Mantra recitation also called ‘Japa’, consists of repetition of a single syllable (e.g., om) or a string of mantric sounds (e.g., Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare). These sound vibrations have a profound effect on our consciousness, elevating it from the mundane to the transcendental. They help us to gradually overcome our spiritual ignorance – the forgetfulness of our real spiritual identity. It is the most powerful technique for self-discovery and true transformation.
Japa can be practiced aloud, by whispering, or mentally. The most effective method taught by japa masters, is for practitioners to audibly voice the mantra as they do not yet have complete control over their wandering mind and will easily lose focus while trying to recite mantras mentally. As well as this, to chant aloud not only benefits oneself, but also has a positive impact on the surrounding environment and uplifts any other living beings that may contact that vibration.
Hearing the sound of the mantra helps the practitioner stay mindful and focused. It is very important to be fully concentrated on the mantra as mechanical recitation of the mantra without being mindful is not very effective.
Our spiritual teacher Srila Prabhupada, said in this regard: “This chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is directly enacted from the spiritual platform, surpassing all lower states of consciousness — namely sensual, mental and intellectual. There is no need of understanding the language of the mantra, nor is there any need of mental speculation nor any intellectual adjustment for chanting this maha-mantra. It springs automatically from the spiritual platform, and as such, anyone can take part in this transcendental sound vibration, without any previous qualification, and dance in ecstasy.”
Mantra japa is traditionally practiced with the aid of a string of beads also known as ‘malas.’ Such devices have been employed in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and also in spiritual traditions outside India, notably Christianity and Islam.
Using a mala for chanting japa has several benefits. When we touch the mala we are engaging the sense of touch, and with our lips and tongue we chant, and with our ears we hear. In this way we are engaging our senses themselves in the meditation. This increases out attention and reduces distraction. With beads, we can also fix a daily number of “rounds” where we count how many times we go around the mala. In this way, we can keep track of our daily practice. Also, there is a culture in Bhakti of “receiving” beads from ones Guru. In this way one can chant with a deep feeling of connection to the saints and teachers who have so kindly given this wisdom.
Malas can be composed of a variety of materials, but ’ tulsi’ wood (holy basil) is most widely used with the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Usually, a mala consists of 108 beads. The beads can be of different sizes depending on individual preferences and ease of handling. In addition, every mala has what is called a guru or Krishna bead, which is larger than the other beads. Often a decorative tassel is attached to this head bead.
The mala is treated with respect. Generally, it is kept carefully in its own special bag to keep it clean and preserve its sanctity. Malas are never placed on the floor or on seating surfaces or taken inside bathrooms/toilets etc. It is best to take a bath or at least wash hands before chanting on beads.
While chanting, the mala is held in one’s right hand, with the beads draped either over the middle finger or the ring finger, and the counting is done with the thumb. The index finger (also known as the “pointing” finger) is not used in mala japa. However, the important thing is to hold the mala in a comfortable manner so that the practice does not become a distraction, thereby defeating its purpose/
Counting or telling of beads starts with the bead right next to the 'Krishna’ bead and proceeds forward.
After each repetition of the mantra, one moves to the next bead. When the ‘Krishna’ bead is reached again, it is not counted or crossed over; instead, the mala is turned around and the new round is begun with the same bead that ended the preceding round, again moving forward along the mala. For more clarity you can refer to the video at the top of the page.
Thus, in this article we tried to cover the basics of chanting japa using beads and address the common questions that beginners usually have. We hope it will help you in your spiritual journey.
The work of self-transformation requires our focused strength and energy. Mantra japa has long been recognized for its transformative power by the accomplished yogis. Vedic authorities (experts in the ancient wisdom texts of India) regard regular repetition of the Hare Krishna mantra (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare) as the easiest and most effective approach, which is especially beneficial in our present times, described as the dark age characterised by hypocrisy and quarrel.
We are continuing to freely teach and guide all sincere seekers about this practice and the philosophy and lifestyle behind it. Our only interest is that every individual benefit from it. If this article was helpful to you, please do give us a shout out. We’d love to hear from you. If you have any questions, we’d be more than happy to answer them. We have mentioned before, so you aware that we conduct regular one on one and group meditation classes online (link here). We would to encourage you to connect with us for a session to boost your chanting practice! Please do spread the word to your friends and family and anyone else you know who might benefit from this. And if anyone wishes to get beads, they are available on our website click here >>
Happy chanting! Hare Krishna!
5 Methods to Improve Chanting
In this article, we share some basic but fundamentally important things you can do to see immediate improvement in your chanting practice. The key to using this article is not to try to do everything all at once, or to try and make drastic improvements in every aspect of your lifestyle and chanting, because this might not be sustainable in the long run. Focus on one or two things to begin with and take baby steps. Small incremental improvements. which you can sustain, will take you a long way toward chanting better. So, with that said, let’s start!
No Multitasking – Our minds are always distracted and running here and there. As soon as we start to chant, it seems that there are suddenly a hundred things we can think of which require our attention. Allowing our chanting to get interrupted by these thoughts, and worse yet, trying to sneak in some other work while chanting is a very bad habit we must carefully guard against. No checking the phone for notifications, e-mails etc., no planning, no carrying out a conversation or driving etc. while chanting. There should be a minimum number of rounds we commit to chant without any interruptions whatsoever.
Consistency – For those who use japa mala (chanting beads) to meditate, it is better to chant fewer rounds consistently than to chant more one day and less on the other. Figure out a number that you can commit to and stick to it no matter what. If such steadiness is a challenge, it is the number one thing that you should work on and aim to develop. For those who are not using beads, fix a set time that you chant for daily, and gradually increase over time. It might be 5 minutes or 50 minutes! Set boundaries for your mind and then amaze yourself as your practice expands.
Early morning chanting – This tip is connected to the one above. Typically, as the day progresses, we get caught up more and more with things to do and think about. Getting ready for work, cooking breakfast, preparing the kids for school, deadlines, office politics, phone calls, e-mails, meetings, chores, friends, family all start to make demands on our time and attention. Thus, we can wake up really early in the morning, preferably a little earlier than sunrise (or if that’s too much, simply an hour or so before our day usually ‘begins’), and use the peace and quiet to focus on our chanting, it is extremely beneficial. It is in fact the best way to chant and do so free of distractions and interruptions. However, we do want to acknowledge that there are some night owls out there that operate better in the night time, the reverse is true. But for most of us, early to bed, early to rise – this will be a huge boost for our chanting meditation.
Accountability. This talk of going to bed early leads us to the concept of accountability and priorities. Going to bed on time – This is it! Really, do this one thing and it’s almost a guarantee that everything else will fall in place. Most issues arise when we are up too late. If you are in the former category, put hard limits on the time spent online. Another good idea is to find an accountability partner to help each other rise early and chant. On the other hand, if you find that you have actually so much to do almost everyday that you are working till late in the night, it might be wise to give yourself some fixed time to pause and chant. The truth is, even if your lifestyle doesn’t allow you to rise early and chant, at least some part of your day should be put aside for your spiritual practice.
Last, but most important. Are you convinced that chanting is important? Are you determined to improve your chanting? That you can and should be chanting better? Because if not, then all the other tips and tricks and techniques will not take you far. You might do them half-heartedly for some time but will eventually fall back to old rhythms and patterns of behavior. Read more about chanting, its benefits, its importance. And more importantly, find out your own ‘why’ for chanting.
