Isn’t doing our duties better than spending hours chanting?
From: Hari B Kurup:
Why emphasize on chanting N rounds of 108 beads? Will a person who chants less rounds (or takes his name only once per day, kindly refer to story in link below) become less favourite to God?
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Question: What is the need to chant Hare Krishna on rounds with 108 beads and to chant a specific number of rounds? Will a person who chants less rounds become less favourite of God? There are some stories in popular circulation which say that a farmer or a lay person who chants just the names of God once a day is more dear to God than a person like the great sage Narada who chants throughout the day. Can you please clarify? (By Hari B Kurup)
Answer: In the Vedic tradition people have been directed by the Vedic scriptures to follow the spiritual practices and thereby make spiritual advancement. Unfortunately, as the Vedic tradition has been in circulation for thousands of years much has been added to the tradition which is not there originally in the tradition. So, there are many stories which are said to involve characters like Narada Muni and Lord Narayana and others which actually if we trace backwards are not found in any of the authorised scriptures. And often these stories are used to tell morals that are contrary to the conclusion of the Vedic scriptures. So, rather than taking stories from questionable sources and then making a philosophy of life based on those sources, we need to first study the philosophy that is taught in the Vedic literature and then understand the stories, the pastimes, the examples, the allegories that are taught in the Vedic literature that illustrate and demonstrate this philosophy.
So, the Bhagavad Gita is relatively the most respected scripture among all the Vedic literature, the most widely used by the followers and Bhagavad Gita is very clear that devotion to the Lord has to be performed constantly. Satataà kértayanto mäà yatantaç ca dåòha-vratäù… In 9.14 the Lord says that you should always chant my Holyname, always serve me . Similarly, 8.14 Lord Krishna says ananya-cetäù satataà yo mäà smarati nityaçaù…. ananya, nityaçaù, with no deviation, constantly. tasyähaà sulabhaù pärtha nitya-yuktasya yoginaù nitya yuktasya, again constantly engagged. So, the words like Satataà, nitya come repeatedly in the Bhagavad Gita whenever there is a reference to bhakti. And this indicates that bhakti is not meant to be performed just once a day by chanting one name of God but it is meant to be constantly performed.
Of course it is also a sad reality that there are some people who use spirituality as a means to evade material responsibility. When they find that the challenges of living in material life and maintaining a family, sustaining a job or business or some respectable source of income is too much and they become too lazy and don’t want to do this, often they use spirituality as an excuse to camouflage their laziness. This sort of irresponsibility and escapism garbed under the cover of spirituality is also condemned in the Bhagavad Gita. In the eighteenth chapter Lord Krishna says, when He is talking about the different kinds of renunciation, He says that if one renounces out of the reluctance to work hard then that will lead to illusion, that will not lead to the fruit of renunciation… naiva tyäga-phalaà labhet….käya-kleça-bhayät tyajet… So, yes it is a valid point that somebody in the name of practicing spirituality or bhakti if he evades responsibility then that is undesirable.
So, even if these kind of stories which are there which seem to glorify those who work hard, are to be understood in the proper context. Then they don’t have to be rejected as entirely false. But the emphasis has to be clear that the Vedic culture and wisdom tradition doesn’t justify escapism in the name of spirituality. So, the balance is also recommended in the Bhagavad Gita. In the 8th chapter Lord Krishna says
tasmät sarveñu käleñu
mäm anusmara yudhya ca
mäm evaiñyasy asaàçayaù
Therefore, He says at all times.. tasmät sarveñu käleñu mäm anusmara, always remember Me , yudhya ca ..Fight. So, Fight indicates that Arjuna as a Ksatriya had the prescribed duty of fighting. For all of us it might be studying, working, taking care of our home, taking care of our children ..whatever.. our duties. Krishna says’ Remember Me and do your prescribed duty’ and the order of priority He gives is first remember Me and then do your prescribed duty. So, He considers remembrance of Him in devotion to be primarily important. And this remembrance..How will it happen.. mayy arpita-mano-buddhir...when our mind our centre of emotions and our intelligence which is our centre of thoughts are BOTH offered to Krishna then we will be able to constantly think of Krishna as well as do our worldly duties.
So, how do we offer our mind and intelligence to Krishna? That is by studying the message that He has given, studying the philosophy of Bhagavad Gita which will persuade and convince our intelligence and by practicing the process of bhakti-yoga, hearing the pastimes of Krishna, doing bhakti to Krishna- devotional service by which our affection for Krishna will develop. So, when our thoughts and emotions are devoted to Krishna then all the time we will be able to think of Krishna, no matter what we are doing. Without having our thoughts and emotions offered or dedicated to Krishna many people claim that they are constantly thinking of Krishna, they are constantly chanting the names of Krishna. And the reason why their claim is untenable, is that their whole life otherwise remains materialistic with very little explicit connection to God.
