Chanting the holy names of Krishna is the fastest and most powerful
practice for taking us to spiritual perfection.
Last Sunday I met a devotee- friend and asked him, “So, how is your japa?” He replied in a depressed tone, “My japa is BEST japa.” I could not correlate the words BEST japa with his depressed tone. On seeing my confusion, he explained, “What I mean is, I chant in the BEST (Brihan mumbai Electric Supply Transport) buses of Mumbai. I cannot hear a single mantra. Please pray for me. I wish I could chant all my japa at home early in the morning.”
Some of the most important factors that bring success in mantra meditation are how clearly we pronounce each syllable of the mantra and how attentively we hear them. Following in the footsteps of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Prabhupada gave us the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and devotees in ISKCON chant a minimum of sixteen rounds of this mantra daily on sacred beads. But along with chanting, how attentively we hear the mantra is equally important. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.5.16) says, yan-nama-sruti-matrena puman bhavati nirmalah: simply by hearing the holy name of the Lord, one is immediately purified. Devotees who regularly chant the holy names of Krishna, therefore, try their best to chant attentively.
Our Surroundings Affect Our Japa
Why was my friend unable to feel the same bliss in chanting on the bus as he used to feel when chanting at home? It’s because our surroundings affect the quality of our chanting. Buses and trains are always noisy and crowded with passengers. The quality of the atmosphere inside, or the ether surrounding us, is a sum total of the thoughts and emotions of the other passengers. All these thoughts affect us we become agitated sitting next to an agitated person or peaceful next to a saint. Therefore we are advised to chant all our japa in the early morning hours, one-and-a-half hours before sunrise (known as brahma-muhurta), for this is the time when all agitated souls are deeply asleep and only the peaceful devotees of the Lord are awake. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (2.69), yanisa sarva-bhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami/ yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisa pasyato muneh: “What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.” Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport: “The sage feels transcendental pleasure in the gradual advancement of spiritual culture, whereas the man in materialistic activities, being asleep to self-realization, dreams of varieties of sense pleasure, feeling sometimes happy and sometimes distressed in his sleeping condition.” A serious devotee therefore never chants his vowed japa quota while commuting. Japa done while commuting is considered extra to the quota.
Devotees rest early while ordinary people remain awake till late in the night; devotees then get up early in the morning, when ordinary people are asleep. Because they are asleep, the atmosphere is free of their passionate and agitating thoughts. As they start to rise, usually around 7 or 8 a.m., their thoughts and desires start to fill the ether. An aspiring transcendentalist therefore has to strive harder in meditation after daybreak. Just as traffic jams occur in cities during peak office hours, so traffic jams of mental thought in the ether occur as soon as people’s daily routines begin. One learning to drive prefers to drive during non-peak hours because the roads are relatively free; once he has perfected driving, he will enjoy driving at any time of day. Similarly, a practicing devotee who is trying to focus on the holy name chooses the early morning to chant since it’s easy to drive on the devotional path at that time. Once his chanting matures and he develops the right focus, he transcends the effect of the modes of material nature and is able to overcome all mental traffic blocks as he relishes the holy name constantly. To achieve this state, however, one must practice chanting japa before dawn. Srila Prabhupada writes: “One should rise early in the morning, take bath, enter the temple, and offer prayers and chant Hare Krishna . . .”
The path of bhakti-yoga or Krishna consciousness especially the process of chanting Krishna’s holy names is like an expressway to spiritual perfection. Before driving on an expressway, one must learn the rules and protocol. On expressways one has to drive at a certain speed neither too fast nor too slow. If we drive too fast we will be heavily fined or, worse, may meet with an accident. If we drive too slowly we may discourage other people who may be moving with greater speed. Similarly, on the devotional expressway, if we remain complacent, thinking, “I have many years to live,” then we may discourage other devotees who are marching ahead with great enthusiasm. On the other hand, if we are impatient and over-enthusiastic to reach the Vaikuntha planets immediately, we may meet with severe accidents and our progress may temporarily stop. Therefore, Srila Rupa Goswami advises us to cultivate the qualities of enthusiasm and patience in our practice. If one has only patience but no enthusiasm, then he will progress at a slow speed. On the contrary, if one is too enthusiastic but has no patience, then such a person, after a short stint, will lose his taste and eventually give up the path of devotional service.
One will find many kinds of vehicles on the expressway, from big cars that can move at high speeds to heavily loaded trucks that lumber along. Similarly, on the expressway of devotion, there are a variety of souls. Some are loaded with heavy karma from their past life; some carry less karma. If by great fortune one receives the causeless mercy of the Lord, one should not become arrogant and laugh at devotees who are slower than us. That would be a grave offense (Vaishnava aparadha) and is compared to a mad elephant destroying our devotional creeper. One must be extremely careful to avoid such behavior.
Apart from the speed rules, one must follow the basic maintenance program. Regularly hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam will inspire us to continue on the devotional path. Following the four regulative principles no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, and no gambling are essential to protect us from meeting with accidents.
Rendering service to great souls plays a crucial role in our progress toward our destination. By their blessings, one learns the secret art of chanting with devotion. Service to other Vaishnavas is also important. While driving on the expressway one may see some broken down vehicles by the side of the road. Their drivers may need help from us. On the expressway of devotion, if we find our other devotees struggling with problems, we should provide as much help as possible.
On the expressway, we should be careful not to get distracted by illusory diversions that may appear as shortcuts. And most importantly, we should never stop on this expressway, because Kali’s agents, who are like plunderers, may rob us of our great wealth of devotion. We should drive steadily without losing focus until we reach our destination, the supreme spiritual abode of Goloka Vrindavana.
Yugavatara Dasa is an associate professor in Anatomy in a medical college in Mumbai. He is a regular contributor to BTG.