Krishna Consciousness at Home
--a practical guide

The Vedic wisdom states emphatically “athato brahma jijnasa” “The
goal of the human form of life is to become fully self-realized.”
There is nothing more important than this. Indeed this should be
the one goal of everyone’s life. Self-realization means to realize
who you are, Who is the Supreme Self, and what is your
relationship with the Supreme Self. By careful research of the
vast treasure house of India’s Vedic wisdom we can see very
clearly that the Supreme Self is Lord Krishna and that we are His
eternal servants. So self-realization ultimately means to perfect
the art of being the fully surrendered devotee of Lord Sri
Krishna. Self-realization is therefore the art or science of
becoming fully Krishna conscious.

How do I practice the art of becoming fully self-realized or
Krishna conscious?

The best situation is to live in or near one of the centers of the
Hare Krishna Movement. These are places where the residents are
diligently striving in all of their activities at every minute to
perfect their Krishna consciousness. But since this may not be
practical for everyone it is possible that one can perfect the
science of Krishna consciousness at home in the same way as
someone living in a Hare Krishna center. Taking help from the
scriptures and the spiritual master you can convert your home into
a Krishna temple, an ashram (a place of spiritual cultivation.)

Spiritual life, like material life, means practical activity. The
difference is that whereas we perform material activities for the
benefit of our material body and the material bodies of others, we
perform spiritual activities for the benefit of Lord Krishna,
under the guidance of the scriptures and the spiritual master.
This is compared to watering the root of a tree. When you water
the root of a tree all the leaves and branches automatically
become nourished. Krishna is the root of the creation. When you
serve Lord Krishna you automatically render the best service to
all living entities.

Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita that a person can achieve
neither happiness nor the supreme destination of life -- going
back to Godhead, back to Lord Krishna -- if he or she does not
follow the injunctions of the scriptures. And how to follow the
scriptural rules by engaging in practical service to the Lord --
that is explained by a bona fide spiritual master.

Without following the instructions of a spiritual master who is in
an authorized chain of disciplic succession coming from Krishna
Himself, we cannot make spiritual progress. The practices outlined
here are the timeless practices of bhakti-yoga as given by one of
the greatest exponents of bhakti-yoga in the history of the world,
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-
Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
(ISKCON).

The purpose of spiritual knowledge is to bring us closer to God,
or Krishna. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (18.55), bhaktya mam
abhijanati: "I can be known only by devotional service." Knowledge
guides us in proper action. Spiritual knowledge directs us to
satisfy the desires of Krishna through practical engagements in
His loving service. Without practical application, theoretical
knowledge is of little value.

Spiritual knowledge is meant to direct us in all aspects of life.
We should endeavor, therefore, to organize our lives in such a way
as to follow Krishna's teachings as far as possible. We should try
to do our best, to do more than is simply convenient. Then it will
be possible for us to rise to the transcendental plane of Krishna
consciousness, even while living far from a Hare Krishna center.

Chanting the Hare Krishna Mantra

The first principle in devotional service is to chant the Hare
Krishna maha-mantra (maha means "great"; mantra means “sound that
liberates the mind from ignorance"):

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare

You can chant these holy names of the Lord anywhere and at any
time, but it is best to set a specific time of the day to
regularly chant. Early morning hours are ideal.
The chanting can be done in two ways: singing the mantra, called
kirtan (usually done in a group), and saying the mantra to
oneself, called japa (which literally means "to speak softly").
Concentrate on hearing the sound of the holy names. As you chant,
pronounce the names clearly and distinctly, addressing Krishna in
a prayerful mood.

When your mind wanders, bring it back to the sound of the Lord's
names. Chanting is a prayer to Krishna that means "O energy of the
Lord [Hare], O all-attractive Lord [Krishna], O Supreme Enjoyer
[Rama], please engage me in Your service." The more attentively
and sincerely you chant these names of God, the more spiritual
progress you will make.

Since God is all-powerful and all-merciful, He has kindly 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
and Rama we are directly associating with God and being purified.
Therefore we should always try to chant with devotion and
reverence. The Vedic literature states that Lord Krishna is
personally dancing on your tongue when you chant His holy name.

