Chanting & Hare Krishna Mantra

Why does the Hare Krishna mantra seem to have no affect on me at all?

Question: 
Why does the Hare Krishna mantra seem to have no affect on me at all?


Our Answer:

Various factors determine why we may feel or not feel the effects of chanting Hare Krishna. One thing is that to chant with expectations of feeling something is not the most recommended approach. The process is direct and simple; chant the Hare Krishna mantra while trying to become free from the offenses to the holy name. Krishna is His name, and chanting is the most effective way to experience His presence in this day and age. Sooner or later, we will experience Krishna in His name, by His mercy.

Whether this happens sooner or later to some degree depends on the quality of our chanting. Chanting a fixed number of rounds each day, in an environment that's as free from distraction as possible, giving full attention to each mantra, can help us. Chanting in the company of others who are serious about their own chanting will also help us. Chanting while watching television, driving, surfing the Web, reading, or anything else simultaneously will not help us.

Many people—when beginning to chant Hare Krishna or even after years of chanting—find, as you have found, that the mantra seems to have no effect. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself spoke of having this very same condition. He lamented in one prayer, "even though Krishna makes Himself personally available in each of His unlimited numbers of names, I'm so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them."

One thing to do is to chant while praying, "I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for Your name. Please allow me to chant attentively so that I may experience Your presence."

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  • What is the significance of chanting on 108 beads?

    Question: 
    What is the significance of chanting on 108 beads?


    Our Answer:
    Sometimes it's easy to find scriptural quotes supporting various points of Vaishnava philosophy and practice. Some practices are simply passed down throughout the ages through the system of parampara.

    Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra on a string of 108 beads—japa-mala—is one such practice. Below are some indications from various books as to why this number of beads:

    Krishna book 35, the Gopis' feelings of separation:

    "As Vaishnavas count 108 beads, which represent the 108 individual gopis, so Krishna would also count on 108 beads to count the different groups of cows."

    Apparently, Krishna Himself also uses 108 beads.

    From a lecture given on Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi-lila 7.108 in San Francisco, California on February 18, 1967:

    ". . . chanting of Hare Krishna with 108 beads means that we are surpassing the study of 108 Upanishads."

    Teachings of Lord Chaitanya 24

    "According to Muktika Upanishad, there are 108 Upanishads. . . . These 108 Upanishads contain all knowledge about the Absolute Truth. Sometimes people inquire about the meaning of these 108 prayer beads, but because we think there are 108 Upanishads which contain full knowledge of the Absolute Truth, therefore 108 beads are accepted. Sometimes on the other hand, the Vaishnava transcendentalists think that the 108 beads represent the 108 companions of Lord Krishna in His rasa dance, and therefore 108 beads are accepted."

    Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.35.18-19, Purport:" Srila Jiva Goswami explains that in the afternoon Sri Krishna dressed Himself in new clothing and then went out to call the cows home. Srila Vishvanatha Cakravarti gives the following information about the transcendental cows of Vrindavan: "For each of the four colors of cows—white, red, black and yellow—there are twenty-five subdivisions, making a total of one hundred colors. And such qualities as being colored like sandalwood-pulp tilaka [speckled] or having a head shaped like a mridanga drum create eight further groups. To count these 108 groups of cows, distinguished by color and form, Krishna is using a string of 108 jewel-beads...."

    How can I improve my chanting?

    Question: 
    How can I improve the quality of my chanting? Sometimes I'm inattentive, and sometimes I fall asleep while I'm trying to chant. What's the best time of day to chant? Any suggestions?

    Chanting japa is a meditative process requiring concentration and effort. Until we develop spontaneous love for Krishna, we may have to work—sometimes harder than we may like—to control our minds when chanting His names. Everything we do or think affects our consciousness for better or worse. Being able to give our best energy to the all-important process of cultivating a relationship with Krishna's names means we need habits that facilitate good chanting.

    The main work we must do while chanting Hare Krishna—besides chanting the mantra itself—is to constantly bring the mind back from wherever it wanders. We should expect the mind to wander, and always be prepared to rein it in and focus it on chanting and nothing else.

