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Krishna Prema's Food for Thought 2019 # 28 - From Surface to Substance

„There are different levels of Krishna Consciousness movement, and the key in spiritual life is to dive down as deep as we can. The deeper we penetrate into the substance of spiritual life, the more we find ourselves in a world untouched by the waves that toss and turn the material ocean. But to go deeper, one has to gain the adhikara, the qualification.“ (1)

In his little booklet, H.H. Kadamba Kanana Swami gives a valuable way to look at our Hare Krishna Movement. Maharaja suggests to see three layers of ISKCON:

Level 1 is the organization, or the society and institution. This is the part of ISKCON that is in touch with the material nature. It’s the external part from where we find the management structure, the temples, the books distributed and so on.

Level 2 is the process in itself. The process of sravana and kirtanam, hearing, chanting and remembering Krishna. Whatever might happen within the institution, good or bad, the process always remains the same.

Level 3 is the Divine intervention. Here we can actually have spiritual experiences and get in touch with the Lord and the spiritual dimension.

According to the level of consciousness we are in, we experience the Hare Krishna Movement in different ways. I found these three layers very fascinating and helpful to understand, and was therefore reflecting about it a lot in the last couple of days. Let's take our recent Ratha Yatra as an example. On what level of consciousness did I experience Lord Jagannatha's Chariot Festival?

On the first level, the Ratha Yatra Festival can be seen as a preaching event or an out-reach program, a great way to present Krishna Consciousness culture and lifestyle to the people in general. On this level, we might ask: how many people visited the festival? How many books were distributed? How many kilograms of fruit and halava prasada were distributed?

It can also be seen as an economical event: How many liters of mango lassi and how many Samosas were sold? How much money was collected? Or as a social event: How many old friends did I meet today? How many new people did I get to know? How many likes will my live video on Facebook get?

Of course, all these thoughts and activities can also be devotional service, if one has the right consciousness, but in general, they are characterized by a more external consideration.

On the second level of experience the Ratha Yatra Festival, we will be more focused on the actual devotional practice: sravanam, kirtanam and serving the Lord. How can I get a chance to pull the rope of the chariot? Let me bring some fruits for Lord Jagannatha. Let me engage in Nama Sankirtana and sing from the bottom of my heart for the pleasure of Krishna! How can I please the Lord? How can I be engaged in some service? On this level, devotees deeply absorb themselves in the nine processes of devotional service and experience a higher taste by being spiritually enlivened.

On the third level, which is a very high level, one experiences the Lord directly. It's not just some happiness derived from Krishna Conscious practices but it is an actual experience of the Lord's presence. For example in Kirtana, for more than three hours devotees were singing and dancing in front of the chariot. This can be a very blissful experience. However, on level three, the kirtana is not just blissful, because of the sunny weather and the good mrdanga players but because the Lord in the form of transcendental sound, in His Holy Name, is actually dancing on our tongue.

On what level have you experienced the Ratha Yatra Festival? On what level do we experience the Hare Krishna Movement in general? On a festival day, it might be easier to absorb ourselves and dive deeper. Lord Jagannatha certainly blessed many of us with a higher taste and a deep experience on this day.

But during our daily routine, when we are confronted with all the different challenges of material life and human relationships we might sometimes get stuck on the first level and lose our focus on the essence. Therefore, I found this idea of seeing the Hare Krishna Movement on three levels so valuable. On the institutional level, there will always be some shortcomings and failures, but on the level of devotional practice and experience there is so much transcendental bliss waiting for us, we just need to qualify ourselves to dive deeper!


1 - Diving Deep - From Surface to Substance: The Three Layers of Spiritual Institutions, 2018 by His Holiness Kadamba Kanana Swami,

Picture by Michel Caumes


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