Recently I Took time out from traveling and lecturing to work on my practice of japa (quiet chanting on beads). Although I have been following Srila Prabhupada's order to chant at least sixteen rounds of the Hare Krsna mantra daily, I knew my japahad become poor and needed special care. I tried doubling the minimum quota and chanted in the early-morning hours in the company of other chanters, but my first discovery was that the more I chanted, the more dry it felt. And I could not control my mind.
I began reading statements in Prabhupada's books that glorified the holy names of Krsna. The scriptural claims that chanting is easy and full of nectar seemed to contradict my own experience. But as I went on chanting and reading, I began to understand that my gut feeling about my own japa was not the last word in understanding the holy names.
The more I read, the more I became encouraged about the glories of the holy name. Was I wrong to think I was benefitting from the holy name, even if I felt no ecstasy while chanting? No. To be encouraged in that way is not wrong.
Srila Prabhupada states that the change of heart that comes by chanting should appear in one's daily activities. He quotes Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who says that detachment from material life is itself an important symptom of the good result of chanting Hare Krsna. Tears and other such bodily ecstatic symptoms are not always shown even by the most advanced devotees, and those symptoms may even by imitated by a pseudo devotee (prakrta-sahajiya).
Therefore, Prabhupada mentions symptoms of "steady ecstasy" as results to watch for in effective chanting. Those symptoms, mentioned in The Nectar of Devotion, include pridelessness, intense utilization of time, forbearance, attraction for chanting, attachment to living in Krsna's holy abode, and always expecting Krsna's mercy.
So it isn't wrong to believe we are benefitting when we chant our rounds, even in the beginning. I decided to be optimistic and be grateful for even the simple gains of staying alert and awake, hearing the correct pronunciation of the mantra, sitting up straight, and chanting at a brisk pace.
Devotees at every ISKCON temple are making significant progress during the japa hours, as long as those devotees are sincerely trying. And not just in the temple buildings but wherever devotees chant their japa and strive to utter and hear the holy names, gains are being made. When we chant Hare Krsna, either privately or in public, benefit comes not only to the individual chanters but to the nonchanters also. Among the benefits that come to human society from chanting the holy name, Srila Prabhupada mentions peace, material prosperity, political progress, and all-around good fortune.
Even when we don't notice the good qualities developing in a chanter or in society, we should have faith that the holy name is all-powerful and that its influence is improving everyone's life.
For the person who chants, sinful reactions are vanquished. Therefore he gives up illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling. And even if one cannot completely give up all traces of bad habits, one is released from past karma.
Great benefits come to anyone who utters the holy names. Whether I feel dry or "wet" when I am chanting, the chanting works to destroy sins, provided I don't deliberately commit sins on the strength of chanting. "If one chants the holy name of the Lord, even in a helpless condition or with-out desiring to do so, all the reactions of his sinful life depart, just as when a lion roars all the small animals flee in fear." (Garuda Purana)
I want to improve. I want to avoid offenses and chant with attention and devotion. But even when my rascal mind roams out of control, the holy name reigns supreme. I chant with this faith: "If a person unaware of the effective potency of a certain medicine takes that medicine or is forced to take it, it will act even without his knowledge because its potency does not depend on the patient's understanding. Similarly, even though one does not know the value of chanting the holy name of the Lord, if one chants knowingly or unknowingly, the chanting will be very effective" (Bhagavatam 6.2.18-19).
When I gave special attention to my chanting by raising the quota, the results were unspectacular. But rather than dwell on my own inadequacy, I turned to the scriptures and I began to feel grateful for the gift Srila Prabhupada has given us. Srila Prabhupada writes, "We had fallen into abominable lives as meat-eaters, drunkards, and woman-hunters who performed all kinds of sinful activities, but now we have been given the opportunity to chant the Hare Krsna mantra. Therefore, we should always appreciate this opportunity" (Bhagavatam 6.2.34).
I found it helpful to remember the personal mercy of Srila Prabhupada, who had saved me from a suicidal course. Prabhupada himself did not take credit. He said it was the mercy of the holy name, which he brought to us on the order of his spiritual master. Nevertheless, I received that gift from my spiritual master. As an attempt to repay him (guru-daksina), I will go on chanting and telling others about the chanting. When people ask me how I feel when chanting, I may admit that I feel dry due to my offenses against the holy name. But I will also point out that the medicine of the holy name is working.
Spending extra time trying to improve my chanting has convinced me that I have a lot of work to do, and that this is the most important area of my practice. As taught by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the chanting of Hare Krsna is the best and only means for deliverance of all souls in Kali-yuga, the present degraded age. Since this chanting is so important to Lord Caitanya and to Srila Prabhupada, how can I dare neglect it? The holy name is the most munificent person, Krsna, who is eagerly waiting to give us all the benefits of His direct association. Faith in God, purity of heart, and ultimately love of God are all direct results of proper chanting of the holy names.
So as stated in the Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila 8.28), "As a result of chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, one makes such great advancement in spiritual life that simultaneously his material existence terminates and he receives love of Godhead. The holy name of Krsna is so powerful that by chanting even one name, one very easily achieves these transcendental riches."
We have all heard similar powerful and inspiring statements from the scriptures about the glories of the holy name. It is good to accept them as axiomatic, regardless of our own limits in spiritual experience. But that is not enough. Chanting is worth working on so that the day will come when not only will we quote the scriptures as a matter of policy but we will say with full conviction, "Chant Hare Krsna, and your life will be sublime."
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of more than two dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.