    When preparing to chant, we should be convinced that there is nothing more valuable than Krishna's name. Krishna's name is Krishna Himself, and His name is glorified by many, many devotees and in many scriptures. Reciting and remembering such glorification can help convince us of the importance of chanting. When the mind is convinced that chanting is the best thing we can possibly do, it's easier to be determined in our practice and set aside all other engagements.

    It helps to chant at a fixed time of day. Brahma muhurta—an hour and a half before sunrise—is ideal; the mode of goodness is prominent, the mode of passion is subdued, and the world is at its most quiet. If it's not possible to chant during brahma-muhurta, it helps to at least set aside some time each day for exclusive chanting. The mind needs training to be peaceful, focused, and ready to give full attention to the mantra. Good habits take time, so patience and determination are required.

    It's also helpful to chant in peaceful surroundings. Ideally, the place should be clean and free from distractions. This may not be possible if our only chance to chant is while riding a subway train; but we should at least know what ideal circumstances for chanting are. The mind is already full of limitless ideas besides "O Lord, please engage me in Your service," so we should give the mind as few external reasons as possible to not pay attention to our chanting.

    Srila Prabhupada taught a multi-sensory japa process; our fingers touch beads, our ears hear the sound of the mantra, our vocal chords and lips produce the sound of the mantra; and paying attention to what we're doing while we're chanting helps focus the mind. Some devotees chant in front of a physical representation of the Hare Krishna mantra to engage the sense of sight. Some burn incense to engage the sense of smell. The more we're conscious of our sensory engagement, the easier it is to remain focused.

    Some people wonder why they become sleepy while chanting. The causes for this are various; we're not sleeping enough (or we're sleeping too much), we're not eating enough (or we're eating too much), we're not paying close enough attention to our own chanting, or a combination of these three. Krishna tells us that it's impossible to be a yogi if we sleep or eat too much or too little.

    Our bodies know when we've gotten sufficient rest and nourishment. Sometimes it takes a while to tune in to our own internal signals. Belching after eating, for example, is generally a sign that we've had enough. Regulating sleep also takes some practice. Nighttime is generally the best time for sleeping—since this is when Krishna turns out the lights—and studies have shown that the more hours one sleeps before midnight, the better the quality of our sleep. If we want to be able to give full attention and energy to our chanting—especially during the ideal brahma-muhurta time window—we owe it to ourselves to get to bed at a decent hour so we can wake up feeling refreshed.

    Eating a heavy meal too close to bedtime can interfere with our ability to be at our best during morning japa. Diets heavy in sugar and fat can also make us sluggish and diminish our ability to focus on anything, what to speak of be fully present and alert while chanting the maha-mantra. If japa is important to us, we'll be like Olympic athletes—we'll eat right, exercise, and get enough rest so we can be at our best when it's time for our appointed japa event.

    Multitasking while chanting is not recommended. The list of things some people do while simultaneously chanting japa is too long to include here, but some examples are: driving, reading, surfing the Internet, dusting furniture, watching television, cooking, doing laundry, vacuuming the floor, listening to Srimad-Bhagavatam class, engaging in conversation, and cooking. To chant Hare Krishna means to have a conversation with Krishna; we're begging to be engaged in His service. It's poor manners to ignore someone during a conversation, and multitasking while chanting while chanting shows Krishna that we're not really that interested in talking with Him.

    Anyone wanting to improve the quality of their chanting should be aware of the that impede our spiritual progress. Many devotees daily recite these to maintain an awareness of what not to do.

    These are just a few basic suggestions on how to improve the quality of our japa meditation. Please send your own tips, tricks, and suggestions.

    How can I improve my chanting?

    Question: 
    How can I improve the quality of my chanting? Sometimes my mind wanders when I chant, and sometimes I fall asleep. What's the best time of day to chant? Any other suggestions?


