Q. What are the teachings?
A. It is often assumed that the final goal of Indian spirituality is nirvana – the extinguishing of individual existence and the simultaneous absorption into an amorphous Absolute. Bhagavad-Gita reveals that this is only the preliminary stage of self-realization. Beyond this is the awakening of the soul’s eternal consciousness of Krishna, the personal form of the Absolute Truth.
In brief, the Gita explains as follows:
1. We are not our bodies, but eternal spirit souls (atma), parts and parcels of God (Krishna). Although we are essentially spiritual (brahman), we have temporarily forgotten our true identity.
2. Having lost touch with our original, pure consciousness we are trying to achieve permanent happiness within a temporary world. Our attempts produce karmic reactions which cause us to remain within this world for repeated lifetimes (samsara).
3. By sincerely learning and following a genuine spiritual science (dharma) under the guidance of a self-realized teacher, we can be free from anxiety and come to a state of pure, blissful enlightenment in this lifetime.
4. Krishna is eternal, all-knowing, omni-present, all-powerful and all-attractive. He is the seed-giving father of all living beings and He is the sustaining energy of the entire cosmic creation.
5. Our dormant relationship with Krishna can he reawakened by the practice of bhakti-yoga, the science of spiritualizing all human activities by dedicating them to the Supreme. This ancient yoga system gradually frees us from the entanglement of karma, and thereby the cycle of birth and death.
Q. Where do the teachings come from?
A. Although the Hare Krishna movement has only been established in the West since 1966, its roots extend thousands of years into India’s past. The lifestyle and philosophical beliefs are based on ancient scriptures known as the Vedas. Originally preserved in the spoken word, the Vedas were written down in the Sanskrit language 5000 years ago.
Their compiler, Srila Vyasadeva, divided the work into various departments of material and spiritual knowledge, entrusting his disciples with particular sections. In this way, the scriptures developed into four principal Vedas, including the Vedanta Sutra, 108 Upanishads, and 18 Puranas, collectively known as the ‘fifth Veda’. The final Purana, the Bhagavat Purana or Srimad Bhagavatam, contains the essence of the Vedic wisdom in 18,000 verses. A further work was the Mahabharata, which includes the well-known Bhagavad gita. The process described in the Vedas is one of gradual elevation to the platform of God-realization. Vedic wisdom was then carefully preserved and passed down for centuries through the tutorial vehicle of guru-parampara, a disciplic succession of self-realized teachers.
In the early 16th century, a remarkable spiritual renaissance took place within India. This was led by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534). He challenged the religious leaders of his day whom he felt were stifling the teachings of Vedic knowledge. Caste-conscious priests alone had access to the Vedas and considered spiritual life the prerogative of an educated minority. Taking religion out of the temples and amongst the people, regardless of their caste, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu propagated devotion to Lord Krishna and pioneered a massive movement which swept the subcontinent, gaining a following of millions.
The ancient wisdom of the Puranas and Upanishads, through the practical teachings of Sri Chaitanya is now finding expression outside India in the Hare Krishna movement.