Hare Krishna devotees often say that religion without philosophy is sentimental and philosophy without religion is dry speculation. Religion expresses itself through culture: different codes of behavior that help us to become aware that we are not this temporary material body but an eternal spirit soul, servant of God.
Although our state of mind is seen through the nature of our activities (how we dress, eat, talk etc.), the type of activites we perform also affects our state of mind. This means we can elevate our consciousness by elevating the nature of our activities. All spiritual activities help us to purify our consciousness and direct it towards God.
Because of this, a vaishnava (devotee of Krishna) does not take the regulations of spiritual life as restrictions, but rather as ‘regulative principles of freedom’ – a tool for advancing personal character development & spiritual consciousness.
The four basic principles are as follows:
1. Cleanliness: Of body, mind and soul.
This means the daily washing of the body, but also refraining from illicit sex (only sex for procreation within marriage). Celibacy, recitation of God´s (Krishna´s) holy names and studying the holy Scriptures help us to keep the mind and soul clean and balanced.
2. Mercy: To help living entities (materially as well as spiritually).
True followers of the Vedic (or any other) Scriptures are strictly vegetarians. It is perfectly possible to live healthily and happily without needlessly killing innocent animals. To kill our fellow living entities instead of protecting them, is against the laws of God.
3. Austerity: To take only what we really need, without greed or violence.
Intoxications like alcohol, hard and soft drugs, tobacco, caffeine etc. make someones mercy and friendliness disappear. Addictions are not only unnecessary, but also very harmful (to body, mind and to others). The best alternative for addictions is an awakening of our eternal relationship with God (Krishna) by living in accordance with His laws.
4. Truthfulness: Means that we should not lie or gamble.
Gambling destroys truthfulness because it is an attempt to bypass the laws of nature and obtain material profit without honestly working for them.
An honest deed is the best gamble in the world and a sure winner.
There are many rules and regulations to follow in human life which help us to be healthy, happy and successful.
The most important of all is:
Always remember Krishna (God) and never forget Him.
Yoga means to link oneself with God (Krishna) by concentrating the mind on Him and controlling the ever-disturbing senses. By the practice of yoga one gradually becomes free from materialistic attachments. This is the primary characteristic of the yoga process. When one is free of materialistic attachments one loses interest in the body and becomes interested in spiritual perfection.
By the perfect practice of yoga one becomes completely happy in this life and, after death, one reaches the state of eternal happiness called liberation. In the perfect stage of yoga one is liberated from the cycle of material suffering (see Karma and Reincarnation) and goes to the spiritual world to serve God in perfect purity.
Yoga includes different practices depending on ones level of spiritual advancement, and can be compared to a ladder for attaining the topmost spiritual realisation. The complete ladder is called yoga and may be divided into 3 main parts. 1) Karma, 2) Jnana, and 3) Bhakti.
1) Karma-yoga When a person knows the goal of life is Krishna (God), but is attached to working to get material comforts, then he is acting in karma-yoga.
2) Jnana-yoga When he knows the goal is Krishna, but takes pleasure in mental speculation, he is acting in jnana-yoga.
3) Bhakti-yoga When he knows the goal is Krishna and is not attached to any material thing, either gross or subtle, but simply desires to work for the pleasure of Krishna, then he is acting in bhakti-yoga. This is the highest perfection of the yoga system.
To make yoga practice really successful it requires self restraint (see Principles). The yoga process that the devotees of Krishna practice and endeavour to perfect is in the line of bhakti-yoga.
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna describes the process of yoga in Krishna consciousness:
“Always chanting my glories, endeavouring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Bhagavad-gita 9.14)
Here it is said that in the practice of bhakti-yoga (Krishna consciousness) one should chant the glories of God.
“Karma” means “activity”, and the law of karma is the law that regulates the reactions to our activities. The law of karma is the natural law of action and reaction. In physics this is expressed by Newton’s law, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Or, in Christian theology, “As ye sow so ye shall ye reap”.
From a practical point of view this means that good actions give good results and bad or destructive actions give bad or less fortunate results.
It should be noted here that all souls are essentially good. This means that just because someone gets a bad reaction it does not mean that they are a bad person. Another important point is that karma is temporary. This means that although we may be experiencing a particular set of circumstances right now those circumstances will change in the future. This could happen in this life or even future lives. Not only is karma temporary it is also possible to change one’s karma, or even get rid of it altogether by acting spiritually in the service of God.
Good reactions include things like wealth, beauty, intelligence and happiness. Bad reactions include things like poverty and disease. In order to fully understand how karma works the concept of reincarnation must also be looked into. See the page on Reincarnation for more information.
Karma (good or bad) creates a continuous cycle by which one is entangled in repeated actions and subsequent reactions. As long as one is in this cycle one will naturally experience both happiness and distress. The philosophy of the devotees of Krishna teaches how to break this cycle and achieve a state of eternal happiness known as liberation in a pure relationship with Krishna (God).
From the spiritual point of view, that of eternity, it doesn’t really matter if one has “good” or “bad” karma. This is because past material karma does not impede one from making spiritual advancement.
“Holy Cow!” We’ve all heard that expletive enough times, but what on earth is holy about a cow? To find that out, we need to go to India.