When you chant alone, it is best to chant on japa beads. These
are available from: http://store.krishna.com

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. Each strand of japa beads contains 108 small beads and one
large bead, the head bead. Begin on a bead next to the head bead
and gently roll it between the thumb and middle finger of your
right hand as you chant the full Hare Krishna mantra. 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.

Initiated devotees vow before the spiritual master to chant at
least sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra daily. But even if
you can chant only one round a day, the principle is that once you
commit yourself to chanting that round, you should try complete it
every day without fail. When you feel you can chant more, then
increase the minimum number of rounds you chant each day -- but
don't fall below that number. You can chant more than your fixed
number, but you should maintain a set minimum each day.

Once you become steady in chanting at least 16 rounds every day,
along with following the four regulative principles mentioned
later in this article, you may request the spiritual master to
formally initiate you as his disciple. This is most auspicious
turning point in one’s eternal existence. At the time of
initiation the spiritual master will relieve you from all your
karma accrued over millions of lifetimes in the cycle of birth and
death. You will agree to always follow his instructions and he
will commit himself to personally taking you back to the spiritual
world.

Please note that the beads are sacred and therefore should never
touch the ground or be put in an unclean place. To keep your beads
clean, it's best to carry them in a special bead bag, also
available from http://store.krishna.com

Aside from chanting japa, you can also sing the Lord's holy names
in kirtan. While you can perform kirtan individually, it is
generally performed with others. A melodious kirtan with family or
friends is sure to enliven everyone. ISKCON devotees use
traditional melodies and instruments, especially in the temple,
but you can chant to any melody and use any musical instruments to
accompany your chanting. As Lord Caitanya said, "There are no hard
and fast rules for chanting Hare Krishna." One thing you might
want to do, however, is order a japa and/or kirtan CD from
http://store.krishna.com

Setting Up Your Altar

You will likely find that your japa and kirtan are especially
effective when done before an altar. Lord Krishna and His pure
devotees are so kind that they allow us to worship them even
through their pictures. It is something like mailing a letter: You
cannot mail a letter by placing it in just any box; you must use
the mailbox authorized by the government. Similarly, we cannot
imagine a picture of God and worship that, but we can worship the
authorized picture of God, and Krishna accepts our worship through
that picture.

Setting up an altar at home means receiving the Lord and His pure
devotees as your most honored guests. Where should you set up the
altar? Well, how would you seat a guest? An ideal place would be
clean, well lit, and free from drafts and household disturbances.
Your guest, of course, would need a comfortable chair, but for the
picture of Krishna's form a wall shelf, a mantelpiece, a corner
table, or the top shelf of a bookcase will do.
You wouldn't seat a guest in your home and then ignore him; you'd
provide a place for yourself to sit, too, where you could comfortably
face him and enjoy his company. So don't make your altar inaccessible.


What do you need for an altar? Here are the essentials:

1. A picture of your spiritual master
2. A picture of Srila Prabhupada.
3. A picture of Lord Caitanya and His associates.
4. A picture of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna.

You may order photographs 2,3, and 4 from:
http://store.krishna.com

Consult with your spiritual master or his disciples
for your spiritual master's photograph.


In addition, you may want an altar cloth, water cups (one for each
picture), candles with holders, a special plate for offering food,
a small bell, incense, an incense holder, and fresh flowers, which
you may offer in vases or simply place before each picture. If
you're interested in more elaborate Deity worship, you may address
your inquiries to: sda@backtohome.com

The first person we worship on the altar is our spiritual master.
For example, one of the initiating spiritual masters of the Hare
Krishna movement is His Grace Sriman Sankarshan Das Adhikari.
He’s referred to and addressed by his disciples by his title,
“Srila Gurudeva”, which means “the highly respected spiritual
master.” He is not God. Only God is God. But because the
spiritual master is His dearmost servant, Krishna or God has
empowered him as a representative. Therefore he deserves the same
respect as that given to God. He links us with God and teaches us
the process of bhakti-yoga. He is God's ambassador to the material
world. When a president sends an ambassador to a foreign country,
the ambassador receives the same respect as that accorded the
president, and the ambassador's words are as authoritative as the
president's. Similarly, we should respect the spiritual master as
we would God, and revere his words as we would His.

