Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is the only reason why kirtan, or sankirtan, is so popular today, came to this world about five hundred years ago to propagate the sankirtan movement. He threw seeds of sankirtan upon the world, and even today the trees of sankirtan are growing tall and wide, giving shade and spiritually nourishing fruit to countless sun-scorched, starving souls wandering by. He did this for the benefit of everyone, every single living entity, then, now, and in the days to come. Anyone can reach out their hand to receive this fruit of spiritual nourishment, and new seedlings of sankirtan are still popping up all over the place. Today, people mostly use the term kirtan, which is interchangeable with sankirtan.
This gift of kirtan is the bridge we desperately need over the perpetually widening abyss of racial divide. As living beings existing in this material world where, practically speaking, all are falsely identifying with matter (our material bodies), we are in the dark about who or what we really are. According to ancient yoga sastras (scriptures) and sadhus (saints), we are not matter. There are only two fundamental categories of energy. One is matter, and the other is spirit. The living beings are 100% of the spiritual energy, not a single percent in us is composed of the material energy. Not even point zero zero zero one percent….none, nil, zip, nada, diddly-squat.
Our bodies, on the other hand, are 100% of the material energy. The body appears to be animate due to the living entity’s residing within it. Immediately following its manifestation, or birth, the body goes through the natural stages of growth, reproduction, then deterioration, and eventually death. Today, it is not uncommon for death of the body to come unnaturally at earlier stages as caused by disease or accident. In any case, the instant that the living entity departs from the body is exactly when the body becomes inanimate or dead.
The ancient scripture Bhagavad-gita As It Is is the most well-known of yoga sastras and also widely regarded as the most significant as far as shedding light on everything that is relevant to our well-being, including who or what we the living beings actually are, the nature of this material world, the nature of the mind and consciousness, how we ought to navigate our journey in this world to obtain the actual goal of life, and much more. The following two verses are taken from this Bhagavad-gita As It Is:
“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.”—Chapter 2, Text 17
“Only the material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is subject to destruction; therefore, fight, O descendant of Bharata.” – Chapter 2, Text 18
So, from these two verses, we learn that the soul—that’s me, I am the soul—which resides within and has influence over the entire body, is imperishable. My body is subject to destruction, but I, the living entity, am eternal and indestructible.
This, is huuuge. This gives me huuuuge relief. Not only am I relieved from fear of dying or not existing any longer at the time of death of this body, I am even relieved from any anxiety over being a certain race or nationality. If everyone recognizes this reality that our temporary material bodies are not who we are, that none of us is really white, black, yellow, red, or brown, that we are all simply just children of the Supreme Soul, then where is the question of black against white, or brown against yellow and so forth?
Sounds too simplistic? But the reality of things is very simple, and logical as well. Spiritually, we are all brothers and sisters. We all come from the same root. Quite often we hear of somebody trying to get back to their roots, meaning somehow reconnecting with their genealogical heritage. The problem with that is, they never go far enough back. We need to go all the way back to the root of all roots, our spiritual root, the Supreme Root.
It’s like a tree, the way all of us are connected. We are all the little leaves on this great tree, but because we have forgotten that we are all the little leaves on this single tree, and that we are all fed, nourished and supported by the same roots of this tree, we begin to quarrel and fight with one another, thinking that someone else is a leaf of some other tree.
The activity of singing sacred mantras in a kirtan is like the watering of the roots of this great spiritual tree. When the roots are watered, all the leaves become satiated and they forget about all their miserable feuds. They begin to see reality as it is and to understand who they really are and how they really are related to one another, all because kirtan enables them to personally perceive their Supreme Root. Yes, kirtan really is as mystical and wonderful as it sounds! It is the magic bridge that we need.
I remember that an old friend once said, in response to his girlfriend’s encouragement to take up yoga, “I don’t know about that for me, spiritual stuff has too many rules…” Although his girlfriend was referring in that conversation simply to yoga asana or exercises, he was talking more about the yoga system in general, being a person who has been exposed to various ideas from different sources about yoga lifestyle. Notably, he was confused.
When it comes to participating in kirtan, which is the apex of all yoga practices, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stated in his eight definitive prayers that the only qualification one needs is humility, and he also made it very clear that there are no hard and fast rules for chanting the sacred mantras:
“O my Lord, Your Holy Name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus you have hundreds and millions of Names, like Krishna, Govinda, etc. In these transcendental Names You have invested all your transcendental energies. There are not even hard and fast rules for chanting these Names…” – Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
So there you have it. The sacred mantras composed of the Lord’s Holy Names, of which there are “hundreds and millions”, are a gift to all living beings. It is said here that they are “transcendental”, that means they are not bound by any material factor, not even by time nor space, what to speak of affiliation with bodily designation. Certainly, they are not for just a particular race, nationality, religious sect or tradition. They are a gift to all. Furthermore, it is their transcendental energies that have the potency to transport one away from the false bodily consciousness to a more purified, spiritual consciousness.
Oh and if you can’t deal with hard and fast rules, then kirtan certainly is for you.