HOW TO MAKE PROGRESS ON SPIRITUAL PATH?
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 guidance. Well, we have endless questions in our mind with respect to creation, the 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 having 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.
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, as there are many unauthorized versions freely available online. One should be very careful in what they hear, as it is the first and the most important.
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 at 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.