"Kirtanam. The hearing of the holy name has been described above. Now let us try to understand the chanting of the holy name, which is the second item in the consecutive order. It is recommended that such chanting be performed very loudly. In Srimad-Bhagavatam, Narada Muni says that without shame he began traveling all over the world, chanting the holy name of the Lord. Similarly, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has advised:
trnad api sunicena
taror api sahisnuna
kirtaniyah sada harih
A devotee can very peacefully chant the holy name of the Lord by behaving more humbly than the grass, being tolerant like a tree and offering respects to everyone, without expecting honor from anyone else. Such qualifications make it easier to chant the holy name of the Lord. The process of transcendental chanting can be easily performed by anyone. Even if one is physically unfit, classified lower than others, devoid of material qualifications or not at all elevated in terms of pious activities, the chanting of the holy name is beneficial. An aristocratic birth, an advanced education, beautiful bodily features, wealth and similar results of pious activities are all unnecessary for advancement in spiritual life, for one can very easily advance simply by chanting the holy name. It is understood from the authoritative source of Vedic literature that especially in this age, Kali-yuga, people are generally short-living, extremely bad in their habits, and inclined to accept methods of devotional service that are not bona fide. Moreover, they are always disturbed by material conditions, and they are mostly unfortunate. Under the circumstances, the performance of other processes, such as yajna, dana, tapah and kriya--sacrifices, charity and so on--are not at all possible. Therefore it is recommended:
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
"In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting of the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way." Simply by chanting the holy name of the Lord, one advances perfectly in spiritual life. This is the best process for success in life. In other ages, the chanting of the holy name is equally powerful, but especially in this age, Kali-yuga, it is most powerful. Kirtanad eva krsnasya mukta-sangah param vrajet: simply by chanting the holy name of Krsna, one is liberated and returns home, back to Godhead. Therefore, even if one is able to perform other processes of devotional service, one must adopt the chanting of the holy name as the principal method of advancing in spiritual life. Yajnaih sankirtana-prayair yajanti hi sumedhasah: those who are very sharp in their intelligence should adopt this process of chanting the holy names of the Lord. One should not, however, manufacture different types of chanting. One should adhere seriously to the chanting of the holy name as recommended in the scriptures: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
While chanting the holy name of the Lord, one should be careful to avoid ten offenses. From Sanat-kumara it is understood that even if a person is a severe offender in many ways, he is freed from offensive life if he takes shelter of the Lord's holy name. Indeed, even if a human being is no better than a two-legged animal, he will be liberated if he takes shelter of the holy name of the Lord. One should therefore be very careful not to commit offenses at the lotus feet of the Lord's holy name. The offenses are described as follows: (a) to blaspheme a devotee, especially a devotee engaged in broadcasting the glories of the holy name, (b) to consider the name of Lord Siva or any other demigod to be equally as powerful as the holy name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead (no one is equal to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, nor is anyone superior to Him), (c) to disobey the instructions of the spiritual master, (d) to blaspheme the Vedic literatures and literatures compiled in pursuance of the Vedic literatures, (e) to comment that the glories of the holy name of the Lord are exaggerated, (f) to interpret the holy name in a deviant way, (g) to commit sinful activities on the strength of chanting the holy name, (h) to compare the chanting of the holy name to pious activities, (i) to instruct the glories of the holy name to a person who has no understanding of the chanting of the holy name, (j) not to awaken in transcendental attachment for the chanting of the holy name, even after hearing all these scriptural injunctions.
There is no way to atone for any of these offenses. It is therefore recommended that an offender at the feet of the holy name continue to chant the holy name twenty-four hours a day. Constant chanting of the holy name will make one free of offenses, and then he will gradually be elevated to the transcendental platform on which he can chant the pure holy name and thus become a lover of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
It is recommended that even if one commits offenses, one should continue chanting the holy name. In other words, the chanting of the holy name makes one offenseless. In the book Nama-kaumudi it is recommended that if one is an offender at the lotus feet of a Vaisnava, he should submit to that Vaisnava and be excused; similarly, if one is an offender in chanting the holy name, he should submit to the holy name and thus be freed from his offenses. In this connection there is the following statement, spoken by Daksa to Lord Siva: "I did not know the glories of your personality, and therefore I committed an offense at your lotus feet in the open assembly. You are so kind, however, that you did not accept my offense. Instead, when I was falling down because of accusing you, you saved me by your merciful glance. You are most great. Kindly excuse me and be satisfied with your own exalted qualities."
One should be very humble and meek to offer one's desires and chant prayers composed in glorification of the holy name, such as ayi mukta-kulair upasya manam and nivrtta-tarsair upagiyamanad. One should chant such prayers to become free from offenses at the lotus feet of the holy name."
