Bhakti Yoga

“Yoga is more than just a physical exercise. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root Yuj which means to link up with, or combine. Bhakti is derived from the Sanskrit word bhaj, which means – loving service. Bhakti-yoga means to connect to the Supreme by means of loving devotional service.

The Bhagavad Gita, the core spiritual text for ISKCON, describes variety of yoga practices. Among them are karma-yoga (the practice of conscious action), jnana-yoga (philosophical study and contemplation), and hatha-yoga (the practice of yoga-asanas and breathing exercises).

Today, some yoga practitioners consider the physical benefits of yoga to be the end in themselves. But according to the traditional yoga systems, physical exercises are just one step on path of God realization. The Gita ultimately prescribes bhakti-yoga (the path of dedication and love) as the culmination of other yoga practices. Bhakti-yoga focuses on developing our dedication, service and love for the Divinity, Lord Krishna.

The path of bhakti-yoga is developed through a variety of activities. These include mantra meditation, or the chanting of the names of God. The chanting is done either individually on beads (japa) or in community by chanting mantras accompanied by music (kirtan). The study of sacred texts such as the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, associating with like-minded spiritual aspirants, eating sanctified vegetarian food, and living in a way that upholds the principles of truthfulness, mercy, austerity, and cleanliness, are all core practices for a life of follower of bhakti.”

Karma

“Ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? Why we suffer? Why some days are awesome and others morose? If God exists, why does He keep quiet about it? The answer to all the above questions is karma.

Karma is one of those topics that many people know about, but few understand the intricacies of it. In literal terms, “karma” means “activity” and the law of karma regulates the reactions to our activities. If we act in good, or pious ways, we reap good reactions. If we act in impious, sinful, or destructive ways, we reap bad reactions in the future. Christian theology explains, “As ye sow so ye shall ye reap” while in physics karma is expressed by Newton’s Law, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Karmic reactions include not only things that happen to us, but determine our health, wealth, intelligence, physical appearance, and social status, as well as our personalities and inclinations. While we have some degree of freedom to choose our current actions, our choices are influenced by our natures, or personalities, which have developed from our previous actions.

Karma thus locks us up in a cycle of action and subsequent reaction. As long as we are in this cycle, we will experience both happiness and distress. Even if we act in a pious way, we destine ourselves to accept another material body at death to enjoy the reactions to our materially good actions. As long as we accept a material body we can not avoid the miseries of disease, old age, and death.

Fortunately karma is temporary. We can break free from its bonds by performing spiritual acts in service to Krishna. Such acts of devotion, or bhakti-yoga, purify the soul and gradually awaken our spiritual knowledge and innate love for Krishna. Thus, both our karma and our long-standing desire to enjoy life within the illusory material world—the root cause of our bondage—are destroyed.”

Mantra Meditation

“In this age of quarrel and anxiety (Kali-yuga), Krishna incarnates as His Holy Name. The Vedic scripture Kali-Santarana Upanisad mentions that the best mantra recommended for this age is the Hare Krishna mantra : Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

Mantra meditation involves repeating the mantra in mood of prayer or as a form of meditation and focusing the mind on the sound vibration of the mantra.

Srila Prabhupada on Chanting (the Hare Krishna Mantra)

The transcendental vibration established by the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare) is the sublime method of reviving our Krishna consciousness. As living spiritual souls we are all originally Krishna conscious entities, but due to our association with matter from time immemorial, our consciousness is now polluted 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, this is called 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 illusory struggle against material nature can be stopped at once by revival of our Krishna consciousness.

Krishna consciousness is not an artificial imposition on the mind; this consciousness is the original energy of the living entity. When we hear the transcendental vibration, this consciousness is revived. And this process is recommended for this age by authorities. 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. And when one is factually on the plane of spiritual understanding – surpassing the stages of senses, mind, and intelligence – one is situated on the transcendental plane.

We have seen this practically. Even a child can take part in the chanting, or even a dog can take part in it. 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 the 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, called Hara, the living entity is established in his 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 internal energy, Hara, to give protection to the conditioned soul. This chanting is exactly like the genuine cry of a child for its mother. Mother Hara helps the devotee achieve the grace of the supreme father, Hari or Krishna, and the Lord reveals Himself to the devotee who chants this mantra sincerely.

No other means of spiritual realization, therefore, is as effective in this age as chanting the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.”

Reincarnation

“Everyone at some time in life wonders what happens after death. Throughout history, some of the most thoughtful minds have advocated that life does not end with the death of our body, but continues on via a process known as reincarnation. In the Western world, followers of the Orphic religion in ancient Greece were the first known exponents of reincarnation. They were succeeded by Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and a host of other philosophers.

The Vedic literature of India advocates that the soul, or atma, gives life to the body. Life does not arise from a particular combination of material elements as some modern scientists theorize. At the time of death, we leave one body and enter a new one. That is called reincarnation.

The concept is not as alien as it might seem. We can observe that we change from one body to another throughout our lifetime. Our body at birth is completely different from our adult body. Yet throughout these changes, the conscious self remains the same. Similarly, the conscious self remains the same at death and transfers from one body to the next in the cycle of reincarnation.

Our present body is the result of a long series of actions and reactions in previous lives. The law that governs this is known as karma: every action has a reaction. Our previous actions have produced our present body, and our current actions will determine our next body.

Only in the human form can we free ourselves from the endless cycle of reincarnation, of birth and death, by re-establishing our eternal, loving relationship with Lord Krishna. As Krishna states in Bhagavad Gita 8.16, “From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one attains to My abode.. never takes birth again.””

Vegetarianism

“Sometimes referred to as the “kitchen religion,” ISKCON, or the Hare Krishna Movement, believes the art of cooking is a sacred experience. The preparation and eating of food should be based on principles of compassion, non-violence and balanced living. Thus, Krishna devotees advocate a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs.

The Bhagavad-gita further declares that one who lovingly offers his food to God according to scriptural guidelines becomes freed from sinful reactions, or karma. Stopping animal killing reduces our collective karmic debt, and thus helps alleviate the horrors of war which so plague the modern world.

More than just practicing a vegetarian diet, ISKCON members actively promote vegetarianism. Krishna devotees have authored many highly acclaimed cookbooks, including the best selling Higher Taste Vegetarian Cookbook, with more than a million copies in print. As early as 1992, Yamuna Devi was awarded the James Beard Award for Best International Cookbook for her classic vegetarian text Yamuna’s Table. And, Australian-born chef Kurma Dasa has not only authored several cookbooks, but his popular “Cooking with Kurma” series was aired on public television stations around the world.

In addition, there are nearly 100 Hare Krishna restaurants around the world including New York, Los Angeles, New Dehli, Mumbai, Kolkata, Rome, London, Lima, Buenos Aires, Nairobhi, Sydney and Melbourne. ISKCON temples also host vegetarian cooking classes, and millions have been exposed to, and encouraged to adopt, a vegetarian diet at ISKCON temples’ weekly Sunday Feast programs.

ISKCON also distributes over one million plates of free sanctified vegetarian food daily through its Food for Life program, making it the world’s largest free vegetarian food relief program.

Several ISKCON farm communities like the Gita Nagari farm in rural Pennsylvania and Bhaktivedanta Manor outside London produce cruelty free or ahimsa milk, ensuring that no cows, calves or bulls are slaughtered in the production of milk, but are instead treated with respect, love and care.”

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