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By Kesava Krsna dasa – GRS
There are a myriad of instructions on how to chant japa. All of them serve to help us achieve success. In spite of the varied nuances and techniques, why are we plagued with anarthas, struggling to reach a semblance of nistha, from which to springboard to higher levels of attainment? With thousands of shades of advice available, it seems only a select few are privileged to be relishing the chanting. Is there a secret formula to fast-track our progress?
There is mention in the Prema-Vivarta that the all-knowing Supreme Lord is unable to fully understand His merciful extension – Sri Hari Nama prabhu. What hope is there for us? How can we ever understand Sri Adhoksaja any more than Mother Yashoda can bind her dear Sri Damodara?
The holy places like Sri Navadvipa dhama and Sri Vrndavana dhama are portals to the spiritual world. Having established many temples worldwide, Srila Prabhupada and his followers have multiplied the number of portals via the Arca-Vigraha installed in the temples. Even more pervasive and merciful are the holy names, to which each and every one of us has a unique relationship as cultivated through our japa. The holy names given to us by the authorized process of diksha means that we have received everything, for everything is Sri Sri Radha and Krsna and Their expansions from whom all spiritual and material worlds emanate, BG.10.8. These individual portals are our gateway to spiritual success. But to unlock the gates, first we have to break down the barrier of our offence laden solidified mass of anarthas, which compound the hardness of the heart. The covering is compared to “As fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust….” BG.3.38. So – ceto darpana marjanam…. is our means for accessing the entrance, while the Maha-mantra is the code. We have to be forgiven for all our unlimited violations of the wishes of Krsna.
If we chant because we have to, impelled by the order of the spiritual master, we become the doer. We time ourselves, try to improve our pronunciation, lengthen our single-minded focus on the sound, cut out unwanted thoughts, wonder how much longer it is going to take and so on. On this level, our perseverance can reap some rewards according to our faith and surrender. The awards can be intermittent taste and realization – ye yatha mam prapadyanta…. BG.4.11. One can be habituated to remaining here, wanting to retain the status quo in social circles.
If there is a method for advancing quickly, what is it? The beauty of it is, anyone can do it – married or unmarried, in or out of the temple, renounced or steeped in bhoga-tyaga. But one has to be prepared, because the weapon of detachment – asanga-sastrena BG.15.3, will develop as a natural consequence of sincere chanting. One has to relinquish all sense of pride, status, position and achievement, to think oneself literally – nothing, as a beggar. Are we not moving ahead of ourselves here, perhaps running the risk of imitating great souls like Srila Gaura Kishora dasa Babaji or Srila Raghunatha dasa Goswami? Not quite. It is a realistic assessment of what we really are compared to who we think we are in relation to our perception of Krsna consciousness.
A stark realization has to dawn on us. The aggregate of all the best advice, all the advanced association, the cream of all instructions, will yield meager results from chanting if we harbor even a hint of self-effort. What can we do? What are we doing? We are simply using our minute puny independence, which had the disastrous effect of making us nitya-baddha. The rest is all done by Krsna. How so? When we chant, who gives the ability to move our lips? Krsna. Who gives the strength to move our jaws? Krsna. To hold our beads? To hear the sound? To concentrate? To sit nicely? Is Krsna not Hrsikesa? Is He not the ability in man? Does Krsna not say “yajnanam japa-yajno ‘smi?” …. of sacrifices I am the chanting of the holy names [japa] BG.10.25 and “….of science I am the science of the self” BG.10.32 and so on. There is little doubt who is in control, and we have to let Krsna take over. How do we do this?
