Chanting & Hare Krishna Mantra
Srila Prabhupada gave a clue how a busy man in household life might chant sixteen rounds: chant four before breakfast, four before lunch, four before dinner, and four before taking rest for the evening.
Another point is that since chanting elevates our consciousness, whose who chant Hare Krishna generally don't need to sleep as much. For example, instead of sleeping eight hours, you could try sleeping six hours, thus giving yourself two additional hours in the day for chanting.
Srila Prabhupada told his followers that if we chanted a minimum of sixteen rounds daily and tried to avoid the offenses in chanting that by the end of our lives we would become pure enough to be eligible to return to the spiritual world. Any amount of chanting you're able to do regularly will bring you tremendous benefit, but the promise of eternal, blissful life without having to suffer future births and deaths in the material world is enough incentive for a lot of people to seriously consider aspiring to chant the minimum prescribed quota of sixteen rounds.
The chanting is a spiritual vibration that elevates our consciousness above the material plane. It requires practice. By constant practice we improve. We only fail if we give up. As much as the mind wanders off, we must bring it back; just as a mother must bring her child back from his mischief time after time. We must be very patient. Patience is a quality of goodness, which enhances meditation. Krishna means the all-attractive person.
Chanting has many benefits. Our minds become purified so we can understand our spiritual nature. Right now we identify ourselves with our bodies and minds and thus we're often in pain or perplexity. When we realize our spiritual nature through chanting, we will no longer identify with these.
Both controlling the senses and going back to Godhead can be accomplished by chanting. Krishna likes when we call His names with sincerity, and since He's the Lord of all benedictions, all spiritual and material perfections are possible for one who chants.
One big difference between here (this material world) and going back to Godhead (the spiritual world) is that in the spiritual world there's no inconvenience of death, which tears us away from our friends, family, and property and forces us to start from square one in our next life.
If you really want to awaken your innate love for Krishna, the most highly recommended practice is to chant His names. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna's most recent incarnation, has demonstrated and recommended this over and over.
Chanting in the association of devotees dedicated to the Lord's service is even more powerful. Chant at least sixteen rounds and build up gradually. Practice perfect attention while chanting as the name is the Lord Himself. Try to chant without the ten kinds of offenses.
You can chant in the shower, you can chant in the car (not as japa, but as kirtan). Opportunities for chanting are everywhere. You can also pray. You can pray for the intelligence to arrange your life so you have time to chant!
The dharma is chanting. Japa is just to make sure you chant enough. The acharyas recommend both. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu did both. If you take rest early, you can rise early and chant japa before anyone gives you anything else to do. Another point is that chanting elevates our consciousness so we don't need to sleep as much. Instead of sleeping eight hours, you can sleep six hours and chant two hours.
Srila Prabhupada, who introduced gave a clue how a busy man in household life might chant sixteen rounds. Chant four before breakfast, four before lunch, four before dinner, and four before taking rest for the evening. He said that if we chanted sixteen rounds daily and tried to avoid the offenses in chanting that by the end of our lives we would become pure enough to be eligible to return to the spiritual world.
Lord Krishna came all the way from the spiritual world to demonstrate, as Lord Chaitanya, how to develop love of Krishna by chanting the holy name. Why then are you so attached to finding excuses not to do it?
When chanting Hare Krishna we practice neglecting the mind and paying attention to the sound of the holy names. It doesn't matter what crazy ideas the mind comes up with. Our concern is just to hear the sound vibration of every syllable of the Hare Krishna mantra. When we notice that we're paying attention to the mind and not the mantra, then we bring the mind back to the mantra.
Because we have paid close attention and obediently served our mind for as many as millions of births, the difficulty of ignoring it and focusing on the sound of the mantra should not be surprising. But just as a mother patiently keeps her children from causing trouble—although they do the same stupid things again and again—we must patiently control our minds.
It's important to always try to control the mind by hearing the sound of the mantra attentively. In the course of time, we will improve at it. Krishna will appreciate our efforts and give mercy in the course of time.
As long as we're chanting, we should be hearing. Try to focus on one mantra at a time, and then part of the mantra at a time, and then a smaller part. Then you won't have time to meditate on the distracting thoughts of the mind and you will become purified by hearing the mantra.
First, make a determination to do nothing else except focus on the mantra for this period of time. Then focus on the sound of one mantra at a time, and go on to the next. Don't lament about the past or dream about the future, just listen to the sound of the mantra, whether you like it or not, because it is Krishna's desire we chant His name in this age. Set a fixed number of rounds to chant and then gradually increase.
Dhyana, meditation, is just one way to practice bhakti, devotional service to the Supreme Person.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna explains to Arjuna the whole process of meditation, especially in the sixth chapter. He concludes the chapter by saying that of all yogis, the one who is always thinking of Krishna and worshiping Him with great faith is the highest of all. The most direct and practical means of thinking of Krishna in the current day and age is to chant Hare Krishna.
Our first reaction upon reading your question was "only sometimes?"
Even Arjuna says that the mind is more difficult to control than the raging wind; so it shouldn't surprise you when the mind wanders. This is common. Krishna says the mind can be controlled by constant practice, detachment and determination. So be patient and keep trying.
