Tag Archives: Japa

Chanting and Realizing the Holy Name

Question: In the introduction to Bhagavat Sandarbha, you write:

“Similarly, just as Bhagavān’s form is non-different from His essential being, so too His name is identical with Him. It has the same power as Bhagavān and is similarly beyond the grasp of the material senses. Realizing His name even once can free one from the bondage of the material world.”

I understand the name is transcendental but there exists a duality. On the one hand, we chant and hear with our material senses, but on the other hand, the name exists as a transrational entity. What does this mean?

Answer: The name is transcendental and one with Kṛṣṇa. It is one with and different from Him simultaneously. When we chant the name, two things happen simultaneously. One is our using vocal cords to utter the name and the other is the manifestation of the name on our tongue. Nāma is not material and cannot be generated with our material senses. It is eternal and manifests when we wish to utter it. Although the manifestation of nāma and our simultaneous utterance with the tongue appear as one event, they are actually two separate things.  

Question: What is the relationship of the “mood” of chanting with our ability to perceive the transcendental aspect of the names?

Answer: The manifestation of the name on our tongues is in relationship to the purity of our heart. If our heart is conditioned with material desires, then the name does not manifest its full potency. We may not even feel the name and may only experience our own chanting. 

Question: What does it mean to realize the name even once? 

Answer: It means that the name manifests fully on your tongue. 

Question: What can I do as a sādhaka to have this experience in this life?

Answer: To experience nāma, the chanter must have purity of heart, especially freedom from nāma-aparādha. As long as we have nāma-aparādha, the pure name will not manifest because these two cannot coexist. To be free from nāma-aparādha, one must avoid nāma-aparādha and engage in pure bhakti, especially in nāma-japa and nāma-kīrtana.

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Question: I have heard that chanting at least 64 rounds is ideal, as instructed by Mahāprabhu. But I am unable to find the determination or enthusiasm to chant such a high number of rounds. Is there any chance of achieving spiritual realization or experiencing the nectar ocean of Krishna’s name without chanting so many rounds? 

Answer: First you have to decide whether you really want to chant 64 rounds or not. If you are convinced that you must chant 64 rounds and that it is the instruction of Mahāprabhu, then my humble suggestion is that you approach the very same person from whom you heard this statement. I am not prescribing to chant 64 rounds nor have I read anywhere that Mahāprabhu did so. I also haven’t read it in BRS or Bhakti Sandarbha, which are the two major books delineating the process of bhakti and its practice. I also don’t find any such mention in Hari-bhakti-vilasa. 

As far as I am concerned, the important factor is not the number of rounds but the quality. I prefer to chant pure rounds with proper concentration over 64 rounds like a superfast train. The name has all the power, but it has to be chanted purely. I don’t think when you are in a hurry to complete 64 rounds that you can focus on it. This is possible only if you have nothing else to do, which I am sure is not the case. Otherwise, you would not have asked me.

The Holy Name is Always Pure

Question: It is recommended that one who chants with offenses should continue chanting to become free from those offenses. Does this mean that one should continue chanting with offenses or with nāmābhāsa?

Answer: No. Why should one chant with offenses?  Chant the name and avoid offenses. And why chant nāmābhāsa? Just chant the name. I think there is some confusion about nāma, nāmābhāsa, and nāmāparādha

Some practitioners think that when people chant in the beginning stage, they chant nāmāparādha. After making progress and avoiding offenses, they chant nāmābhāsa mixed with nāmāparādha. When, by the mercy of their guru, they realize that they are servants of Kṛṣṇa and become free of offenses, they chant the pure name, which grants Kṛṣṇa-prema.

To have clear understanding, we should know the difference between nāma and nāmābhāsa.  A devotee chants nāma as part of his or her sadhana. Sādhanā is always done consciously and with purposeful intent. Nāmābhāsa is not a stage of sadhana as it is not chanted consciously. Therefore, if one is chanting nāma as part of one’s sādhanā, then it is not considered nāmābhāsa. 

An ābhāsa is an act of devotion done incidentally. For example, when Ajāmila called his son, whose name was Nārāyaṇa, that was nāmābhāsa because his intention was to call his son, not Bhagavān Nārāyaṇa. Ajāmila’s calling out was not a purposeful act of devotion or part of sādhanā.

Concerning nāmāparādha, no one chants the Lord’s name as sādhanā with an intention to offend the Lord. One simply chants the Lord’s name and may commit aparādha, either while chanting or at another time. Therefore, there is no possibility that nāmāparādha or nāmābhāsa are stages of nāma sādhanā.

If one chants “Kṛṣṇa” or the Lord’s name directly, referring to Him, then he or she is chanting nāma. But if one chants the words “Kṛṣṇa”, “Rāma”, or so on, referring to some other person than the Lord, that is nāmābhāsa. Incidental chanting of the holy name of God while referring to someone else with the same name is called nāmābhāsa. Nāmābhāsa is also possible when the Lord’s name is part of another name. The English word “diorama” includes the word “rāma”, although it does not refer to Lord Rāma. This chanting of “Rāma” as part of “diorama” is another instance of nāmābhāsa.

Thus, when people chant the Lord’s name, such as the mahāmantra, they chant nāma and not nāmābhāsa or nāmāparādha, regardless of what stage of bhakti they are on. The name is always the name and it is always pure. It is only the chanter who is impure. As long as the chanter is impure, the holy name does not reveal its full potency. It is not that the name chanted by a neophyte is nāmāparādha, or that by chanting nāmāparādha, one gradually comes to the level of chanting nāmābhāsa and finally to the pure name.

If it were true that everyone chants nāmāparādha in the beginning, then no one would ever advance beyond that stage. Rather, everyone would eventually fall down due to nāmāparādha. But this is not the case. Therefore, such an understanding is improper. 