At the end of the day, no matter what anyone else tells you, having your own deep inner conviction and reason to chant and improve the quality of your chanting is the way to truly make progress.
Struggling to Chant? Do This to Make the Mantra Come Alive!
What you do outside your meditation session affects your practice while meditating. If you struggle to chant or go as deep into the practice as you’d like, this article is for you. Often, while we do our best to concentrate when we sit to chant, but it’s actually what we have done or not done outside that time, which has a great impact on our experience. I want to share five of the most common challenges faced by practitioners and their solutions below. If you find something relevant to you, focus on that one aspect and work on it, instead of trying to do everything at once.
Routine - Do you go to sleep and wake up at odd hours every day? No fixed time set aside for work, family, chores, study, exercise, meditation etc? If you are not organised, it leads to instability. Instability in life, instability in the mind and instability in meditation. So, try to organise your time, set a routine and stick to it as much as possible. It is best to mediate early in the morning (even better before sunrise!) before all the activity and hustle of the day begins. Make it a priority. It sets the tone for your entire day. As they say, well begun is half done. That is why we teach the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha mantra to provide a solid foundation for the otherwise unstable mind to stand on. It’s an anchor for it to hold on to and steady itself.
Restraint – Ever let a person, or situation or object get the better of you? Given in to a temptation? Did something you knew you shouldn’t have? You know what happens afterwards. There are consequences. You feel guilty. You feel disappointed. You fail to achieve your goal. And most importantly, you reinforce the belief that you are incapable of discipline. Our senses, desires, emotions are all pulling us in a hundred different directions all the time. Distracting us. Looking for quick fixes, instant gratification, an immediate hit of pleasurable feelings. The more we give in, the more we allow our mid to dictate our choices and actions and behaviour, the more we become a salve to our impulses. Break this pattern. We take strength and find shelter in our chanting.
Respect – Our busy lives leave us little time for respect. We rush about trying to do this, that and the other like programmed robots. We forget to respect ourselves, our real nature. We forget to respect people for who they are. We forget to respect nature. As a result, our whole being becomes offensive. Abrasive. At odds with the world. There is no scope for higher truths like trust, faith, gratitude and devotion to manifest themselves in our life and in our consciousness. This life, this world, people, are all sacred gifts to us. Meant to remind us of the existence of divinity in our lives. Meant to fill us with wonder, and respect and humility and gratitude. Live in a way that there is acknowledgment and respect for the sacred in us and all around us.
So, there you go. The Three R’s which will help you in chanting Hare Krishna. Follow these and I am sure you will see an improvement. Do let me know in the comments if this was helpful. If there are specific areas of improvement or challenges you wish to discuss, please feel free to write to me. Happy chanting! Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. - Venu Gayak das
What is mantra meditation and its benefits?
You are not alone in your endeavor for peace and harmony in a beautiful world clouded with darkness and confusion.
Actually, we want to congratulate you. Well done. You are AMAZING. Just a little further, and the hankerings of the innermost chambers of your heart will be fulfilled beyond all expectation.
The following is an article about mantra meditation, especially the maha mantra, as well as a brief description of some of the benefits of this ancient process.
If you are interested in mantra meditation, you are welcome to join our daily online guided sessions, Learn to Meditate.
What is mantra meditation?
Online you will find a myriad of answers to this question, which can be a little daunting for one looking for answers! Ask 10 different people, and you will get 10 different answers. Is that the uniqueness of an ancient practice, or the byproduct of an overwhelming information age?
Allow us to break it down for you.
What is mantra?
Mantra has been used to describe many things but let’s go to its original meaning
The word “mantra” has its roots in the ancient Sanskrit language:
Man – the mind
Tra – to free or deliver
So the true meaning of mantra literally means that which frees or delivers the mind.
But what exactly are we trying to free our minds from? Read on for more answers!
What is meditation?
Some sources will tell you meditation means taking responsibility for your states of mind. Others will tell you it’s about training your awareness and perception. Still others will tell you meditation is a tool to focus your attention.
Throughout the ages, the divine masters of the Vedic Bhakti yoga tradition have uniformly stated that real meditation means to see the true form of divinity within one’s own heart. And this leads us to our main point:
What is mantra meditation?
You see the mind is like a mirror and it’s covered with dust. If you try to see your clear reflection in a dirty mirror, what you perceive will not reflect reality. The image is distorted.
If one wipes away the dust – ah ha! Then one can see their true self in all its glories.
So mantra meditation is the process of cleaning away the dust on the mirror of the mind, through which our consciousness is reflected. This allows one to perceive their true, original, spiritual self.
And this is the first “lesson” to walk away from the article with:
You are not this body, but a spiritual spark more brilliant than even the sun, made of substance not of this world!
Mantra meditation benefits
Mantra meditation will allow you to connect with your true spiritual self, by connecting with that supreme, all attractive and personal divinity that is accessible from within each and every one of us.
But hold up a second! Aren’t we getting a little ahead of ourselves?
It’s true, mantra meditation has hundreds of benefits that aren’t even “spiritual” in and of themselves. And let’s be honest, that’s why most of us are here.
For the majority of us, we turned to mantra meditation because we wanted to get free from stress and take control of our crazy mind that is always giving us so much trouble. Mantra meditation, if done in the correct way will surely produce most, if not all of these effects, as practically we have experienced in our own lives:
- Freedom from stress and anxiety manifesting a sense of calm.
We have so many responsibilities, so many things on our minds. Most times, our duties overwhelm us. We have to make difficult decisions. This drains our energy, and causes so much tension in the mind.
Mantra meditation will help you cultivate your own, internal, sacred space. This is your shelter, and even the greatest challenges cannot penetrate your fortress. For the sincere practitioner of mantra meditation, such challenges only make your fortress stronger. And not only that, the aura of your spiritual fortress will permeate around you. You will manifest serenity, and influence your environment. All of a sudden, you find yourself living for the benefit of others, which is the most nourishing and satisfying thing for the heart.
- Self-confidence and positive outlook
With mantra meditation you can find yourself having access to realms of your inner being that were previously covered over, and what is the result? You become strong in your inner world. Your environment becomes favorable. As you begin to master the workings of your inner world, every situation that life throws at you becomes an impetus for your self-improvement. You see the challenges of life as an opportunity for you to grow. There is no pessimism, only optimism. Mantra meditation is really so powerful! The proof of the pudding is in the eating…
So you might be asking this question, how is it that from mantra meditation I can gain knowledge? And knowledge of what?
As we spoke earlier, mantra meditation reveals to the practitioner the personal, super-subjective divinity within ones our existence. This is the “soul of our soul” – and in the same way that along with the sun rise and the dissipation of darkness, one simultaneously sees the sun as well as one’s own self and all other objects, connecting with this divinity gives one the perception of their identity beyond the body and mind.
But mantra will also put you in touch with a more sensitive, deeper side of yourself. You become aware of skills you never had before, subtle perceptions that were intuitively guiding you in your life that you were not previously conscious of. You become aware of your sixth sense, so to speak.
