chanting

Attentive Chanting

[This article is based on a Bhagavatam class and discussion at Giri Govardhana Tirtha, Butte Falls, Oregon, USA. I ask learned readers to help answer the question a devotee posed at the end of this class.]

Speaker: Narasimha das

We are reading Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto Six, Chapter 16, verses 27, 28, and 29, translations and purport by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada.

Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya. Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya. Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya.

"Fasting and drinking only water, Citraketu for one week continuously chanted with great care and attention the mantra given by Narada Muni. O King Pariksit, after only one week of repeatedly practicing the mantra received from the spiritual master, Citraketu achieved the rule of the planet of the Vidyadharas as an intermediate product of his spiritual advancement in knowledge. Thereafter, within a very few days, by the influence of the mantra that Citraketu had practiced, his mind became increasingly enlightened in spiritual progress, and he attained shelter at the lotus feet of Anantadeva." (SB. 6.16.27-29)

JapaWe have gathered here today for Srimad-Bhagavatam class. As far as possible, we must attend Bhagavat class daily because by this process alone all that is inauspicious or troublesome in the heart is almost completely destroyed. Hearing and discussing Srimad-Bhagavatam in the association of devotees is one of the most powerful and quickly effective means of self-realization in this age, or in any age.

By Srila Prabhupada's divine grace and Lord Caitanya's causeless mercy, some devotees are able to understand the futility of material existence, and they give it up quickly. How? They hang tightly on the lotus feet of the bona fide spiritual master, the self-realized pure devotee. Sometimes to teach a devotee how to surrender fully, Krishna puts him into difficulties–just to increase the intensity of his devotional mood, or to enable him to hear higher instructions with rapt attention. This was the case with Citraketu Maharaja, who avoided the offensive stage of chanting by attentive hearing. It is said that inattention is the mother of all offenses in chanting the holy names.

Unless one constantly begs for the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and Lord Nityananda, his chanting of Hare Krishna may not be quickly effective for going back to Godhead.  One must properly receive the maha-mantra and the gayatri mantra from a self-realized soul, the pure devotee, otherwise these mantras will not be quickly effective to elevate one above illusion. Therefore when ignorant religious leaders and clerics muddle the distinctions between the self-realized pure Vaisnava and ordinary sadhakas, it often leads to tragic mistakes for inexperienced devotees and laity, who are prone to be misled.

"Presently people are so fallen, they cannot distinguish between a liberated soul and a conditioned soul." (SB.4.18.5, Purport)When the waves of maya attack, your little sentiment for Krishna may not save you. All my disciples must be thoroughly trained in the philosophy of Krishna consciousness.(Letter to Visnujana Swami, 1972)What is the use of so many disciples if none of them are knowledgeable?(Letter to Satsvarurpa, 1972)

The majority of people in this Kali Yuga world have no interest in self-realization or Krishna consciousness. Their interest is enjoying their senses, working hard, or simply surviving and making ends meet. Among those who are interested in progressive life, most want to use Vedic rituals or devotional service or the chanting of the holy names for material elevation. They are the bhukti-kamis. They want to stay in this material world to compete for sense gratification by exploiting religious practices or by unauthorized means.

hare krishna chanting-japaMore rare than the bhukti-kamis are the siddhi-kamis. They understand that opportunities for sense enjoyment on Earth are extremely limited and plagued with problems. To rise above some of these problems and elevate themselves to a higher standard of enjoyment in the heavenly planets or the planets of great rishis, they take up devotional practices such as Deity worship and chanting spiritual mantras. Mystic perfections are meant to help devotees fix their minds on the form of the Lord and some activity of devotional service, such as in the case of Narasimhananda Brahmacari described in Sri Caitanya-Caritamrita. But the siddhi-kamis want to enjoy life by exploiting material resources in the ultimate way. Sometimes they cheat their followers with displays of mystic power and claim to be an incarnation of God or one Krishna’s personal associates or expansions.

I recently saw an interesting documentary on Lord Jesus Christ wherein he is laughing at the his disciples for addressing him as the Supreme Lord above all. He told them that they shouldn’t consider the god of this material world to be equal to the Supreme Lord of the Universe. Although it may not mean much to the historians who helped create this documentary, Jesus Christ was taking the role of a mortal, namely Lord Brahma, and he was rejecting the idea of being worshiped as the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself.

Srila Prabhupada points out the Lord Brahma who is chief of the Brahma-madhva Sampradaya is a pure devotee and an empowered incarnation of Krishna’s creative energy. Over and above his position as creator of this universe, Lord Brahma is a Vaisnava acharya. Similarly, Lord Jesus Christ is a shakty-avesha avatar of Krishna, as was confirmed by Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.

