The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, also referred to reverentially as the Maha Mantra ("Great Mantra"), is a sixteen-word Vaishnava mantra which first appeared in the Kali-Santarana Upanishad, and which from the 15th century rose to importance in the Bhakti movement following the teachings of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
The Hare Krishna mantra is composed of 3 Sanskrit names in the vocative case: Hare, Kṛṣṇa and Rāma. "Hare" can be interpreted as either the vocative of Hari, another name of Vishnu meaning "he who removes illusion", or as the vocative of Harā, a name of Rādhā, Krishna's eternal consort or Shakti.
According to A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Harā refers to "the energy of God" while Krishna and Rama refer to God himself, meaning "He who is All-Attractive" and "He who is the Source of All Pleasure". Rama can refer to Ramachandra or to Krishna as Radha-Raman, another name of Krishna meaning beloved of Radha.
In the hymn Vishnu Sahasranama spoken by Bhishma in praise of Krishna after the Kurukshetra War, Krishna is also called Rama. Rama can also be a shortened form of Balarama, Krishna's first expansion.
The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is repeated, either out loud (kirtan), softly to oneself (japa), or internally within the mind (manasa-japa). A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda describes the process of chanting the Maha Mantra as follows:
"...This simple method of meditation is recommended for this age. By practical experience also, one can perceive that by chanting this mahamantra, or the Great Chanting for Deliverance, one can feel a transcendental ecstasy coming through from the spiritual stratum...."
On Chanting the Hare Krishna Maha-Mantra
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda,
Founder and Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
The transcendental vibration established by the chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is the sublime method for reviving our transcendental consciousness. As living spiritual souls, we are all originally Krishna Conscious entities, but due to our association with matter since time immemorial, our consciousness is now adulterated by the material atmosphere. The material atmosphere, in which we are now living, is called maya, or illusion. Maya means "that which is not." And what is this illusion? The illusion is that we are all trying to be lords of material nature, while actually we are under the grip of her stringent laws. When a servant artificially tries to imitate the all-powerful master, he is said to be in illusion.
In this polluted concept of life, we are all trying to exploit the resources of material nature, but actually we are becoming more and more entangled in her complexities. Therefore, although we are engaged in a hard struggle to conquer nature, we are ever more dependent on her. This illusion is called maya, or hard struggle for existence for winning over the stringent laws of material nature. This illusory struggle against material nature can be stopped at once by revival of our eternal Krishna Consciousness.
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare is the transcendental process for reviving this original, pure consciousness. By chanting this transcendental vibration, we can cleanse away all misgivings within our hearts. The basic principle of all such misgivings is the false consciousness that I am the lord of all I survey.
Krishna Consciousness is not an artificial imposition on the mind. This consciousness is the original, natural energy of the living entity. When we hear the transcendental vibration, this consciousness is revived. This simplest method is recommended for this age (Kali-Yuga). By practical experience also, one can perceive that by chanting this maha-mantra, or the Great Chanting for Deliverance, one can at once feel a transcendental ecstasy coming through from the spiritual stratum. 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 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 situated on the transcendental plane.
This chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra is directly enacted from the spiritual platform, and thus this sound vibration surpasses all lower status of consciousness—namely sensual, mental, and intellectual. There is no need, therefore, to understand the language of the mantra, nor is there any need for mental speculation, nor any intellectual adjustment for chanting this maha-mantra. It is automatic, from the spiritual platform, and as such, anyone can take part in the chanting without any previous qualification and dance in ecstasy. We have seen this practically. Even a child can take part in the chanting, or even a dog can take part in it. In a more advanced stage, of course, one is not expected to commit offenses on grounds of spiritual understanding.
In the beginning, there may not be the presence of all transcendental ecstasies, which are eight in number. These are: (1) being stopped as though dumb, (2) perspiration, (3) standing up of hairs on the body, (4) dislocation of voice, (5) trembling, (6) fading of the body, (7) crying in ecstasy, and (8) trance. But there is no doubt that chanting for a while takes one immediately to the spiritual platform, and one shows the first symptom of this in the urge to dance along with the chanting of the mantra. We have seen this practically. Even a child can take part in the chanting and dancing. Of course, for one who is too entangled in material life, it takes a little more time to come to the standard point, but even such a materially engrossed man is raised to the spiritual platform very quickly. When the mantra is chanted by a pure devotee of the Lord in love, it has the greatest efficacy on hearers, and as such this chanting should be heard from the lips of a pure devotee of the Lord, so that immediate effects can be achieved. As far as possible, chanting from the lips of non-devotees should be avoided. Milk touched by the lips of a serpent has poisonous effects.