"In bhakti there are nine different activities: sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam pada-sevanam. arcanam vandanam dasyam sakhyam atma-nivedanam. Because all these devotional activities are absolute, there is no fundamental difference between worshiping the Deity in the temple, seeing Him and chanting His glories. Indeed, all of these are ways of seeing Him, for everything done in devotional service is a means of direct contact with the Lord. The vibration of the Lord's voice appeared in the presence of all the devotees, and although the person vibrating the sound was unseen to them, they were meeting or seeing the Lord because they were offering prayers and because the vibration of the Lord was present. Contrary to the laws of the material world, there is no difference between seeing the Lord, offering prayers and hearing the transcendental vibration. Pure devotees, therefore, are fully satisfied by glorifying the Lord. Such glorification is called kirtana. Performing kirtana and hearing the vibration of the sound Hare Krsna is actually seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead directly. One must realize this position, and then one will be able to understand the absolute nature of the Lord's activities."
"The importance of chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is very strongly stressed in the Second Canto, First Chapter, verse 11, of Srimad-Bhagavatam in the following way. Sukadeva Gosvami tells Maharaja Pariksit, "My dear King, if one is spontaneously attached to the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, it is to be understood that he has attained the highest perfectional stage." It is specifically mentioned that the karmis who are aspiring after the fruitive results of their activities, the salvationists who are aspiring to become one with the Supreme Person, and the yogis who are aspiring after mystic perfections can achieve the results of all perfectional stages simply by chanting the maha-mantra. Sukadeva uses the word nirnitam, which means "it has already been decided." He was a liberated soul and therefore could not accept anything which was not conclusive. So Sukadeva Gosvami especially stresses that it has already been concluded that one who has come to the stage of chanting the Hare Krsna mantra with determination and steadiness must be considered to have already passed the trials of fruitive activities, mental speculation and mystic yoga.
The same thing is confirmed in the Adi Purana by Krsna. While addressing Arjuna He says, "Anyone who is engaged in chanting My transcendental name must be considered to be always associating with Me. And I may tell you frankly that for such a devotee I become easily purchased."
In the Padma Purana also it is stated, "The chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra is present only on the lips of a person who has for many births worshiped Vasudeva." It is further said in the Padma Purana, "There is no difference between the holy name of the Lord and the Lord Himself. As such, the holy name is as perfect as the Lord Himself in fullness, purity and eternity. The holy name is not a material sound vibration, nor has it any material contamination." The holy name cannot, therefore, be chanted offenselessly by one who has failed to purify his senses. In other words, materialistic senses cannot properly chant the holy names of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. But by adopting this chanting process, one is given a chance to actually purify himself, so that he may very soon chant offenselessly.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu has recommended that everyone chant the Hare Krsna mantra just to cleanse the dust from the heart. If the dust of the heart is cleansed away, then one can actually understand the importance of the holy name. For persons who are not inclined to clean the dust from their hearts and who want to keep things as they are, it is not possible to derive the transcendental result of chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. One should, therefore, be encouraged to develop his service attitude toward the Lord, because this will help him to chant without any offense. And so, under the guidance of a spiritual master, the disciple is trained to render service and at the same time chant the Hare Krsna mantra. As soon as one develops his spontaneous service attitude, he can immediately understand the transcendental nature of the holy names of the maha-mantra."
Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 12
"Hearing the glories of the Lord, chanting, remembering, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering worship in the temple, offering prayers, becoming a servant of the Lord, becoming the Lord's friend, and sarvatma-nivedana, offering oneself fully at the lotus feet of the Lord--these are the nine devotional processes. In The Nectar of Devotion, When Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya asked the Lord which item was most important, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu immediately answered that the most important item is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord-- Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. He then quoted the following verse from the Brhan-naradiya Purana (Thirty-eighth Chapter, verse 126) to confirm His statement.
'In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverence is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.'
Because the people of this age are so fallen, they can simply chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. In this way they can rid themselves of the bodily conception of life and become eligible to engage in the Lord's devotional service. One cannot engage in the devotional service of the Lord without being purified of all contamination. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (7.28):
yesam tv anta-gatam papam
bhajante mam drdha-vratah
"Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life and whose sinful actions are completely eradicated are freed from the dualities of delusion, and they engage themselves in My service with determination." Sometimes people are surprised to see young men and women take so seriously to the Krsna consciousness movement. By giving up sinful activity--illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication and gambling--and strictly following the injunctions given by the spiritual master, they have become purified of all contamination. They can therefore fully engage in the devotional service of the Lord.
In this Age of Kali, hari-kirtana is very, very important. The importance of chanting the holy name of the Lord is stated in the following verses from Srimad-Bhagavatam (12.3.51-52):
kaler dosa-nidhe rajann
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krsnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet
krte yad dhyayato visnum
tretayam yajato makhaih
kalau tad dhari-kirtanat
"The most important factor in this Age of Kali, which is an ocean of faults, is that one can be free from all contamination and become eligible to enter the kingdom of God simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. The self-realization that was achieved in the Satya millennium by meditation, in the Treta millennium by the performance of different sacrifices, and in the Dvapara millennium by worship of Lord Krsna can be achieved in the Age of Kali simply by chanting the holy names, Hare Krsna."
Caitanya-caritamrta, Madyam lila 6:241
"'When a person is actually advanced and takes pleasure in chanting the holy name of the Lord, who is very dear to him, he is agitated and loudly chants the holy name. He also laughs, cries, becomes agitated and chants just like a madman, not caring for outsiders.'"
