Since the vast majority of our readers are coming to Srila Prabhupada and Krishna Consciousness for the first time through Internet searches, and without access to devotee association or a nearby Hare Krishna temple, many people have inquired about how they can set up an altar in their homes and start practicing Krishna Consciousness at their own pace.
The first and foremost principle of Krishna Consciousness is chanting the Hare Krishna mantra:
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”
This mantra is a prayer to the Supreme Lord which means: “O energy of the Lord (Hare), O all-attractive Lord Krishna, O Supreme Enjoyer (Rama), please engage me in Your service.”
As God and His name are nondifferent from Him and thus all-powerful (“Hallowed be the name of the Lord”), when we chant His holy name sincerely, we are directly associating with Him and we become purified. As we become more advanced in chanting Hare Krishna, we feel God’s presence more and more, and consequently we become automatically happy and satisified on the spiritual platform. Therefore, “Chant Hare Krishna and be happy” is one of our favorite mottos in Krishna Consciousness. Please try it for yourself and see the results. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
In addition, we recommend that you set up an altar in your home to help you focus even more on the Lord and His service. Although many cities in the world now have established temples with elaborate worship and regular programs available to the public, for those unable to attend, Srila Prabhupada recommends the simple process of advancing in spiritual life wherever you may live and in whatever circumstances you may find yourself. Prabhupada has repeatedly said that there are no material impediments to Krishna Consciousness. All that’s required is the sincere desire and effort on your part. “If you take one step towards Krishna, then Krishna will take ten steps towards you.”
Srila Prabhupada once wrote to an aspiring disciple:
“To prosecute Krishna Consciousness there is no limitation, no material impediment can stop progress of Krishna Consciousness. That is the symptom of spiritual life. Spiritual life doesn’t depend on material conditions.
“We have got many instances from the history of devotee’s life as Prahlada Maharaja. He was a small school boy, his father and teachers were all against God Consciousness. Still he flourished and converted all his class fellows to be Krishna Conscious in spite of severe trials experimented on his personal body.
“So it is only the question of understanding the process how to execute Krishna Consciousness.”
(Srila Prabhupada letter, February 13, 1968)
On another occasion, Prabhupada wrote to a young student who was having health problems, and who couldn’t attend the official temple programs established by Srila Prabhupada in one of his nearby asramas:
“It does not matter that you do not live within our temple, since you say your health does not permit. But you can make your home a temple for Krishna.
“First thing is that you should try to follow strictly our regulative principles — no meat, fish or eggs; no intoxicants, including coffee, tea and cigarettes; no illicit sex; and no gambling. Try also to chant as many times as possible the Hare Krishna mantra on japa beads. You may keep a picture of Lord Krishna in your house and after cooking you may learn to offer the foodstuffs to the picture of Krishna.”
(Srila Prabhupada letter, January 27, 1973)
In this way, Srila Prabhupada so kindly offers encouragement for anyone in any condition of life to advance in spiritual life. Of course, Prabhupada so kindly established temples all over the world with Deities, devotee association, prasadam and a variety of transcendental programs and engagements by which to make rapid progress in Krishna Consciousness; but sometimes due to circumstances, one cannot avail him or herself of such wonderful facilities. Still, Srila Prabhupada is so kind, that he freely extends all encouragement and inspiration for us to prosecute bhakti-yoga anywhere and everywhere.
For example, during a lecture at Harvard University in 1969, Srila Prabhupada explained:
“You can chant anyway, anywhere. Whether you are in the college, whether you’re on the street, whether you are sleeping, lying, or whatever, you can chant. Because God has given you this tongue and you can chant.
“Don’t think that Krishna is for the Indian or for the Hindus. No. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. This Krishna is for everyone. For the human being, for the animals — everyone. So if you think that Krishna is belonging to some particular country or religion, then you can chant your own way. If in your religion, in your scripture, there is any God’s name, you can chant that also. Our only propaganda is that you increase your love of God. And the simple process is to chant this Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. There is no charge for it. There is no loss on your part. There is no inconvenience on your part. At any moment, at any place. There is no restriction. So why don’t you take advantage of this great boon to the human society?
“In whatever position you are, either you are a student or a lawyer or something else, you can chant Hare Krishna and realize yourself. We don’t recommend that you change your position. That is not our recommendation. But if you can be fully devoted in Krishna consciousness, that is very nice.”
