Krishna consciousness is
multi-faceted. In encompasses many things. There is the ecstatic
bahjans and kirtans, talks on philosophy, preaching, book
distribution, deity worship, establishing temples and so on. But
when you really get down to the basics, Krishna consciousness is
only about one thing, happiness - your happiness. A unique kind
of happiness that is not
predicated upon the actions of others, that does stale with time, that grows and multiplies when divided with others. It is the kind of happiness that each one of us are constantly aspiring for in our material conception of
life but never achieving.
It is no wonder that Srila
Prabhupada, the founder acarya of the International
Society for Krishna Consciousness, with his divine
vision very succinctly put forth this basis of Krishna
Consciousness in the phrase Chant and Be Happy.
It is impossible to imagine Krishna consciousness without
chanting, just as its impossible to visualize a devotee without
the ubiquitous Japa bag. So lets see what exactly is this process
of chanting means to the devotees in Krishna consciousness:
Why do we chant?
Each of the past ages had recommended procedures for making spiritual progress. In the Satya yuga it was meditation, in the Treta yuga it was Vedic sacrifices, in the Dvapara yuga it was elaborate temple worship. In the current age called the Kali, chanting is the process recommended by all authorized scriptures.
What do we chant?
We chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare || Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
This mantra has been established
since the beginning of creation by Lord Brahma in the
Kali-Santarana Upanishad, and was again introduced as the
recommended mantra in the Kali yuga by Caitanya Mahaprabhu, an
incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead about 500 years
How about other mantras?
There are many other chants in the Vedas that are spiritually uplifting. Indeed the word Mantra comes from the Sanskrit roots, man (mind) and tra(free). So all authorized mantra help free the mind of its bindings and apprehensions. However the Hare Krishna is known as the maha-mantra, the greatest of all the mantras. It has been personally recommended by Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the most merciful of all incarnations, and it is specifically suitable for the current age characterized by quarrel, hypocrisy, weak
morals and short life spans.
What does it mean?
The Hare Krishna maha mantra is a sixteen syllable chant which contains three words. Hare, Krishna and Rama. The words Krishna and Rama mean all-attractive, all-pervasive and refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The word Hare is the vocative derivative of Hara meaning the internal or spiritual potency. The Hare Krishna maha-mantra is a prayer to the spiritual potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to allow us to render devotional service to Him.
How does one advance spiritually by chanting?
The process of chanting is often compared to that of cleansing of the heart covered by the dust of life times of material affliction. As a spirit soul, every one has natural love for Godhead, but under the influence of material bindings one forgets this. Regular and offenseless chanting washes away these contaminations and brings forth our natural love for Godhead.
What about other devotional activities?
There are nine processes recommended for devotional advancements. These are
Worshipping the lotus feet (Padya-sevana),
Deity worship (Pujan)
Any of these nine processes are
equally portend in making spiritual advancements. When we do
Japa, then we chant the mantra (kirtana), listen to it
(sravanam), focus our mind on it (smaranam) and glorify God
(vandanam). In this was we are executing several forms of
devotional service while chanting attentively.
Who can chant?
Anyone and everyone. There is so much mercy in this mantra, that even the most unqualified of the persons will reap immense spiritual benefit from its chanting.
When is the best time to chant?
One can chant any time. However the early morning hours from 4AM to 7AM called the Brahma muharata is said to be most auspicious for any spiritual activities, and if possible one must try and do the chanting in the peace and tranquility of this time.
What is the best way to chant?
Chanting must be done offenselessly. When we chant we are invoking the potency of Godhead Himself by our sound vibrations. If at this time we were to become inattentive by engaging our senses else where, then we would be committing grave offenses. The best way to chant is to clearly speak each syllable, listen to it carefully and focus our mind on this sound vibrations.
How can one perfect chanting?
The mind is most difficult to control. But with patience, enthusiasm and practice, we can achieve a stage where we chant offenselessly. Every one goes through the three stages of chanting, the first is called offensive, where we are unable to control our minds and chant mechanically. The second called clearing, where we are able to exert control and bring our minds back when it wanders, and the final stage called transcendental, when we begin to spontaneously relish the process of chanting.
How do we know that we are making progress?
A patient of jaundice will even find the taste of candy bitter to begin with, but as the disease wears off, begins to enjoy its sweet taste. Similarly, to begin with, in out materially afflicted conditions, we may find chanting monotonous and boring. However if we sincerely adhere to the process, the natural love for Godhead awakens in us, we will begin to relish our chanting and derive enormous pleasure in the process.
How to actually chant?
Chanting is done on beads made of either Neem or Tulasi. In a single Japa Mala there are 108 beads strung around a prominent, larger bead called the Vishnu bead. One begins from the bead next to the the Vishnu bead and after chanting a complete mantra advances by a single bead. When this has been done 108 times, one round is completed. Since the index finger is also considered to be the finger of offense, it must not touch the beads. For cleanliness and convenience, the Japa Mala is kept in a bead bag, and the index finger is extended outside the bag to avoid touching the beads.
How much should one chant?
As mush as possible. Srila Haridas Thakura used to chant the maha-mantra three hundred thousand times a day. In ISKCON, if one is an initiated or aspiring disciple, they make a promise to their spiritual masters to chant a minimum of sixteen rounds every day, regularly, without fail.
The process of chanting is so
portend that the Srimad Bhagavatam states that chanting is
feared by fear personified (SB 1.1.14). In the Brhad Vishnu
Purana it is said that chanting the holy names of Hari can
counteract the reactions of more sins that a person is able to
commit. In the Brhad-naradiya Purana (3.8.126) it is emphatically
repeated that in the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy the
only means of deliverance is chanting the holy name of the Lord.
We hope we have been able to provide you with some insight to this all auspicious process of achieving liberation by chanting the holy name of the Lord. For those of you who are already chanting, we request to continue to improve and inspire others by word and example. For all the rest, who are serious about advancing spiritually, we urge you to please take to this most portend yet simple method of making enormous spiritual advancements and returning back home, back to Godhead.