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.

Daily planner

Today is aksaya-tritiya. So, in honor of this day I would like to give away my daily planner. I created a monthly spiritual planner a while ago as a way to track one’s sadhana. But it wasn’t enough for my needs. I like writing a journal and track my task list. The daily schedule I use to keep track of what I’m doing , when I wake up, lunch, whatever.

So in honor of aksaya-tritya, here is my daily planner I hope it receives you well.

 

Hearing and chanting

When you read the instructions from our acharyas, notice when the words “hearing and chanting” is used together. Often those two verbs go together. I just did a quick search in the “Art of Sadhana” by Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharaja:

…such devotion (characterized by activities such as hearing and chanting about Krishna) must be causeless;
…But the best of all yogis is one who practices devotional acts like hearing and chanting.

…Only the process of devotional service consisting of hearing and chanting as given by the spiritual master can destroy these Mesas.

…The jiva then takes the role of a gardener, plants the seed of faith in the heart and waters it with the acts of hearing and chanting.

…Taking shelter of Me, they engage in constantly hearing and chanting about Me.(Srimad Bhagavatam 3.25.23)

…One who engages in hearing and chanting without taking shelter of Lord Gaurasundara Mahaprabhu may do so for many lifetimes without achieving the treasure of love for Krishna.

… Always think of Me, worship Me by engaging in the devotional services of hearing and chanting.. (Bhagavad-gita 18.65)

…Raganuga bhakti is practiced both externally and internally. In the external body, the practitioner en­ gages in hearing and chanting; in his mind, however, he meditates on his spiritual body and serves Krishna in Vrindavan, day and night. (Chaitanya Charitamrta 2.22.156-7, 159)

This is just the result from one book. Hearing and chanting is mentioned eight times in one book. Three of those quotes comes directly from verses in the sastras.

Hearing and chanting comes in pair. They are dependant on each other. But how?

We all know the importance of chanting. It’s our primary duty – but hearing. Of course, we also know the importance of harikatha. But the hearing needs to enter our hearts. It does so by chanting. The chanting cleanses our hearts so that hearing becomes more efficient. In this regards this excellent article from harmonist.us really ascertain the importance of hearing: Hearing and reflection. (Please read it, it’s excellent!)

For a couple of years now I have not been able to read. Not getting sleep seriously damage your cognitive abilities and therefore I haven’t been able to read anything more than lightweight articles and such. Books have been far beyond my capability. It still is, but something is changing in me because I now chant. The chanting have made me curious about studying (hearing), so I’m approaching the sastra differently. By studying small bits and focus on how things are connected, my reading doesn’t need concentration. Instead it activates my investigative interest.

Which connects back to doing our japa – however badly. If we just perservere, japa will give us the enthusiasm to go further. Hearing and chanting goes hand in hand. If it doesn’t, just chant and hearing will come.

 

Anartha nivritti (removing misconceptions)

How many times have we heard that we are not the body? I’m so tired to listening to lectures telling me this basic thing. But I only understand it from an intellectual level. I understand that I am this consciousness – which we may or may not call a soul. But how do we * know * that we are not this body?

We are so caught up in living our lives that we do not even recognize even this simple truth. So where does this understanding blossom? In the stage of anartha nivritti. Japa is an opportunity to let our eyes wander inwards – and what comes forward is the body’s desires for… all things material. And we get the understanding that the life we are living is a layer – a covering that so easily catches us. That’s where the stage of anartha nivritti kicks in. Removing unwanted desires is a way of uncovering our real selves which is covered by our bodys misconception. And what is this misconception? In my case I can list the basic things like soda, coffee, chocolate, foods. These things are stopping me from uncovering who I really am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When our material desires burns away, our understanding that we are not this body will gradually be uncovered. We separate between ourselves and the body’s desires. We come more in touch with who we really are.

When I was in Vrindavin, Didi told me that japa was the way Krishna worked on us. I had to do japa, because that’s where He does his work on me. After the written warning I got (see my last post), I have been chanting every day, so very reluctantly and not wanting it at all. So in the beginning I decided that if I was to chant, Krishna should feel my pain. So I poured my pain into the chanting. Days and days where all I did was letting Krishna feel my pain. I poured it in – and without me really noticing it, my pain was burned away from me.

I mentally screamed at Krishna: “How do you work on me?” while doing japa. I wanted Him to feel everything I was feeling. I wanted Him to drown in my pain while I was doing japa. I did this for what seems a long time, but I guess it’s not for Him (or even me).

I don’t want my life to weaken even more, so I continued doing japa. Now I do my rounds while watching TV and playing candy crush. I think I’m doing better than I should in Candy Crush because Krishna is sick of it.

And Krishna is working on me. Do your japa – it doesn’t matter how. While watching TV or whatever. Do your japa. Pour your pain into it. Let Krishna take care of it. Just do your japa – it doesn’t matter how. Krishna will change you that way. One candy crush game at a time.

