Jessica is a student on the ChantNow Mantra Meditation course, sharing her personal experiences as an example of how Bhakti-yoga unfolds naturally by the grace of the divine.
Before I start anything new, I usually do some research to figure out how “impossible” the thing is. My ego likes to know the destination before I start the journey. If there's even one part of it that I don’t think I can accomplish, I don’t even try. But it seems that my ego wasn’t in charge of my journey into bhakti-yoga. Instead I took small steps as they felt right, and eventually, before I knew it, Krishna was a part of my life.
Last year, I wasn’t interested in religion at all. I had some interest in spirituality, but I had become jaded by all the many paths I’d tried (and quit). Actually, I was looking for a volunteer opportunity and considered a stay at Bhaktivedanta Manor (the center of ISKCON in the United Kingdom), mostly because of its connection to the late Beatle, George Harrison. This led me to pick up a copy of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita As It Is. I had read it once a long time ago, and I re-read it then, purely for information. It’s a long book, so I read a little bit every night. Even though I didn’t volunteer in the end, I found it so interesting that I kept reading anyway.
A few weeks later I stopped eating first meat, then later eggs. Although I had been a vegetarian for many years previously, at that time I was eating anything and everything, and had been for about three years. However, I found that it became difficult to read a book that made such good points against meat-eating and to continue eating meat at the same time. Personally, I had to make a choice. Well, I had been a vegetarian before, so doing it again didn’t seem like such a big deal. I kept reading and gave up meat.
A few months after that, I was doing some more traveling and had a free evening in Berkeley, California. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to visit the ISKCON temple there. It felt like it might be too much, and I wasn’t sure I had any business going there. It seemed like a big step, from just reading a book to going to a temple that was sure to be full of unfamiliar sights and sounds.
It was a risk, but by this time, reading about Krishna had become a comfortable, familiar habit. So the “risk” turned out to be an absolutely lovely experience. Listening to the chanting and talking to the devotees (oh yes, and eating the delicious food!) were enough to convince me that I wanted more of that in my life. When I went back to England a few months later, I finally visited Bhaktivedanta Manor. I talked to some more devotees there, bought a set of beads, and was shown how to chant japa on them. I started with one round a day and gradually increased it. I also gave up drinking coffee, something I had tried and failed many times before. This time, it was almost easy, and I haven’t looked back since.
I am so lucky to have found Krishna and bhakti-yoga the way I did. Knowing myself and my ego, the story could have gone very differently. If I had known even half of what was expected of devotees up front, I would have decided that this path was closed off to me and not even tried. Instead, I took many small steps and have found myself able to do a little more each day. So even now, when I learn about some other aspect of bhakti-yoga that I’m not yet doing, I just think, “well, okay, I can’t do that now, but I’ll get there eventually.” And I know that, with Krishna’s help, I will.
How Lifestyle Affects Consciousness
Chanting Is A Journey To Higher Consciousness
Chanting is a journey towards realizing your spiritual nature and achieving higher consciousness. Part of this journey is to start looking at the way we live and how it affects us. This is part of the science of yoga which leads to cleansing the heart and experiencing the joy of living in spiritual harmony with the divine, nature, and others.
In bhakti-yoga, not only do we set aside time for spiritual practices like Mantra Meditation, but we try to live the rest of our day cultivating good character and giving up habits that degrade our consciousness. One of the most important ways your lifestyle can support higher consciousness is the practice of ahimsa or nonviolence.
The Journey Within
Radhanath Swami writes beautifully about this in his book 'The Journey Within', a contemporary treatise on bhakti-yoga.
“The first regulative principle[in Sanskrit – yama], ahimsa, is nonviolence, to cause no harm to any living being through our actions, words, and, as far as humanly possible, our thoughts. This will protect us from accruing negative karma, which only further covers the self. The biblical equivalent to ahimsa is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Logically, the Bible’s positive injunction embraces it’s opposite: “Do not do unto others as you would not want done unto you.”
