The World Cup trophy is one of the most sought after prizes on the planet.
The flags of the host country are flying full mast, and those of other nations as well. Mounted on cars, taxis and trucks, they flutter in all directions. Large corporate and public buildings display lavish décor, as if celebrating Christmas without Santa Claus.
The mass media and TV broadcasters heighten the anticipation as they countdown to this global spectacle. Wherever one looks and wherever one goes within the cities of South Africa, the unmistakable signs of the FIFA soccer World Cup are visible. Aside from the Olympic Games, this soccer extravaganza is the largest, costliest sporting event on earth, and certainly the most widely viewed.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors will converge on this country to support their nations competing for the ultimate prize in football, the World cup. But what does this all mean for devotees of Lord Krishna? Can we learn something from this experience?
Is it the ultimate in Maya (illusion)? Does it provide evidence to show how strongly attached people are to their places of birth, based on the temporary material body? Should devotees remain cynical of all this crass commercialism that promotes strong bodily affiliations, and shun it?
However we may look at it, the reality is that anyone practicing Krishna consciousness has to live and function in a world of duality. The same can be said for followers of any religion. Yet while being faithful to a certain religion, people would do well to see where these sporting events benefit our society in ways that religion could learn from.
Religion generally has a poor image when it comes to worshipping or sharing of beliefs across faith lines; religious people are usually exclusive to their own faiths and their “own” gods. The “beautiful Game,” as one soccer legend called it, has the ability to unite players and supporters of all faiths. It is known here in South Africa, which has a very high crime rate, that there is a reduction in certain crimes when the national team plays.
On the world stage this simple game of kicking and hitting a spherical object around on a grassy playing field can help reduce built-up political tensions, as we see sometimes on the sub-continent in games of cricket played between India and Pakistan. Religious dialogues are usually not much help in these situations.
So while Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics play together as sporting teams, and multi-faith supporters watch them in good spirits, is there any spiritual system that has the same, if not, more power to unite the peoples of the world?
There is one method, but it is seldom covered by the mass media and often misunderstood by the general public. Just like covert military special forces to perform heroic deeds, unbeknownst to most, the practitioners of this method exert an invisible but dramatic influence.
When a Hare Krishna chanting party joyfully dances along the streets of a neighborhood, the sacred names of God allows everyone, knowingly or unknowingly, to connect with our common father. It is a unifying force.
While these huge sporting events confer certain social benefits on a large scale, and unite people with the common language of football, the chanting of Hare Krishna achieves more unity in more parts of the world simply by letting people hear the divine sounds of Krishna’s names.
It may seem to be a passing phenomenon to hear the Hare Krishna mantra for a few seconds, but the benefits are eternal. Indeed, it is the form of religion most recommended for this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, as stated by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and it is the prime benediction for mankind, even if it is the least understood and the least detectable.
Sri Chaitanya knew this method was the answer for all the divisiveness created by human false identity. He knew that, through it, real lasting unity could be attained between people of different faiths. And when these street chanting parties are expanded to become the famous Ratha-Yatra cart festivals held in major cities on every continent, the unifying effect is even greater.
Just as soccer has been called the “beautiful Game,” if ever an influential commentator, statesman, a leading Christian evangelist, or a learned imam refers to the Ratha-Yatra festival as a ”Beautiful Festival,” in acknowledgement of the power of God’s names to unite people, then we’ll know that some understanding of the power of the Maha Mantra has been achieved.