Kirtanas with Srila Prabhupada
Posted on December 12, 2016
(From "Prabhupada Meditations" by SDG)
Religious teachers may talk about God or meditation, but Prabhupada chants, he actually sings — a guru who sings the Lord's holy names. Within the first moments of my meeting him, I saw and heard him chant. He walked into the storefront where we were waiting, sat down on the same level as us, and spoke a few words. He handed out the karatalas and told us the rhythm, "One, two, three; one, two, three." Then he began to sing, "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna ... "
So, as soon as you came into his presence, you were hearing a singing Swami. Of course, Srila Prabhupada also talked of Krsna, but he gave equal attention to singing the Lord's holy names. It is not that he was mainly a philosopher who sang on a rare occasion. He was a minstrel on behalf of Krsna, always singing Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare ...
You would ask him, "Swamiji, is there some system of meditation you teach?" He would reply, "Chanting. We chant the holy names."
"But aside from the chanting?"
"Just the chanting," he said, "that's all. You cannot do any other meditation. You are not capable of yoga or anything like Vedanta. Just chant."
He even said that studying philosophy was not necessary. One could make full advancement in love of God simply by chanting the transcendental vibration.
Prabhupada said that our kirtanas with him were special, even in comparison to others' kirtanas. One time he invited us to accompany him to a yogi's asrama in upstate New York. He told us that they also chanted Hare Krsna sometimes, "But ours is heart and soul."
Prabhupada gave his disciples credit for chanting kirtanas with heart and soul as he did. One evening we had a small, informal kirtana in Prabhupada's hotel room in Hawaii. Since there was no official program at the temple, Prabhupada was spending a quiet evening working, and his servants were also busy with their tasks. However, Prabhupada called us together and asked us to chant. I came from my editorial desk, Pradyumna came from his Sanskrit work, and Bali Mardana and Sudama also came. Prabhupada asked Sudama to lead the singing. As Sudama began to sing a particular tune, he became self-conscious and stopped. He said, "That's not the right tune." He meant that it was not the tune that Prabhupada usually sang. Prabhupada encouraged him, "That is all right. That is your ecstasy." It enlivened us to think that Prabhupada said we had ecstasy within us, and that even a neophyte devotee's choosing of a particular tune could be called "his ecstasy."
Prabhupada's followers always liked to perform kirtana, especially in his presence. Prabhupada was in weak health when he met with guests during his visit to Hrsikesa in 1977. He spoke for almost an hour and then said, "So now we can have kirtana." There were a few Indian men present and they began to discuss Prabhupada's invitation to hold kirtana.
One of the men said, "Prabhupada, tomorrow if you will be willing to come just a hundred feet away from here, there is big hall nearby that can hold many more people who want to hear you."
"Yes," Prabhupada said. "I can do that tomorrow night. And now we can have kirtana. If you like, you can go to that hall and do kirtana."
Two of the Indian men began speaking to each other about Prabhupada's proposal. One said, "Prabhupada is saying that tomorrow night we can have kirtana in the hall."
The other man said, "No, right now we should have it."
Tamala Krishna Maharaja began to laugh at this conversation, because the men were like little children trying to work up their courage to go on harinama. One of them wanted to put off the kirtana until tomorrow night, but the other was trying to be brave and convince his friend that "Prabhupada says we should do it right now."
The talk went on about whether to do kirtana or not. Suddenly, Trivikrama Swami began clapping his hands in a loud rhythm and singing, "nama om visnu-padaya ... " Trivikrama Swami's voice cut through the speculation and he seemed to say, "I may not be the world's best singer, but here goes, right now."
One time, during the annual Gaura-Purnima festival in Mayapura, Prabhupada called his GBC men to his room to tell them that he was hearing and take pleasure in the kirtana. With his leaders gathered before him in the room, Prabhupada stated that all the devotees in the world should come to Mayapura and constantly have kirtana. He was very blissful as he told them of Bhaktivinoda Thakura's statement that he had searched the fourteen worlds but found nothing of value except the chanting of the holy names. Prabhupada said that this was Mayapura's purpose, to come and chant. We may have problems in different parts of the world, but they will go away if we simply come together and chant. Lord Caitanya always chanted and we could do it also. We now had a big building in Mayapura, so everyone could come and live there and simply chant.
On one level, we all enjoyed this blissful talk by Prabhupada, but since the GBC men had so much managerial responsibility, they were also bewildered as to how this could be carried out. Finally Ramesvara spoke, "Prabhupada, if we were actually to do what you said, it would very much reduce the ... I mean, how could the programs go on in the different temples around the world?"
"Oh yes," Prabhupada agreed. Then the talk became managerial. Suggestions were made how we could increase the practice of kirtana in the various ISKCON temples. Prabhupada agreed that some temples were too small to hold constant kirtana, but a few of the bigger temples could attempt to hold twenty-four-hour kirtana, as long as it was not done to the detriment of other work. Prabhupada didn't mean it literally, he said. All the devotees could not come and live always in Mayapura. So it became a relative discussion about the possibilities of increasing the chanting, although Prabhupada had originally called us together to share his own bliss and to ask that we should all stay in Mayapura to chant.