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Hare Rama, Hare Krishna

The Maha or great Mantra

Lord Krishna adorned with his weapons to banish fear and delusion

If you live in any large world city, there's a good chance you have seen devotees dressed in traditional Indian costume charting Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Some of those people may even seem to be unnaturally happy but that is simply a consequence of intelligent focus on those four words. Yet even within India yesterday you will find a variety of understandings and interpretations that I have attempted to clarify.

The Hare Krishna mantra, is a 16-word Vaishnava mantra which is mentioned in the Kali-Santarana Upanishad. From the 15th century it rose to importance in the Bhakti movement following the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This Mantra is composed of three Sanskrit words representing "the Supreme", they are; "Hare", "Krishna", and "Rama"

Who are Rama and Krishna?

There are various interpretations of both the meaning and history so lets consider Lord Rama. He is an historic figure within Indian (Hindu) history who was thought to have lived about 5114 BC. As a community leader it is well-known that he had a very challenging life and yet in the midst of struggles, he did his duty to his people and his family. He was a great man amongst men who didn't let obstacles hold him back and yet he had great humility in following the rules of society at the time.

Lord Krishna lived in northern India around 3,228 BCE and is considered as the eighth avatar of the God Vishnu and is worshipped as a supreme God.  Most people know Lord Krishna through reading the Bhagavad-Gita, a narrative in which Lord Krishna explains to Ajuna the warrior and a hero of a great battle the meaning and nature of life.

These two historical characters are widely understood to be actual people, men who lived in those times and helped to shape their nation. Of course many dispute this but in terms of actual archaeological and historical evidence, there is a lot more support to the argument than there is for the historical Jesus. Lord Rama set a great example of how to perform one's duty to society and to loved ones were as Lord Krishna clarified mankind's place both within existence and within human society. So in a way the combined essence of these two personalities marry action and wisdom to create Dharma which is a guide for harmonious living.

What does Hare mean?

The word "Hare" can simply mean great as in great appreciation, great wisdom, great reverence. Some say Hare maybe interpreted as Hari; "the supreme absolute", the essence of creation or even the vocative form of Hari, another name of Vishnu meaning "he who removes illusion." Vishnu within the Hindu context is the sustainer of life and represented by the sun in other pre-Christian understandings. Lord Krishna certainly removed illusions as anyone who has read the Bhagavad-Gita will know.

Interpreting the mantra

Lord Rama and Lord Krishna are historical heroes who both worked for the betterment of humanity. Lord Rama did his duty by the law and by his love setting a great example of what it is to be a man. Let Krishna freely gave the keys to understanding the nature of existence and as we live in this world, we also have a duty to live in harmony with our fellow man according to the dictates of Dharma which is arrived at by understanding the words of Lord Krishna.

When we put aside all else from our minds and vocalise Hare Rama, there is created a quietness, a place in the mind to reflect on the nature of your duty. When we vocalise Hare Krishna, we seek to integrate the wisdom that he revealed. Hare Rama and Hare Krishna are two sides of the coin demonstrating what Hindus understand as the duality of existence or the duality of God.

Action without wisdom is a disaster and wisdom without action produces no fruit. This is an example of Yin and Yang which when separated do not function. When you recite and sing this mantra you celebrate these men as great human beings, as heroes. As you contemplate this mantra, think about how you may discover the wisdom to guide your right actions in the world.

The mantra:

Hare Rama Hare Krishna 'Maha Mantra' Chanting -
108 times sing-along version - by 'Nava Kanyas'

Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa
Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare
Hare Rāma Hare Rāma
Rāma Rāma Hare Hare

Find other musical versions on youtube.

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