Mental chanting

srila-prabhupada-japa-bw-380x500I’m in a spiritual slump, while at the same time not being in a spiritual slump. Sounds contradictory? Well, it is for me. I’m a bit devoid of inspiration, while at the same time there are things I’m working on and I see changes. I don’t understand how I can feel I’m in a slump while I still move forward, but there it is. My life and understanding don’t need to make sense always.

I’ve been trying to practice chanting mentally. The goal is chanting 64 rounds, which of course is a bit hilarious since I’m not chanting the recommended 16. So a little search gave me what Paramahamsa Yogananda (which is a hatha-yoga guru) has said:

The five states of chanting are:

  1. chanting aloud
  2. whisper chanting
  3. mental chanting
  4. subconscious chanting
  5. superconscious chanting

I’m well versed in the first and second, but the third one is the one I’m working on. I’ve never much liked mental chanting because it’s just so slow. Whisper chanting has been nice because it’s faster and then I can think all this nonsense while my mouth is chanting.

What the 4th and 5th states are, I have no idea. Sounds mystic.

So I’ve been trying to chant mentally for about a week. The first times took me 10 minutes to finish a round and it was so painful. My mind was so slow. The tongue was so much faster than my mind, how could that be? I had to bite my tongue sometimes, so that I wasn’t chanting with it.

It became obvious how connected my mind is to my body. It’s strange when the mind takes so much longer time than the tongue. A thought is lightning fast, so the mantra shouldn’t be like sticky glue to chant. I didn’t know that the mind was so resisting of it.

A whisper chanting takes about 7 minutes and 40 seconds. After a week I’m down to mentally chanting in 7 minutes and 30 seconds which is faster. Great !

The inspiration to chant mentally came from a facebook group on how to chant 64 rounds.  It stated that whisper chanting is actually kirtan and that mental chanting is the way to go. The goal is to chant mentally until there is no space in the maha mantra and it should take 5 minutes. Thereby you can finish 64 rounds in 5 hours and 20 minutes.

Why do I mention all these numbers? Because for me this is a way to measure progress and keep myself inspired. It’s a way to keep on working on the goal. I know that what we really want to inspire is the feelings behind these practices, but I know nothing of that and I have no control of that either. I leave that to my Gurudeva and the parampara. I just have to show up to the practice, and they will just have to do the changes on me if they want.

Do you have any recommendations or experiences in your mental chanting?

 

Aiming towards steadiness

10003657_10152680844326433_4111866144249062890_oThere was a woman who once talked to Gurudeva about some subject. During the conversation she said that she wouldn’t finish the process in this lifetime, but may be the next. Gurudeva then struck her, with the sound warning that she should only aim towards achieving our goal in this lifetime.

I only heard this story through a third-party, which is why this story is so badly rendered from my side. For all I know, it might not even be true.

It’s shocking, because Gurudeva struck her. It’s instructive, because it really drives an important point home. We should never allow laxness in our thinking and habits.

That is why I never really entertain the idea that I will have to spend several lifetimes before I achieve my goal. I know I have a long way to go and at the rate I’m going… well. I understand that realistically, I will have to use lifetimes.

But mentally, I don’t think that way. I don’t allow it. That’s why I get enthusiastic when I find something that indicate that this lifetime is enough. The thought of being born in this material world again, nauseates me. I have no interest in it. Though, this thinking in itself is selfish, and lacks devotional service. If I had some bhakti in me, I would be happy to do my Guru’s wishes wherever he put me. It wouldn’t matter if I’m in this material world or not.

In reality, what I want is to get rid of the conditioned part of me.

I have had an understanding and acceptance for the unsteady part of my service. I haven’t pushed because I have understood that I haven’t been qualified. This acceptance hasn’t meant laxness in my case, only understanding with the continued effort to improve.

I have gone days, even weeks without chanting. It’s been unsteady. I can suddenly chant 16 rounds. Then nothing. Then 8 rounds, 4, 10, 13, nothing. Despite this, I have this internal drive that keeps on pushing whenever I see that I get lazy and get me moving again in the right direction.

I have decided that it’s time to add some steadiness to my routine. Now I will chant every day. Even if it is only one round, I will chant every day.

I’m ready now for some steadiness. May be more importantly, I want it.

The proof is in the doing

Can you prove that God exists? No.
Can you prove that God doesn’t exist? No.

10672179_926057464082714_5150527650646704156_nWhen I asked my Gurudeva to be his diska disciple, I got the question “Do you do 16 rounds?” At that time I had been doing so for a year. Now I don’t, but I strive for it. I keep on falling down, but my impression is that I manage to work myself upward again quicker than before each time. The truth is that when I asked my Gurudeva for diksa, I had only one vow I could give to him – my loyalty. That was my sankalpa.