Not only that, but you become aware of the “things'' that are happening within you on a gross and subtle level. You become conscious of your body, the way it feels and works. And you can see the way you process thoughts and emotions. Then, you have the inner strength to discard those thoughts, feelings and therefore behavior that are detrimental to your growth. On the path of Bhakti yoga, this is called anartha nivriti. Artha means wealth, so anartha means without value, and nivriti means to discard. So anartha nivriti refers to the removal of those unwanted thoughts and behaviors which are impediments to your development. You will blossom like a beautiful white lotus in the cooling rays of the moon into your true self, the person you are underneath the layers of conditioning forced upon you by an environment that you are not in control of.
Your new found intuition, a byproduct of your daily practice, will help you in many ways. You will be able to make better decisions with your new found clarity. It will become easier to juggle the different aspects of life. You will find more time in your day (especially for the things that you love!!). This is the magic of mantra meditation, even though it appears externally to be time consuming, you will actually find more time in a day to do the things that you want. This is just the magic of how it works. So naturally, your life will be more balanced and wholesome, because you yourself are becoming more and more balanced!
Yes, certainly, you will find peace. At first you might not have this experience. For example iIf you are covered in dirt and filth and you get in the shower. whenIf you look down you might see all the filth coming off and think “oh this water is so dirty, this shower is not performing its function properly, let me get out!” But just hang in there dear friend, just a little longer, in a short time you will see crystal clear water, and not only that, you yourself will also be crystal clear!! (especially if you use the “soap” of the maha mantra!).
If you are practicing focusing on the mantra, this skill will naturally transfer into whatever else you focus on. Like going to the gym and training your muscles, mantra meditation will train your mind to oscillate less and less. One becomes steady. You will be able to focus with more precision on the tasks at hand!
- General well being
Take it from us, if you take seriously to the process of mantra meditation, so many areas of your life will improve. There is no loss, only gain. As you become more connected with yourself, your environment and the universal flow, that highest conception, spontaneously your life will improve. You will learn to overcome the ocean-like obstacles of this world as if they're a small puddle.
We aren’t promising you that there won’t be challenges, that there won’t be any more grief and tears in your life. There will be. That is inbuilt into this world. But through practicing mantra meditation you will cultivate a frequency perspective that is above and beyond this and you will see through eyes tainted anointed with spiritual vision.
Different kinds of mantras
Some mantras are chanted silently in the mind technically called “smaranam” or remembrance.
Others are chanted softly, so that only you can hear, and this is called “japa.”
Others are chanted loudly for the benefit of others, and even collectively in a group, called “kirtan.”
Naturally, you will find a variety of mantras from a variety of traditions, even with a variety of motivations and results.
You must have come across the vibration “OM” – the sound of the universe.
or perhaps another mantra you heard is ‘Om mani pade hum”
Even early on in our spiritual journey I began with the Aramaic mantra “ma-ra-na-tha” – which translates as “come, our lord.”
We want to humbly suggest another mantra, referred to as the “maha mantra,” literally the great mantra. This mantra is:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
The ancient Vedic yoga texts proclaim the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra to be the maha-sadhana (great practice), the best and only yoga practice for this dark age of quarrel, where conflict and hypocrisy prevail. This maha mantra is the most powerful way to open the heart and experience ecstatic divine love.
With most things in this world, if you want to learn a skill or art, you have to approach someone who knows the science of that practice and take instructions from them. This is not to say you cannot practice mantra meditation from the comfort of your home. You don’t need to run off to the forest and search out some sage to meditate and eat roots and berries and dress only in tree bark. It’s just that the practice of mantra meditation is such a subtle art that we should take guidance from fellow practitioners. We do have to fly our own plane on our journey through this material world, but flying becomes easier in formation. So take strength and association from like-minded souls also striving to develop and grow. And if we can find those people who are further along the path than us, we can take inspiration and guidance as they share their realizations and experiences with us.
Our greatest inspiration has been Swami Srila Prabhupada who ins 1965 at the age of 69 travelled to New York aboard a cargo ship with only 7 dollars and a trunk full of bhakti yoga mantra meditation texts, suffering two heart attacks along the way, to share this timeless wisdom with the modern world. What we have today to share with you is his legacy.
Mantra meditation is a tool, a facility, for you to evolve, and ultimately perfect your life. Whatever your desires are, whatever your motivation is, take to this chanting. Somehow, by some great fortune, you have taken an interest in this subject matter. So take advantage, take action. Embrace an ancient wisdom, guaranteed to lead one to the true purpose and real meaning of life.
Join us for our daily guided mantra meditation class online Learn to Meditate, led by the Chant Now team, who spent their lives practicing and teaching bhakti yoga and the art of mantra meditation.
The online classes will include detailed instructions focusing on the Hare krishna maha mantra, with guidance and tips for practice, as well as the philosophy of this ancient tradition, allowing you to live life to the fullest.
Whether you are a beginner who has never meditated before or you’ve had experience with other techniques and have not seen the results you’d hoped or just want to explore more options before committing to a technique – our classes promise a profound, truly transformational experience, which positively benefits every aspect of your life.
What I learned about Religion and spirituality-As a Practising Monk
The French Catholic writer Charles Péguy said, "Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.”
I’ve always harboured the greatest mistrust and suspicion towards all forms of organised religion.
I’ve also forever been seeking - “truth” and “meaning” and “purpose”. Today, I’m a monk in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
It has been a long journey. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
Institutions are a necessary evil
Institutions are slow, bureaucratic, corrupt and frustrating. They can at times not only protect but actually enable wrongdoers who know how to manipulate the “system”. They can become preoccupied with money, power, and politics. Religious institutions are not immune to these pitfalls.
Yet, institutions are necessary if something lasting has to be achieved in this world. We need them to perpetuate ideologies, organise resources and mobilise men to action.
As soon as any spiritual revelation grows beyond an individual’s fleeting sentiment and is shared amongst individuals, seeking to affect lasting transformation in a large number of people’s lives, an institution is born.
Ignorance, prejudice and bigotry are universal human problems
Terrible atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. Religious terrorism, persecution of minority groups, marginalisation of women to name a few.
Yet, extreme or fundamentalist beliefs, either deliberate or misguided, which result in antisocial behavior by becoming blind to evidence in the service of ideology, are not religion-specific phenomena.
Secular ideologies have similarly been taken to an extreme with negative consequences. The wars and genocide resulting from fascist nationalism is a case in point.
Religious practitioners are not perfect, neither should we expect them to be
Many a time, the actions of people who claim to be very religious are completely at odds with what they supposedly believe in and so vehemently preach others should do. Religious people are rightly expected to be far better and exemplary in their actions.
To see them fail to live authentic religious lives in accordance to their espoused values and ideals is difficult indeed. How can one genuinely believe in certain principles yet struggle to abide by them?
While it is tempting to demand perfection from people, it is ultimately naïve. We need to reconcile our trust in people with the reality that people are flawed. Balancing the ability to know right and wrong with the capacity to forgive when someone doesn’t live up to the standards set for them requires immense maturity.
“Religion” is misunderstood, misused and abused. So is “Spirituality”.
“Religion” is thought of as external and formal. A mere social convention. A stifling set of rigid rules and archaic rituals with no place for curiosity, independence, critical thought or freedom of expression.
It conjures an image of a box, labeled Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Jew with cult-like uniformity of practice and belief inside.
“Spirituality”, in contrast, has become “anything that you want it to be”.
