Approaching japa as a system

11021342_10152597623386433_5285402223995859019_oSince wondering what the difference between meditation and japa is (if you look past the whole potency of Gods names), I’ve come to understand that what I’m really searching for is techniques. In meditation there usually is some techniques involved – sitting posture, breathing and of course, dealing with the mind.

If you look at meyer-briggs personality types, I’m an INTJ which translates to analytical problem solvers (if you read to the end of the intj link you will see the statement that intj’s are least likely of all the types to believe in a higher spiritual power). So it only comes natural to me to approach spiritual life as a system I need to crack. Sadhana is about service, but also about developing feelings of attachment, taste and love through service. In these different levels of feelings, there is symptoms that categorize on what level you are, so there is a system to spiritual life that sings to me. Feelings doesn’t really translate itself to me – but systems on the other hand is something I can work on.

So if I approach Japa meditation as techniques (aka a system), I have found these techniques so far on my japa journey:

1. Reject any thoughts that are unfavorable for japa. For example, if you think chanting is hard, it will become hard.
2. Put any thoughts not related to Krishna on the side for the japa session. When chanting the mind start roving about, but leave those thoughts to the side and instead treat the japa session as a conversation with Krishna.
3. Record activities in a weekly diary

In a comment by Syamanada Prabhu, he mentions that we’re to hear each syllable of each mantra for the whole japa session. This can be labeled as a consequence of Japa. When I leave the thought that chanting is hard, I’ve experienced that chanting flows on its own accord and is actually dragging me along as long as I don’t interfere with it. Is that a consequence of Japa, or is it part of the labor? Or may be, it is a symptom?

So we have the job itself (japa), a few techniques, symptoms and consequences attached to Japa meditation. So I now can  try to categorize japa and how it works within these categories. Also, to record activities in a weekly diary doesn’t qualify as a technique, but more as a measuring stick.

Then we have the whole namabhasa and aparadhas, which I haven’t even touched upon. I’ve only begun the work on deciphering this japa system, but I think I have understood the right way for me to approach the understanding of it.

Sadhana is an art form

krishnamoonPeople approach God realization like climbing a mountain. But this mountain is dancing!
Siddhasvarupananda
A dance contains some basic routines we learn at the get go by a teacher that oversees us and steer us in the right direction. In sadhana, our primary function is to chant everyday as a basic routine to never waver from. We begin by practicing the dance and learning the proper moves. We keep on practicing until the dance has become muscle memory and we can perform it in our sleep. The expert dancers create their own performance and style based upon the routines, but you feel it in your heart when something extraordinary happens. They have found their own path. Within the basic routine we have to forge our own path and create a performance of beauty and art that touches the heart.

Meditation versus Japa

Radhanath Swami speaks in “A Journey Home” about meditating next to the Ganges and in the Himalayas. I can only fathom that he meditated for hours on end, and I wonder how he did it. Did he enter samadhi? What did he experience during his meditations? This was before he was introduced to Srila Prabhupada and Krishna consciousness where meditations equals japa. But there isn’t really any speak about the experiences that japa gives or should give. What levels there are in Japa? Should we loose track of time, and what happens during it? On what level does time disappear?

In “Autobiography of a Yogi”, Yogananda Swami is into Kriya yoga and speaks about meditating. He tells about his experiences a little bit, but again I don’t understand what he experiences when meditating for hours. He talks a lot about having special powers like levitation etc. When Gaudiya Vaishnavas speak about powers is just in a bi-sentence with the warning that this is just material powers and does nothing towards attaining our goal.

But isn’t these experiences that people have doing kriya yoga also a part of japa, or are we talking a different process where we don’t have the same experiences? Shouldn’t doing japa award us these same powers that other yoga practitioners experience?

I’ve been craving silence lately. Not outward silence, but inwardly. The mind is like this chatty friend that hasn’t understood to let things go. It keeps on talking about the same subjects for millions of times, and after listening to it for hours you get tired. It’s no use in getting irritated or angry at this friend, because it’s all he knows. It’s old patterns and he hasn’t learned the new ones yet, but after hours on end, I just want silence. I need a break from this chattyness because I get exhausted.

So I meditate a bit in silence and begin to wonder why silence and solitude isn’t mentioned anywhere in our process. Japa seems to be a bit on the opposite side considering I chant orally 98% of the time. There isn’t much information about what should happen during japa even. The only message we get is that it’s important to chant attentively and avoid committing offences, but that’s not really instructive.

How does meditation in silence for hours and japa coincide?

I’ve read pages on pages on the struggles of Japa, but not on what happens when you don’t struggle. Where’s the book “The Science of Japa”? I would like to skip the whole chapters on struggles and offences, and get right to the good stuff.

