3:30 am/ 10:00 pm to 4:00 am, as sleep between 9:00 pm to 12:00 midnight is equivalent to 6 hrs. from 12:00 am to 3:00 am is equivalent to 3 hrs. and from 3:00 am to 6:00 am is equivalent to 1.5 hrs. So the early you sleep, you will need less number of hours to complete your daily recommended sleep. Besides, working devotees read and hear scriptures while commuting to and from office, which is normally used in listening to music or browsing internet on mobile. Gradually, it will become a routine and you would be able to take care of your material life/ duties and at the same time relish your spiritual life.
Hearing (Sravanam) and Chanting (Kirtanam) are the two very important steps one needs to execute in the beginning of the devotional life. However, aspiring by oneself alone to achieve devotional service is also not very hopeful because Kṛṣṇa does not agree to award devotional service to merely anyone. Kṛṣṇa can easily offer a person material happiness or even liberation, but He does not agree very easily to award a person engagement in His devotional service.
Therefore, the next important step is to seek shelter of a bona fide spiritual master, receive initiation from the spiritual master, serve the spiritual master, inquire and learn love from the spiritual master and follow in the footsteps of holy persons devoted to the transcendental loving service of the Lord.
Devotional service can in fact be attained only through the mercy of a pure devotee. In the Caitanya-caritamrta it is said: “By the mercy of the spiritual master who is a pure devotee and by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa one can achieve the platform of devotional service. There is no other way. ”
It is essential for a neophyte devotee who is beginning to follow the path of devotional service to observe the above process. Besides, he/ she will have to follow few regulative principles in order to progress on the spiritual path, which are as follows:
- No meat eating
- No Intoxication (including tea, coffee, and chocolates)
- No gambling
- No illicit sex (sex outside marriage)
- Associate with devotees
- Regular reading of authorized scriptures such as Bhagavad-Gita, Srimad-Bhagvatam and other books authored by devotees in disciplic succession such as Srila Prabhupada.
- Perform Deity worship at home, it will help you in reducing desires for unnecessary sense gratification and will cleanse your heart.
- Accept only prasadam (food first offered to Lord). If you are working professional try to take offered food from home (Pure vegetarian food without onion and garlic should be offered to Lord). If you have to eat outside food or are travelling, try to order food without onion and garlic and putTulsi (Basil) leafs in the food.
- Observe fasting on Ekadasi day. On such days no grains, cereals or beans are eaten; simply vegetables and milk are moderately taken, and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and reading scriptures are increased.
- Show respect to devotees, cows and sacred trees like banyan tree.
The success of your spiritual life depends upon how sincerely you execute the process. You have to take the first step and Krishna will take ten steps in making you successful.
P.S. – If you need further help and guidance on how to successfully execute devotional service please do not hesitate to write to us. Go to contact us section to share your views/ experience. Hare Krishna, Haribol !!