Logicial and Philosophical reason behind chanting
While replying to email, I was pleasantly struck by the following subject line: “Chanting worked for me!” It was sent by Prashant, who is now studying at IIT Kharagpur, West Bengal. About a year before I had offered a program for IIT JEE aspirants in which I introduced japa, the practice of chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on beads, to a group of more than one hundred enthusiastic participants. It was a mixed crowd from various parts of India, but there was something they all shared. Through their lifestyle of funky jeans, junk-food, cool hairstyles, and even cooler habits, all of them proclaimed their distance from and their doubts about the ageold Vedic culture and its traditions.
Doubts are Due to Foreign Culture
There are many important details in the practice of Krishna consciousness. It is important to note that the Krishna consciousness movement is genuine, historically authorized, natural, and transcendental, as it is based on the timeless and peerless wisdom of the Vedic literature. Thus there are valid logical and scriptural reasons behind every practice within the culture of Krishna consciousness. Unfortunately, we have lost the fabric of that culture which once underpinned the Vedas. Particular ancient practices may therefore appear foreign to us, and thus our doubtful minds may question or challenge the beliefs that go along with them. Doubts are, however, a sign of intelligence and are welcomed, if we are open to resolving them with reason and philosophy.
During the program the students raised several important questions. I answered all of them on the basis of my study of Srila Prabhupada’s books and lectures. As the founderacarya of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada’s wisdom is coming directly from the literary corpus of the Vedic tradition. Some of the students’ doubts may occur to us, or we might have been asked similar questions, so I am presenting those questions (and answers) here:
1. Why Hare Krishna mantra?
In ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada gave his followers the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Vedic scriptures recommend the process of chanting for self-realization. However, the Vedas are a veritable storehouse of mantras. Which mantra should we chant? And which mantra is the best one for the current age, Kali-yuga?
Of course, the answers can be found in the same place we find the general recommendation for the practice of chanting in the Vedic literature. But when a patient wants to take medicine for his particular ailment, he does not go to the pharmacy and choose one among the myriad available. That could be perilous! Instead he goes to a doctor, who recommends a specific medicine for the patient’s particular situation. And the patient follows that prescription. In the same manner, a serious spiritual candidate should find out from the scriptures what is the recommended mantra for his particular situation this specific Vedic age rather than making a determination based on his own whims. In Kali-yuga the Vedas advise us to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. There are many references for this. The Kali Santarana Upanisad, for instance, first mentions the mantra and then glorifies it as the best for Kali-yuga:
hare Krishna hare Krishna Krishna Krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare
iti sodasakah namnah kali-kalmasa-nasanah
natah parataropayah sarva-vedesu drsyate
“After searching through all the Vedic literature, one cannot find a method of religion more sublime for this age (Kali-yuga) than the chanting of Hare Krishna.”
In addition, the Padma-purana states: “Anyone who constantly chants the Hare Krishna mantra will certainly attain the abode of Radha and Krishna.”
2. Why chant on beads?
It has been said that there are “no hard and fast rules” for chanting Hare Krishna. One can chant at any time, in any place, in any way. We can chant even while bathing! Despite this fact, there are best practices. For instance, the morning time is the best time for japa. Japa is a meditation. To absorb ourselves completely, we should focus all our energy in hearing the holy names, and thus all our senses should be engaged in the process. With the tongue we vibrate the mantra audibly (not silently), with the ears we hear the mantra, with the eyes we can look at images of Krishna (or the eyes can remain halfclosed), and with our fingers we count on beads the number of mantras we have chanted. If our hands are not so engaged, they may wander, seeking to touch something else that may distract us from our chanting.
3. Why are there 108 Beads in a mala?
It is recommended to keep a count while chanting. Actually, the scriptures say asaìkhyata, “unlimited” that there is no upper limit to how much we should chant. If left to our own devices we may chant just once and feel it is sufficient. Therefore, there has to be saìkhyata, numerical strength. We have to fix some number as the minimum we will chant, so every mala contains the auspicious number 108, and we are determined to chant at least one mala by pronouncing the full Hare Krishna mahamatra on each bead of the mala.
The process of japa is meant to please the Supreme Lord, Krishna. If I want to please someone, I will do things they like. If the number seven is that person’s favorite number, I may also adopt that as my favorite. Similarly, 108 is auspicious from the point of view of it being a favorite of Krishna’s. There are likewise 108 Upanisads. In Vrndavana there are also 108 principal cowherd boyfriends of Krishna, 108 chief gopi companions in Krishna’s rasa dance, and Mother YaSoda has 108 chief cows. So 108 is special to anyone who wants to become a devotee of Krishna.