Next we worship the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement, His
Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srila
Prabhupada was a specially empowered guru who accomplished what no
other in the history of the world was able to do. In the short
time span of eleven years he spread Krishna consciousness all over
the world and made “Hare Krishna” a household word. He is the
most famous and glorified of all the ISKCON spiritual masters as
the Founder-Acharya

Srila Prabhupada is the instructing spiritual master for every
member of the Hare Krishna movement throughout the world. It is
his books, which are the philosophical basis of the movement.
They will stand as spiritual law books for generation after
generation of devotees going on for thousands and thousands of
years. Within the worldwide Hare Krishna Movement there are many
initiating gurus for the many, many thousands of devotees
throughout the world. But there is one guru who unites us all
into one family. That is His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada.

The third picture on your altar should be one of the panca-tattva,
Lord Caitanya and His four leading associates. Lord Caitanya is
the incarnation of God for this age. He is Krishna Himself,
descended in the form of His own devotee to teach us how to
surrender to Him, specifically by chanting His holy names and
performing other activities of bhakti-yoga. Lord Caitanya is the
most merciful incarnation, for He makes it easy for anyone to
attain love of God through the chanting of the Hare Krishna
mantra.

And of course your altar should have a picture of the Supreme
Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna, with His eternal
consort, Srimati Radharani. Srimati Radharani is Krishna's
spiritual potency. She is devotional service personified, and
devotees always take shelter of Her to learn how to serve Krishna.

You can arrange the pictures in this manner. In the center and to
the back place the picture of Radha and Krishna. On the front
left place your guru’s picture. To your guru’s right place Srila
Prabhupada. On the far right place Panca Tattva. You should
purchase the nicest quality picture frames you can afford as a way
of expressing your devotion to Guru and Krishna.

Aerial view:

                              Radha Krishna


Your Guru                Srila Prabhupada       Panca Tattva


Carefully clean the altar each morning. Cleanliness is essential
in Deity worship. Remember, you wouldn't neglect to clean the room
of an important guest, and when you establish an altar you invite
Krishna and His pure devotees to reside as the most exalted guests
in your home. If you have water cups, rinse them out and fill them
with fresh water daily. Then place them conveniently close to the
pictures. You should remove flowers in vases as soon as they're
slightly wilted, or daily if you've offered them at the base of
the pictures. You should offer fresh incense at least once a day,
and, if possible, light candles and place them near the pictures
when you're chanting before the altar.

Please try the things we've suggested so far. It's very simple,
really: If you try to love God, you'll gradually realize how much
He loves you. That's the essence of bhakti-yoga.

Prasadam: How to Eat Spiritually

By His immense transcendental energies, Krishna can actually
convert matter into spirit. If we place an iron rod in a fire,
before long the rod becomes red hot and acts just like fire. In
the same way, food prepared for and offered to Krishna with love
and devotion becomes completely spiritualized. Such food is called
Krishna prasadam, which means "the mercy of Lord Krishna."

Eating prasadam is a fundamental practice of bhakti-yoga. In other
forms of yoga one must artificially repress the senses, but the
bhakti-yogi can engage his or her senses in a variety of pleasing
spiritual activities, such as tasting delicious food offered to
Lord Krishna. In this way the senses gradually become
spiritualized and bring the devotee more and more transcendental
pleasure by being engaged in devotional service. Such spiritual
pleasure far surpasses any material experience.

Lord Caitanya said of prasadam, "Everyone has tasted these foods
before. However, now that they have been prepared for Krishna and
offered to Him with devotion, these foods have acquired
extraordinary tastes and uncommon fragrances. Just taste them and
see the difference in the experience! Apart from the taste, even
the fragrance pleases the mind and makes one forget any other
fragrance. Therefore, it should be understood that the spiritual
nectar of Krishna's lips must have touched these ordinary foods
and imparted to them all their transcendental qualities."

Eating only food offered to Krishna is the perfection of
vegetarianism. In itself, being a vegetarian is not enough; after
all, even pigeons and monkeys are vegetarians. But when we go
beyond vegetarianism to a diet of prasadam, our eating becomes
helpful in achieving the goal of human life -- reawakening the
soul's original relationship with God. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord
Krishna says that unless one eats only food that has been offered
to Him in sacrifice, one will suffer the reactions of karma.

