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.

Constantly chanting

13177750_10208391170194310_732364206427738780_nI was introduced to Krishna consciousness when I was 17, and got into it immediately. I quickly understood one was supposed to chant all the time – literally. I was new – I was pumped with enthusiasm and I was blissfully unaware and ignorant of what spiritual life really was.

I tried to chant, but was not good at it. I tried to remember to always chant, but I was completely unable to do so. I didn’t understand that I had no qualification to chant much and I couldn’t understand why it didn’t happen. So in the end, I got upset with Krishna and told him in no uncertain terms that I should be chanting the maha mantra mentally, continuosly, without stop.

……….. and I was heard.

It’s such a long time ago, but I think in the beginning I was pleased. My mind was chanting the maha-mantra on it’s own. My mind was taken over by this process which kept on chanting. It took over all my capacity. Sure, I was able to do things, but the mantra was shouting in my head, not letting me go. The hours past, a day went by. I don’t know how long I lasted.

In the end I was exhausted. I wanted my mind back. The mantra was so loud in my mind, it didn’t let me think of other stuff, it left no room for other things than the mantra. I ended up praying to Krishna to please take the mantra away. I couldn’t take it anymore.

…. and the mantra let go of me. I sighed in relief. It was finally quiet in my mind again. Now I could fill the mind with whatever I wanted.

Years went past. I had similar experiences without me needing to ask for it. The mantra came into my mind and lodged itself there.

At some point I recognized that something new had happened – that the mantra had spawned off as it’s own process in my mind. I could be doing something, thinking on whatever – and suddenly realize that I was chanting. The chanting process was working on me even if I had completely forgotten it and been focusing on something else for a long time. Then a moment of recognition came when I realize that the mantra was still doing it’s work.

But I still had the same experience, the mantra at some point exhausted me and I had to ask it to please leave. At some point even though the mantra may have been soft, it felt like it was shouting in my mind and I just wanted some peace of mind.

More years went by, and I haven’t really paid much attention to this mantra process and it has been taking a back burner. Though, it have been as recently as this year that I still had to ask the mantra to leave me.

But I have also not been satisfied with my japa efforts. I have tried to get back in the saddle and do well for a small amount of time. Then I accepted that I’m not in a place where sitting down to do japa is what I need to do now.

So what was left?

I haven’t consistently chanted 16 rounds of japa for years and years. But then the thought struck me – if I just keep on chanting in my mind all day long – what is the need for sitting down to do japa?

I remembered all my failures at mentally chanting. Then I thought that it didn’t matter anymore.

So I began to chant mentally. This time I had to work on the mantra. It didn’t come to me and lodged itself in my mind. But the mantra was soft, a nice whisper in my mind and as I was going about my day, the mantra was with me. Sometimes I got so immersed into what I was doing that I forgot the mantra. Then I just began the process again.

Sometimes I was immersed in my activities, only to realize that the mantra process was still there without me even “hearing” it.

Then the moment came, where the mantra was so loud in my mind. It was shouting and it made me tired. But this time I had a plan on how to deal with it: I asked Gurudeva and Krishna to please soften the mantra in my mind. I didn’t want to loose it, just that it took a little less space.

…….. and I was heard.

This has been going on for a week now I think. I don’t count the days, because this is of no effort to me. Only once have I needed to ask the mantra to please soften.

It doesn’t feel intruding anymore – instead its soft, quiet, calm. It gives me space. It keeps with me, it leaves me. I just chant and get it back on track when I notice it. Hours turns into days.

And somehow my qualification to chant continously took twenty years. Anything worth doing requires a lot of time and troubleshooting to get qualified. It requires that we recognize our limitations and work within them. And when we see our limitations and start to think of how we can move around them – that’s when the breakthrough comes.

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.

 

The Goal of Japa

11022515_10152610131701433_1736104955035057550_oI recently watched the documentary The Dhamma Brothers. It’s about a high security prison in the US where they had a 10 day meditation program called Vipassana. The point is to meditate for 10 days in silence. No books, phones etc. to disturb the meditation. It sounds great and scary at the same time. I think such a program would be really hard and really rewarding at the same time. During the film one of the brothers told that once when the bell sounded for a break, he just wanted to continue meditating. He didn’t want a break.

We hear that Japa is Krishna. That means that Japa itself is the goal. So by chanting japa, we are associating with that goal, however badly we chant. So what should the goal of Japa be? We are already associating with the goal when we chant. We have not realized our goal yet, but achieving our siddha deha seems like a fairy tale and is simply a too lofty goal to pursue.

64 rounds of japa is encouraged everywhere. It’s in recent times with Srila Prabhupada that 16 rounds have become the minimum requirement. 64 rounds equals to 8 hours of meditation. 16 rounds equals getting chanting done so you can get around to doing everything else. With 64 rounds your primary duty is to chant, while everything else has to be done besides that.

I’m beginning to recognize that 64 rounds is necessary to get a transformation, a change in us. 16 rounds doesn’t even make a dent in me.

I first encountered this idea here:

Good Chanting Produces More Good Chanting
How do I know I have chanted good rounds? One of the best indicators for me is that when I finish my rounds I want to keep chanting because I am getting such a nice taste. If I am relieved to put my bead bag down after my last round, that’s an indicator that my chanting is not being done properly. Good chanting always produces a taste to chant more. Prabhupada said sixteen rounds is the minimum; that constant chanting is the goal.

 

Despite my different efforts at techniques, I think my real aim should just be to chant so much that in the end I don’t want to put the japa beads down. Just chant, chant, chant. Just the thought of that is uncomfortable and I see how quickly I reach for something else. How do I develop the adhikara to just chant?

Still, I think in the low position that I am that quantity is more important than quality. That quantity begets quality. They aren’t really in opposition either, quantity and quality goes hand in hand. If you are restless and doing all other things while doing japa, you will not get the inspiration to do more japa, but less. To be able to do more, there has to be some quality to it.

So the goal of each japa session should be to come to the place where you don’t want to stop chanting.

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.

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.

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!