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The Holy Name is the yuga-dharma
In the Twelfth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Sukadeva Gosvami describes how in kali-yuga the religious principles gradually decrease and irreligion becomes predominant, provid¬ing abominable conditions for all living beings. Still, there is one outstanding feature which makes kali-yuga praiseworthy:
(49) Srimad-Bhagavatam 12.3.51
kaler dosa-nidhe rajann asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krishnasya mukta-sahgah param vrajet
My dear King, although kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: Simply by chanting the Hare krishna maha-mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.
Because the chanting of the holy name is the yuga-dharma, the ap¬propriate religious process for this age, it is as effective as the dharmas of the preceding yugas:
(50) Srimad-Bhagavatam 12.3.52
krte yad dhyayato visnum tretayam yajato makhaih
dvapare paricaryayam kalau tad dhari-kirtanat
Whatever result was obtained in the other ages by their respective yuga-dharmas, or religious processes—namely meditating on Visnu in satya-yuga, performing sacrifices in treta-yuga and worshipping the Deity of the Lord in dvapara-yuga—can be obtained in kali-yuga simply by chanting the Hare krishna maha-mantra. Thus, the chanting of the holy name of the Lord is the yuga-dharma of the age of Kali. A spiritually intelligent person will therefore, as Srila JIva Gosvami explains, accept no other penance in this age when he has done something wrong, other than the chanting of the holy name:
(51) Skanda Purana, Caturmasya-mahatmya
tatha caivottamam loke tapah sri-hari-kirtanam
kalau yuge visesena visnu-prityai samacaret
tatha ca—in this way; eva—certainly; uttamam—the highest, most perfect; loke—in this world; tapah—penance; sri-hari-kirtanam—the chanting of the name of Lord Hari; kalau yuge—in the age of Kali; visesena— especially; visnu—of Sri Visnu; prityai—for the satisfaction; sam-acaret— should be performed.
In this way, the most perfect penance to be executed in this world is the chanting.of the name of Lord Sri Hari. Especially in the age of Kali, one can satisfy the Supreme Lord Visnu by performing sankirtana.1
When the great saint Sri Karabhajana Muni explained the different symptoms and incarnations of the four yugas to King Nimi, he even stated that the kali-yuga is the best of all ages and is indeed worshipable:
(52) Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.5.36
kalim sabhajayanty arya guna-jnah sara-bhaginah
yatra sankirtanenaiva sarva-svartho 'bhilabhyate
Those who are actually advanced in knowledge are able to appreciate the essential value of this age of Kali. Such enlightened persons wor¬ship kali-yuga because in this fallen age all perfection of life can easily be achieved by the performance of sankirtana.
Karabhajana Muni gives a confidential reason for his statement. He says that krishna appears in this age in a form which is easily worshiped by sankirtana, and thus the congregational chanting of the holy name is the perfect means for spiritual perfection in kali-yuga.
Srila Jiva GosvamI establishes in his Krama-sandarbha commentary that this incarnation is no one else than Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, as described by Karabhajana Muni in the following, famous verse:
(53) Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.5.32
krishna-varnam tvisakrishnam sangopangastra-parsadam
yajnaih sankrrtana-prayair yajanti hi su-medhasah
In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the name of krishna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is krishna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions.1
If we thus analyse the situation of kali-yuga, comparing its evil effects with the great benefit of harinama-sanklrtana, then we can easily come to the following conclusion:
(54) Brhan-Naradiya Purana 3.8.126
harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha
In this age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means for self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari.2
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu elaborated on this verse as follows: The use of the word kevala—only—excludes all other processes, such as cultivation of knowledge, practice of mystic yoga, and performance of austerities and fruitive activities. This verse, He said, clearly states that anyone who accepts any other path cannot be delivered. This is the reason for the triple repetition "nothing else, nothing else, nothing else," which emphasizes the real process of self-realization. Then He said:
(55) Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila 17.22
kali-kale nama-rupe krishna-avatara
nama haite haya sarva-jagat-nistara
In this age of Kali, the holy name of the Lord, the Hare krishna maha-mantra, is the incarnation of Lord krishna. Simply by chanting the holy name, one associates with the Lord directly. Anyone who does this is certainly delivered.
At another time, when He was asked by the great mayavadi leader Prakasananda Sarasvati why He was chanting the holy name instead of studying the Vedanta philosophy, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, taking the role of an ordinary conditioned soul, replied, "My spiritual master called Me a fool and thus considered Me unqualified to study Vedanta philosophy. Instead, he advised Me to always chant the holy name of krishna. Then he said to Me:
(56) Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila 7.74
nama vinu kali-kale nahi ara dharma
sarva-mantra-sara nama, ei sastra-marma
In this age of Kali there is no religious principle other than the chant¬ing of the holy name, which is the essence of all Vedic hymns. This is the purport of all scriptures.
"Since I received this order from my spiritual master", Caitanya Mahaprabhu continued, "I always chant the Hare krishna mahd-mantra, and while doing so, I lose myself, and thus I laugh, cry, dance and sing just like a madman."
The Ananta-sarhhitd describes how many great sages have ac¬cepted the mahd-mantra as their life and soul and have thus attained perfection: Hare krishna Hare krishna krishna krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. This mantra consisting of sixteen names and thirty-two syllables is the maha-mantra in the age of Kali by which all living beings can be delivered. One should never abandon chanting this maha-mantra and take to other so-called purificatory processes which are practiced by rascals. Nor should one engage in chanting other metrical compositions of the name of krishna that are against the pure conclusions of the scriptures, or are filled with rasabhasa'.
Lord Brahma, the original guru, once said to his sons and disciples, "The srutis, especially the Kali-santarana Upanisad, have declared this mantra to be the best means of deliverance in the age of Kali". Having heard this advice, Brahma's sons and disciples, headed by Sri Narada Muni, all accepted the Hare krishna maha-mantra and, having meditated on it, attained perfection. The verse mentioned by Lord Brahma is well-known:
(57) Kali-santarana Upanisad
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
iti—these; sodasa-kam—consisting of sixteen sillables; namnam—of the holy name; kali—the age of Kali; kalmasa—sins; nasanam—counteracting, destroying; na—not; atah—in this regard; paratara—a better; upayah— method; sarva—in all; vedesu—in the Vedas; drsyate—can be found.
After searching through all the Vedic literature, one cannot find a method of religion more sublime for this age than the chanting of Hare krishna.2