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].”

Concluding thoughts

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.

Parting Reflections

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.

Proceed with 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 to stop tuning 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 of Whole 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


  1. Meditation tips for the coronavirus crisis
  2. Brain waves and meditation

Links - additional information.

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 sadhanaSadhana 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


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