How to Prepare and Offer Prasadam

As you walk down the supermarket aisles selecting the foods you
will offer to Krishna, you need to know what is offerable and what
is not. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states, "If one offers
Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, I
will accept it." From this verse it is understood that we can
offer Krishna foods prepared from milk products, vegetables,
fruits, nuts, and grains. (Write to Temple Services for one of the
many Hare Krishna cookbooks.) Meat, fish, and eggs are not
offerable. And a few vegetarian items are also forbidden -- garlic
and onions, for example, which are in the mode of darkness. (Hing,
or asafetida, is a tasty substitute for them in cooking and is
available at most Indian groceries or from Temple Services.) Nor
can you offer to Krishna coffee or tea that contain caffeine. If
you like these beverages, purchase caffeine-free coffee and herbal
teas.

While shopping, be aware that you may find meat, fish, and egg
products mixed with other foods; so be sure to read labels
carefully. For instance, some brands of yogurt and sour cream
contain gelatin, a substance made from the horns, hooves, and
bones of slaughtered animals. Also, make sure the cheese you buy
contains no rennet, an enzyme extracted from the stomach tissues
of slaughtered calves. Most hard cheese sold in America contains
rennet, so be careful about any cheese you can't verify as
rennetless.

Also avoid foods cooked by nondevotees. According to the subtle
laws of nature, the cook acts upon the food not only physically
but mentally as well. Food thus becomes an agent for subtle
influences on your consciousness. The principle is the same as
that at work with a painting: a painting is not simply a
collection of strokes on a canvas but an expression of the
artist's state of mind, which affects the viewer. So if you eat
food cooked by nondevotees -- employees working in a factory, for
example -- then you're sure to absorb a dose of materialism and
karma. So as far as possible use only fresh, natural ingredients.

In preparing food, cleanliness is the most important principle.
Nothing impure should be offered to God; so keep your kitchen very
clean. Always wash your hands thoroughly before entering the
kitchen. While preparing food, do not taste it, for you are
cooking the meal not for yourself but for the pleasure of Krishna.
Arrange portions of the food on dinnerware kept especially for
this purpose; no one but the Lord should eat from these dishes.
The easiest way to offer food is simply to pray, "My dear Lord
Krishna, please accept this offering," and to chant each of the
following prayers three times while ringing a bell in your left
hand. You need only recite the Sanskrit. The English translation
is given for your information.

1. Prayer to your spiritual master:
(For example if your guru is Sankarshan Das Adhikari, you would
pray like this.)
nama om visnu-padaya krsna-presthaya bhu-tale
srimate sankarsana dasa adhikariti namine
"I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Grace Sriman Sankarshan
Das Adhikari, who is very dear to Lord Krishna, having taken
shelter at His lotus feet."
namo prabhupādānuga prema-mūrti kṛpātmane
gaurādeśa-vikāśārtha-uttama-bhakti-varṣiṇe
"O follower of Srila Prabhupada! O personification of prema! I offer obeisances to
you, the embodiment of mercy, who showers pure bhakti in order to spread the
teachings of Lord Caitanya."

2. Prayer to Srila Prabhupada:
nama om visnu-padaya krsna-presthaya bhu-tale
srimate bhaktivedanta-svamin iti namine
namas te sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracarine
nirvisesa-sunyavadi-pascatya-desa-tarine

"I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A. C.

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krishna,
having taken shelter at His lotus feet. Our respectful obeisances
are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Bhaktisiddhanta
Sarasvati Gosvami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord
Caitanyadeva and delivering the Western countries, which are
filled with impersonalism and voidism."

3. Prayer to Lord Caitanya:
namo maha-vadanyaya krsna-prema-pradaya te
krsnaya krsna-caitanya-namne gaura-tvise namah
[Cc. Madhya 19.53]

"O most munificent incarnation! You are Krishna Himself appearing
as Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. You have assumed the golden
color of Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure
love of Krishna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You."

4. Prayer to Lord Krishna:
namo brahmanya-devaya go-brahmana-hitaya ca
jagad-dhitaya krsnaya govindaya namo namah
"I offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krishna, who is the
worshipable Deity for all brahmanas, the well-wisher of the cows
and the brahmanas, and the benefactor of the whole world. I offer
my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as
Krishna and Govinda."