"So chanting, bhakti-yoga means to chant Visnu. Sravanam kirtanam visnoh. And Visnu has got so many forms. So either you chant Hare Rama or you chant Hare Krsna, it is the same. There is no difference. Sometimes they first of all place "Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare." And sometimes they place "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna..." There is no difference. Sometimes they say, "No, it should be Hare Rama first." Sometimes they..., "No, Hare Krsna." But that is not very important, childish. Any, either you say Hare Rama or Hare Krsna, the same. So this is to be done. Tivrena bhakti-yogena.
So bhakti-yoga begins with hearing, sravanam, sravanam kirtanam. And if you have heard from the right source and if you are convinced, then automatically you will try to perform kirtana. Kirtana means glorifying. If you have attained like... Or to preach. Anyone who has listened from right person, authority, about Bhagavad-gita or Srimad-Bhagavatam, about Krsna or about Rama, he would like to preach that. That is automatic, glorifying. That preaching is equal. That is called kirtana. Kirtana... Simply preaching, glorifying, or speaking about the Lord, that is also kirtana. And performing kirtana as we do here in the temple, with mrdanga and karatala, chanting, that is also kirtana. Sukadeva Gosvami explained the Srimad-Bhagavatam to Pariksit Maharaja. So... And Pariksit Maharaja simply listened to him carefully. This is sravanam kirtanam. The Pariksit Maharaja is hearing, and Sukadeva Gosvami is performing kirtana, describing all the glories of the Lord. That is kirtana."
Srila Prabhupada Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam, 12-12-74, Bombay
"And if one has actually heard about Krsna, one's next engagement in bhakti-yoga will be to chant (gayanti). The preachers of the Krsna consciousness movement go from town to town, village to village. Why? What is their purpose? To preach, to chant, so that people may get the opportunity to hear this philosophy and take it seriously (grnanti). The word abhiksnasah indicates that these engagements should go on continuously, twenty-four hours a day without stopping. Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore recommends, kirtaniyah sada harih: one should engage in chanting twenty-four hours a day. That is the business of Krsna conscious devotees."
Teachings of Queen Kunti, Chapter 19
"In the Satya-yuga, the first millennium, all the Vedic mantras were included in one mantra--pranava, the root of all Vedic mantras. In other words, the Atharva Veda alone was the source of all Vedic knowledge. The Supreme Personality of Godhead Narayana was the only worshipable Deity; there was no recommendation for worship of the demigods. Fire was one only, and the only order of life in human society was known as hamsa."
In Satya-yuga there was only one Veda, not four. Later, before the beginning of Kali-yuga, this one Veda, the Atharva Veda (or, some say, the Yajur Veda), was divided into four--Sama, Yajur, Rg and Atharva--for the facility of human society. In Satya-yuga the only mantra was omkara (om tat sat). The same name omkara is manifest in the mantra Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Unless one is a brahmana, one cannot utter omkara and get the desired result. But in Kali-yuga almost everyone is a sudra, unfit for pronouncing the pranava, omkara. Therefore the sastras have recommended the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. Omkara is a mantra, or maha-mantra, and Hare Krsna is also a maha-mantra. The purpose of pronouncing omkara is to address the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva (om namo bhagavate vasudevaya). And the purpose of chanting the Hare Krsna mantra is the same. Hare: "O energy of the Lord!" Krsna: "O Lord Krsna!" Hare: "O energy of the Lord!" Rama: "O Supreme Lord, O supreme enjoyer!" The only worshipable Lord is Hari, who is the goal of the Vedas (vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah). By worshiping the demigods, one worships the different parts of the Lord, just as one might water the branches and twigs of a tree. But worshiping Narayana, the all-inclusive Supreme personality of Godhead, is like pouring water on the root of the tree, thus supplying water to the trunk, branches, twigs, leaves and so on. In Satya-yuga people knew how to fulfill the necessities of life simply by worshiping Narayana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The same purpose can be served in this age of Kali by the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, as recommended in the Bhagavatam. Kirtanad eva krsnasya mukta-sangah param vrajet. Simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, one becomes free from the bondage of material existence and thus becomes eligible to return home, back to Godhead."
"And when there is hearing, there must also be speaking or chanting. So we speak and chant about Krsna (sravanam kirtanam visnoh). And as soon as one becomes expert in hearing and chanting, the next stage is smaranam, thinking or meditation."
Teachings of Queen Kunti, Chapter 19
"Sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam. Smarana means remember. If you chant and hear, then remembrance will automatically come. Sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam pada-sevanam. Then you will be engaged in worshiping His lotus feet. Arcanam. Then you'll be engaged in arcanam, the temple worship; vandanam, offering prayers; dasyam, you'll engage yourself as servant; sakhyam, you'll become friend of Krsna; atma-nivedanam, and surrender everything to Krsna. This is the process.
So each and every verse you should chant very perfectly, nicely, meditate upon it. That is the process of progress, advancement in spiritual life. We should get all these verses by heart, and chant, and offer prayer to the Lord, vandanam. Vandanam. These are meant for such purpose."
Srila Prabhupada Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam, 04-14-73, Los Angeles
Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.