The practice of ahimsa involves being respectful, patient, and forgiving—nonviolent. The Bhagavad-gita teaches that a Yogi sees the Divine in the heart of all beings and therefore wishes all beings well. We advance in yoga to the degree that we consider the suffering of others as our own suffering and the happiness of others as our own happiness. In this spirit, compassion is the basis of ahimsa.
Ahimsa is the primary reason that bhakti-Yogis choose to be vegetarian: their aim is to minimize the suffering they cause other creatures. Animals feel pain just as humans do. Animals express emotions and may love their offspring, and those close to them, not so differently, from the way we do.
Sadhu Vaswani, a well-known Yogi from the early twentieth century, says,
“All killing is a denial of love, for to kill, or eat what another has killed, is to rejoice in cruelty. And cruelty hardens our hearts and blinds our vision and we see not that they whom we kill are our brothers and sisters in the One Brotherhood of Life. “
The more we expand our spirit of compassion to honor the sanctity of life, the more deeply we connect with our own spiritual nature.”
I’m hoping that your interest in spirituality has already led you to commit to a meatless diet. But if not, please consider trying it for a week while you engage in Mantra Meditation. This will help open your heart to the healing and consciousness-raising power of the maha-mantra.
Food is a big part of bhakti and includes a practice that actually spiritualizes your eating. But the beginning is to refrain from unnecessary violence to animals, simply for satisfying your taste. Again, I’m hoping you have already come to this conclusion, but if you haven’t please consider this part of your lifestyle thoughtfully.
Revealing Divine Energy
In this short video, we hear Srila Prabhupada speak of the nature of the energy that surrounds us and seeing the divine behind it. The video begins with a verse from the Bhagavad-gita and goes on to give various analogies that explain the principles behind it.
From Mindfulness to Heartfulness
During kirtan, experienced chanters often call us to chant from the heart, not just the mind. We are called to go from mindfulness to heartfulness.
But, how do we find the place of the heart?
Of course, there’s the physical heart, with its ventricles and atria and valves and all. And research does show that even the physical actions of the heart are affected by grief, joy, “heartbreak” etc.
And then there’s the emotional heart, when we fall in love, or out of love… But looking at it deeply these feelings are really a product of our minds taking us through the stages of thinking, feeling and willing each one engaging us more powerfully than the previous one.
But what about the heart of my heart? The deepest place inside of me where I, the soul reside. The seat of my deepest love and aspirations. And where the Soul of my soul, the Supersoul, also resides, guiding me over innumerable lifetimes… if I will only hear.
I heard a story from a friend, a Buddhist teacher, about one of her colleagues. He, also a Buddhist teacher, was assisting one of his students who was dying of a very painful stomach cancer. The teacher was coaching his dying student to go to the place of mindfulness. After some time, the student told his teacher that the mindfulness wasn’t working. His teacher replied, “Then you must go to the place of the heart, you must go to the place of heartfulness.”
We hear so much about mindfulness, and most of us have benefited from its gifts. But the interior journey has many layers. In the external world, so many extreme terrains have been trekked and explored; the highest mountains have been climbed; the mysteries of deep seas have been uncovered. But that place of the heart of our hearts remains the deepest unknown place of mystery and unexplored treasures.
How can I pursue this inward bound journey? How can I chant from my heart?
On the path of bhakti-yoga, we from those guiding us that we can discover our true heart through prayer, opening ourselves up to the grace of God that comes from beyond my own strength and that will uncover these deep secrets that are within me.
The maha-mantra is itself such a prayer. All it needs is your sincere desire, the desire of your true heart.
What do the Vedas say about God?
What The Vedas Say About Who God Is
Ask who is God to a hundred people, and you'll get a hundred answers. This is where the Vedas get interesting. Let's see what they say.
The Vedic texts say that God is everywhere, but He is also separate from everything. They give the example of how sunlight is everywhere while the sun itself is in one place. Thus the sunlight (the sun's energy) is everywhere but the sun isn't everywhere.