In the often quoted verse “sarva dharman parityajya….” Krsna exhorts us to fully surrender, while Srila Prabhupada expands on this to say “One should always think himself helpless and should consider Krsna the only basis for his progress in life” BG.18.66 purport. One also has to be – akincana-gocaram – materially exhausted, SB.1.8.26. By feeling helpless, it may oblige Krsna to infuse us with necessary purity of purpose. Draupadi’s helpless appeal obliged Krsna to supply more sari to keep her dignity intact. The many attempts by Hiranyakasipu to kill his son Prahlada were always foiled as Krsna stealthily protected him. But we have to ask, these great souls were not only fully surrendered to Krsna, but they were in extreme situations? So how can we, most of whom know when our next breakfast, lunch and supper is going to be, and have roofs over our heads, and access to all amenities, feel as helpless as they? This is where fortunate devotees know of the secret to quick advancement.
Why should we feel helpless only when something supposedly goes wrong? Perhaps we are making half the advancement we could be making. If Srila Prabhupada says to “always think oneself helpless”, does that not mean we should feel utterly helpless in good times too? Without being simplistic, there could be a potential 50% gain in spiritual advancement. Furthermore, we put ourselves at the mercy of Yoga-Maya – BG.9.13 daivim prakrtim asritah – who is after all, an expansion of Srimate Radharani in whose domain we seek entrance, and through Her kindness the Supreme Lord can become our property – ankincana-vittaya – the Lord becomes the property of the materially impoverished, SB.1.8.27. When we are encouraged in this way, we will chant because we want to and Krsna will be pleased to allow us by taking over our faculties.
What are some of the signs of healthy chanting? We chant because we want to. Whenever we leave home or the temple to face the full glare of the material energy, a secure comforting feeling arises when we know we can take shelter of the holy names. We feel separation if we go long enough without chanting. We enjoy serving the holy names by chanting. We treat Sri Nama prabhu as a very dear friend. Sri Nama prabhu gives us knowledge and understanding. We desire to chant extra rounds. We want quality time with Sri Nama prabhu – alone. When we chant we usually feel our effort to be inadequate, why? Because the holy names are unlimited.
As we progress, sometimes devotees think they should meditate on Radha Krsna Lila while chanting; after all, Srila Prabhupada wrote Krsna book and other literature for this purpose. We have to be careful to recognize that though these topics are spiritual; our senses might not be, yet. We may project our material estimation onto them in which case it becomes a speculative exercise – vicinvan – and will cause misunderstanding, SB.10.14.29. Do we have experience of eternity – no time – in which these pastimes take place? Can we fathom the ongoing nature of these Lilas? Can we appreciate the interactions of the nitya-siddhas? In the meantime it is certainly no less to focus on the sound vibration which is liquefied nectar and is powerful foodstuff for our Bhakti-lata-bija. By drinking it through the ears as Pariksit Maharaja did, SB.10.1.13 – pibantam….hari- kathamrtam – when he was on the verge of death, having given up all food and water which is difficult to do, he felt nourished. If we chant and pray that the nectar enters our heart, then we beg to qualify for –prasada-lesanugrhita – SB.10.14.29 by which we can understand the Supreme Lord. By this time the portal will have given glimpses of the truth by granting – buddhi yogam tam – which Srila Prabhupada ingeniously translated as – understanding.
Sometimes while chanting, we may experience great happiness, or be blessed with some revelation or similar occurrence. There will be times when for prolonged periods nothing seems to happen. If this occurs, great patience is required. Krsna wants to know how sincere we are. We should never think something amazing must happen simply because we are chanting. We are beggars. And beg we must to implore Sri Nama to reveal to us our deficiencies.
Just as Srila Prabhupada said that Krsna should always be our basis in life, the holy names being Krsna Himself becomes the basis for the ultimate ongoing revelation as experienced by acaryas like Srila Hari dasa Thakur – constant darshana of Sra Sri Radha Krsna Lila as they unfold – live. If our understanding matures, and our senses become spiritual, the entrance through the portal will be automatic. Beholding the wonders of Goloka Vrndavana and the pastimes as revealed in the heart, one will have pleased both the spiritual master and Krsna as to – kirtaniya sada harih.
Your servant, Kesava Krsna dasa – GRS.