I would never leave my dedication to him. No matter how fallen I am or would become, I would remain loyal. If I ever disagree with him, I will not leave him. That was the real vow I did. To always have faith in my Gurudeva, even when it gets hard. He is my father and family.

We know that diksa is a life-long process until we have achieved our siddha-deha. I also consider that as I have to prove to my Gurudeva that I am loyal and will work on my spiritual life forever, my Gurudeva has to prove to me that he will uphold his end of the deal. I give loyalty, but I also expect loyalty in return. In truth, I expect so much more from him than I expect from myself because he has to keep on making me move forward.

My Gurudeva left this world in 2010, and he proved in his life that he was utterly dedicated to Krishnas service. Though he’s disappeared I still expect him to uphold his deal, he has to prove this process is true to me.

Each year I see my faith is increasing. I don’t see it in the day to day, but I see it as months and years pass that slowly I’m going deeper, I’m being led along the path as long as I’m not resisting. I see it in my understanding, I see it when I suddenly recognize myself in verses and passages, I see it when I recognize what spiritual level I’m at.

It’s no coincidence that the first item in surrender is “reject what is unfavorable for bhakti”, and the second item is “accept what is favorable for bhakti”. It comes of itself and you notice it when some pulling lessen. You notice how your thoughts goes “it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get this..” and you shrug it off as inconsequential. Things that previously held so much sway. The taste and interest for it has lessened, almost gone. It happened of itself, you didn’t push for it.

The proof is in the process. It’s gradually revealed to you and with it a pearl of experience and wisdom. The process itself is addictive.

You just have to hold on, and Guru will drag you up. The proof is in the doing.

Ignorance of qualification

1495397_10152641765091433_1680331432913467090_oI used to think that “only I had enough <enter situation here>, I will do so much more bhajana”. If only I had enough time, working 8 hours is draining! If only I had a meditation chair, if only I had more money, if only….

I really believed that if I got what I wanted, I would have more time to chant. Of course, when I got what I wanted, I didn’t chant. I was aware that I had gotten what I wanted, but there was so much else I needed to do first. My own needs got priority. Then – if I had some time I chanted, but there was no taste. So I pushed myself, but what I really wanted was to do something else. But, I had a duty to chant so I did it, with no taste.

What I didn’t understand then was that qualification is a gradual development. It’s not something that you do when everything is arranged perfectly. The stars doesn’t need to be aligned, you don’t need a whole day for yourself dedicated to chanting – because you’re not qualified. If you get a whole day for chanting, you will spend it differently and with a guilty conscience when you do some chanting.

That guilt is wasted. Guilt will not make us strive harder, it’s there to make us understand that qualification is gradual. I didn’t even understand that I had to work on chanting, I thought that just doing the rounds however unconscious was enough. It wasn’t. I had no taste, chanting became a chore, then chanting became a burden, then the burden became too heavy and I gave it up.

Now I understand that I need to work on my qualification if I want to chant more. I don’t need the conditions to be perfect, my imperfect conditions makes me want to chant more instead.

Every one of us has five senses, which are like five automatic tape recorders. No matter where we may stay, these tape recorders are always recording and playing back what they have recorded. Nirjana-bhajana, solitary bhajana, can only be performed when these five tape recorders have stopped recording things of this world.
The only way to stop them is by creating new recordings overtop of all of whatever they have previously recorded. Slowly, slowly, whatever recordings we have previously made will be erased when we use all our senses in the service of Vaiṣṇavas.

Srila Bhakti Vijnana Bharati Maharaja

Falling in love

7024081929695_0When I first saw that lamp, I was sold. I fell in love with the lamp and knew that was the lamp I will have above my dining table. I don’t purchase things unless I fall in love with them and I revel in it. It’s important to me to surround myself with beauty and I treasure it every time I lay my eyes on it. I don’t care about the price, I’m in love.

So I set my goal on the prize, get determined, figure out the way to get it and wait… I perform the necessary steps until I get what I want.

I know all about settings goals, figure out the necessary steps and having the determination to achieve it. I have whatever grit and tolerance to do whatever that’s needed. When I first set my eyes on something and make that decision – then I don’t let anything get in my way. There may be many obstacles, but somehow I manage to deal with them.

I have decided that Krishna is a prize. I have figured out that he is a worthy goal to pursue. He is a thing of beauty, and I will purchase him. I don’t care about the price, but I know what the price is. I have to purchase Him with the maha-mantra. I have to bind Him to the mantra. The maha-mantra is mine, and I will bind Him to it. I don’t care what he wants, this is what I want.

I don’t know why I fall on love, why exactly that one thing makes me decide that this is a goal to strive for. I don’t know why I perceive something as a thing of beauty, just that I do. What I do know is that I will have to figure out a way to maintain this determination. I will forget my determination, and I will have to summon it back again and again. I don’t think I understand how high the price actually are – and that is a good thing. I will give in many times – but I will never give up.