Lack of love

Gurudeva_onLove.jpgThe material disease is really a lack of love towards Krishna. We begin with a love for ourselves which extends to children, then spouses and family. Then comes friends and slowly it extends towards the society we are part of and the world as our consciousness  grows and veil of ignorance decreases.

But our inability to focus on our sadhana is really just a lack of love. When you truly love somebody, you go to all your length to please the other person. It doesn’t matter how tired you are and what you got going on – you go ahead and do what you have to do anyway.

This is something my son has taught me. When you have a kid, you truly will give up your life for your kid if that ever comes up. But – that is not really the way to measure love. Love isn’t even a feeling, it’s actions. Love is what you do, day in and day out. Love is to keep on taking care of your kid no matter how tired or sick you are, feed your kid, bathe etc. You put yourself on the side, because it’s so much more important to take care of your kid. That’s love.

But at the same time, if you don’t take care of yourself properly, you will not be able to properly take care of your kid either. If you go hungry, you get irritable and angry and that doesn’t serve the kid.

The more I do my sadhana, the more I see how little love there is in my heart. Love is all about giving without any expectations to receive something in return. Being allowed to give something is in itself the reward. The more I give, the more I see how little love there is in my heart.

More importantly, the more I receive, the more I see how little love there is in me. How little I have to give. It makes it easier to accept faults in others, for when you truly care about somebody else it’s easy to accept people for who they are. Seeing how little love there is in my heart, I hope that other people will accept me for who I am.

All of this is revealed, the more I chant. Whenever I contemplate how little love there is in me, I go ahead and do what needs to be done. For some strange reason, thinking this makes me want to do more.

The lack of love is the real disease and I want to mend my unloving ways.

Habit transformations

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I’ve been going through one of my down periods. What makes this down period a bit different is that I knew it when it started and I now understand how to begin breaking it. Down periods is just natural and part of being in the unsteady devotional process. There’s no use in fighting it, it’s better to accept it and use one’s abilities to figure out how to turn the tide.

I was having a strong period with chanting and the likes when I went to on a small hiking trip with a friend. It was a small mountain close to where I live, and it was just a four hour hike. It was a great hike, I loved it. Of course, my legs were unaccustomed to the beating, so they hurt a lot. For some unknown reason that was the beginning of my down period. One should think that a beautiful trip in nature would inspire Krishna consciousness, not hinder it.

So what hinders Krishna Consciousness?

If you engage in sense gratification, it’s like choking whatever little enthusiasm and determination you have with the weed of sense enjoyment.

Radhanath Swami

I don’t understand how a nice hike turned into a down period, but it doesn’t matter. Krishna consciousness is about kindling habits that are positive for spiritual advancement.

Every habit has three components: cue (or a trigger for an automatic behavior to start), a routine (the behavior itself) and a reward (which is how our brain learns to remember this pattern for the future.)

The Golden Rule of Habit Change

The cue was the hike and that my legs were painful for days afterwards (I suspect the real reason was my tiredness and pain). The routine was me not performing my daily sadhana and the reward I guess was not doing my sadhana. Let’s face it, it’s easier to not do sadhana and just instead do something else – exist unconsciously. Watching tv.

So how can I change this habit?

I can’t do much with a trigger of tiredness and pain, since that is something I experience often. I have to change the routine. The thing is, not doing something isn’t much of a routine. Not doing devotional service is the standard for me and comes natural for me and 99% of all human beings. The routine and reward is really the same.

If I want to change my trigger, I have to find something pleasurable within devotional service. I have to figure out my reward. So for me this is a no-brainer. I love to read.

So if I’m tired and in pain, I need to open up a devotional book. The best thing is to have a book I want to read available, so it’s easy to pick it up when I’m thinking “I should do my sadhana now”. So what is my reward?

Whenever I read a book, I relax. I transform into another world of wonders. Reading is very pleasurable to me. And usually, reading inspires me to chant.

So I have to make reading into a routine. Not only for when I’m tired, but whenever I’m thinking “I should do my sadhana” and not feeling it. The “not feeling it” is really the trigger.  That little thought and feeling that you so easily dismiss and go do something else.

 

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Who’s working who?

1655832_634549923247201_120203651_nWhat is the best time to chant?

You know the answer to this one, right? Everybody says it’s morning. Well, not me. For me it’s best in the evening. It always has been. In the morning, chanting is all effort for me. So I manage to do some rounds, and well, then the day hit you. I also have a kid, so the mornings are usually a bit busy. Most people when doing Gayatri doesn’t respond if somebody comes to talk to them etc. Me – I have learned that if I want to finish Gayatri, I just have to respond to whatever my kid says, then just keep on doing it. Mornings are instead perfect reading time.

