THE VEDIC SCRIPTURES recommend that in this age the best way to awaken our original love for God is to chant His holy names. The chanting is a meditation on Krsna, who is present in the sound of His name. As one associates with Krsna through His name, one's consciousness becomes purified. Initiated devotees in the Krsna consciousness movement vow to chant the Hare Krsna mantra at least sixteen "rounds" on their beads every day. To chant a round means to chant the mantra once on each bead of a string of 108.
People sometimes ask me, "What's the point of counting how many mantras we chant? Surely the main thing is to chant with feeling and because we want to, not because we're trying to get a certain number done. We may end up thinking of numbers rather than Krsna."
There's truth in this statement. Sometimes I am just trying to "get my rounds done." Sometimes I chant when I don't want to, or I chant mechanically, without much feeling for Lord Krsna. Still, the Padma Purana says it's better to chant imperfectly than not at all, because by practice we'll improve. Krsna sees our attempt and helps us according to our sincerity of purpose.
For fifteen years I lived in and around ISKCON temples, and I always chanted my rounds in the temple with other devotees. I found it quite easy to finish my quota every day, riding on the wavelike strength of a group of other serious chanters. Sometimes I visited Mayapur or Vrndavana the lands of the holy name where chanting was as easy and natural as breathing.
For the last five years my family and I have lived mostly away from a temple and the constant association of other chanters. The first thing that struck me when we moved into our cottage was that it was much harder to chant Hare Krsna on my beads and to finish my rounds regularly. I found myself slipping behind until I'd be as many as three or four days behind. To catch up, I'd have to take a long walk.
I've heard that Srila Prabhupada said that being a family man was harder than being a spiritual master. I'm not looking for excuses, but maybe others find it easier to keep their spiritual practices going amid the seemingly endless demands of being a parent and a husband cleaning, cooking, gardening, shopping, making money, keeping accounts, paying bills, maintaining a car and a house, dealing with illnesses, accidents, arguments … I'll stop here!
In our family we have a little morning service (described in BTG Vol. 25, No. 2). It's a great inspiration and help to us all. It's something none of us would like to forgo, although sometimes it's difficult to fit in. After our service, I chant a round with my eldest son, Radhanatha. I also chant some rounds with Radha Priya, my wife, before the children wake up. Still, I do most of my chanting alone, or carrying a baby on my arm.
Even though chanting has become more difficult, now it also means more to me. It's my most significant link with Krsna. In holy places like temples, spiritual programs go on practically twenty-four hours a day, and there are always lots of devotees to associate with. But here at home, apart from our rudimentary altar, our own celebration of Vaisnava festivals, and the occasional sound of church bells, there's not much else for spiritual support but my chanting.
Gone too is the social pressure to complete my rounds. I'm chanting because I want to and not because I'm trying to keep up with others. My main motivation in chanting is no longer duty it's need. To keep going in spiritual life, I know I have to chant.
Rohininandana Dasa lives in southern England with his wife and their three children. Write to him at Woodgate Cottage, Beckley Nr. Rye, E. Sussex TN31 6UH, UK.
How to Chant on Beads
HOLD YOUR BEADS in your right hand, between your thumb and middle finger.
Begin chanting on the bead next to the large bead. Chant the complete maha-mantra aloud: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Make sure to pronounce each word distinctly. Hare is pronounced huh-ray. Krsna is pronounced krish-na. And Rama rhymes with the English word drama.
After chanting one mantra on the first bead, move to the next bead and chant the maha-mantra again. Continue in this way until you have chanted on all 108 beads. You have just chanted one "round."
Don't chant on or cross over the large bead. To chant another round, turn your beads around and begin moving them in the other direction. The last bead of your first round will be the first bead of your next. If you wish, you can roll the beads slightly between your finger and thumb as you chant.
Try to focus your mind on the sound of the holy name. Lord Krsna says we should practice controlling our restless mind by bringing it back from wherever it has strayed. Our chanting is an invitation to Krsna. If He kindly comes, He is our guest. And if we ignore Him by allowing our minds to wander, how long will our special guest want to stay?
Srila Prabhupada says the maha-mantra is a spiritual call to the Lord and His energy (Hara, or Radha) to give us protection. And he says that chanting is exactly like the genuine cry of a child for its mother.
The maha-mantra means, "My dear Lord, please accept me." Or, when further elaborated, "My dear Lord, having forgotten You I have fallen into the material world and have wandered through various species of life for so long. Please be merciful to me. Please pick me up and engage me once again in Your service."
We can get help in chanting Hare Krsna by invoking the mercy of Lord Caitanya and His associates by chanting the mantra that glorifies them: jaya sri-krsna-caitanya prabhu nityananda sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda. You can chant this mantra before you begin chanting your rounds or before each round.
Lord Caitanya said that there are no hard and fast rules for chanting. So you can chant quietly or loudly, sitting, standing, or walking, with your eyes open or closed. The important principle is to hear the sound of the name without distraction.