The word Hara is the form of addressing the energy of the Lord, and the words Krishna and Rama are forms of addressing the Lord Himself. Both Krishna and Rama mean "the supreme pleasure," and Hara is the supreme pleasure energy of the Lord, changed to Hare in the vocative. The Supreme Pleasure Energy of the Lord helps us to reach the Lord.
The material energy, called maya, is also one of the multi energies of the Lord. And we, the living entities, are also the energy, marginal energy, of the Lord. The living entities are described as superior to material energy. When the superior energy is in contact with the inferior energy, an incompatible situation arises; but when the superior marginal energy is in contact with the superior energy, Hara, it is established in its happy, normal condition.
These three words, namely Hare, Krishna and Rama, are the transcendental seeds of the maha-mantra. The chanting is a spiritual call for the Lord and His Energy, to give protection to the conditioned soul. 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.
No other means of spiritual realization is as effective in this age of quarrel an hypocrisy as is the maha-mantra:
हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे
हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
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Chanting in the age of Kali-Yuga, as the only means
In this age of logic, argument and disagreement, the chanting of Hare Krishna is the only means for self-realization. Because this transcendental vibration alone can deliver the conditioned soul, it is considered to be the essence of the Vedanta-sutra, as it is stated by Lord Brahma in the Kalisantarana Upanisad that the essence of all Vedic literature is the chanting of these holy names of Krishna:
hare krishna hare krishna / krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama / rama rama hare hare
iti sodasakam namnam / kali-kalmasa-nasanam
natah parataropayah / sarva-vedesu drsyate
"These sixteen words of the Hare Krishna mantra are especially meant for counteracting the sins of the age of Kali. To save oneself from the contamination of this age there is no alternative but to chant this maha-mantra. After searching through all the Vedic literatures one cannot find a method of religion for this age so sublime as the chanting of Hare Krishna."
According to the material conception, there is duality between the name, form, quality, emotions and activities of a person and the person himself, but as far as the transcendental vibration is concerned, there is no such limitation, for it descends from the spiritual world. In the spiritual world there is no difference between the name of the person and the quality of the person. Of course in the material world there is a difference. Because the Mayavadi philosophers cannot understand this, they cannot utter the transcendental vibration.
Purport by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे |
हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे ||
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare
O Supreme Energy of the Lord, O Lord Krishna,
please kindly engage me in your transcendental service.
The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is known as the mahāmantra, or the greatest of sound vibrations. The mahamantra is a thirty-two syllable mantra chanted requesting Harā (another name of His supreme pleasure energy, personified by Srimati Radharani), and the Supreme Lord (given by two of His names, Krsna, the All-Attractive One, and Rama, the Reservoir of Pleasure) an opportunity to serve Them.
There are four cosmic ages, namely, Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, and Kali Yuga. Satya Yuga is known as the “Golden Age”, for values of truth and virtues were at the peak. In Treta Yuga (the age where Lord Sri Ramacandra appeared), vice was introduced. Then, Dvapara Yuga (the age when Sri Krsna appeared on Earth) took place, where vice and virtue was leveled off. Following Dvapara Yuga is the darkest age, known as Kali Yuga. It began approximately five thousand years ago, after Sri Krsna left the world. Throughout each age, the prescribed method of salvation changed. In Satya Yuga, strict penances and austerities was the path of salvation. Then, Treta Yuga introduced the concept of conducting sacrifices as mentioned in scriptures. Dvapara Yuga’s method of salvation comprised of developing personal relations with the Lord.