Among many pure devotees, spanning many centuries, there sometimes appears a pure devotees from the spiritual world who are considered messiahs, or saviors of all mankind. When such a savior appears there may be attempts on His life and attempts to ignore or minimize His instructions. He is opposed by many others, even those of His own religious background. This opposition comes in the form ignorance, apathy, and malicious envy. Similarly, His loyal followers who preach on His behalf are often persecuted, slandered, arrested, minimized, ignored, beaten, cheated or even killed—not only by atheists but even by those claiming some spiritual or religious standing.

Far more rare than the siddhi-kamis are the mukti-kamis. They are disgusted with the material world and want liberation in the Brahman effulgence. Although they are known as transcendentalists, such mukti-kamis are not pure devotees of Lord Krishna or His direct expansions like Ramachadra or Narasimha Deva. Srila Prabhupada said that the idea of merging into the Brahman effulgence is repugnant for pure devotees. They would rather go to hell for preaching than merge into the Brahman effulgence. Srila Prabhupada describes the pitfalls on the path of devotional service throughout his books.

As soon as Citraketu understood the philosophy of vairagya-vidya, the knowledge of renunication, he could understand the process of bhakti-yoga. In this regard, Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya has said, vairagya-vidya-nija-bhakti-yoga.  Vairagya-vidya and bhakti-yoga follow parallel lines. They progress side by side. It is also said, bhaktih paresanubhavo viruktir anyatra ca: “Advancement in devotional service, or Krishna consciousness, is characterized by increasing renunciation of material enjoyment." (SB.6.16.26, Purport)

When Citraketu took up the chanting of the sacred mantra given to him by Sri Narada Muni, he did so with full attention, and within a week he achieved rule of the planet of the Vidyadharas. This achievement is described by Srila Prabhupada as "an intermediate product of his spiritual advancement in knowledge." Srila Prabhupada explains, "If a devotee, after being initiated, adheres rigidly to the instructions of the spiritual master, he is naturally endowed with the material opulence of vidyadhara-abhipatyam and similar posts as by-products. A devotee need not practice yoga, karma, or jnana to achieve a successful result. Devotional service alone is competent to award a devotee all material power." (SB. 6.16.28, Purport)

"A devotee's ultimate achievement is to take shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord in any one of the planets in the spiritual sky. As a result of execution of devotional service, a devotee receives all material opulence, if these are required; otherwise, the devotee is not interested in material opulence, nor does the Supreme Lord award them." (SB.6.16.29, Purport)

In Kodachadri Valley, Lord Rishabadeva displayed the highest level of renunciation and then chose to end His pastimes on Earth by entering a forest fire. He did not aspire to use His vast mystic powers to perform devotional activities, such as building temples or ashrams. All Vaisnava acharyas and all avatars of the Supreme Lord have shown that renunciation is the best path for devotees eager to return home, back to Godhead. This is especially true in our Gaudiya Vaisnava line. Srila Raghunatha Das Thakura renounced great wealth given to him easily by his wealthy devotee father, even though he was using such opulence in the direct service of Lord Caitanya and His nitya-siddha associates. When Lord Caitanya heard that Raghunatha Das Gosvami had cancelled his feast program for the devotees, He was pleased to hear that Raghunatha Das had decided to stop accepting his father's money.

On the other hand, Srila Prabhupada comments: "When a devotee is actually engaged in the devotional service of the Lord, his apparently material opulences are not material; they are spiritual. For example, if a devotee spends money to construct a beautiful and costly temple, the construction is not material but spiritual." The real question is whether the endeavor is specifically authorized by the Acarya and free from offenses that can spoil devotional service. One must ask, "Can I do this work in full Krishna consciousness? Is this work absolutely required for preaching… or for my own Krishna consciousness?" We must remember that over-endeavor for things that are difficult to attain and maintain is one of the causes that can spoil devotional service.

The sastras are full of instructions for people at various stages. Srila Prabhupada's books stress on simple devotional practices, executed rigidly, daily, without motives for material power or profit. The path of Krishna consciousness can be fully understood only by those without material motives. Pure devotees don't need to endeavor separately for material facilities with which to serve Krishna. Srila Prabhupada explains that they receive whatever they need directly from the Lord's spiritual energy or the Lord Himself.

Unless a sadhaka can control his mind and renounce material desires for safety and gain, he can't practice constant devotional service. There will be interruptions. This is like trying to start fire by rubbing wood, then stopping, then rubbing again. This starting and stopping method will not make fire. It needs to be constant. As soon as it is constant and done with full attention, devotional service is quickly effective, even though one may be unable to immediately renounce all material desires.

Sri Narada Muni told Dhruva Maharaja that by chanting om namo bhagavate vasudevaya for one week, he would be able to see the Siddhas flying in the sky. Similarly, even today, if we chant with full attention, then within a few days we will be able to see beyond gross matter. But who today has the power to chant the hari-nama alone, as did Dhruva Maharaja and Citraketu Maharaja? They are exalted, special souls.  We, on the other hand, need to stick together closely even when chanting Hare Krishna. We need to focus on intensive japa, intensive kirtana, and intensive public sankirtana– all together as one unit of powerful devotional service.

