I have not always been, nor am I now, clear on what yuga or phase of creation and destruction we are currently in. Since most agree that the Kali Yuga begun in 3102 B.C. while Krishna walked the earth, we’ll operate under that same assumption.
Every Hindu knows that in the Kali Yuga, chanting of the name of God is the most highly prescribed way to achieve moksha. Of course the various “Names” of God are not names at all but descriptions, attributes. For Vaisnavas, the Mahamantra (Hare Krishna Mantra) is the preferred method. For some it is “Aum Namo Narayana.”
But there are other Kali Yuga-specific practices that most Hindus follow, one specific to Vaisnavs and one which spans the many religions under the umbrella of Hinduism. And since it seems we have been in the Kali Yuga for a good part of recorded human history and that we will be for quite some time henceforth, these practices have, and will continue to be invaluable. They are things that it is easy to forget, but just might provide a key to a consistent life of bhakti, even if bhakti is not your main yoga.
1. In the Kali Yuga, the form of Vishnu that is to be worshiped is that of Venkateswara, also known as Tirupati Balaji. Vishnu in this form “destroys the sins of the people” as His name would suggest. When I first began attending my local Temple, I noticed that we did not have a murti of Vishnu in the form I was used to seeing. He was gold, and there were two other figures with him. He holds one hand out, imploring devotees to surrender to him, have faith.
I was particularly struck by hearing that his eyes were covered because “his gaze is so powerful it can scorch the entire universe.” Impressive, no doubt, but Venktaswara did not immediately resonate with me. I think it was becasue of the whole sin thing mentioned above. It was something from which I was eager to distance myself.
The most famous temple to Venkateswara is in a hilltop town called Tirumala, India. In my tiny hometown in Minnesota, U.S.A., there is a rock formation called Sugar Loaf which is so similar in appearance to the Tirumala temple that the hill it sits on is often called Tirumala by visiting Hindus.
2. One meal-time prayer which is common throughout Hinduism comes from Chapter 4 of the Bhagavad-Gita. It goes thusly:
brahmarpanam brahma havir
brahmagnau brahmana hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyam
a common translation:
“By Brahman is the oblation poured into the fire, which is also Brahman.
Brahman verily shall be reached by him who always sees Brahman in action.”
We relate this to the food itself, but also 1) the act of offering it, and 2) the process of offering it. Which my friend Dhrishti has pointed out recently, is two different things. Subtly different, but important. I had not considered it until the above-linked post hinted that the distinction existed.
So I may be inaccurate, but as I understand it, the act of offering can be as simple as giving it, internally or externally the distinction as a sacrifice to your ishta-devata. But the process of offering is the essence of puja. The very specific actions performed and words uttered or meditated on internally while offering the food.
With these three simple daily practices: utterance of the mahamantra, obeisance to Lord Venkateswara, and recitation of the above mantra before meals, you are sure to not avoid, but surely to overcome the perils of kali yuga.
Aum Namo Narayana
Aum Venkateswaraya Namaha
Jai Hari Aum!