In the morning/day I might start to think that chanting is hard, and then it becomes harder. So I have to let the thought go because it doesn’t help me in my chanting. I think about how my life is busy and there is so much to do, then I realize that I’m making up a story about my life that doesn’t like chanting, so I have to let the story go. The story isn’t beneficial for my chanting, so I have to let it go. I find myself thinking during the day; “how in the world will I ever to finish my prescribed number of rounds?” So I ask for the help of the Name to be able to finish my rounds this day.

Then evening comes and Simon has fallen asleep. I’m tired and usually crash next to the tv for mindless entertainment. Then it’s getting late and I’m tired and sleepy. I have so many rounds left, but I need to sleep. I need the sleep.

But I can at least do a couple of rounds. So I start doing it, and then I get a bit alert. Alert enough so that I’m not able to fall asleep. So I think I should just continue chanting, I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway. The chanting runs smoothly. At some point I understand that it runs so smoothly, that I can’t stop. I can’t go check that text message or do anything else but chant if I want to finish my prescribed number of rounds. If I stop I might not get it back, this smoothness. Instead I have to get out of it’s way and let the Name work on me.

Miraculously, I manage to finish my rounds. I would never be able to finish this number of rounds. The Name finished them for me. I just had to get out of it’s way to let it work through me.

In my mind I have envisioned this dirty mirror of my heart. I have really wanted there to be a crack in some of the dirt, so that there would be a little light that shines through so that I would find more pleasure in doing japa. But maybe, maybe that not how it works?

Instead, maybe there is a spot of dirt that has become soft enough now, that the Name can work to make me finish my rounds. Maybe, a spot of dirt has become soft enough for me to understand that I have to get out of it’s way when it decides to help me. I have to get out of it’s way.

It’s not me working Japa, it’s the Name working on me.

 

I can make it ! So can you !

1507808_576170842458331_248120126_nI’m so excited! I have been wondering how much japa is enough, if 16 rounds is kindergarten level or not. A 100 000 names or 64 rounds have always been mentioned everywhere as the gold standard, and 16 rounds makes 25% of “completeness” which isn’t so bad. Though, I have chanted 16 rounds before and I know it’s not enough – at least not for me to progress (yes, I have a lot of cleansing to do).

Then I came across this:

If one chants 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, he will complete the chanting of 35 million maha-mantras in around 55.5 years. If he doubles his chanting i.e. 32 rounds daily, then he will take around 28 years. And if he can chant the ideal prescribed quota of chanting i.e. 64 rounds daily, he will take around 15 years to complete the great sacrifice of chanting the maha-mantra 35,000,000 times. If one chants 64 rounds of the maha-mantra for 15 years while strictly following the principles of bhakti-yoga in the association of pure devotees, then one is sure to see the Supreme Personality of Godhead face to face in this very life and ultimately achieve the highest abode of the Lord called Goloka Vrindavana. – See more at: http://harekrishnajapa.com/why-not-just-chant-krishna/#sthash.fC1l1Rgl.dpuf

 

This is the first time I have seen something this specific, so I hope it’s authentic. If it actually is authentic, it means it has to come true. Krishna has no choice.

As a person who works within IT, my mind is pretty logically made up. There’s nothing like specifics to make me motivated. I like dealing with numbers to know what I have to work with, which makes this path frustrating because there is nothing logical about feelings. You can’t exactly blurt out “I’m feeling 3% devotional today!”. Really, if there was a flat screen on the wall stating how far away I was from the goal and what I had to do to get there – I would be motivated like nothing else! That flat screen could have listed a todo list with what I had to do each day to achieve siddha-deha – I would be on it. Even better – I would have loved to have a ticker where it stated how much time until I received my siddha-deha. If I one day wasn’t up to standard, and that ticker went up I would be even more motivated to get that number down!

I can work with 15, 28 and even 55 years. No problem, I’m dedicated to this path, however unsteady it is.

Sure, I don’t know when I will die but there is a chance I have 55 years.  I sure need to mature a lot devotionally, but I have a lot of time. Say I retire when I’m 62. Before getting that old, I will have matured my japa to most likely 32 rounds (which gives me 28 years). When I retire I see myself moving to a place with a temple and devotees nearby (hopefully maha-bhagavats), and I will be mature enough then to chant 64 rounds a day. That gives me 15 years or may be even less if I have been able to increase my rounds.

Then I just need to convince Krishna that flat-screens with progress details is a GREAT idea!

