Category Archives: Practice

Five Nights of Wisdom


The Pancharatra is a group of texts as old as the four Vedas and has the same transcendental origin. They were ancient even in the time of the Lord Krishna’s appearance in this world, and are mentioned in the Shanti-parva section of the Mahabharata.

In that portion a description of the transcendental abode Swetadwipa is given, ‘a domain inhabited by devotees of Narayana, whom they worship through their knowledge of pancha-ratra.’ The name pancha-ratra means ‘Five Nights,’ and indicates a series of instructions given by Lord Narayana to His devotees over five consecutive nights. Narada Muni heard them first and shared them with Lord Shiva, Lakshmi Devi, the Kumaras and others. There are said to be around two hundred texts including the Ahirbudhnya Samhita spoken by Shiva, the Lakshmi Tantra, and the Narada Pancharatra. Srila Prabhupada writes:

The scriptures known as the Pañcarātra-śāstras are recognized Vedic scriptures that have been accepted by the great ācāryas. These scriptures are not products of the modes of passion and ignorance. Learned scholars and brāhmaṇas therefore always refer to them as sātvata-saṁhitās. The original speaker of these scriptures is Nārāyaṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is especially mentioned in the Mokṣa-dharma (349.68), which is part of the Śānti-parva of the Mahābhārata. Liberated sages like Nārada and Vyāsa, who are free from the four defects of conditioned souls, are the propagators of these scriptures. Śrī Nārada Muni is the original speaker of the Pañcarātra-śāstra. (Sri Caitanya Caritamrta 1.5.41)

The theology of the Pancharatra is solely focused on the Personality of Godhead. The texts describe the appearance and character of the Lord, and the many avatars He takes for functions such as creation of the world and deliverance of the conditioned souls. It also describes methods of ritual worship, prayer and the employment of mantras.

When Narada Muni visited his disciple Srila Vyasadeva, he told him that although he’d compiled so much Vedic literature, he had not yet composed the ‘spotless glories of the Supreme Lord.’ So the great rishi set about writing the Bhagavata Purana, or Srimad Bhagavatam. Its 18,000 verses in 350 chapters all tell of the Lord and His devotees, with a full ninety chapters entirely dedicated to the accounts of Krishna’s appearance and activities in the world. In the 11th book of that great work is described what took place when the Supreme Lord Krishna was about to leave the world and return to His eternal abode. Krishna gave His parting instructions to His friend Uddhava, a conversation which is now recorded in the section known as the Uddhava Gita. In chapter 27 the Lord also explains Pancharatra worship.


Mantra (sacred sound) Yantra (sacred geometry) and Tantra (sacred ritual) are all part of the teaching found in the Pancharatra.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu asked his close follower Sanatana Goswami to compile a handbook for Vaishnava life. The book was to describe everything from the daily activities of a devotee through to temple worship and the celebration of festivals. So with help from the revered Gopala Bhatta Goswami, who’d spent his youth and education as a priest in Sri Rangam, a temple town in southern India, he collected verses from some two hundred scriptures, including twenty-five selections from Pancharatra sources. From this effort was born the manual Hari-Bhakti-Vilasa.

Srila Rupa Goswami also gives credit to the Pancharatra as being one of the legitimate sources of conclusive evidence on the nature of Godhead and the methods of developing our relationship with God. Again, Srila Prabhupada writes:

Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has said in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.101):

śruti-smṛti-purāṇādi-pañcarātra-vidhiṁ vinā
aikāntikī harer bhaktir utpātāyaiva kalpate

He clearly mentions in this verse that one must refer to the Vedic literatures and other, supplementary literatures and follow the conclusion of the Vedas. An invented devotional attitude simply creates disturbances in the transcendental realm.

Since the Pancharatra scriptures give directions for the worship of the Lord, particularly in deity worship, and since many of the ancient mantras have been included in the Hari Bhakti Vilasa, they can still be found being chanted today by all members of the Vaishnava sampradayas, including the members of ISKCON.






Filed under Practice, Religion, Ritual

Daily Japa: My Daily Flight


The first six months of my life were spent on an RAF aerodrome, and as a child I heard the grown-ups talking of military aircraft and of daring aerial battles during the war. No small wonder that I still think of flight as a metaphor for spiritual progress.

As every western devotee of Krishna knows, the daily commitment of a dedicated practitioner is to chant a minimum of sixteen rounds each day. This takes around two hours. The effect of the Hare Krishna mantra is quite remarkable, especially when recited early in the morning with mental focus and without distraction. The meditator feels uplifted by gradual degrees until there is a distinct feeling of lightness; of being free from gravity.

But in order to derive the most benefit from mantra meditation it must be done with determination and a feeling of gratitude and respect. Wherever the mind wanders it must be brought back to the sound of the mantra. That may take some time each morning; the mind still has to struggle with the lingering remnants of the night’s dreams, snatches of remembered conversation or hopes and longings for the future. Eventually, after an extended period of mental wrestling, the intelligence overpowers the mind and a level of absorption is reached.

I think of it as the gradual ascent of an aircraft – a British wartime Spitfire, naturally. So here’s what chanting sixteen rounds feels like in flight mode:

0 – 4 Rounds

The first round is usually accompanied by much coughing and spluttering. The engine is cold, having been out in the field all night. As you turn over the engine it may take a minute or two before it catches and you can rev it up. But once warm, the chocks are kicked aside, your plane turned in the right direction and you begin making your taxi down to the runway. You look at the sky, look at the wind direction, and begin to pick up speed along the runway. You begin to feel an intermittent lift as your plane reaches take-off speed.

4 -8 Rounds

You lift the nose of your Spitfire, but you’re a little too soon, and you jerkily come down to the ground again. Picking up just a little more speed, you see the trees flash past you. Again that feeling of lightness. And then the noise in your head stops: your wheels are no longer bumping along the ground. At first you’re only a few inches above the ground, but slowly, gradually, you lift and the ground sinks away from your eyes. Only the tops of the trees are visible. You’re flying.

8 – 12 Rounds

But you’re still too low to relax. You have to climb because flying low is dangerous. It takes more effort to climb than it does to take off. So you adjust the throttle and pull back on the lever, aiming for the wisp of cloud up ahead of you. Suddenly it goes darker; you are surrounded by cloud. You can’t see anything ahead or to the sides of you. You feel mild panic at having your vision so restricted. But after a few minutes, as you continue to climb, the cockpit becomes lighter and lighter.

12 – 16 Rounds

You break through the cloud cover and watch as it gently retreats slowly below you. The strength of the sunlight up here surprises you. It’s a completely different world; clean and fresh, light and bright. Up here there is only you, the bright blue sky and the Sun. For a moment even the mechanics that got you up here seem to disappear. The aircraft has become only a distant presence. You can’t even hear the engine anymore. You are soaring now, climbing ever higher. Nothing can stop you now. You are free.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

— John Gillespie Magee, Spitfire Pilot




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Filed under My Life, Practice, The Basics