Beyond "Courtesy" Japa--Tips on chanting from the Japa Retreat
Here are a few important terms we can keep remembering as we think about our chanting: One is that we don't want to have "courtesy japa" which means only officially chanting like some external religious ritual, and not endeavoring to improve beyond going through the motions. This idea is explained by a statement by Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvatis Thakur that chanting must not be lip deep, but heart deep. We have to study all about the holy name, and to begin to see the holy name as a person----Nam Prabhu---the Holy name is Radha and Krishna, though the Name is considered even more merciful!
Of course the best idea is to go to a japa retreat yourself. Reading is one level of understanding----theory or jnana---but experience is the real deal. By applying the theory there will be realization or vijnana which means having an experience of what the theory is speaking about. In any case I will share some thoughts from my notes today and later on.
We begin with some verses from the Chaitanya Charitamrita Madhya lila ch. 17 vs 22-33:
kali-kale nama-rupe krsna-avatara
nama haite haya sarva-jagat-nistara
"In this Age of Kali, the holy name of the Lord, the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, is the incarnation of Lord Krsna. Simply by chanting the holy name, one associates with the Lord directly. Anyone who does this is certainly delivered.
"This verse repeats the word ‘eva' [‘certainly'] three times for emphasis, and it also three times repeats ‘harer nama' [‘the holy name of the Lord'], just to make common people understand.
"The use of the word ‘kevala' [‘only'] prohibits all other processes, such as the cultivation of knowledge, practice of mystic yoga, or performance of austerities and fruitive activities.
"This verse clearly states that anyone who accepts any other path cannot be delivered. This is the reason for the triple repetition ‘nothing else, nothing else, nothing else,' which emphasizes the real process of self-realization.
"To chant the holy name always, one should be humbler than the grass in the street and devoid of all desire for personal honor, but one should offer others all respectful obeisances.
“A devotee engaged in chanting the holy name of the Lord should practice forbearance like that of a tree. Even if rebuked or chastised, he should not say anything to others to retaliate.
“For even if one cuts a tree, it never protests, and even if it is drying up and dying, it does not ask anyone for water.
"Thus a Vaisnava should not ask anything from anyone else. If someone gives him something without being asked, he should accept it, but if nothing comes, a Vaisnava should be satisfied to eat whatever vegetables and fruits are easily available.
“One should strictly follow the principle of always chanting the holy name, and one should be satisfied with whatever he gets easily. Such devotional behavior solidly maintains one’s devotional service.
“One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor yet is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord.”
Raising my hands, I declare, “Everyone please hear me! String this verse on the thread of the holy name and wear it on your neck for continuous remembrance.”
One must strictly follow the principles given by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu in this verse. If one simply follows in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya and the Gosvamis, certainly he will achieve the ultimate goal of life, the lotus feet of Sri Krsna.
[Please remember that this is our ideal, or our guideline. Most of can't implement them entirely, but only gradually with practice. We can lament our fallen condition, but not so much that we become dysfunctional, discouraged, or depressed. ]
A few important terms we can keep remembering as we think about our chanting. One is that we don't want to have "courtesy japa" which means only officially chanting like some external religious ritual, and not endeavoring to improve beyond going through the motions. This idea is explained by a statement by Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvatis Thakur that chanting must not be lip deep, but heart deep. We have to study all about the holy name, and to begin to see the holy name as a person----Nam Prabhu---the Holy Name is Radha and Krishna, though the Name is considered even more merciful!
Chanting is really meant to an exercise of our spiritual heart, not our mind or intellect. For chanting to be effective we have to feel for Krishna, and want him more than anything. If we don't feel that, we have to pray for it. As I said we have to acknowledge that we need help. We have to endeavor and pray for mercy.
To facilitate our focused chanting we want to create a sacred space in our home, as well as go to a Temple where devotees are chanting and serving. Sitting down with a straight back helps one concentrate better. I have walked during chanting for 38 years---because I always fell asleep, but now, after these japa retreats I am sitting down to chant all but one or so rounds. I have to say it is much more concentrated and less distracted. I am really seeing my japa as my main spiritual practice now, and that has made all the difference, as is hearing from saintly persons about their experiences with the name and lila of Krishna. Hearing from advanced devotees increases our faith to practice sadhana or our spiritual practices like chanting.