Remember that the real purpose of preparing and offering food to
the Lord is to show your devotion and gratitude to Him. Krishna
accepts your devotion, not the physical offering itself. God is
complete in Himself -- He doesn't need anything -- but out of His
immense kindness He allows us to offer food to Him so that we can
develop our love for Him.

After offering the food to the Lord, wait at least five minutes
for Him to partake of the preparations. Then you should transfer
the food from the special dinnerware and wash the dishes and
utensils you used for the offering. Now you and any guests may eat
the prasadam. While you eat, try to appreciate the spiritual value
of the food. Remember that because Krishna has accepted it, it is
nondifferent from Him, and therefore by eating it you will become
purified.

Everything you offer on your altar becomes prasadam, the mercy of
the Lord. Flowers, incense, the water, the food -- everything you
offer for the Lord's pleasure becomes spiritualized. The Lord
enters into the offerings, and thus the remnants are nondifferent
from Him. So you should not only deeply respect the things you've
offered, but you should distribute them to others as well.
Distribution of prasadam is an essential part of everyday life.

The Four Regulative Principles

Anyone serious about progressing in Krishna consciousness must try
to avoid the following four sinful activities:

1. Eating meat, fish, or eggs. These foods are saturated with
the modes of passion and ignorance and therefore cannot be offered
to the Lord. A person who eats these foods participates in a
conspiracy of violence against helpless animals and thus stops his
spiritual progress dead in its tracks.

2. Gambling. Gambling invariably puts one into anxiety and fuels
greed, envy, and anger.

3. The use of intoxicants. Drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, as well as
any drinks or foods containing caffeine, cloud the mind,
overstimulate the senses, and make it impossible to understand or
follow the principles of bhakti-yoga.

4. Illicit sex. This is sex outside of marriage or sex in marriage
for any purpose other than procreation. Sex for pleasure compels
one to identify with the body and takes one far from Krishna
consciousness. The scriptures teach that sex is the most powerful
force binding us to the material world. Anyone serious about
advancing in Krishna consciousness should minimize sex or
eliminate it entirely.

Engagement in Practical Devotional Service

Everyone must do some kind of work, but if you work only for
yourself you must accept the karmic reactions of that work. As
Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (3.9), "Work done as a
sacrifice for Visnu [Krishna] has to be performed. Otherwise work
binds one to the material world."

You needn't change your occupation, except if you're now engaged
in a sinful job such as working as a butcher or bartender. If
you're a writer, write for Krishna; if you're an artist, create
for Krishna; if you're a secretary, type for Krishna. You may also
directly serve the spiritual master in your spare time, and you
should sacrifice some of the fruits of your work by contributing a
portion of your earnings to help support the spiritual master’s
preaching work of spreading Krishna consciousness all over the
world. Some devotees living outside the temple buy Hare Krishna
literature and distribute it to their friends and associates, or
they engage in a variety of services at the temple. There is also
a wide network of devotees who gather in each other's homes for
chanting, worship, and study. Write to your local temple or the
Society's secretary to learn of any such programs near you.

Additional Devotional Principles

There are many more devotional practices that can help you become
Krishna conscious. Here are two vital ones:

Studying Hare Krishna literature

Srila Prabhupada, the Founder-Acharya of ISKCON, dedicated much of
his time to writing books such as the Bhagavad-gita, the Srimad-
Bhagavatam, and many others. Hearing the words -- or reading the
writings -- of a realized spiritual master is an essential
spiritual practice. So try to set aside some time every day to
read Srila Prabhupada's books. You can order them from:
http://store.krishna.com

Associating with devotees

Srila Prabhupada established the Hare Krishna movement to give
people in general the chance to associate with devotees of the
Lord. This is the best way to gain faith in the process of Krishna
consciousness and become enthusiastic in devotional service.
Conversely, maintaining intimate connections with nondevotees
slows one's spiritual progress. So try to visit the Hare Krishna
center nearest you as often as possible.

In Closing

The beauty of Krishna consciousness is that you can take as much
as you're ready for. Krishna Himself promises in the Bhagavad-gita
(2.40), "There is no loss or diminution in this endeavor, and even
a little advancement on this path protects one from the most
fearful type of danger." So bring Krishna into your daily life,
and we guarantee you'll feel the benefit.
Hare Krishna!