The Art of Chanting

One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.
Leonardo Da Vinci

Some months ago I joined a chanting group led by Dharmavir Prabhu, and as is the case with most of these groups there are dedicated followers who consider the leader to be a self realized soul. The specialty of this group is focus on chanting – in other words the practice of sadhana. In this group 64 rounds is considered to be the beginning level. All I wanted was to practice 16 rounds consistently, so that was my intent in joining the group and I was temporarily accepted (I think Dharmavir Prabhu said something about 32 was the minimum to stay in the group).

He is also very strict about what Guru people have. If he doesn’t accept the Guru as a self-realized soul he want the follower to renounce that Guru. Yes, that one shocked me, but as he accepted my Guru then it wasn’t really an issue in my case.

What was important for me with this group was that I was being held accountable. I have to report the number of rounds I do every day – and then suddenly reporting ZERO rounds was out of the question. Coming up with excuses (read: laziness) evaporated. There was no way I could continue as I had done – and I didn’t really want to either, which was why I joined. I needed something like this for me to be motivated enough. Intrinsic motivation is difficult, I haven’t been able to unlock that.

In the female chanting group which I belong, there are some heavy chanters. There are a couple of women who are able to chant three lakhs (and have kids). That is also one of the claims of the group – that chanting 64 rounds is easily done by everyone. 64 rounds was considered minimum, Srila Prabhupada made concessions for the western devotees in the beginning because he saw that they were unable chant so much, yet 16 is bare minimum. And yet we struggle with even that amount of rounds.

When I was first introduced to Dharmavir Prabhu, he said there was an art to chanting (and since he used the word “art” I was kind of sold already there). In the beginning I struggled with my chanting. I usually used 7 minutes and 40 seconds on one round. I stumbled a lot on the mantra. The last two “hare hare” was stopping the flow. Something “krishna krishna” was stopping the flow. Really, I was trying to chant a lot  and pushing myself through stumbling. I guess I was learning to walk the hard way.

They thought me how to chant by first introducing the technique of chanting. There are three ways of chanting and it is written in hari bhakti vilasa:

  1. Audible: Each syllable is pronounced clearly
  2. Murmur: Fast chanting where names are not clear. Some words can one not even hear. It’s 100 times potent that audible. Chanting is on a higher level –> mental level.
  3. Mental chanting. Silent 1000 times more potent. Vibrate with lips and mind. Focus and awareness gives flow.

(HARI BHAKTI VILASA 17/159 YAJNA VALKYA)

        One  hundred times better than chanting japa in clear  or loud  condition is to chant japa in mumuring condition where  one can  hear  by  himself.  One thousand  times  better,  still,  is chanting  within ones mind, because chanting within the  mind  is equal to meditating on the Supreme Lord.

        Shrila  Sanatana Gosvami, clarifies this situation in  his Digdharsanitika,  stating  that chanting within the mind  is  one hundred  times better than chanting in murmuring condition  which is  one hundred  times  better  than  chanting  with  the  sound vibration.

Chanting mentally where I just vibrated the lips and tongue really made a huge difference. Chanting became more appreciable.

The second technique I have no reference for, but in my experience is correct: Sometimes the last two words “hare hare” goes silent. We are to understand that the two words are still being chanted.

These two techniques helped my chanting tremendously, and I now chant one round in 4 minutes. It has made wonders to my chanting and 16 rounds are really not a problem to chant anymore.

For a little while I was able to chant 64 rounds. Then my son got sick, I got sick, my sons father got sick and my chanting went downhill from there. I have not been able to get back up, so I stick with 16 rounds.

64 rounds consist of 4 hours and 30 minutes of consistent chanting. One of the claims of the group is that anybody can do it. Personally, that has not been the case with me. When having to spend so much time chanting, you come face to face with your limitations.

The advice I was given was clear. You get no taste for chanting without avoiding the 10 offences to the Holy Name. That is easier said than done unless one lives a pure life.I am not one of those. Am I therefore hopelessly fallen?

Dharmavir prabhu also said that to chant (64 rounds) there are only two requirements: dedication and effort.

I don’t have any of those. Even when I was chanting 64, I knew I was lacking. So my take on it is to just keep on trying which I guess is a sliver of effort with dedication missing. Chanting has become easy now, yet there is so little in me who wants to do it. There is so much else I want to do that is not connected to chanting, and is pleasurable.

If you want to know how to begin chanting 64 rounds, I have one more advice to give that any person of a more serious/stern mood will disagree with. Get the quantity up, then quality will come. Chant while you watch tv, listen to audiobooks, whatever. The quality will come and you begin to focus more exclusively to the mantra. Just work on quantity first.

As a sidenote I would also like to add one more bit to your practice if I may. Take some moments where you check in with yourself. I have stated that I lack determination and effort. So I ask myself: Why am I doing this? What is my purpose? What is it that I really want? Where do I want to be? How does my devotion fit into this?

At this moment in time, I have found my own answer and I am keeping true to that.

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