The material world is like a jail; here we eternal joyful souls are sentenced to life in temporary miserable bodies. This jail becomes especially wretched in the present dark age of Kali because people live disharmoniously and incur grievous karmic reactions. The Puranas are replete with grim references to the miseries of Kali-yuga.
Yet Srimad Bhagavatam (11.5.36) sounds a dramatically different note, declaring this abominable age to be worshipable:
kalim sabhaajayanty aaryaa guna-jnah saara-bhaaginah / yatra sankirtanenaiva sarva svaartho 'bhilabhyate
“Those who are actually advanced in knowledge are able to appreciate the essential value of this age of Kali. Such enlightened persons worship Kali-yuga because in this fallen age all perfection of life can easily be achieved by the performance of sankirtana.”
To understand how sankirtana makes this inauspicious age auspicious, let’s consider the prison metaphor. What matters most in a prison is not how miserable it is, but how accessible the way out of it is. In Kali-yuga, the way out of the prison of material existence becomes eminently accessible: no strenuous yogic austerities, no expensive fire-sacrifices, no complicated deity worship, as was required in the previous ages; just the chanting of the names and glories of Krishna.
Though this special privilege of Kali-yuga was revealed in scripture, it was best broadcast by Lord Chaitanya. No doubt, many bhakti saints have glorified sankirtana. But Lord Chaitanya alone expounded a systematic theology explaining its progression, profundity and potency. He alone propagated it extensively by dancing and singing across the length and breadth of India, thus attracting the epithet “the Dancing God.” And he alone infused sankirtana with the mood of topmost devotion of the gopis, especially Radharani, thus making available spiritual sweetness of an unprecedented intensity.
By accepting the gift of Lord Chaitanya and engaging in sankirtana, we can easily gain higher taste and break free from the lower taste that shackles us to matter and material existence. However, such an appealing process seems unappealing because this age’s illusion makes us believe that the prison will transform into paradise if we just improve things materially. Bewitched by this illusion, we become eager to labor unendingly for the material improvement promised by the world and become averse to endeavor even modestly for the devotional enrichment promised by the Lord.
To protect ourselves from this treacherous illusion, we urgently need shastra-chakshu, the vision offered by scripture. No wonder the Chaitanya Charitamrita (Adi 2.117) warns us to avoid laziness (aalasa) in understanding philosophy:
siddhaanta baliyaa citte naa kare aalasa / iha haite krishna laage sudrudha maanasa
“A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of such conclusions, considering them controversial, for such discussions strengthen the mind. Thus one’s mind becomes attached to Sri Krishna.”
Aptly, Srila Prabhupada, the greatest modern propagator of Lord Chaitanya’s mission, didn’t stress chanting alone – he also strived tirelessly to make shastra accessible to us. In fact, he expanded the ambit of sankirtana to include even the distribution of shastra to others, what to speak of its assimilation ourselves.
The more we absorb our head in shastra, the more we will become convinced to absorb our heart in sankirtana. With both our head and heart thus focused on transcendence, we will relish Lord Chaitanya’s mercy and march out of the material prison on the path of sankirtana – a path that will take us to the highest spiritual planet, the personal abode of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna.[ gaura-purnima ] [ liberation ] [ lord-caitanya ] [ prison ]