Alternative medicine, self-help, long walks on the beach, yoga retreats, mindfulness, detox diets, just being a good person, caring for the environment, traveling, trying an eclectic mix of customs and rituals from exotic traditions, tarot cards, crystals, aromatic oils, psychedelics… The list is endless.
Both these perceptions are partial and problematic.
Real religion and authentic spirituality go hand in hand
There is no denying the importance of spiritual intuition. It is indeed the beginning of any transcendental pursuit. However, it has to be balanced by a considerable amount of self-discipline, rational enquiry and practical guidance.
So called “spirituality” which makes no such demands and leaves me free to do whatever I prefer in the moment, without any obligation or accountability, is meaningless and unfulfilling.
We need a clear spiritual goal and a clear path to attain it.. This is the meaning of spiritual science and it is universal. Real religion provides entrance to this science. It provides a coherent and well- structured belief system which built on a solid moral and ethical foundation, necessary for pursuit of transcendental knowledge. It prescribes practices which have stood the test of time and proven themselves effective.
In a religious community, there are checks and balances. There are guides who have walked the path before, know the pitfalls. They can show us the way and help us not fall into the traps that our own mind lays for us. It holds us accountable. It demands humility and surrender. It deflates our ego.
To truly make spiritual progress, you have to declare what you believe and behave accordingly. You have to let someone other than yourself scrutinize whether your spirituality is coherent and integrated in your life.
Genuine spirituality needs to be informed by genuine religion.
“D-I-Y, Lone-Wolf” spirituality can be psychologically & emotionally damaging
If someone claims to have spiritual intuition of the existence of something greater than the self, but insists that it is a purely personal truth, divorced from the broader community, it is solipsism masquerading as spirituality.
A spirituality which is about my self-realization, my liberation, my emancipation, and my salvation, and makes no demands to co-operate and work together to realize its potential in the world, is narcissism in disguise.
Trying to separate our individual inner spiritual life and communal, outer, material life creates a dichotomy which can be damaging.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, "People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder [dependence on drugs, abnormal eating attitudes, anxiety, phobias, and neuroses].”
The spiritual impulse and longing is inherent in the human psyche. To tread on this path is difficult. The road is narrow and bumpy. We all have our weaknesses, obsessions and neuroses which can quickly spin out of control without the support of others.
Why try and walk it alone?
Religious traditions have debated, wrestled with, and tested their belief systems, practices, and rituals since antiquity. They continue to scrutinize and refine their teachings. They analyze its philosophical, psychological, socio-political, cultural, and economic impact. Such traditions form an integrated whole.
Why reinvent the wheel and try to piece everything together by yourself?
Being spiritual but not religious is like saying I am a scholar, but I don’t read. Or to give another example, it is like wanting to learn an extreme sport without the help of an instructor, refusing a safety net, and no one around to take you to the hospital if you meet an accident.
Why take the risk when you don’t have to?
Not all religions and religious institutions are rigid and fanatical, or numb and comatose. There are thriving, vibrant and supportive communities where members take care of each other’s spiritual and material growth. They strive collectively to make a positive impact on the whole universe.
Why not be a part of something greater than yourself?
Belonging to a community, any community, not just a religious one, does not equal having to agree with their worldview in its entirety. The idea that we should or even can find a group with whom we agree on everything needs to be given up. We are all individuals, with personalities, and that’s what makes life interesting--not just material life, but our religious lives as well.
In truly religious communities, individual personalities are not stifled but encouraged. Variety is not just tolerated but celebrated. Diversity is not seen as a threat but an axiomatic truth.
How do I know? I know because I am part of such a community! Is it perfect? No. Not by a long shot. But it is my spiritual home and I belong here.
A (Very Brief) Introduction to Bhakti Yoga
I am a practicing bhakti yogi. Bhakti-yoga has been taught and practiced for millennia within a tradition commonly associated with what people call Hinduism.
But, as people connected to Hinduism will tell you, bhakti-yoga is not constrained by any sectarian ideas. Rather it is founded on a universal spiritual science that can be accommodated within any religious tradition.
Mantra meditation and bhakti yoga do not require adopting any specific religion in the external sense. There are even instances of people adapting mantra meditation to names of God in other traditions.
At its core bhakti-yoga transcends all religious differences, going to the heart of all religion which is - To know and to love God !
Transformation in the time of Corona
Opportunity in Crisis
This pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives. Millions are infected and hundreds of thousands have already died across the world with no end in sight still. A staggering number of jobs have been lost and almost all major economies are facing the prospect of a protracted recession, potentially the worst in human memory. Politicians are trying to negotiate the minefield of domestic electoral interests, international diplomatic agendas, saving human lives and protecting economies from collapsing. So called“world leaders” and “superpowers”are on their knees, struggling to survive.
All of this because of an invisible virus.
Pandemic - A Collective Existential Crisis
Some reports suggest it got transmitted from bats to humans in meat markets. Others that it might have escaped from a lab accidentally due to lax security protocols. There are rumors that the virus was made and spread intentionally by a certain country in order to pursue its goal of world dominion. While conjecture and speculation is rife, facts are not. What is undeniable is that people are collectively in shock. They are at a loss to process and interpret what they are experiencing.
Everyone is wondering. Why is all of this happening ? What did we do to deserve this ? Is this some evolutionary process, designed to weed out the weak and the vulnerable ? Or nature’s way of punishing us for the way we have destroyed the planet ? Is it “Karmic Law” we are having to endure for killing and eating animals ? Some cosmic justice being delivered by a divine providence ?
As a practicing monk in the bhakti-yoga tradition and one of the mentors at Chantnow, I’ve had people come up to me with such questions recently, looking for a worldview which can assuage their existential dread. In this article, I try to provide some insight and perspective on the situation and argue that although uncomfortable, events like this can, and should, act as a catalyst for transformation. My assertion is that we can best respond to suffering only when we cultivate, and allow ourselves to be guided by, genuine spiritual vision and inspiration.
Let’s begin by briefly analysing some popular attempts of interpreting the crisis.
Corona virus as an evolutionary agent
Some people suggest in a bitter and cynical fashion that this is a Darwinian evolutionary process to rid human society of the diseased and the elderly. That there is a rational morality inherent in nature which is at play. This seems difficult to prove empirically. We have seen other pandemics in the past kill the old and the young, the able and the weak, supposedly resilient and vulnerable populations indiscriminately. The present pandemic itself, as it progresses, is no more restricted to the elderly or people with co-morbidities. There are various strains and mutations which are beginning to affect even babies etc.
Corona virus as an equalizer
A second popular hypothesis is that the coronavirus is a result of climate change and that nature is now self correcting, rebalancing itself by killing humans, forcing them to stop all activities so that healing can occur. According to the available scientific evidence, global temperatures, heat, humidity etc. don’t seem to effect the spread of coronavirus in a significant way. However, viruses are known to mutate much faster than cellular organisms. When environmental changes occur at an accelerated pace, it does give viruses a chance to adapt faster than humans can. Also, as animal populations shrink due to climate change, their genetic diversity reduces which is essential to control diseases. With more humans encroaching on animal habitats, there is increased human-animal interaction, providing greater opportunity for diseases to jump species. Though it might not be apparent, pandemics are not random and chaotic. Viruses selectively diffuse and propagate themselves to explore ecological niches that human beings have created. They uncover the fault lines in our relationship with our environment - including the built environment that we create and the natural environment that responds.