In the Indian villager’s agrarian lifestyle, conserving natural resources is an integral part of daily existence. He uses nature’s gifts directly to manufacture all his necessities, from his mud hut dwelling to his home-spun clothes. But the most important feature of village conservation is protecting cows. Each homestead keeps at least one cow, and the animal is considered the most useful of all domestic beasts. In fact both cow and bull are seen as indispensable in rural India, in other words to 90% of the country’s population. Eating only grass, which costs nothing to produce, the cow in turn produces milk that provides nearly all the nutrients we need. One cow produces more milk than a whole family can drink in one day. What is not drunk is turned into yoghurt, cheese, butter and ghee (butterfat) – the latter being the basis for so many exquisite Indian sweetmeats and savouries.
Because cows supply milk, in Indian culture they are accepted as our mother, and therefore worthy of reverence. How many babies are raised on cows ‘milk?
In India it is well known that even the stool of the cow has antiseptic properties. Furthermore, in any Indian village you will see cow pats drying in the sun, ready to be used as fuel for cooking. Cow urine is prescribed in Ayurveda as a medicine, and when the cow finally dies she gives her skin for shoes and bags, and her horns for other implements.
The majestic bull can be seen in Indian fields, pulling the plough. Slower than tractors, but he does not compact the soil and reduce its productivity like other mechanical methods. Nor does such ploughing kill so many earth dwelling creatures. And of course, the more we use machinery in the place of working animals like the ox, then the more we become encumbered with the need for so many subsidiary industries to make and maintain those machines.
The bull is still used throughout rural India, and he is therefore seen as a father, working hard to produce man’s food. And as a father he too is considered worthy of reverence.
There is a symbiotic relationship between men and cows. If we take good care of them, ensuring they are sheltered, fed and protected, they happily produce more than enough milk for their calves, and we can take the excess without harming them in any way.
Mantra meditation is a spiritual and religious practice that has a place in practically all religious traditions, although the method of practice may differ. In the Vaishnava tradition (which includes the devotees of Krishna) this type of meditation has two basic forms. The first is individual practice and the second is congregational.
Individually devotees of Krishna perform a daily schedule of personal prayer and meditation. This is centred around the recitation of the names of Krishna (God) using prayer beads to count out the number of names chanted. The prayer, or “mantra”, that they repeat is called the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
The second form of this process, which is congregational, includes the use of musical instruments. Instead of chanting on beads the mantra is sung. One person leads the singing while others in the group respond. Depending on the circumstances this religious performance is done either within temples of Krishna or in public. In India such public performances are very common and have been for many centuries.
“Hare”, “Krishna” and “Rama” are all names used in the Vaishnava tradition that refer to God and His energies. Because God is spiritual and all-powerful if someone chants His name then they will become purified – materially and spiritually. This chanting is also considered a form of prayer whereby the devotee is appealing to the Lord to please engage the devotee in the Lord’s service.
Reincarnation is the process by which the spiritual essence of any individual (commonly called “the soul”) passes from one body to another in a repeated cycle of birth and death.
In the Bhagavad-gita this process is explained using the following analogy: “As the embodied soul passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.13)
Because the soul eternally exists then this process, if unchecked, is also eternal. In everyday life there is always some degree of distress and suffering & because the soul is eternal, as long as he is in the cycle of reincarnation, then he will be eternally suffering. The Hare Krishna philosophy explains how one can break this cycle of repeated suffering. This is exemplified in the Bhagavad-gita which, in essence, is an explanation of how to break this cycle and achieve liberation.
There are two principles of Hare Krishna philosophy which are expressed practically by the practice of vegetarianism. These two principles are:
2) Service to God (Krishna)
Non-violence means not to stop the progressive life (materially or spiritually) of any living being. According to the laws of karma and reincarnation if an animal is killed before its allotted time in that particular body has ended then it has to take birth again in the same type of body in order to complete its remaining days and be promoted upwards to the next species. Thus its evolution upwards through the different species of life is checked. Therefore, the killing of animals simply to satisfy the demands of the palate is an act of both material and spiritual violence.
As far as service to God is concerned in Bhagavad-gita it is said: “If one offers Me (Krishna) with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Bhagavad-gita 9.26)
Before eating anything devotees of Krishna perform a ceremony whereby they offer their food to God. This religious performance sanctifies the food and frees the person eating it from the karma involved in the collection and preparation of the ingredients.
Because in the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says that He will only accept food if it is vegetarian then Hare Krishnas only eat vegetarian food. This they do as an act of service to please God (Krishna).
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was incorporated in New York in 1966. However, it is not a new religion. Its founder, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, represents a tradition tracing back to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And Chaitanya Himself appeared in a succession of teachers dating back thousands of years in India. This lineage, called the Brahma-Madhva Gaudiya sampradaya, is one of the four principle traditions of Vaishnavas, those who worship Lord Krishna or Lord Vishnu as supreme.
Vaishnavism is one of the main theological schools within the tradition broadly defined by the word Hinduism. However, the terms “Hindu” and “Hinduism” are not found in any of the scriptures. They were coined by the Persian invaders to refer to the religion and culture of the people beyond the River Sindhu (now called the Indus in modern Pakistan). Hinduism has been used to refer to the totality of India’s religious culture, apart from those faiths originating outside of India (such as Christianity); it includes those which arose within this context but have since defined themselves as distinctive traditions (such as Buddhism and Sikhism).
Many adherents to the tradition prefer the term sanatan-dharma. This term refers to the eternal function of the living being, understood as service to God. It implies that genuine religion is above temporary designations of faith, gender, colour, nationality, and species. The principles of sanatan-dharma are enunciated in the sacred texts called the Vedas.