(Srila Prabhupada lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, December 24, 1969)
As a personal example, I can relate a small story in this regard. As a teenager, I was attending an alternative High School in Winnipeg, Canada. At the time, there was no temple in that particular city, but I had heard about “Hare Krishna” through the poetry of Allen Ginsberg (Indian Journals), via the Magical Mystery Tour album by The Beatles, through the Broadway Musical Hair, and by reading about the movement in Rolling Stone magazine and through some Back to Godhead magazines which I had purchased at a local head shop. I was fascinated, but there was no one around who could explain or elucidate upon the subject matter in person. So I started to correspond with the secretary of Krishna Consciousness in Los Angeles. He very kindly took me under his wing, sent me some chanting (japa) beads, a few altar photos and various instructions on how to offer my food and practice Krishna Consciousness at home while I completed my studies at High School. I humbly set up a makeshift altar in my room and regularly offered some food and water to a picture of Lord Krishna — including acorns, flowers, twigs, leaves and even stones! Eventually I purchased a copy of the early edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and proudly took it to school every day, which soon became my personal Bible (replacing my tattered copies of The Dhammapada and The Egyptian Book of the Dead). In fact, it caught the attention of my High School principal, who requested that I take a walk with him and explain just what in the world I was getting myself into! It seemed pretty weird to him, to say the least. But his interest was piqued, and so began my first awkward and simple preaching attempts.
In the beginning he challenged me: “Why not chant ‘Coca-cola, Coca cola…’ instead of ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna…'” Surely the results would be the same he surmised. But I had read some of Srila Prabhupada’s books beforehand and therefore came prepared. l replied that in fact the mantra or chanting had to be strictly authorized by Vedic authorities handed down in disciplic sucession from time immemorial to a pure devotee of Krishna. The Vedic mantras were strictly authorized — like the mailbox on the street which was authorized by the government. It’s not that one can just post letters in any old box, but they had to be placed there by the postal system, otherwise the letters would never get to their respective destinatons. Despite my bumbling efforts at explaining the basics of Krishna Conscious philosophy, he seemed rather convinced and requested that I write some essays on the topic. Luckily, my principal was a little impressed to the point where he even tried chanting Hare Krishna himself, and soon granted me permission to leave High School early, so that I could strike out and look for a Hare Krishna temple, since he agreed that it was my true calling in life. Years later, I learned that my favorable principal had died prematurely, but at least I was gratified to know that he had chanted the holy names of Krishna and had graciously sent me on my way to begin a new life of Krishna Consciousness.
Additionally, just after leaving High School, word got around town that I was going to join Srila Prabhupada’s movement, and lo and behold, my best friend’s father (a lawyer) called me on the telephone and said that he needed to see me urgently. I agreed, and he came to my door in haste. “Here,” he said, “please take this. I want you to have it because I believe in what you’re doing.” He handed me a crumpled fifty dollar bill — a whole lot in those days. Sadly, I heard just a short while later that he had committed suicide. But somehow or other, he gave a donation towards Krishna’s service before he departed from this world.
The point of relating these stories about my humble beginnings in Krishna Consciousness is to share my tiny experience that once having begun the process of devotional service, Krishna will reciprocate and help clear away the obstacles to one’s spiritual progress. So I heartily recommend to all sincere aspirants to begin your Krishna Consciousness without delay. You can start by setting up your own altar with a few pictures of Srila Prabhupada, Lord Caitanya, and Sri Sri Radha-Krishna. Chant Hare Krishna sincerely and regularly, and everything else will follow.
Included below are photos of my own simple altar which has accompanied me around the world for more than 30 years. (By Krishna’s causeless mercy, Srila Prabhupada’s murti at the top of this page also graces my altar.) As I’ve resided in a number of countries in which there are no temples, this humble altar has been my refuge and protection not only in regular life, but also in some very dangerous situations. Srila Prabhupada has stated:
“Anyone can adopt this simple method. There is no expenditure, there is no tax, nor is there any need to build a very big church or temple. Anyone, anywhere, can sit down on the road or beneath a tree and chant the Hare Krishna mantra and worship God.”
(Srila Prabhupada lecture, London’s Conway Hall, November, 1969)
So this is how it all began for me. After first hearing the chanting of Hare Krishna from Allen Ginsberg, I would go down to the local river bank every day during lunch break at school and sit beneath a tree and chant the holy names of Krishna. Later, when I purchased the Radha Krishna Temple Album when it first came out on L. P. format (long before CD’s and the Internet), I connected with Srila Prabhupada through the chanting of his sincere disciples and the beautiful photo of Prabhupada on the back cover. From then on, I was hooked. Srila Prabhupada changed my life for the better forever — and he can do the same for you too.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Sri Sri Radha and Krishna
Lord Caitanya & His Associates
His Divine Grace
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura
The Gaudiya Math
His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the
International Society for Krishna Consciousness