What is Krishna Consciousness?
By Narasimha das
“If one is somehow or other able to understand Krishna, his life will be successful. Tyaktva dehan punar janma naiti mam eti so ‘rujuna. A perfect devotee is able to understand Krishna through the disciplic succession, and his entrance into the kingdom of God is thereby certainly opened. When one understands Krishna, there is no difficulty in transferring oneself to the spiritual kingdom.” (Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya, 25. 271, Purport)
We find many statements like this in Srila Prabhupada’s books, assuring that those who understand krsna-tattva, or the science of Krishna, can return back to Godhead after this very lifetime. Anyone who understands Krishna in truth (even those born in families of dog eaters or dog lovers) can become guru and accept disciples all over the world. This is the verdict of all Vaishnava acharyas in the line of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
But what does it mean to be Krishna conscious, or to “understand Krishna”? Any 8-year-old child can learn ideas of Krishna and Krishna-lila, but does this mean he can become an acharya and accept disciples all over the world? Does this mean he is assured of the highest liberation?
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)
“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieve perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” (Bhagavad-gita 7.3)
“It is very difficult to understand Krishna, but if one tries to understand Srimad-Bhagavatam through Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s bhakti cult, one will undoubtedly understand Krishna very easily.” (Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 25.270, Purport)
“Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, as the ideal teacher, or acharya, explained Srimad-Bhagavatam very elaborately Himself. He sometimes also empowered His devotees to speak while he listened. This is the way an acharya should train His disciples. Not only should he describe the bhagavata cult personally, but he should also train his disciples to speak on this sublime subject.” (Caitanya-caritamrita. Madhya, 25.267, Purport)
Although parrot-like repetition is also good when it comes to the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, His mission is best served by those who can correctly teach His mission in various situations. A useful, expert preacher knows the science of Krishna and how to explain it to others. Otherwise, as Srila Prabhupada warned, he may become an embarrassment to the mission if unable to answer doubts, arguments and questions that arise in the minds of listeners.
I heard a story about an occasion when one Gaudiya Math preacher returned from England to Calcutta. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and many other devotees came to welcome him back. This preacher later mentioned that in England people had asked him difficult questions that could not be answered. Hearing this, Srila Prabhupada and one of his learned Godbrothers were surprised and asked: “What questions are these that couldn’t be answered?” Hearing the questions, Srila Prabhupada and his Godbrother immediately answered them. Thus, it was revealed that this devotee who had gone to England was not a qualified preacher of Krishna consciousness. This was again exposed, years later, when this same person artificially tried to become an acharya.
Srila Prabhupada wanted devotees to give class and write articles in Krishna consciousness. Preaching is the best way to increase and refine our understanding of Krishna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada constantly encouraged devotees to carefully study the teachings of Krishna consciousness, practice the principles, and teach others.
Real Krishna consciousness is more than just reading, lecturing, managing temples, or even memorizing a lot of verses. Real Krishna consciousness is more than being able to play some instruments, sing nicely, give interesting lectures, write nicely, or even build and manage temples. The most concise explanation I have found for what it truly means to be Krishna consciousness is in given in Srila Prabhupada’s lucent translation of one of Srila Krishna Das Kaviraja’s verses in Sri Caitanya-caritamrita:
Krishna-tattva, bhakti-tattva, prema-tattva sara, bhava-tattva, rasa-tattva, lila-tattva ara.
“Krishna consciousness means understanding the truth of Krishna, the truth of devotional service, the truth of love of Godhead, the truth of emotional ecstasy, the truth of transcendental mellow and the truth of the pastimes of the Lord. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila 25.265)
We may wonder, “How can Krishna consciousness be preached in this modern world? What is the formula? Do we absolutely require big institutions, temples, websites, money, farms, followers or cults?” According to the Srila Rupa Gosvami material things can be used in Krishna’s service (yukta-vairagya) by an expert devotee, particularly if such things are easily available, but no acharya has prescribed material formulas as a necessity for preaching Krishna consciousness.
Then what is the real method? That is revealed by Srila Krishna Das Kaviraja in Caitanaya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila 25.276:
“The devotees who have taken shelter of the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu take responsibility for distributing nectarean devotional service all over the world. They are like clouds pouring water on the ground that nourishes the fruit of love of Godhead in the world. The devotees eat that fruit to their hearts’ content, and whatever remnants they leave are eaten by the general populace. Thus, they live happily.”
This statement suggests that sharing the joy of relishing the mercy of Lord Chaitanya and His great devotees is the genuine way to spread Krishna consciousness all over the world. This is the real way by which the mission of Krishna consciousness is broadly expanded. All Gaudiya acharyas, beginning with Srila Rupa Gosvami and Srila Sanatana Gosvami, have recommended hearing and chanting without personal ambition as the best and primary means of devotional service. All other devotional service and preaching is dependent on our careful hearing and chanting of the name, fame and glories of Sri Krishna and His great devotees.
In His Brihad-Bhagavatamrita, Srila Sanatana Gosvami elaborately reveals how great devotees associate directly with the Supreme Lord by carefully hearing and chanting the holy names of Krishna in a humble state of mind, in appreciation of Lord Krishna, His many forms, and His many great devotees. By careful hearing and chanting everything is revealed, and everything desirable is easily achieved. This was clearly illustrated by a long story first told by Sri Narada Muni, regarding the wonderful life of a boy named Sri Gopa Kumara. As the name suggests, this astonishing and luminous book teaches us to relish the essence of Srimad-Bhagavatam.