    Our Answer:
    Chanting japa is a meditative process requiring concentration and effort. Until we develop spontaneous love for Krishna, we may have to work—sometimes harder than we may like—to control our minds when chanting His names. Everything we do or think affects our consciousness for better or worse. Being able to give our best energy to the all-important process of cultivating a relationship with Krishna's names means we need habits that facilitate good chanting.

    The main work we must do while chanting Hare Krishna—besides chanting the mantra itself—is to constantly bring the mind back from wherever it wanders. We should expect the mind to wander, and always be prepared to rein it in and focus it on chanting and nothing else.

    When preparing to chant, we should be convinced that there is nothing more valuable than Krishna's name. Krishna's name is Krishna Himself, and His name is glorified by many, many devotees and in many scriptures. Reciting and remembering such glorification can help convince us of the importance of chanting. When the mind is convinced that chanting is the best thing we can possibly do, it's easier to be determined in our practice and set aside all other engagements.

    It helps to chant at a fixed time of day. Brahma muhurta—an hour and a half before sunrise—is ideal; the mode of goodness is prominent, the mode of passion is subdued, and the world is at its most quiet. If it's not possible to chant during brahma-muhurta, it helps to at least set aside some time each day for exclusive chanting. The mind needs training to be peaceful, focused, and ready to give full attention to the mantra. Good habits take time, so patience and determination are required.

    It's also helpful to chant in peaceful surroundings. Ideally, the place should be clean and free from distractions. This may not be possible if our only chance to chant is while riding a subway train; but we should at least know what ideal circumstances for chanting are. The mind is already full of limitless ideas besides "O Lord, please engage me in Your service," so we should give the mind as few external reasons as possible to not pay attention to our chanting.

    Srila Prabhupada taught a multi-sensory japa process; our fingers touch beads, our ears hear the sound of the mantra, our vocal chords and lips produce the sound of the mantra; and paying attention to what we're doing while we're chanting helps focus the mind. Some devotees chant in front of a physical representation of the Hare Krishna mantra to engage the sense of sight. Some burn incense to engage the sense of smell. The more we're conscious of our sensory engagement, the easier it is to remain focused.

    Some people wonder why they become sleepy while chanting. The causes for this are various; we're not sleeping enough (or we're sleeping too much), we're not eating enough (or we're eating too much), we're not paying close enough attention to our own chanting, or a combination of these three. Krishna tells us that it's impossible to be a yogi if we sleep or eat too much or too little, and it's also not possible to give our attention to more than one thing at a time.

    Our bodies know when we've gotten sufficient rest and nourishment. Sometimes it takes a while to tune in to our own internal signals. Belching after eating, for example, is generally a sign that we've had enough. Regulating sleep also takes some practice. Nighttime is generally the best time for sleeping—since this is when Krishna turns out the lights—and studies have shown that the more hours one sleeps before midnight, the better the quality of our sleep. If we want to be able to give full attention and energy to our chanting—especially during the ideal brahma-muhurta time window—we owe it to ourselves to get to bed at a decent hour so we can wake up feeling refreshed.

    Eating a heavy meal too close to bedtime can interfere with our ability to be at our best during morning japa. Diets heavy in sugar and fat can also make us sluggish and diminish our ability to focus on anything, what to speak of be fully present and alert while chanting the maha-mantra. If japa is important to us, we'll be like Olympic athletes—we'll eat right, exercise, and get enough rest so we can be at our best when it's time for our appointed japa event.

    Multitasking while chanting is not recommended. The list of things some people do while simultaneously chanting japa is too long to include here, but some examples are: driving, reading, surfing the Internet, dusting furniture, watching television, cooking, doing laundry, vacuuming the floor, listening to Srimad-Bhagavatam class, engaging in conversation, and cooking. To chant Hare Krishna means to have a conversation with Krishna; we're begging to be engaged in His service. It's poor manners to ignore someone during a conversation, and multitasking while chanting while chanting shows Krishna that we're not really that interested in talking with Him.

    Anyone wanting to improve the quality of their chanting should be aware of the ten main offenses that impede our spiritual progress. Many devotees daily recite these to maintain an awareness of what not to do.