4. How much time should I spend chanting?
As a practice, we should fix some minimum number of mantras to chant daily. We chant on a mala containing 108 beads. If we chant 108 times on beads, that is considered “one round.” So, like that we can chant on round, two rounds, etc. Here’s an interesting calculation:
1 Day = 24 hours; 1 hour = 1/24, or ~ 4% of 1 day; 15min ~ 1% of 1 day
In the beginning, it will take around 78 minutes to complete one round. So…
2 rounds ~ 15 mins = 1% of 1 day; 4 rounds ~ 30 mins = 2% of 1 day
That means if one chants four rounds every day, he is only giving 2% of his time. God has given us twenty-four hours. Can’t we give even 1% or 2% of our time to remember Him? Think of how much time we spend every day sleeping or eating or even watching television! For an important activity like japa, shouldn’t we set aside a good amount of time every day? All serious members of ISKCON chant sixteen rounds of japa daily as a minimum numerical vow. Initially, one may begin with four rounds or two rounds or, at least, one round daily, and as benefits are perceived one may increase his or her commitment to japa.
5. Why should I spend so much time chanting? I am so busy!
We should be busy to improve the quality of life. A student can’t give the excuse of being too busy to sharpen his pencil, and an employee can’t be too busy to schedule his day’s work. Similarly, a human being can’t be too busy to chant the holy names of God. Without sharpening one’s pencil or planning one’s day the purpose of being busy is lost. And if we don’t chant the holy names of God, we lose the purpose of human life.
Besides awarding us love for God and relieving us from the miseries of material existence, chanting gives us some immediate benefits like peace of mind and improved concentration. We can also feel how the effects of lust, anger, greed, envy, and so on, gradually reduce. These tendencies act like viruses in the heart. And, exactly like computer viruses, they make us un-productive and ineffective in accomplishing whatever we set out to accomplish. Surely we can’t be so busy as to neglect cleansing of our heart of these viruses. Otherwise the purpose of being busy is lost! The Hare Krishna maha-mantra is the mahaanti- virus that cleanses our hearts of all the misgivings mentioned in the first verse of Sri Caitanya’s Siksasöaka, ceto-darpana-marjanah: the holy names cleanse our hearts of all material dirt.
6. If I have been chanting some other mantra, will it conflict with chanting Hare Krishna?
There is no conflict. The general advice is to include the Hare Krishna mantra in one’s spiritual regimen, whatever that regimen might be. Actually, there are so many mantras in the Vedic scriptures, as already explained. But the Hare Krishna mantra is the maha-mantra. It has been specifically recommended in the scriptures, and specifically chanted and propounded by the acaryas, the great teachers of spiritual science, and distributed even by Lord Caitanya, the Supreme Lord Himself.
In fact, if one is chanting Hare Krishna, that alone is sufficient. There is no need of any other process. Just as when the sun shines in the sky there is no need of a 100-watt electric bulb, in the same way if one chants the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, there is no need of any other yoga, tantra, mantra, puja, mudra, etc. If, however, because of personal reasons, someone wants to continue their previous practice, they can at least add 10 to 15 minutes of chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra.
On hearing these judicious and philosophical answers, many of the students attending the seminar seriously took up the practice of japa. Prashant was just one among them, and he expressed his gratitude through email. Now he is in touch with a group of devotees at the IIT Kharagpur campus.
Over the last decade I have met thousands of students and introduced them to japa. One more thing I found common among them was that almost every one of them was searching something they were all looking for some sort of inner fulfillment, fulfillment that can only be found in the holy names of God.
As it worked for Prashant, it will work for anyone who sincerely chants the holy names. The holy names satisfy the deepest need of the soul for love of God. The holy names gradually bring us to the point of finally receiving this benefit, after the journey of purging the impurities in the heart and awarding side benefits like peacefulness, satisfaction, and so on. In this age of Kali-yuga there are many faults socially, politically, psychologically, ecologically, physiologically and economically. And the one-stop solution to all of these problems is chanting the holy names of the Lord. The Vedic scriptures (Cc. Adi-lila 17.21) therefore boldly proclaim:
harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha
“In this Age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means for self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari.”
We too can serve as testimony to these Vedic prophecies if we sincerely take up japa. Everyone should thus adopt this sublime practice according to their own means and thus embrace the grace of the Lord. As Srila Prabhupada would say, “Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!”
Amala Mahaprabhu Dasa graduated from the IIT Kharagpur with a degree in Mechanical engineering. Currently he serves as a resident monk at ISKCON NVCC in Pune and is a youth mentor and counselor