Furthermore, if one chants the mahāmantra, how can that be nāmābhāsa? He is calling Kṛṣṇa’s name, not someone else’s name. For a sādhaka, the name is always the name. The only obstacles are the offenses against the name. As one becomes clear of offenses, the name manifests its potency to the chanter.

Offenses are like a cloud that covers our vision of the sun. Similarly, offenses obscure the full radiance of the name from our vision. The name is always pure and full of potency, but offenses act like a barrier around us. They obstruct our vision of the name. This is the same principle that impedes our realization of Kṛṣṇa. Although Kṛṣṇa is present everywhere, we don’t see Him because of our nondevotional attitude. If we become devotees in the true sense, we can feel His presence always.

Further details are explained in this booklet

Different Ways of Chanting, Focus during Japa

The Most Powerful Chanting

Sri Vinod Bihari Gosvami

Question: I would like to know which chanting is more powerful, in the mind or audibly.

1) Srila Jiva Gosvami writes in his Krama sandarbha: “The names of God should be chanted loudly.”

2) Baladeva Vidyabhusana explain in the Stava malabibhusana bhasya, “If one chants the Hare Krsna mantra loudly, Krsna personally dances on his tongue.”

3) In Caitanya-bhagavata Adi Khanda, with purports of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, it says that loud chanting is best.

Answer: Both are powerful and both are recommended. I have practiced both. My personal experience is that manasic japa is superior in focusing the mind on the mantra. But it must be learned from one who knows. If audible chanting helps one to focus, that is good for him/her. However, Jiva Gosvami or Baladeva Vidyabhusana are not forbidding mansic japa. Manasic japa is the same as smaranam, and Jiva Gosvami has written about smaranam and its importance.

A famous quote from Padma Purana says that the essence of all rules and regulations is to remember Krsna and never to forget him. Narada also says in the first chapter of the Seventh Canto that somehow or other one should fix the mind on Krishna – which is smaranam.

As far as the Chaitanya Bhagavata story is concerned, that is to glorify the Name. I do not disagree with it. CB is also not forbidding mansic japa. It only says that vacika is 100 times superior to manasic. The reason for this is that by vacika, the plants and animals also benefit. But if the chanter himself is not making progress, how will the plants? This may be true in the case of people like Haridasa Thakura who chant purely. But others must be free from offence themselves to benefit others. The Holy Name does not manifest His power otherwise. One who chants for the benefit of others must be pure to think like that. Normal people are not able to concentrate while chanting. In the list of offences inattentiveness is also counted. So if one can chant with attention loudly, that is good. But to come to that stage, you may have to go through manasika japa.

In regards to 100 times, there are slokas which say that manasic chanting is 1000 time superior to vacika. Of course one may say that it is applicable only to Vedic mantras and not to the Name. Vedic mantras should not be chanted loudly. But when chanted like a mantra, the Name should follow the rules for Vedic mantras. Loud chanting is kirtan and manasic japa is smaranam and both have their glory. Mahaprabhu glorifies kirtana – kirtaniya sada hari, and also smaranam  – smarane na kala.

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Focus During Japa

Question: When chanting, should I associate the sound of the Lord’s name with His form or the sound of His name with the written representation of His name? I have heard different views about this. And if my association should only be in respect to one of the two, then is that not contradictory to the statement that the Lord’s name is non-different from His form?

Answer: You associate the sound with the letters. That is recommended. It is not contradictory because although the Lord is non-different, He is also different in some sense. Otherwise we would not have separate two words for them.

In Bhakti Sandarbha Sri Jiva Gosvami writes that one should begin hearing and chanting the Name. This will purify the heart and then form, qualities and pastimes will manifest in the pure heart. He says that one can follow any order but he recommends to begin with the Name.

Beads and Japa

Question: I read that the individual beads that make up our mala, which we use to chant with, is meant to represent the 108 gopis – is that accurate? If not, what is the purpose of the beads – to focus our attention?

Answer: The purpose is to keep your mind on the mantra and also to chant a certain amount regularly. Otherwise one will be irregular. The beads are made of Tulasi, so it also keeps in touch with Tulasi Devi who is dear to Krsna. 108 is a mystical number. You can interpret it as gopis or Upanisads, or related with the number of breaths. According to numerology, it is the complete number, 1 plus 8 is equal to 9, so it brings completeness, or it links you with the Complete Person.

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The Meaning and Purpose of Chanting

There is an interesting verse in Srimad Bhagavatam in regards to chanting: sanketyam parihasyam va stobham helanam eva va vaikuntha-nama-grahanam aseshagha-haram viduh: “One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins, even if he chants indirectly [to indicate something else], jokingly, for musical entertainment, or even neglectfully. This is accepted by all the learned scholars of the scriptures.” (SB 6.2.14). I was wondering if Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur has said something further on its meaning.

Answer:  He adds that none of these things should be offensive. Otherwise he only explains the meaning of these terms.

Question: As you know, many devotees of Krsna are lecturing and doing kirtan at various yoga studios in the USA and Europe. Some conservative devotees feel that we shouldn’t compromise our Vaisnava philosophy one iota while others are more liberal and are encouraging yogis to chant even if it has the above mentioned flaws. Any thoughts on this matter, specifically in regards to the above mentioned verse?

Answer: Well, the real thing is to know the purpose behind chanting. Its primary purpose is devotion to the Lord – to do it for His pleasure. It is not a means of entertainment, which is usually the case. Even many conservative devotees fall prey to this tendency.

The above mentioned verse is not an injunction to chant in this manner but an explanation of the power of the Name. You can chant in Yoga centers or wherever, if your intention is proper, and ultimately you should let it be known. Sometimes I also chant but I also explain the meaning and purpose of chanting.