Corona virus as punishment
Now let's examine the view that the virus is a result of, and punishment for, animal slaughter. Research indicates that the coronavirus is related to a virus found in bats and that humans may have contracted it through a host called pangolin. For those who don’t know, pangolins are exotic animals traded at illegal wildlife “wet markets” together with civet cats, foxes, wild geese and boar etc. It is also a fact that most of the pandemics of the past 100 years were caused by “zoonoses,” i.e - germs that come from animals other than the human species. HIV came from non-human primates. Ebola from bats. The measles virus came from a disease that affects cows, as did Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease), a result of disturbing practices in the meat industry, to give just a few examples. Thus, it is likely that pandemics have a string link to the production, sale and consumption of meat.
Karma is complicated
There is evidence, data, logic and expert testimony to support as well as refute all the above arguments. There is no clear, unequivocal conclusion as to how or why this calamity has befallen us. This might be frustrating, but is not surprising. According to the concept of Karma, we understand that nothing “just happens” to us. Whatever happens is intimately connected to our past actions. Such large-scale devastation is not merely an accident. It’s intrinsically connected to our collective past actions.
However, while this is true, we should also keep in mind that the intricacies of Karma are extremely difficult to understand. The whole science of Karma is explained in the Bhagavad Gita (which besides being the most widely read book on Indian philosophical thought, is also the handbook for bhakti-yoga practitioners). In essence, we learn that whatever happens to us is a result of an unpredictable combination of the reactions to our past and present activities.
Thus it is no wonder that when we try and trace a direct, one-to-one casual relationship between sequence of past actions and present circumstances, we end up frustrated. If you have ever wondered “why do bad things happen to good people” or some variation of that question, you are not alone. It stems from an incomplete, oversimplified understanding of Karma as an action-reaction paradigm which plays out in real-time.
So as individuals, there is no point in becoming fixated to pinpoint a single cause for the pandemic. It’s sufficient to know that in all likeliness, it was a result of a combination of factors ranging from our unethical treatment of animals, to a culture of consumerism fuelled by capitalistic search for profit at the cost of the planet’s health, to vested political interests taking precedence over saving people’s lives.
The more pertinent question is, what do we do now. How will we get out of this? What should be our ideal response?
Material solutions to material problems ?
As so called modern, educated and progressive people, we trust and depend on our well-funded research labs, state-of-the-art hospitals, latest technology, trillions of dollars in financial aid, and a functioning democracy, to come to our rescue in times of crises like the pandemic.
However, history proves that such things are but only a small part of the equation. An equal, if not greater role in the way we respond to, and emerge from, such crises is played by our moral, ethicaland religious views. Our response depends on our values, our commitments, and our sense of being a part of the whole human race, as compared to identifying with a certain nationality, race, religion, socio-economic status etc.
The bubonic plague, just to give one example, is believed by historians to have led to a society which was much more violent than before.As the mass mortality rate cheapened life, it led to increased warfare, crime, popular revolt and persecution. Having killed half the population of an entire continent, it had a tremendous effect on the advent of the industrial revolution, on slavery and serfdom.
This pandemic too, has unleashed a social upheaval the likes of which few people alive today have witnessed earlier. It has exposed our fragility. It has shattered the illusion that we are in control. Humbled our arrogance. The hubris that we can lord it over nature like never before in the past through our technology, scientific advances and global networks has been proven completely wrong. Ironically, the advances themselves, which we have grown accustomed to see as the source of our strength, became a major factor in the spread of the virus. It has shown us our utter vulnerability, not despite but, because of our so called progress and advancement. Already we can see our institutions, habits, relationships, and culture beginning to shift.
How will we deal with the widespread financial, mortal, and daily uncertainty? Will we keep throwing money, science, technology and politics at our problems and hope that somehow the outcomes will magically be different than what they’ve been in the past. A popular phrase comes to mind - “The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.”
Does this imply that we just resign ourselves to fate, give up all action, all endeavour and withdraw from the world. Bhakti Yoga suggests to the contrary.
Corona virus as spiritual catalyst
In Bhakti Yoga, feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, and uncertainty are seen as valuable opportunities. As our inflated material ego diminishes, although temporarily, in the event of an overwhelming crisis, it makes us uncomfortable. It is frightening. Yet, it can potentially jolt us out of our spiritual stupor.
A majority of us “humans”, actually lead an animal like existence. We rarely think beyond eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, which concerns even animals. If we analyze carefully, most human activity is little better than a more refined and polished version of what animals endeavor to do as well. Day and night we are busy making elaborate arrangements for such base pursuits.
Crises such as this pandemic however, collectively shake us out of our settled routines. We are suddenly confronted with the inevitability of old age, disease and death, so stark and in our face that it is no longer possible to avoid looking. Why do we grow old, become diseased and die, even when we don’t want to ? What happens after death ? Bhakti Yoga teaches us that it is only when we start looking for answers to such questions that our consciousness starts to expand.
However, a word of caution for the more philosophically inclined amongst us. It is easy and tempting to get lost in endless abstract mental speculation which serves little practical purpose. The Bhakti Yoga ideal is not to use endless philosophizing and theorizing as yet another temporary escape from reality.
Instead, we are advised to hear with humility, with an unprejudiced mind, and mediate upon the answers of self-realized spiritual teachers who have perfectly preserved the eternal wisdom of their tradition. When we do this consistently, we start becoming conscious of our true reality, our true identity, and our purpose in life. We begin to understand and modulate our thoughts, feelings, desires, aspirations, fears, and insecurities, instead of being a slave to them. We become more receptive and compassionate. We can see with more clarity the human condition. Our limited worldview grows. Our mindset gets bigger and more inclusive. We are able to dive into the deeper aspects of our being. We enquire and we listen, to our inner selves and to each other. Out of this emerges true wisdom, insight and transformation.
If we wish to be more resilient and better prepared now and in the future, there has to be an absolutely fundamental change in our mindset. We need to acknowledge that our culture has left us poorly equipped to deal with situations like this. Bereft of spiritual knowledge, guidance, and inspiration, all efforts towards improving our material condition are futile. In fact, spiritual bankruptcy itself is the very cause of our suffering. So it is up to us whether we continue to suffer or cultivate this knowledge. But..
Where is this knowledge to be found ?
Modern western society idolizes youth and beauty. If you are young and good looking and fashionable, you are worthy of attention. You are important. You have value. You matter. The identification of our “self” with our “body” is so strong that people will take desperate, drastic measures to not get, or at least look, “old”. The pandemic is now forcing us to re-account for the value of the elderly and closely examine…
Are we just perishable, dispensable “bodies” with a “use by” date ?
We have bought into the modern notion that “we can define who we want to be”. We use education, profession, consumption (what we choose to buy) and activity (what we choose to do and experience) to create and display this “authentic self” to others. This makes for an incredibly unstable, fleeting and fragile source of identity which seeks constant recognition and validation. The lockdowns, by taking away our dates, our concerts, our tournaments, our ability to buy stuff, are actually challenging our sense of identity. Similarly, a layoff is stressful not purely out of imagined future poverty and hunger. We are equally, if not more, afraid to confront and discover our lack of an overarching purpose in life, which in turn threatens our identity. So, we need to discover..
