The present age of Kali-yuga is known as the age of deterioration, quarrel and hypocrisy. Srimad Bhagavatam has predicted the miserable nature of Kali-yuga in the following verse:
tatas canu-dinam dharmah satyam saucam ksama daya
kalena balina rajan nanksyaty ayur balam smrtih
Religion, truthfulness, cleanliness, tolerance, mercy, duration of life, physical strength and memory will all diminish day by day because of the powerful influence of the age of Kali. (Srimad Bhagavatam 12.2.1)
It is evident from recorded history that things have indeed deteriorated and will in fact continue to deteriorate even more. Everything, beginning from the average life expectancy, the climate, the purity of vital elements such as air, water, and food, right up to the living conditions of the people, their temperament, moral character, piety, and religiosity has only worsened. Immediate gratification of mundane senses has become the only goal of people’s lives. Passionate advancement in technology and the economy has made the world smaller and hence has facilitated more interactions among the masses leading to more businesses. Engrossed in such materialistic activities, man, as a social animal, has no time to socialize let alone find time for spirituality.
Nevertheless, the sober section that are conscious of the goal of life will recognize the inherent sufferings of this worldly existence, and try to get out of the cycle of repeated birth and death. But, in this age when spiritual ability is minimal due to a short duration of life and a constantly unsteady mind, the need for the extraordinary grace of the Supreme Lord is felt the most.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who is called maha-vadanyaya, or the most munificent and generous incarnation, came to give an ocean of nectar even to the most fallen and downtrodden souls, in the form of the holy name of Krishna -
hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare
This mantra is known as the Maha-mantra, or the great mantra of deliverance. The Maha-mantra consisting of 32 syllables will not only liberate one from the clutches of this worldly existence, but also eventually bring the chanter to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna.
This Maha-mantra has been mentioned in the Kali- Santarana Upanishad as the only means to destroy inauspiciousness of the Kali-yuga:
hare krsna hare krsna krsna krsna hare hare hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare
iti sodasakam namnam kali-kalmasa-nasanam natah parataropayah sarva-vedesu drsyate
The sixteen names of the Maha-mantra – Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare – destroys all the inauspiciousness of the age of Kali. This is the conclusion of all the Vedas. (Kali- Santarana Upanishad)
About five-hundred years ago Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu popularized this Maha-mantra amongst the masses, thus inaugurating the sankirtana movement of the congregational chanting of the holy name that has now spread to almost every town and village in the world.
Srimad Bhagavatam also declares that the chanting of the holy names of Lord Krishna is the prime religious duty for the Kali-yuga and is the easiest process for self-realization:
krte yad dhyayato visnum tretayam yajato makhaih
dvapare paricaryayam kalau tad dhari-kirtanat
What was attained in Satya-yuga through meditation, in Treta-yuga through sacrifice, and in Dvapara-yuga through Deity worship is realized in Kali-yuga through chanting the name of Krishna (Hari). (Srimad Bhagavatam 12.3.52)
This process of chanting the holy names has been even more simplified, as there are no rules or regulations that inhibits the chanter from chanting at any time, place or circumstance. Mahaprabhu himself in his Shikshashtaka prayers has confirmed this -
namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-saktis tatrarpita niyamitah smarane na kalah
etadrsi tava krpa bhagavan mamapi durdaivam idrsam ihajani nanuragah
O my Lord, your holy name alone can render the benediction to the living beings, and thus you have hundereds and billions of names like Krishna and Govinda. In these transcendental names you have invested all your divine energies and there are no hard and fast rules for chanting your name. O my Lord, out of kindness, you enable us to easily approach you by chanting your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them. (Shikshashtaka 2)
Hence,every individual should avail of this great opportunity that is so rare – to chant the holy names, go to the supreme abode and make his life successful.
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 Krishna. (Naradiya Purana)
How to Chant the Maha-mantra
The Maha-mantra can be chanted anywhere and at any time and can be done in two ways: singing in a group (called kirtana), or saying the mantra to oneself (called japa). One should concentrate on hearing the sound of the holy names and pronounce the names clearly and distinctly in a prayerful mood. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the sound of the Lord’s names.
The meaning of the Maha-mantra is –
O energy of the Lord (Hare), O all-attractive Lord Sri Krishna, O Supreme enjoyer (Rama), please engage me in your divine service.
The more attentively and sincerely you chant these names, the more spiritual progress you will make.
Since Krishna is all-powerful and all-merciful, he has made it very easy for us to chant his names, and he has also invested all his powers in them. Therefore the names of God and God himself are identical. This means that when we chant the holy names of Krishna we are directly associating with him and being purified. Therefore we should always try to chant with devotion and reverence.
When you chant japa, it is best to chant on beads. This not only helps you fix your attention on the holy name, but it also helps you count the number of times you chant the mantra daily. Japa beads have 108 small beads and one large bead. You should begin by chanting the full mantra on a bead next to the head bead, then move to the next bead and repeat the process. In this way, chant on each of the 108 beads until you reach the head bead again. This is one ‘round’ of japa. Then, without chanting on the head bead, reverse the beads and start your second round on the last bead you chanted on. One round can average between 5-7 minutes. At the beginning you can start by chanting one round daily. When you feel you can chant more, increase the number of rounds you chant each day.