„Is it not boring to just count these beads for two hours?“ „Indeed, to just count would be very boring! That's right!“ I answer. „But luckily, chanting japa is much more than just counting the beads, that's just what happens externally. Internally, we are praying from the heart and therefore experience the Lord's presence which gives us peace and satisfaction.“
I remembered this exchange between myself and a teenager from a school program that I had some weeks ago. Do I actually chant or do I just count my beads?
Writing about Prayer practice and giving a presentation at the VIHE on the same topic made me really introspective about my own practice. I feel the need to `walk the talk` so to say, and actually consciously work on my improvement. It is so easy to fall into the trap of mechanical chanting without inner participation.
To avoid this, to escape the mechanical way of offering prayers and chanting, is the responsibility of every sincere practitioner! No one will do that for us, it is entirely in our hands to bring about a change. Externally we cannot judge. We may appear to have a strong sadhana and chant good rounds, but the quality of the spiritual practice is our own responsibility.
Mechanically means, we just do it externally out of duty without being internally present. Without actually being in touch with what is going on. H.H. Kadamba Kanana Swami made once a joke that sometimes devotees stand in front of the deities during darshan arati and in their minds, they think: `Govindam adipurusam what will be breakfast for today… Govindama adipurusham`. Externally they are there, internally they are far away.
The last couple of days I analysed the quality of my own practice. It was a sobering experience. On some days I got up in time and enthusiastically took a shower to prepare myself for Mangala arati, and on other days I hardly was able to get out of my bed. Some days I stood in front of the Deities with rapt attention, looking at Their beauty and singing Their glories from the depth of my heart, whereas other days I stood there like a piece of stone with no emotion, only asking myself why I got up so early. Some days I was able to dive deep in the chanting of the Lord’s Name, so much so, that I felt a divine presence and was filled with deep emotions, and on other days I literally was just counting the beads, struggling to bring my mind back to every single mantra. Some days I was overwhelmed with gratitude during darshan arati, and other days I stared at the altar without having any idea of what I should pray. Some days I sang the Guru vandana Prayer with a joyful heart thinking of our glorious master, Srila Prabhupada and my own Diksa and Siksa Gurus, and other days I listened to the silly thoughts of my mind instead of reflecting on the meaning of the song.
Conclusion: I still have a lot of inner work to do! Following H.H. Satsvarupa Goswami’s advice in his Japa Reform Notebook, I will try to simply cry with the hope to escape this mechanical chanting:
„Complete concentration is necessary. Otherwise, your rounds are done, but they aren’t done well. You’re just trying to get the job done, like a factory worker. You get the credit that “I chanted my rounds,” but there will be far more credit if you chant with the right quality. Attentive doesn’t mean only that you don’t fall asleep or that you don’t leave off a “Hare,” but it means being attentive to how Kṛṣṇa may reveal within your heart more understanding of the holy name. But you have to concentrate. / You cannot afford to chant japa “like background music.” You have to cry to Kṛṣṇa. And if you cannot cry, then you have to cry because you cannot cry. By cry, I simply mean take with all seriousness your japa time and hear with all your heart.”