What is the most robust source of identity ?
We are terrified of death - the final failure, the ultimate tragedy. We spend our lives trying to forget the existence of death. We ignore it. We refrain from conversations about it. Desperately clinging on to longevity, hoping till the very end that somehow we’ll magically escape it. But do we know..
Does death really kill us ?
I leave you to reflect on a mystical verse from the Bhagavad Gita, which contains the seed to the answers of all questions raised above.
Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. [Bhagavad Gita - 2.12]
If you want to further explore the science of spirituality, I highly recommend the book “Bhagavad Gita, As It Is” by H.D.G A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It will help you find detailed answers and explanations to the questions raised above, expand your consciousness and taste first hand what it is like to live spiritually. Its message is universal, above any religious denomination. You are not required to subscribe to any particular faith or dogma. All you need is to approach it with humility and be open to reflection. Hare Krishna!
Why mindfulness and meditation should not be optional during a crisis
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing - your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” ― Victor E. Frankl
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably struggling to stay focused and mindful these days. And by “mindful” I mean paying attention to what’s happening at any particular moment - or in other words, being fully present, in your present.
Distraction and inattentiveness seem to be common complaints strewn across the walls of Facebook and Instagram... and therefore, incidentally, also nothing to feel guilty or unworthy over.
I’ll confess something to you - writing this article right now is at least 200 times harder than it should be. Self-isolation, social distancing, lockdown, and quarantine all seem to turn grey matter into porridge. Let’s face it, even before this pandemic started locking us down, the ability to stay focused was not far from being a superpower anyway.
Distraction is everywhere, all the time.
It’s going to be tough to meditate, which is exactly why you should do it.
And we’re not the only ones who think that meditation and mindfulness are a great way to deal with the psychological fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.
In her article for the LA Times, journalist Lisa Boone gathered together some expert advice and useful tips for incorporating meditation and mindfulness into your crisis coping strategy.1 She even includes a list of online resources and apps that may help in coping with anxiety. Chantnow.com is not on that list, but it could be.
So why is mindfulness meditation such a great idea right now? And how does mantra meditation, especially chanting the maha-mantra, relate to it?
Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center gives some insight: “Most of the time, our minds are locked in the past and future,” Winston explains. “Mindfulness puts you in the moment. Most people are OK in the here and now. If you can put yourself in the present, you can handle difficult thinking.”1
Mantra meditation is nothing if not a practice in mindfulness - being present in the “now.” One of the great bhakti teachers from the 19th century, Thakur Bhaktivinode, expresses this through his poetry:
Forget the past that sleeps and ne'er
The future dream at all,
But act in time that are with thee
And progress thee shall call.
But, as we all experience when we try to meditate, it is easier said than done.
Wilson suggests using a well-known mindfulness tool to help alleviate anxiety - it’s described by the acronym “STOP” (adapted from source1):
Stop. This is the first step you take when you notice that your mind is running away with you to Worryville - you catch it and stop.
Take a breath. Our breathing becomes shallow and rapid when stress levels increase. Taking a few deep breaths (low into the belly) and exhaling slowly, helps to reset your physiology.
Observe what is happening inside. How is your stress, worry, fear or anxiety manifesting in your body and mind? Try to consciously transform away from those manifestations to a calmer state of being.
Proceedwith more awareness. We all intuitively know what might help us to deal better with a particular situation or state of mind. For me, it’s a walk in nature, a swim in the river, a cup of tea or hanging out with cows! Do something that will help make it better. The idea is not to solve the problem, but to move forward with some self-compassion.
But how does all of this actually relate to mantra meditation? Are mantra meditation and mindfulness the same thing?
Not exactly. But you can think of mindfulness as a tool to help you with your chanting meditation. Let’s think about what goes on inside your mind when you meditate.
Moment to moment, there are thousands of channels the mind can tune into. When you meditate, you consciously ask it tostoptuning into your inner and outer worlds. Your mind will constantly flip through the channels. It can’t help itself! But you’re not your mind, so you just keep listening to the mantra you’re chanting while the mind does its thing.
Meditation is practically the only way to train our ability to tolerate the mind’s spontaneous wanderings. During meditation, like at any other time, many thoughts may enter the mind. The difference is that during meditation, the practitioner consciously chooses not to engage with those thoughts so that the mind doesn’t get stuck in endless cycles of worry and anxiety.
The process unfolding in your consciousness when you meditate is similar to the STOP process. Stop - take a breath - observe and proceed.
“People often feel discouraged when they first give meditation a try”, Winston says, because their mind goes in a million directions.”1
“That’s part of the process,” Winston says. “Especially now when there is so much to worry about. You’re not doing anything wrong. Come back to the present moment. Or try to meditate for five minutes. Your practice will only get stronger over time.”1
Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) report that, “several studies indicate better relaxation and stress management by meditation techniques where you refrain from trying to control the content of the mind.”2
"These methods are often described as nondirective, because practitioners do not actively pursue a particular experience or state of mind. They cultivate the ability to tolerate the spontaneous wandering of the mind without getting too much involved. Instead of concentrating on getting away from stressful thoughts and emotions, you simply let them pass in an effortless way."2
Interestingly, the type of meditation they studied also uses a mantra. Although the mantra and method of chanting are different from the maha-mantra meditation taught at Chant Now, maha-mantra meditation can also be considered nondirective in the sense that it simply asks the meditator to carefully hear the mantra despite whatever else might be going on in the mind. To “still the mind” is not the goal of mantra meditation (although it may be a side-effect).
"Spontaneous wandering of the mind is something you become more aware of and familiar with when you meditate." - Øyvind Ellingsen, Professor at NTNU.2
Besides mindfulness and meditation, a strong undercurrent of self-compassion and acceptance comes through in the LA times article. This is not surprising considering that, at its core, meditation is the ultimate expression of self love. This is especially true for maha-mantra meditation because the potency of the mantra links us directly to the source of our very being.
“...these [mindfulness meditation] techniques won’t solve the grave financial hardships many are experiencing due to the coronavirus. But they can help put your mind in a better state to tackle the worries that come with the fast-moving pandemic.” - Nigel Sampson, owner ofWhole Body Method Pilates and Certification Studio in Los Angeles.1
Mindfulness, of course, also extends beyond meditation. While we’re more obviously trying to be mindful during meditation, any task or activity can and should be done mindfully. Being mindful of the moment will channel the mind away from the fear of an uncertain future, and bring it back to the here and now, where things are not so scary.
An easy way to be more in the moment is to practice gratitude.
Gratitude grounds one in the present.
“‘Now’ is rarely the problem. Our problem is hankering (what I want in the future) and lamenting (what I lost in the past), but not gratitude (what I have and appreciate now).
In other words, for the humble and thoughtful, gratitude grounds one in the present, where humility and joy rests.” - Dhanurdhara Swami
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
5 Simple Practices to Help You Meditate on the Maha-mantra
There’s a Sanskrit word for the daily practices we undertake in order to advance in spiritual life - the word is sadhana. Sadhana is what we do, on a daily basis, to facilitate the purification of our consciousness. It is the regulated part of spiritual life which calls for consistency and discipline.
Yes, discipline. I realize that just a month ago I was urging you to rebel, and now I am calling for discipline. It may seem contradictory, but you’d be wise to note that nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without discipline. Discipline in spiritual life is driven by a desire to become better, and to have an authentic experience of ourselves, free from the limitations that tend to define us.