    These are just a few basic suggestions on how to improve the quality of our japa meditation. Please send your own tips, tricks, and suggestions.

    Why chant the Hare Krishna mantra? Aren't all Krishna mantras beneficial?

    Question: 
    Why chant the Hare Krishna mantra? Aren't all Krishna mantras beneficial?


    Our Answer:

    Yes, all genuine names of the Supreme Person are absolute and good for everyone to say and hear; spiritually speaking, there's no difference between God and His names. However, to make tangible spiritual progress it is recommended that one receive mantras in disciplic succession, from master to student.

    Along with the mantra, the spiritual master gives the process for chanting it, includes regulative principles to be followed and ten offenses to be avoided. The process is simple and straightforward, but it requires discipline and dedication. Without following the recommended process, one may chant for millions of years without making noticeable spiritual advancement.

    Just as there are conditions that must be met in order to start a fire (fuel must be dry) or to successfully bake a cake (proper temperature, properly measured ingredients), the science of chanting mantras requires careful attention to certain rules so that the desired result—love of God—can be achieved.

    Vedic literature specifically recommends the Hare Krishna mantra as the most important mantra for the present age. All the great teachers, acharyas in the disciplic line of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu have chanted the Hare Krishna mantra and taught the process of chanting it to their followers.

    • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 8.16.24, purport:

      " Unless one follows this parampara system, the mantra one receives will be chanted for no purpose. Nowadays there are so many rascal gurus who manufacture their mantras as a process for material advancement, not spiritual advancement. Still, the mantra cannot be successful if it is manufactured. Mantras and the process of devotional service have special power, provided they are received from the authorized person."

    • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.8.53, purport:

      ". . . one may receive a published mantra anywhere, but unless it is accepted through the chain of disciplic succession, the mantra does not act. It is said by authoritative sources that any mantra chanted without having been received from the disciplic succession has no efficacy."

    • Science of Self Realization, 2:

      " As it is said in the Padma Purana:

      sampradaya-vihina ye
      mantras te nishphala matah

      "Unless you are initiated by a bona fide spiritual master in the disciplic succession, the mantra that you might have received is without any effect.""

    Why chant a set number of mantras daily?

    Question: 
    Why do Krishna devotees chant a set number of mantras daily?


    Our Answer:

    From Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya-lila 7.37:

    TRANSLATION

    “Since Your two hands will always be engaged in chanting and counting the holy names, how will You be able to carry the waterpot and external garments?

    PURPORT

    From this verse it is clear that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was chanting the holy names a fixed number of times daily. The Goswamis used to follow in the footsteps of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and Haridasa Thakura also followed this principle.

    Concerning the Goswamis—Srila Rupa Goswami, Srila Sanatana Goswami, Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami, Srila Jiva Goswami, Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswami and Srila Raghunatha dasa Goswami—Shrinivasa Acharya confirms, sankhya-purvaka-nama-gana-natibhih (Sad-gosvamy-astaka 6)

    In addition to other duties, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu introduced the system of chanting the holy name of the Lord a fixed number of times daily, as confirmed in this verse (tomara dui hasta baddha nama-ganane). Chaitanya Mahaprabhu used to count on His fingers. While one hand was engaged in chanting, the other hand kept the number of rounds. This is corroborated in the Chaitanya-candramrita and also in Srila Rupa Goswami’s Stava-mala:

    badhnan prema-bhara-prakampita-karo granthin kati-dorakaih
    sankhyatum nija-loka-mangala-hare-krishneti namnam japan

    (Chaitanya-candramrta 16)

    hare krishnety ucchaih sphurita-rasano nama-ganana-
    krita-granthi-shreni-subhaga-kati-sutrojjvala-karah

    (Prathama-chaitanyastaka 5)

    Therefore devotees in the line of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu must chant at least sixteen rounds daily, and this is the number prescribed by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Haridasa Thakura daily chanted 300,000 names. Sixteen rounds is about 28,000 names. There is no need to imitate Haridasa Thakura or the other Goswamis, but chanting the holy name a fixed number of times daily is essential for every devotee.