Outer Silence, Inner Insights: Reflections on the Holy Name
At the recent Japa Retreat III we spent days chanting the maha-mantra (the Hare Krishna chant) while observing a “mauna vrata” or a silence vow. Devotees of Krishna are advised to “always” chant the holy name (satatam kirtayanto mam Bg 9.14). Refraining from talking can help this goal by freeing up our time and facilitating deep contemplation about the mantra and our life. Silence with spiritual practice is like turning down the volume of the external channels of our awareness and opening up the inner one.
Often we don’t think about things until we loose or even temporary do without them. For example, “taking/honoring” [conscious eating] prasadum (blessed veggie food) in silence with a room full of friendly devotees is quite an amazing experience and statement. We could say it is “being alone together, confronting our minds chatter while giving our inner voice the chance to speak”. Real silence accomplishes many desirable states in our life of chanting and retiring “anarthas” (unwanted habits).
In fact all aspects of the retreat are meant to facilitate awakening our spiritual experience and opening the possibility of changing our paradigm in relationship to the holy name and our entire life. We are souls—not the merely the body—and more, we are servants of Krishna. Life is very temporary and we want to be fixed on the ultimate goal of life—loving Krishna [Krishna prema]. Ideally our life will always be accompanied by Krishna’s holy name, since remembering him in love and attachment brings us to him. In the important Christian book, “Pilgrims’ Progress” this would be called, “ceaseless prayer”.
I have a background in energy healing so it is natural for me to think in terms of energy. Most people are familiar with the idea of a person or place’s, “vibes” which means the vibrational energy, or in the Bhagavad-gita’s language, a person’s or places dominate mode or quality of nature (guna). Everything is energy or vibration and the transcendental sound vibration of the Hare Krishna mantra gradually changes the vibration of our consciousness from material to spiritual. From gross matter up through mind, intelligence and false ego the vibration become progressively more subtle and fine—and the most subtle is the spiritual platform. Chanting might be compared to a tuning fork which tunes our consciousness to function in the higher spiritual dimension.
One of the essentials demonstrated by the retreat is that we can be absorbed in Krishna consciousness by creating structures to facilitate them with enthusiastic willing participants. The power of focus and shared intention was evident by the level of spiritual experience shared by the group.
Prabhupada said that chanting Hare Krishna brings about more chanting. In harmony with this statement I found that after three 64 round days I felt I wanted to chant more and more in the days that followed. Opening myself up to taking shelter of Krishna thought his holy names gave me many thoughts and feelings about what chanting is. I hesitate to call them “realizations” since I can’t say my understanding is permanent or indelibly etched in my consciousness. Never the less, I felt Krishna inspired my insights and metaphors for chanting. Actually, the metaphors are tangible things one can enter into. I saw them as I chanted. Blissful contemplations!
As I looked at the Radha Krishna Deities (Radha Nila Madhava) I considered their beauty and service to be like a mine of ambrosial unfathomable nectar. This mine could be found by the mercy of Krishna’s pure devotees who give one the implements of our tone and ear, powered by the holy name, and forever stored in our heart. Actually upon discovering this vein of unlimited tasty nectar one will never want to return to the shadow land of death and misery.
I like chanting, yet I often struggle especially when sitting to keep awake. And keep in mind that I paced while chanting for 37 years until I attended my first retreat. I am generally a very mellow, peaceful, and relaxed person, so I can sleep very easily—and not even realize it. (am I asleep or awake?) Though this has its advantages, it is not helpful for being attentive in chanting. Being attentive means giving our heart to our practice, and being inattentive will bring about other offenses detrimental to our spiritual progress. Therefore, I have to constantly monitor my chanting to make sure it is not taking to long to chant a “round” (from on end of the 108 beads to the other). If it is taking too long I know I am dozing. It can be strange to loose ten or twenty minutes. I wish I could have all that time now!
On the final day of chanting 64 rounds I had to keep on my feet for the last two sets of 16 rounds. I was in the hall looking into our fashioned Temple room at the Deities. My body was outside, but my conscious was carried by the mantra to Radha Nila Madhava and the other Deities. I thought: “The door to the Lord’s mercy is wide open and we feel the inviting warmth by seeing their transcendental, blissful forms. As we approach the Divine Couple on the wings of the holy name, the door of their world keeps receding beyond our ability to approach it. Only if they allow will we be able to enter the door of the Land of No Return, and never look back to the Land of Death, Doubt and Delusion. At the same time the door is receding we are also encouraged to keep on the path of loving service. Only time separates us from our goal of eternal Union with the Lord’s of our heart. For those who persevere in loving patience, success is guaranteed.
Later I considered my struggles to be like diving into an ocean of delectable, colorful, inviting nectar, but having to repeatedly rise to the surface for air. I keep in mind that some day I have a suitable body and consciousness for living in that ocean. Until then I have mixed days of chanting. Sometimes I can only trust my head to be in the nectar ocean—or my toes—indicating my only tentative mood. Blessed are the times when I am immersed in the ocean and an air hose drops down. This enables me to remain for extended periods in that inviting, caressing, loving ocean of love.
Many devotees when they first take up the practice of chanting and serving Krishna are very mixed in their motivations. The tendency is to want to fill up on bliss or take when we chant in order to be relieved acute distress. Whatever way we come to Krishna is a good way, though eventually we understand that Krishna consciousness is all about giving to Krishna—our heart, mind, and consciousness, and everything we have a relationship with.
When I chant I am meditating and feeling I am giving myself to Krishna through the mantra. I feel I am offering my energy, voice, attention, will, heart and whatever love I have. Though I have a long way to go, I have experienced that this is where the bliss of spiritual life is: total selfless giving (or trying to!) in oneness of purpose to Radha and Krishna—or Shri Chaitanya and Nitai—and their devotees. Yes, it is still about tasting the nectar—since all living beings are pleasure seekers by nature—but while at first we are still conditioned to center our life around our tiny self, eventually our life is centered around pleasing and serving Krishna. This is the true happiness and fulfillment of the soul.