Chanting Mantras is a powerful way to connect with the spiritual dimension. Chanting is both a simple and scientific process. The practice of Chanting Mantras must be done properly in order to get the full benefit. We need to chant from the heart, as we often hear. Otherwise, our chanting remains only a shadow-like chanting. As we can`t get nourished from a shadow of a meal, similarly, we cannot get spiritual nourishment and realizations from a shadow-like chanting.
But what does it actually mean to chant from the heart? Last weekend I tried to reflect on this question a little bit deeper while we had our monthly kirtana festival, where we chant the Holy Name for more than seven hours. I was also invited to lead a kirtana, although I would not consider myself very musical. Still, I tried to sing to the best of my ability. However, I often face the challenge that I am too much in my head, especially when I have to lead the chanting. Somehow I get nervous and can`t always perform properly. It feels a bit like the dilemma of the centipede: A centipede was happy until a toad jokingly asked "Which leg moves after which?“ This question raised doubts in the centipede to such an extent that she forgot how to run and, in an exhausted state, fell in a ditch. 1 In other words, an activity that usually takes place naturally, if over analyzed becomes a difficult task. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a thoughtful person, but there is a difference between a conscious thought process directed by the intelligence and a meaningless inner conversation coming from the mind. We often waste our time with unnecessary inner dialogues, even while participating in kirtana. Too much thinking has no place when we want to approach the Holy Name and chant from the heart.
How do we stop the endless thoughts? We just have to hear the mantra! And what about the deep spiritual emotions? Of course, we can`t just press a button in the heart, but we can learn to develop the right attitude to serve the holy name and remember our relationship with Krishna.
Reflecting on the writings and prayers of self-realized personalities can be very helpful to enter a deeper understanding of our daily practice. When we chant, we need to remember our relationship with Krishna, that's one of the keys that is recommended to enter a heartfelt chanting. In Prema vivarta we find a beautiful description of how the conditioned soul is awakened to his original identity as a servant of God:
„The living entity wanders in the material world taking one birth after another. If by chance, he comes in contact with a saintly person, he becomes immediately knowledgeable about his true identity as a pure spirit soul and eternal servant of Krishna. Enlightened by this understanding he does not want material entanglement anymore and thus laments: `Oh, no! Alas! Why have I served this illusory material energy for so long?`He bitterly regrets and cries out: `Krishna, my Lord! I am Your eternal servant. Ever since I left the shelter of Your lotus feet, my life has become completely devastated.` Lord Krishna is so merciful that if anyone appeals to Him earnestly, He immediately releases the jiva from material entanglement. Then, when the jiva breaks away from Maya’s captivating spell and strives towards Lord Krishna by rendering devotional service, he regains the supreme shelter of the Lord`s lotus feet.“ 2
Bhaktivinoda Thakur also emphazises the importance of sambhanda jnana and suggests to remember the following three points while approaching the Holy Name:
I am an atomic particle of Consciousness and Krishna’s eternal servant.
Krishna is the infinite conscious entity and my only master.
The material world is a house of correction meant to reform my tendency to remain absent in our relationship. 3
These words of our acaryas can help us enter deeper feelings while chanting. We need to learn how to get out of our thoughts and enter our heart. Not just the emotional heart, but our spiritual heart. It`s in the heart where we cultivate relationships, where we feel affection and love for someone. If we remember our relationship with Krishna, if we are able to recognize Him again as the ultimate object of love, then we will be able to truly chant from the heart. That kind of singing kirtan is what truly pleases Krishna and there will be no question of the centipede dilemma anymore!
1 - „The Centipede's Dilemma“ by Katherine Craster (1841–1874) in
Pinafore Poems, 1871.
2 - Jagadananda Dasa, Prema-vivarta, as quoted in `The Living Name`
by H.H. Sacinandana Swami
3 - Harinama-cintamani, 3.25