Some ācāryas are of the opinion that smaraṇa, internal remembrance, is more important than kīrtana (chanting), because smaraṇa is exclusively connected with consciousness, or is more concerned with the subtle part of our existence. They feel that smaraṇa is the most effective form of sādhana, or means to the end. But our Guru Mahārāja and Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, and also Kavirāja Gosvāmī Prabhu, laid stress on kīrtana – especially for beginners. Guru Mahārāja says in his song Vaiṣṇava Ke:
kīrtana prabhāve, smaraṇa haibe
se kāle bhajana nirjana sambhāva
Internal remembrance can occur by the power of kīrtana, and only then is solitary service possible. (Vaiṣṇava Ke 19)
Nirjana-bhajana or smaraṇa, exclusive solitary devotion unconscious of the environment is not at all possible for beginners. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says:
yadyapy-anyā bhaktiḥ kalau kartavyā
In this Kali-yuga, of the nine basic forms of devotional practice, the forms other than kīrtana certainly should be practiced, but they must be conducted subserviently to kīrtana. (Bhakti-sandarbha 273)
This is the principle of Mahāprabhu’s preaching. Kīrtana has its own special characteristic, particularly in Kali-yuga.
kaler doṣa-nidhe rājan asti hy-eko mahān guṇaḥ
kīrtanād eva kṛṣṇasya mukta-saṅgaḥ paraṁ vrajet
O King, the age of Kali, the repository of all evils, has but one glorious characteristic. In this age, those who simply chant the Holy Name of Kṛṣṇa are liberated and reach the Supreme Lord. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.3.51)
Also, Śrīla Madhvācārya has written in his commentary on Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad:
dvāparīyair janair viṣṇuḥ pañcarātraiś ca kevalam
kalau tu nāma-mātreṇa pūjyate bhagavān hariḥ
In Dvāpara-yuga, Lord Viṣṇu is exclusively worshiped by the people according to the principles of Deity worship delineated in the Pañcarātra scripture, but in Kali-yuga, the Supreme Lord Hari is worshiped only by the chanting of His Holy Name.
In the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, when the incarnation of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is mentioned, the method by which the people will worship Him is also given:
kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ sāṅgopāṅgāstra-pārṣadam
yajñaiḥ saṅkīrtana-prāyair yajanti hi sumedhasaḥ
In Kali-yuga, the Lord appears with a golden complexion and continuously chants the Name of Kṛṣṇa. He appears with His expansions, portions, weapons and associates. Those who are most intelligent will worship him through the sacrifice of the congregational chanting of the Holy Name. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.5.32)
Here, yajñaḥ means sacrifice, dedication, which is saṅkīrtana-prāya, or saṅkīrtana-pradhāna, which means ‘predominated by saṅkīrtana, the congregational chanting of the Holy Name.’ Those endowed with sufficient piety perform this kīrtana. So, in this age of iron, kīrtana has its own special privilege, granted by the Supreme Lord – Mahāprabhu’s specialty is preaching, kīrtana. He inaugurated and conducted hari-kīrtana.
Our Guru Mahārāja, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, and others have accepted kīrtana. To write about the Lord is also within the jurisdiction of kīrtana. To preach is to assert – to take the message to others. To engage in answering the questions of the environment automatically demands concentration, which is very rare in this age. When doing kīrtana, one automatically cannot but give all concentration and attention. One cannot speak independently; intuitively, one must be completely attentive. For this reason, kīrtana is recommended as the highest form of bhajana, especially in the age of Kali.
bhajanera madhye śreṣṭha nava-vidhā bhakti
‘kṛṣṇa-prema,’ ‘kṛṣṇa’ dite dhare mahā-śakti
tāra madhye sarva-śreṣṭha nāma-saṅkīrtana
niraparādhe nāma laile pāya prema-dhana
Of all forms of divine service, nine forms are superior, for with great potency they bestow upon the devotees love for Kṛṣṇa, and their personal relationship with Him. Of the nine, the best is nāma-saṅkīrtana. By offenselessly taking the Holy Name, the treasure of love for the Lord is attained.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 4.70.71)
Mahāprabhu accepted five principal limbs as the most important of the nine that are mentioned in the Bhāgavatam:
sādhu-saṅga, nāma-kīrtana, bhāgavata-śravaṇa
mathurā-vāsa, śrī-mūrtira śraddhāya sevāna
Association with devotees, chanting the Holy Name, hearing Bhāgavatam, residing in Mathurā-dhāma, and worshiping the Deity with faith. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.128)
Of these five, Mahāprabhu has given nāma-saṅkīrtana the highest position. Nāma–saṅkīrtana is considered best of all – designated as such by the ācāryas. Our Guru Mahārāja especially promoted kīrtana, as indicated by śāstra, the scriptures. But if other ācāryas have shown preference for smaraṇa in any instance, it is in the sense that kīrtana may be performed within the material environment, whereas smaraṇa is independent of any material consideration. From this point of view, smaraṇa may be deemed ‘higher,’ but that is not accepted in a general way. It is a special opinion.
In Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura clarified that there are two types of devotees in the stage just prior to attaining the highest plane of paramahaṁsa or uttama-adhikārī. The devotees who cross the middle stage (madhyama-adhikārī) and reach towards the highest position are called devotees in the stage of premarurukṣu. They are classified in two divisions: goṣṭhyānandī and viviktānandī (or bhajanānandī). The first type of devotees are always engaged in preaching, and the latter take to smaraṇa or nirjana-bhajana, a solitary life of worship, without mixing with the environment.
One is not superior to the other. The viviktānandīs generally like secluded life and practice smaraṇa. Those who are of the goṣṭhyānandī type perform kīrtana, preaching, and attain the highest position without the need to practice exclusive smaraṇa. Those who have attained the highest plane are known as premārūḍha.