Some things that can help control the wandering mind:
- Chant in the early morning. When the material world is sleeping and the mode of goodness prevails it's easier to chant attentively. About an hour and a half before sunrise is best, but whatever you can arrange so that you chant as many rounds before the world starts tugging on you via phone and email, etc. the better.
- Don't eat a lot in the evening. Make sure that before you take rest your mind is thinking of Krishna by reading something about Him, and that your body will sleep well—but not too heavily—by avoiding heavy food before bed.
- Read about the glories of the holy name and listen to classes about
them as well. There are many recordings of japa retreats on ISKCONdesiretree.com which can help you deepen your appreciation for chanting.
- Pray before you begin your chanting. Pray to the holy name, to your
spiritual master, and to the Lord to assist you in this service and help you to fix your mind.
- Chant clearly. Pronounce each word distinctly enough for yourself to hear it. Make sure you get sufficient rest so you're not tired when you begin to chant and that the place where you are chanting is well-ventilated.
- If you find yourself getting drowsy, stand up or pace back and forth. Go for a walk outside if you need to, but try to go somewhere where you won't be disturbed by others and you won't be distracted by scenery, etc.
Start with these suggestions and see if they help.
In short, no.
Srila Prabhupada did recommend that we chant the Pancha Tattva mantra:
sri krishna chaitanya
sri advaita, gadadhara
. . .before we chant the Hare Krishna mantra, but he didn't say that the Pancha Tattva mantra must be chanted in between each round of japa. He didn't follow or institutionalize this practice. Many devotees do, however, and there's certainly no harm. But it's not a requirement.
Often we see practices in ISKCON that have become institutionalized without any basis in guru or shastra. It's important to remember that our system is parampara, from master to disciple, and practices that spring up out of popular sentiment or mental concoction—however widespread—are not meant to be perpetuated just because they're popular.
There is a joke: one man prayed to God, "My Lord, I have heard that from Your point of view, millions of years are but a minute, and millions of dollars are hardly a penny. So could You kindly give me just one of Your pennies?" to which God replied, "Sure. Just a minute."
Whether we've been chanting for years or months or days doesn't matter from Krishna's point of view. It is to be expected that we will all eventually make spiritual progress, the more time and effort we put into our practice of chanting, but it should never be a cause for disappointment—although devotees often express disappointment in this regard—if we're not experiencing the spiritual bliss we think we should be experiencing after having chanted for some time.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself prays to Krishna—even though He is Krishna Himself—durdaivam idrisham ihajani nanuragah, "I am so unfortunate that I have no attachment for Krishna's names." He's acting as the prototype of all devotees, and lamenting that He has no attraction for chanting, while we know that He was experiencing the highest bliss imaginable. So if we're feeling unfortunate that we have no taste for chanting Hare Krishna, we should lament. Our chanting should be infused by that lamentation.
The principles taught by Srila Rupa Goswami in his excellent book Upadeshamrita, Nectar of Instruction, are always applicable. One is that we should always endeavor with patience, enthusiasm, while following the recommended process of devotional service. To chant while trying to become free from the offenses to chanting is our process. This effort itself will give us the taste we're looking for.
The primary offense in chanting is inattention. This is the offense from which all other offenses develop. For us to be able to begin to appreciate the qualities of the holy name, we need to do everything within our power to be able to chant with attention. Attention is the beginning of love. And the taste we're looking for in our chanting won't develop if we're letting our attention wander during our japa and not constantly trying to bring it back to hearing the mantra.
There are now quite a few books written on the subject of how to improve the quality of our chanting. You may wish to explore what they have to say, and see if you would like to incorporate any of the many tips they contain for helping focus the wandering mind on the chanting of Hare Krishna.
Chanting Hare Krishna is supposed to give the mind a rest. The mind is constantly active, feeding us questionable information about what's attractive and important. The mantra frees us from all mentally concocted propaganda, such as the major delusion that our body and our self are the same. By chanting Hare Krishna with attention, we bypass the overactive mind entirely.
Here's a mental exercise: try chanting "Coca-cola, Coca-cola, Cola-cola, Coca-coca" for ten minutes straight, and notice the effect it has on your consciousness. "Coca-cola" is the registered trademark of a beverage company, and a name for a particular brand of sweetened, fizzy water. By chanting "Coca-cola" we do not experience the sweetness, fizziness, or thirst-quenching quality of actual Coca-cola. The beverage and its name are different. Only an unreasonable person would persist in such chanting. How could it be anything but unsatisfying?
On the other hand, the Hare Krishna mantra consists of names of the Supreme Person, the eternal and ultimate source of all existence, peace, and happiness. Believe it or not, chanting Krishna's names brings us directly in touch with the Supreme Person—in the form of sound. This can give us more peace and happiness than any amount of mental exercise or Coca-cola can. Those who have experienced the pleasure of chanting Hare Krishna would prefer to not do anything else.
The "mental exercise" involved in chanting Hare Krishna is the constant effort we must make to drag the mind back from other pursuits while we're trying with our lips, tongue, ears, and vocal chords to chant and hear the mantra. The mantra is Krishna Himself; it can give us all satisfaction, provided we pay attention. The workings of the mind can't give us any peace or happiness.