SOME PEOPLE confuse repeating God's name with "vain repetition" of materialistic prayers. But God's names differ from other sounds and are spiritually potent and effective for spiritual realization.
Chanting is non-sectarian. One can connect with the Supreme Lord by chanting any of His names. Followers of Islam repeat Allah Akbar, "God is great." Catholics repeat prayers on rosary beads. In the '60s story Franny and Zooey, one character wants to emulate a monk who always chanted the Jesus prayer. Jesus himself prayed to God, "Hallowed by Thy name."
The Vedas also mention many names of God. Repeating such sacred sounds is called mantra meditation. The Sanskrit word man means "mind," and tra means "to release." Mantras release the mind from anxiety and illusion. They are not the mindlessly repeated dogmatic statements of politicians.
Some popular mantras include govinda jaya jaya, gopala jaya jaya; om namo bhagavate vasudevaya; and the maha, or great, mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The Hare Krsna mantra addresses God in His most personal aspects as Krsna, the all-attractive person, and Rama, the reservoir of all pleasure. "Hare" (pronounced ha-ray) addresses God's devotional energy. Taken together these names mean, "My dear Lord, please let me serve You."
Although there are no fixed rules for chanting God's names, some guidelines may help. You may prefer to start in a secluded, private place. Early morning is by far the best time for an extended chanting session. (That means early to bed a good practice in a power failure.) Beads are useful to employ your sense of touch. A beautiful sacred picture or altar will help occupy your sight. Get all this together if you can, but if not, don't worry. Just chant. Ready?
Chant loudly enough to surpass the clatter of your mind. Set your problems completely aside let them wait and focus on the sound. At the same time, let your emotions and inner feelings go where they will. Express them in your chanting. If you are in difficulty, let that be an impetus for your chanting. Of course, we are all in difficulty in this world. So let your chanting be, as Srila Prabhupada used to say, "like the genuine cry of a child for its mother."
You'll no doubt undergo some objections from your busy, demanding mind. Keep going. Chant as long as you comfortably can. Though it takes some practice, it is quite common for devotees of Krsna to chant for an hour or two daily. Such serious yogis also gradually give up certain activities that pollute the heart and impair chanting. These activities include gambling, intoxication, meat-eating, and recreational sex. Although it may seem rather harsh and difficult to give up such habits, imagine for a moment how unimportant they would seem to you in a Y2K-type emergency where your very survival was at stake.
Natural and Blissful
For me, chanting is practical. I find that a good morning chanting session always leaves me feeling more prepared in every respect to meet the day's challenges. While chanting I often experience flashes of creativity or insight. But these are by-products of something more important. By chanting God's names, I am aligning myself properly, according to all scriptures, as God's servant. I am glorifying Him, making a joyful noise, and singing His praises. It is blissful, natural, and deeply satisfying to the soul.