At the heart of sadhana in bhakti yoga, lies the practice of maha-mantra meditation. All other practices, rituals or routines inherent in sadhana are there to help facilitate good chanting. In essence, sadhana is simply a lifestyle geared towards spiritual advancement.
There are a number of ways in which you can tweak your lifestyle in order to supercharge your meditation practice. In this article I’m going to share with you my personal top 5 practices that have helped me. They are tried and tested, and powerful.
1 Become a Morning Person
Mornings were made for spiritual practice. Any serious spiritual practitioner will attest to this. The earlier, the better. And by earlier I mean before sunrise, or no later than 4 am. Yes, I’ll give you a moment to digest that...
I sulk on the days when I only manage to drag myself out of bed at 6 or 7am, because I know that my chanting will suffer. And if my chanting suffers, my day will suffer. My mind will be more agitated and my day less productive.
Early mornings have a profound effect on us for a number of reasons.
In Vedic philosophy, the dynamic interactions of material energy are said to be ruled by three gunas, or modes of nature - they are tamas (ignorance), rajas (passion) and sattva (goodness). The interplay between these three energies are what determine the predominating mood of a particular time of day.
“Material nature consists of three modes - goodness, passion and ignorance. When the eternal living entity comes in contact with nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, he becomes conditioned by these modes.” - Krishna to Arjuna in Bhagavad-gita 14.5
Early mornings are bathed in sattva guna - goodness. And because the mind is so strongly influenced by the gunas, the predominance of sattva guna in the morning gives your mind the best possible chance to focus.
During these early morning hours, our brainwaves are in the optimal state for deep focus and concentration. Not only is it a great time for meditation, but also for studying, writing and any creative work. Check out the link at the end of this article to watch a cool video on this topic.
The time just after you rise is where you’ll find the cleanest mental slate you’re going to get, and what you do during this time sets the tone for the rest of your day. In addition, our willpower is strongest in the mornings and decreases as the day goes on. So if you’re struggling to meditate on a daily basis, mornings are your solution.
Of course, in order to rise early, one must also go to bed early. Sattva guna cannot support your meditation if you keep falling asleep! If you’re accustomed to late nights, you’ll probably need to ease your way into a new routine over a few weeks. Try going to bed 30 min earlier than usual so that you can rise 30 min earlier, and continue like that until you reach your target wake-up time.
2 Write About It
Mantra meditation will lead to ‘ah-ha!’ moments, or simply to clarity, or maybe to frustration. In any case, try writing about your experience. If it’s hard, if it’s boring, if it’s magical, if it’s expected or unexpected. Writing has the somewhat magical quality of revealing our realizations to us.
Much has been written about journaling and the benefits to our mental health. It is a powerful tool for self-reflection and building confidence. You’re writing for yourself, so there’s no need to hold back.
Personally, after journaling for some time, I felt inspired to share my realizations with others. There is a strong tradition of writing in the line of bhakti yoga which I practice. I, like many others, am very much indebted to those great saints who had the good sense and compassion to put their spiritual realizations into the written form.
In her bestselling book about awakening creativity (The Artist’s Way), Julia Cameron encourages her readers to start a journaling exercise she calls ‘Morning Pages’. She suggests filling three pages, first thing in the morning, with your hand-written words.
Whether you decide to write before or after, or before and after your mantra meditation, set a goal to write a certain number of pages each day. Even if you feel like you have nothing to write, fill the page. A good place to start is with gratitude:
“Gratitude turns whatever we have into enough. What’s more, gratitude is a practice. The more you practice being grateful for what you have, the more you’ll develop your capacity for appreciation. When you can appreciate all things, even so-called reversals in your life, seeing them as valuable lessons, you’ll be situated in unwavering spiritual satisfaction.” - Vaisesika Dasa, on the importance of keeping a gratitude journal.
When you’re forced to crystalize your feelings into words, they become easier to digest. When we see our struggles and victories on the page in front of us, we can more clearly evaluate our progress, make adjustments and become inspired to continue in our practice. And I promise, you will see progress!
3 Be Selfless
Another integral part of bhakti (devotion) is seva, or selfless service. Service without self-interest is perhaps the purest expression of love we can find in this world. And since the maha-mantra is all about love and devotion, undertaking some selfless service will help you to connect more deeply to the mantra as you chant it.
Seva purifies and softens the heart. It is deeply satisfying and has some desirable side-effects, such as happiness and contentment. So do something for someone else, without being asked and without seeking recognition or compensation. But make sure that it’s something the other person actually wants or needs, and not simply what you think they need.
4 Go For a Walk
Because you know it’s great for you. Sitting in meditation is a lot easier if your body is well taken care of, and for most people, walking is the simplest and most effective way to do it. Those in the know recommend at least 20 min a day, and who am I to argue? It’s a good place to start.
Just as times of the day are under the influence of the gunas, so are places. Forests and rivers are full of sattva guna - goodness. If you can safely walk in a forest, on a beach or in the mountains, do that. Parks and leafy sidewalks are the next best thing... but walking in a mall doesn’t count! Unlike in malls, walking in nature has the benefit of being very grounding, and natural environments are full of prana - life force! Try going barefoot if you can, at least for a few steps.
Another consideration is that mantra meditation is easily done while walking. Although sitting in one place to meditate is the most effective way to meditate in terms of focusing the mind, a walking meditation can also be very helpful, especially if you often find yourself wanting to fall asleep while meditating.
It can be harder to focus on the mantra while doing a walking meditation, as your senses are more engaged with the world around you. But if it’s a question of falling asleep while sitting, or meditating while walking, choose the latter.
5 Eat Compassionately
This is a hot topic for many people, and it's heating up again in light of the current pandemic crisis. If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to avoid getting into a nitty gritty debate about it right here and now. But a diet based on non-violence and compassion to all living beings is so important in raising consciousness that it would be irresponsible of me not to mention it here.
In my personal experience, the single biggest influence on my consciousness, other than chanting Hare Krishna, was switching to a lacto-vegetarian diet. The effect is profound.
I have no doubt that many of our readers already identify themselves as vegan or vegetarian, but for those of you who don’t, I have one request: Just think about it. Do some research and entertain the notion. If you’re serious about wanting to meditate better, experiment with herbivorous nutrition.
To put it all in context...
At a time when everything is up in the air, my hope for you is that you can grow roots deep into your mantra meditation practice with the help of these five stabilizing adjustments to your lifestyle.
The world today is looking drastically different than it did just a week ago, and no one really knows what it will look like a week from now. Amidst all of this uncertainty, there is peace of mind and fearlessness to be found in the chanting of the maha-mantra. In fact, now its time to shine. Things may seem out of control from our limited perspective, but the universe is dancing to a divinely choreographed tune. Chant the maha-mantra, and you will hear it.
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Be Inspired - This is Why All Billionaires Wake Up EXACTLY at 4:00 AM
considered myself to be quite the rebel in my teens and early twenties, and I
was proud of that label.
thought I was so cool – smoking cigarettes behind the art building at the
strict, all-girls school I attended in the dull, conservative city of Pretoria.
[Never heard of Pretoria? Don’t worry about it]. It’s true that I had very
little respect for authority, but more than anything else, I was deeply
dissatisfied with what life was offering me.