Driven by….. guilt

hare-krishna-returns-embed-2This path is all-consuming. At least, that’s what it evolves towards. So whatever I do as a conditioned being, it’s never enough. Never good enough. At least that’s what my mind thinks.

Then greed came up as a requisite to progress again. Greed just keeps on popping up to be able to work myself forward. Ever since I understood what is required of me, I’ve become a bit…. resistant. I mean, if we are talking developing greed, then things are getting serious. That’s scary. Greed is scary to me.

I truly believe in God. I truly believe this world and I belong to him and that I owe him everything. So a lot of my devotional activities are driven by guilt. I feel I don’t do enough, don’t try enough and I feel that almost always when I do something material, which is most of the time. I understand that it’s ridiculous, just imagine this conversation:

Me: Dear God, I’m doing all of this for you – out of guilt.
God: Thank you my dear, but I have to respectfully decline. This is not the service I want from you.

I feel guilty, but that is counter-productive if I’m to develop greed. Actually, I think it runs a bit averse to greed. When your greedy, you go after what you want with all your might, and you get what you want as long as you endure enough failures and learn on the way.

Guilt on the other hand contains a bit of resistance, “I want to do it, but deep down not really. I only do it because I have to, but I will smile and say I like it because goddamnit, that’s what I have to do”.

This is no good.

Inner fulfillment of grace

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I feel wonderful. I’ve never been this happy and content in my life, I feel so wonderful it’s fantastic. There’s nothing bothering me, nothing. Everything is a-okey!

So from a spiritual viewpoint, how do you classify feeling great?
I’m really great, very great, very very great?

My path now is on working on even more subtle level than before. When things aren’t okey in the external environment, then whatever internal work is being performed becomes visible in the externals. But now everything is great both internally and externally, so whatever progress I have will most likely be more internally. If it is visible externally, only the most observant will notice it, those who really know me well.

I’m seeing the contours of two persons in me. The external me is doing whatever she needs to do, experiencing what happens etc. Then there’s the internal me who is observing things that happen as if the external me is an actor in a theatre. The internal me at the core is content, happy and relaxed whatever happens to the external me. The external me gets worked up and sometimes loose sight of the internal me and feel unhappy. So then I have to sit down and meditate until the internal me shows herself again.

Externally this is visible in the shape of that there is a slight reduction of the need for sense gratification. There is a lessening, my need for different and specific sense gratification is less prominent. That in itself feels like relief. It’s like small pebbles is being taken away from me, and for each pebble the load gets easier to carry and I feel relief for the easier load, for the slightest load however insignificant.

At the same time I’m amazed. How is it possible that there is so much happening to me internally and it seems to be going fast? Even timewise I think it’s fast. I know I’m only scratching the surface of spiritual progress, but I notice every change and it’s so rich in flavor. I’m even surprised that somehow the words to describing this becomes available to me.

I’m only scratching the surface. How wonderful is that?

Trust the process

10175999_10152640855119667_8227195595408581059_nI wanted progress and I got it. I proved that it is possible to progress spiritually on your own – at least for a little while.

If I look back on my last few years, how have I progressed?
Well, I’m in a mentally very healthy state now, with an emphasis on the word healthy. I’m exactly where I should be, really. I’ve learned that if I want to progress spiritually, I have to clear away old baggage in form of relationships that aren’t healthy, childhood wounds that needs to be healed, creating a healthy space for myself. I have learned tolerance and grit by breaking, except I’m not broken when I break. When I break, I’m at the end of learning a lesson.

All of these have been great lessons I’m happy I have overcome, but the thing is; these are in themselves not spiritual lessons. They are lessons on overcoming unfavorable material karma. The spiritual lesson is that clearing this baggage makes me more available to progress spiritually because there is less junk on my path. Clearing this junk makes it easier and faster to progress spiritually.

So where do I go from here?

I used to have so many questions about this philosophy, but I’m all out of questions. I used to devour books, and now I haven’t opened one in a long time. Progressing spiritually is a bit like being blind and deaf. I have no idea what spiritual insights I need to develop, because I have never done it before. I’m blind to what I have never experienced. I’m walking a path I have never walked before and I don’t even know the path. I know the path behind me, but not the path in front of me.

My focus has shifted from reading to (not) practicing. I need to practice. I need a siksa guru to put that discipline in me – or at least get me moving. I get why one needs to have close interations with a Guru to progress spiritually. I’m bad at kicking my own hide, I’m a terrible boss of me.

I just have to trust that Krishna will make me walk the path of bhakti and will reveal everything to me in the right time. I have to trust that He will reveal the process and put the right people in front of me. I have to trust the process.