Are we God? Are the sunlight and the sun the same? In quality, they are the same, but of course, there is a huge difference between sunlight and the sun planet. In the same way, we are one with God qualitatively but not quantitatively (that means we have the same qualities i.e. we are eternal, blissful and full of knowledge). I cup of water from the ocean is the same as the rest of the ocean water, but at the same time, the cup of ocean water is different from the body of water we call the ocean.
bhakti and the Infinite Soul
Some traditions teach that we are God and that the goal of spiritual practice is to become God. Actually, this is one stage of God realization, the first stage, in which we realize that we are spiritual and thus have the same qualities as God. But as we spiritually progress, we understand that we are individuals and thus we and God always keep our individual identities. So although some practices emphasize this first step in God realization, oneness with God, as the goal, the Bhaktas ask, "Why do you want to become sugar when you can taste sugar?" bhakti is the exchange of love and relationship between the infinite soul (the Vedas say the soul is one ten-thousandth the size of a hair) and the supreme infinite Soul.
If you were God what would you be and what would you do? Would you prefer to be an infinite and impersonal universal force and energy that cannot personally relate to your sons and daughters and all other living entities? I have asked this question to thousands of people in my seminars and when everyone thinks about it they realize if they were God (meaning they could do and create any reality) they would want to be a person who exchanges love with others. We are reflections of God, so what we find in ourselves exists in Him. So since we want relationships we understand that desire comes from a God who wants a relationship. The Vedas confirm that God wants a loving relationship with all of us.
Anyway, as in life here, bhakti is about the relationship, not only with God, but with others. Bhaktas don't run away from relationships; they embrace them. The great sages teach us that through bhakti our love expands and when it reaches its zenith, we no longer again take birth in this world, but achieve eternally spiritual existence and exchange personally with God.
What will we do when we get there? Sing, dance, play and have fun with God!
By the way, if you were God would you prefer being an old man with a beard or a young beautiful all attractive youthful person? I know your answer. Don't think God is any different in this regards than you.
Learn about bhakti-yoga by taking our Mantra Meditation Course.
"Happiness" - a video by Steve Cutts
This entertaining video illustrates the futility of seeking lasting happiness in material things
Guided chanting with Srila Prabhupada
In the early days of the Hare Krishna Movement, Srila Prabhupada recorded this guided chanting session where he chanted slowly, asking his students to chant along with him.
We invite you to try using this video to guide your own first chanting sessions. You can chant along, either with the eyes open, watching the words on the screen, or closed. Try whatever helps you focus on the sound of the mantra.
This session continues for 108 mantras, the traditional number in a string of chanting beads.
Hare Krishna Mantra - Apple Records
The Maha-Mantra - for printing
Here is a graphic image of the maha-mantra you can download and print as an aid to your meditation.
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
Beginning Chanting Tips
Here are some tips from the first day of the workshop.
Pick a good place. Yes its possible to meditate anywhere, even at a rock concert.. but it’s easier if you’re in a quiet place where you won’t be bothered and meditation can be your focus for the few minutes you’ll be practicing.
It’s better to meditate earlier in the morning when you are fresh and alert. The more you let your day go before meditating, the more distractions to deal with. And the earlier you start the more you get to live the rest of your day with the clarity that came during your practice.
Use a timer on your phone to count down so you’re not looking at the time.
Early morning is best but it’s no big deal to chant later in the day so long as you’re staying consistent with the length of time.
Sit or stand comfortably with your back and neck as straight as you can.
You can keep your eyes open, closed or half closed, whatever helps you stay attentive and not sleepy.
When you’re ready to meditate, take a moment and remind yourself your focus only needs to be with the meditation for the next few minutes.
Don’t worry when your mind wanders. Just let go of those thoughts and bring your focus back to the sound of the mantra.
Remember, this is your time for meditation and nothing else.