Rising early in the morning before the sun rises is recommended. One and a half hours before the sun rises is called brahma muhurta and is considered to increase the potency of our spiritual practices. In order to do this, one has to go to bed early, which in our modern society can be challenging. Still, we have to get enough sleep to function properly, and make some sacrifices to create good conditions for our sadhana. Here is one of my expression you might adopt: "Tomorrow begins tonight" or as a famous founding father in the US said, "Early to bead, early to rise...".
The morning time is more sattvic or in the mode of goodness and is helpful to feel peaceful. Although we want to be able to chant in all circumstances, for our fixed number of japa rounds on our beads, we want to have a peaceful, clean, quite atmosphere where our mind will not be distracted or disturbed. That also means setting some "non-negotiable" conditions with yourself for your chanting. For instance you may decide not to take any phone calls, turn off the computer, and set some other time for worrying.
If you were in a life threatening situation and need to call out for help, you won't be distracted thinking of other things. You would be absolutely focused. I have in the past thought of myself in the material ocean seeing the holy name as my saving rope. This is one idea.
Even good spiritual thoughts should be postponed. That can be difficult for me sometimes, and I admit to keeping a note pad next to me, as that can help quite my mind. Though if I am really calling out to the name and praying for the mercy of Radha and Krishna, then most of my inner channels of the mind are full, and other thoughts don't arise.
We are recommending by our great acharyas from the past to think of the meaning of the mantra while chanting. We are still focused on hearing the sound, yet we call out to Radha and Krishna in different ways as given by great devotees. Or as I do, we can say; Please let me hear the name; Let me be attentive; Let me chant from the heart; Help me; Save me; Let me love you; or as Shrila Prabhupada explained. O Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in your service, etc
Nowadays we have a whole spectrum of teachings available--from the most preliminary to the most advanced, so in applying any of these techniques you should think about what is helpful for you, or consult with your guru if you have one---and we are here to help answer your questions as well.
Before one begins chanting one should offer ones prayers to your gurus----even if you are not initiated you can see Prabhupada and other devotees who help you as Shiksha Gurus and offer general prayers to them from Vaishnava song books, the previous acharya's, Haridas Thakur who is the teacher or acharya for chanting, the six Gosvami's who are the principle disciples of Lord Chaitanya, then to Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda, who have come in the age of Kali to give the holy name. Then you can pray to Radha Krishna and their associates. Finally pray to the holy name to be able to chant purely and find some verses glorifying the holy name like Lord Chaitanya's 8 prayers, or Shikshastakam.
Here is one example of meanings given to each word of the Holy Name by one great devotee, a contemporary of Lord Chaitanya, Gopal Guru.
O Radha, please capture my inner heart and deliver me from the bondage of material life.
O Krishna, please pull my heart to You.
O Radha, please steal my heart with your sweetness.
O Krishna, please purify my heart by giving me, though Your devotees, knowledge of how to worship You.
O Krishna, please make me steady in devotion to Your name, form, qualities, pastimes, and such.
O Krishna, please may I develop taste for You.
O Radha, please make me qualified for serving You.
O Radha, please make me qualified for serving You.
O Radha, please show me how to serve You.
O Rama, please tell me of Your cherished pastimes with Your most beloved.
O Radha, please show me Your pastimes with Your most beloved.
O Rama, please show me Your pastimes with Your most beloved.
O Rama, please engage me in such services as remembering Your name, form, qualities, and pastimes.
O Rama, please make me qualified for Your service in this way.
O Radha, accepting me as Your own, take pleasure in me.
O Radha, please enjoy with me.
There are a number of helpful books to further explain these ideas such as His Holiness Mahanidhi Swami's "Art of Chanting Hare Krishna--Japa Meditation Techniques:, or a host of books by HH Sacinandana Swami such as "The Nectarian Ocean of the Holy Name", "Art of Transformation", or "Bhakti-Rasayana: Spiritual Tonic".
What I have shared is only a few drops of an ocean. I will share more later.