In Kali Yuga, however, lifespan, intelligence, and qualities are significantly lowered. Therefore, performing severe penance and austerities is impractical. Conducting sacrifices per scriptures is immensely difficult, for those scriptures are not easily accessible, and conductors of such sacrifices are not present on Earth. Receiving personal association and forming relations with the Lord was only fortunate for a few. Therefore, such methods are not practical and applicable for this age. Therefore, the Brhad Naradiya Purana has claimed:
harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā
“Only the Holy Name, Only the Holy Name, Only the Holy Name, is the only way. There is no other way, no other way, no other way in this Age of Kali”
Therefore, it is clearly indicated that in Kali Yuga, the only method of salvation is by chanting the holy name of God. However, the most powerful mantra for salvation was hidden in confidentiality until this age. It wasn’t until the late fifteenth century when the mahamantra was openly revealed by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Typically, the Lord does not incarnate on Earth during Kali Yuga, until the very end. However, this Kali Yuga was especially fortunate to have Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s incarnation of gold appear on earth. Through His mission to spread the movement of devotional service in degraded age, He brought the Hare Krsna mahamantra openly for all to benefit.
The inner meaning of the 16 Words of the Mahamantra is as follows:
1) [Hare] = O Hari! Having captured my mind, please free me from material bondage. 2) [Kṛṣṇa] = O Kṛṣṇa! Please attract my mind by pulling it to You. 3) [Hare] = O Hari! Please capture my mind by Your unsurpassed sweetness. 4) [Kṛṣṇa] = O Kṛṣṇa! Please purify my mind with knowledge about devotional service given to me by Your own devotee. 5) [Kṛṣṇa] = O Kṛṣṇa! Please make me able to relish Your transcendental name, form, qualities, pastimes, etc. 6) [Kṛṣṇa] = O Kṛṣṇa! ([This explanation of “Kṛṣṇa” is missing from the translation) 7) [Hare] = O Hari! Please make me fit to serve You. 8) [Hare] = O Hari! Please make me able to relish Your transcendental name, form, qualities, pastimes, etc. 9) [Hare] = O Hari! Please direct me to do some particular service for You. 10) [Rāma] = O Rāma! Let me hear about Your most cherished pastimes in the company of Your dearest devotees. (Sri Radha is called ramā because her association gives pleasure to Sri Kṛṣṇa. Because Sri Kṛṣṇa is with that ramā, He is called "rāma") 11) [Hare] = O Hara (Sri Radha)! Please reveal to me Your most cherished pastimes with Your beloved Sri Kṛṣṇa. 12) [Rāma] = O Rāma! Please reveal to me Your most cherished pastimes with Your beloved Sri Radha. 13) [Rāma] = O Rāma! Please engage me in remembering Your transcendental name, form, qualities, pastimes etc. 14) [Rāma] = O Rāma! Please make me fit to serve You while remembering Your transcendental name, form, qualities, pastimes etc. 15) [Hare] = O Hari! Having accepted me as one of Your own servitors, please enjoy me as You please. 16) [Hare] = O Hari! Please enjoy me in Your transcendental way. This is my humble request at Your lotus feet.
Prabhupada Lecture July 10, 1971 Los Angeles, CA, USASo this mahā-mantra, Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, is being chanted by Brahmā with his four mouths. Brahmā-jape catur-mukhe. Brahmā means Lord Brahmā, and jape means he is chanting, catur-mukhe, with his four heads. Within this universe, only Brahmā has got four heads. And Lord Śiva sometimes exhibits five heads. So it is explained here that Lord Brahmā is also chanting this Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, Hare Rāma Hare Rāma Rāma Rāma Hare Hare, with his four mouths. Still he is chanting. He does not think that he is satiated. This transcendental name is so sweet that either you chant with your one mouth and one tongue or with one thousand mouths or one thousand tongues, still, you will never feel tired. That is the purport of this song. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, he lamented that "This Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, Hare Rāma Hare Rāma Rāma Rāma Hare Hare, these names are so sweet that how I can relish the transcendental sweetness with one tongue and one mouth? If God would have given me millions of tongues and millions of mouths, then I would have relished a little of it." So he lamented. Here also it is said that Nārada Muni, he has got always with him a tampura, and he is traveling all over the universe constantly. He cannot stay in any place more than a few seconds, and he has no companion. But his only companion is that tampura and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. Therefore it is said here, nārada-yabe, vīṇā-yantre, kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare.
Please also see:
The Meaning of the Hare Krishna Mantra
The 1966 Happening Album: 'Krishna Consciousness'
Download MP3 Audio 'On Chanting the Hare Krishna Mantra'
Srila Prabhupada singing: Hare Krishna Kirtan (mp3)
Srila Prabhupada singing: Bombay Kirtan (mp3)
Srila Prabhupada chanting: Japa (mp3)