We need to transcend our limited vision of reality by focused sadhana. We need to let go of material attachments by attentive chanting and prayer to Lord Nityananda. Self-purification is the theme that runs throughout Srila Prabhupada's books. Once in Atlanta, Srila Prabhupada was asked by a book distributor what would please Him the most. HIs simple reply was "that you become Krishna conscious." Our mission can be very simple: to show an example of vairagya-vidya-nija-bhakti-yoga.

To establish a varnashrama-dharma village or a large temple with elaborate Deity worship requires the cooperation of many learned and staunch devotees. Otherwise, such endeavors may lead to politics and fighting and useless hard labor rather than ever-increasing hari-nama sankirtana. In this age of Kali, hari-nama sankirtana is the yuga-dharma prescribed by Lord Chaitanya. Lord Caitanya never stressed on the absolute need for varnashrama or elaborate Deity worship as a means of propagating His mission.

Times will change, but right now, almost no one has interest in living close to God and Mother Nature or following the Vedic authority. They want to love nature without God or the Vedas. Or they claim to respect the Vedas but deny God. Or they claim to love God and nature but deny the Vedas. Almost everyone is confused, envious or misguided in many ways. Loud sankirtana is the only way to quickly help the fallen souls of this age.

Fortunate souls who have faith in Srila Prabhupada and practice vairagya- vidya-nija-bhakti-yoga, immediately transcend all mundane problems. Such bhaktas are already perfect by dint of sravanam, kirtanam, visnu-smaranam. They don't require the varnashrama social system. For them, it is external. It is needed for ordinary people, to help them come to Krishna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada explained this point elaborately in His Varnashram Talks in 1974 in Sri Dhama Vrindaban. True Vaisnavas don't need varnashrama designations and structures but adopt these roles to teach common people. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada has explained that elaborate temple rituals are meant to help neophyte devotees and are not required for advanced preachers of Krishna consciousness.

Most of us, however, still need to work on our own self-realization. In a letter to Ramesvara das, after praising his programs for preaching and book distribution, Srila Prabhupada ended the letter by saying, "The higher duty, the highest duty, is to save oneself." This statement indicates that the duty of self-purification comes first, even ahead of the duty of preaching. Without self-realization, our preaching work may not be effective or may ultimately fail. For instance, ISKCON in America had full facilities for preaching Krishna consciousness, by Srila Prabhupada's mercy, yet its leaders who were entrusted to protect the movement nearly ruined it due to false ambitions and impure consciousness.  All difficulties of material existence arise due to impure consciousness.

Lord Caitanya told Prakasananda Sarasvati: "My spiritual master saw me as a great fool, so he told me to simply chant Hare Krishna." He was showing us the safest path of devotional service. Contact with materialists for the sake of extracting money for preaching or for temple construction must be done with expertise and caution. It is not that every devotee is ordered to take this risk. Every devotee, however, is implored repeatedly by Srila Prabhupada and the sastras to purify his own existence, renounce material desires, and surrender completely by strictly following the sadhana of Krishna consciousness.

Krishna consciousness, if executed properly, is always joyful: kevala-ananda-kanda. Chanting, dancing and feasting is the process given by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Feasting and fasting are the same for Vaisnavas. This joyful process can be fully appreciated only by those who are free of motives for material sense gratification through gaining fame, followers, money, women or material opulence. Lord Chaitanya teaches us the way to be able to chant Hare Krishna constantly and without offenses: "na dhanam, na janam, na sundarim…" There is no other way for quick success. Material desires breed all kinds of offenses and create the anchor that keeps us from progressing quickly in Krishna consciousness.

Are there any question or comments?

Devotee: So, is it that we renounce material desires to become pure, or do we need to become pure before we can renounce material desires? If chanting Hare Krishna is the only way, then why the emphasis on rituals and regulations for purification?

Narasimha das: Somehow, by higher intelligence derived through hearing from Srila Prabhupada and chanting Hare Krishna, one gets the inspiration to renounce all material desires and pursue Krishna consciousness fully. This is called receiving the bhakti-lata bija by the mercy of Guru and Krishna: guru-krsna prasade-paya. Not everyone can  achieve bhakti or pure chanting in this lifetime. Serious devotees need to protect their bhakti-lata by practicing the right sadhana in the association of like-minded devotees. This is a big topic.

The science and sadhana are there for those who are very eager to advance. Everything depends on the mercy of Srila Prabhupada. By His mercy we get good association and learn to chant the maha-mantra attentively. We must hear Srila Prabhupada carefully and chant the holy names with rapt attention. There is no other way.