Oxford English dictionary defines rebellion as: “the action or process of
resisting authority, control, or convention.”
rebellion is in all of us. We naturally resist authority, control and
convention – that is the nature of our ego. None of us want to be another brick
in the wall because, in fact, we are all utterly unique.
But we’re not who we think we are.
is a Sanskrit word ahankara, which
literally translates as “I am the doer.” It is used to describe the false ego - the false identity of being
the physical body and the ultimate controller of our lives. And so, when others
tell us what to do, we rebel, thinking that we alone know what’s best for us.
false ego makes us proud, our pride interferes with our higher intelligence by
preventing us from accepting good advice, and therefore we can’t access
knowledge beyond ourselves because we have no faith in any authority.
“Faith is the precursor of knowledge. If you don’t have faith, which is assisted by the culture of genuine respect, your ability to understand things is limited to your own frame of reference.” - Dhanurdhara Swami
problem is, where do we point our rebellious faces once we’ve recognized that
we should turn our backs on the uninspiring authorities and ill-considered
conventions of modern society? Well, some of us are intelligent and humble
enough to seek out inspiring mentors and higher truths... But not me.
if you don’t know where to find a constructive alternative to what you’re
rebelling against, the only clear way forward is to tear it all down. So I,
like many others, not knowing any better and convinced of my superiority over
all the sheep out there, embarked on a path that, looking back, I can only
describe as hedonistic self-destruction.
It took me years to realize that my rebellion for individualism was just the same as everyone else’s. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll... What I considered to be rebellion was in fact just a jaded pattern of behavior that led to an overstimulation of the senses. It was nothing special, but nonetheless, it made me proud. My pride then stripped me of my intelligence and fuelled the dissatisfaction that I was trying to escape from in the first place.
make a long story short, it all came crashing down and I had a proverbial
wake-up call. Thankfully.
the Bhagavad-gita has something to say about this:
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. - BG 2.69
self-control and introspection the rebellion of the future?
And here’s why...
ultimate rebellion is to turn your back on your false conception of yourself.
It is to take the humble position and allow yourself to be guided by a worthy
teacher. The alternative is simply ignorance. If we can’t understand our true
nature as eternal spiritual beings, we can’t make sense of what we’re meant to
do with this crazy world, and nothing will ever truly satisfy us. We’ll keep
rebelling at every new situation that’s not quite right. There’s no peace in a
life like that.
once more, but do it right this time.
One of the many gifts of Hare Krishna mantra meditation is that it allows us to see our existential condition more clearly. Many great personalities have composed songs and prayers to glorify this type of meditation because it is so uniquely powerful. Sometimes I recite a particularly potent prayer, called the Sri Siksastakam, before starting my daily meditation. The first line translates as follows:
Glory to the Sri Krishna Sankirtana, which cleanses the
heart of all the dust accumulated for years and extinguishes the fire of
Sri Krishna Sankirtana refers to the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. The dust is our false conception of ourselves as material beings, and the fire of conditional life is the uneasiness we feel that impels us towards acts of rebellion and seeking.
These days, my day begins at 3:30 am. I rise, wash, dress and spend 2-3 hours meditating on the mantra that came crashing into my life 14 years ago with a rebellious message: swallow your pride and chant Hare Krishna. All it takes is a little bit of initial faith.
After careful consideration (nearly 8 years of it), I wholeheartedly embraced the practice of chanting Hare Krishna. My parents didn’t like it much (a sure sign of a truly worthy rebellion)... At least not initially... But now, almost 6 years later, they can’t deny the integrity and benefit of my personal transformation. And transformation is exactly what a solid rebellion should yield. All it took was a mantra, some meditation beads, a qualified teacher and a calculated leap of faith.
I don’t think I need to convince anyone that the world needs a lot of rebelling right now. But don’t put too much faith in the rebellion of the modern world, which is focussed on material issues and generally just encourages satisfaction of the senses. If you’re gonna do it, do it right, and uncover your true spiritual individuality along the way.
Bhakti Tirtha Swami says it best:
“We must resist the temptation to be ‘normal,’ because those who are now considered normal accept the values and practices of an insane world.”
Rebel, dear ones... but don’t leave your intelligence behind, and take the maha-mantra with you.
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
 Spiritual Warrior III: Solace for the Heart in Difficult Times, Chapter 8 – How To Strengthen Ourselves - by HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami
Who is actually meditating?
It may seem like a strange question, with an obvious answer (I am!). But in order to understand how mantra meditation can be effective at controlling the mind, we need to make a distinction between the mind of the meditator and the meditator him-/herself. It is a subtle distinction, but a very important one, because it is the conscious self who actively meditates, by focusing the mind.
At first, it may be hard to recognize that our minds are different from ourselves because we are so accustomed to entertaining the whims of our minds. The distinction became clearer to me when I contemplated my personal struggle with my mind’s illness. When I was 16, I experienced what psychologists call a major depressive episode. For the next five years, I struggled to make sense of what was happening to me and how to change it. I felt like my mind had been hijacked and, significantly, I experienced an overwhelming sense of not being myself.
At the time, I had no knowledge about the nature of the mind, and that it was actually different from me. Since then I have learned a lot, and it has helped me to make sense of my experience with depression. The door to profound healing opened when I no longer identified myself with my mind and its disorder.
It’s interesting to notice that when we speak of the mind we say, “my mind.” We inherently understand that although our mind belongs to us, it is also somewhat separate from us. For someone who has suffered from a multitude of ‘mind dysfunctions’, this comes as a great relief. If I am not my mind, it means that I have the ability to consciously influence my mind.
Knowledge of the mind, body, and conscious self (often referred to as the spirit or soul) is thoroughly and clearly described in the classic Indian text, Bhagavad-gita. The Bhagavad-gita deals with spiritual science and it reveals a lot about the nature of our bodies, our minds, and our own conscious selves. About the mind, it says:
“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.” - Bhagavad-gita 6.6
This verse implies that the mind is naturally subservient to the individual to whom it belongs, just as a child is naturally subservient to its parent. But when the mind is constantly bombarded with distractions via the senses, it becomes like a spoiled child who refuses to follow the instructions of the parent. Meditation, which lies at the heart of any yogic practice, helps the practitioner to bring the restless mind under their control. Consider the following verse:
“From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the self.” Bhagavad-gita 6.26
Here the mind is described as “flickering and unsteady.” It actually needs direction from the higher intelligence of the individual in order for it to function efficiently. One aspect of the effectiveness of mantra meditation lies in its innate ability to bring about awareness of the present moment in the mind of the practitioner. The technique is to simply hear each syllable of the mantra as you chant it. And when the mind wanders (as it most certainly will), to bring your attention always back to the sound.
The modern-day saint, AC Bhaktivedanta Swami, highlights the simplicity of this technique: “What is controlling the mind? You have to chant and hear. That’s all. You have to chant with your tongue and hear the sound. That’s all. What is the question of mind? ”
The mind will always suffer from discontent, just like the body will always suffer from colds and flu. Instead of giving the audience to my mind’s temper tantrums, I now simply try to observe them from a distance, and then gently redirect my mind to the sound of this powerful mantra I have at my disposal.
If the ideas in this blog stimulated your appetite, you can keep chewing on this topic with the following article on Huffpost.com: