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Religion Library: ISKCON (Hare Krishna)

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Written by: Benjamin E. Zeller

While deity worship and prasadam food offerings require access to an image of the divine, the practice of chanting is available at any time and place. Bhaktivedenta taught that of all religious practices, the chanting of the Hare Krishna mahamantra, "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare," offers the best opportunity to bring about Krishna Consciousness and transcendental awareness. Bhaktivedanta's propensity to chant this mantra and that of his students in fact led to the common moniker for devotees, "Hare Krishnas," a term that most ISKCON devotees use as point of pride and self-identification.

A long history exists behind the mahamantra, including a theology of mantras that stretched back to Vedic times. Yet Hare Krishnas chant their mantra primarily because Gaudiya founder Sri Chaitanya, believed to be an appearance of Krishna, taught this as the best means of achieving God-awareness during the present age of kali yuga. Specifically, Chaitanya insisted that devotees chant the mantra aloud and publicly. Though the earliest documents do not specific which mantra Chaitanya used, the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition suggests that it was the Hare Krishna mahamantra. Consequently, devotees understand their use of the mahamantra to stretch back to the founder of their lineage, Krishna himself made manifest.

Chanting can take many forms. Family units may chant together, or individuals may do so alone. While some devotees chant while engaging in other activities, such as driving, ideally the practice requires full concentration. Most devotees chant while sitting cross-legged or while walking. Because ISKCON devotees have sworn to chant at least sixteen rounds of mantras every day, where each round comprises one hundred and eight repetitions of the mahamantra, members of the movement spend nearly two hours every day chanting. Devotees use a string of mala (rosary) beads in order to chant japa, counting their repetitions.

While ritual activities involving deity worship and the devotional chanting of the Hare Krishna mahamantra comprise most of the daily religious activities of a Hare Krishna member, many also engage in the study of religious texts. While Bhaktivedanta clearly stated that chanting offered all the transcendental awareness a person needed, he nevertheless produced volumes of commentaries, translations, and essays, as well as gave sermons and talks that his disciples subsequently transcribed. During his lifetime, Bhaktivedanta's lectures offered the main way by which ISKCON members learned about the Gaudiya tradition. After his death in 1977, most followers turned to his written corpus to continue to learn from their spiritual master. Even as new converts, who have no immediate experience with Bhaktivedanta, join the movement his translations and commentaries serve as the central materials for study within the movement.

Study Questions:
     1.    How did the demographic change of ISKCON members influence daily devotion?
     2.    What is placed upon an ISKCON devotee's home altar?
     3.    How is food used as a devotional tool?
     4.    What is the role of chanting within ISKCON? How is it practiced?