If a wife tells her husband ‘ I love you ‘ and then, when the husband comes back home is hungry… ‘I love you’… please give me some food…’I love you’…please give me some food…’I love you’…’If you love me give me some food, cook something and give’… ‘No no no! i won’t do that, i just have love in my heart’. That won’t be enough. Love has to be expressed through our actions. The mother has an infant baby, she says ‘I love you’ and the infant is crying. The mother is saying ‘I love you’. Mother has to fondle, caress, comfort, breastfeed, treat the child. Only then her love is expressed tangibly. Similarly for us, if we want to develop love for God, whatever little love we have, we have to express it tangibly. And then that love will increase.
Therefore, we need to take time out specifically for God. When we take time out every day to chant the names of Krishna, that exclusive focus on Krishna helps our mind to gradually perceive how Krishna is so beautiful, so lovable and to develop attraction for Krishna that is lasting. Why do we chant a specific number of rounds? Because our forgetfulness of Krishna is like a disease and the great Acaryas are like the doctors. So, the doctors know what prescription we need to take. When we take the medicine according to that prescription, then the disease can be cured, then our affection for Krishna can be awakened and then we can constantly remember Krishna. Is Krishna pleased by somebody who chants His name even once a day? Yes He is! Because that person is so much better than the thousands of people who don’t chant even once. But Krishna would like that person to rise higher. Higher, so that he can express his love for Krishna more and become more purified and qualified to return back to Krishna to live with Him forever.
So, in the Bhagavad Gita in the twelfth chapter Krishna gives a hierarchy from 12.8 to 12.11 where He says just think of Me constantly. If that is not possible, He says try to think of Me as much as possible. Then He says if you can’t do that then work for Me. If you can’t do that then work, do whatever work you are doing and offer the fruits to Me. So, Krishna extends His Grace downward, downward, downwards. Now, if we have this ladder with various rungs, rung1 rung2 rung3 rung4, certainly a person who is at the topmost rung is the most dear to Krishna. So, Krishna says that ‘One who constantly thinks of Me is the most dear to Me’. But that doesn’t mean Krishna doesn’t like others, but whatever level they are connecting with Him, Krishna would want them to rise higher and higher. But the great blunder will be, if somebody who is at the lowest rung of the ladder thinks that this is the perfection. This sort of stories which are sometimes concocted and have no shastric basis or some stories which are mentioned in the Shastras but are misinterpreted out of their context can create the misunderstanding that the lowest rung of the ladder and the highest rung are the same. Which they are not! There is a progression.
By chanting the names of Krishna regularly for a specific amount of time, when we exclusively offer that time to Krishna that is the way we express our seriousness to Krishna. If you go to meet a person and that person is working on a computer, is talking on a phone and says just please tell me.. ‘sir i came to talk with you’…’ya, i am hearing’. He is also typing; he is also hearing on the phone, he says i am hearing you also. What would we feel by interacting with such a person? That he doesn’t consider us very important! He wants to get rid of us. Similarly, if we chant the names of Krishna while doing other things then Krishna will feel we don’t want Him. Now, the other things are more important and we are just chanting His Names because it’s an obligation that we have to finish. So, of course, we can chant the names of Krishna while doing other activities also. But just as, if we consider a person important we give that person exclusive attention so similarly, if we consider Krishna important, which obviously is an expression of our love for Krishna, then we will give Krishna exclusive attention. That exclusive attention is in terms of the time that we offer to Krishna, exclusively for chanting His Holynames.
So, in India there is this notion that work itself is worship. If work itself were worship then the donkey would be the greatest worshipper. So, the Bhagavad Gita’s philosophy is not that work is worship, it is sva-karmaëä tam abhyarcya… In the eighteenth chapter Krishna says “By your work worship Me”. So, there is no phrase in the Bhagavad Gita which corresponds with the commonly held notion that work is worship. sva-karmaëä tam abhyarcya… by your work worship Him. So what this means is, it is not that our work itself is worship. Our work has to be transformed into worship by the Bhakti that we have and that Bhakti does not come just by doing our work. That Bhakti comes by spending by offering Krishna our exclusive attention and investing exclusive time to develop our relationship with Krishna.
So, to summarize the answer, we should not interpret philosophy based on stories from questionable sources, rather we should first study the philosophy and then understand the stories, if at all they are bonafide, in the context and the big picture given to us by the philosophy. Sometimes, spirituality and bhakti can be used to escape from material life and that is certainly considered deplorable in the Bhagavad Gita, at the same time the Bhagavad Gita is unambiguous that we have to come to a level where we are constantly thinking of Krishna. And the Bhagavad Gita offers us a ladder with various rungs that we can climb at a rung that we are comfortable and gradually keep moving upwards. So, the misinterpretation of the stories can lead us to mistake that the lowest rung is in fact the highest rung, which is not true. If we truly love Krishna or truly desire to love Krishna then we have to spend quality time with Him, show Him that we consider Him important and offer our thoughts and our emotions to Him by hearing His pastimes chanting His Holy Names and understanding His philosophy. And then we will rise to the highest rung of the ladder. Work, certainly has the potential to become worship when it is done with bhakti and offered to Krishna but work in itself is not worship. Work has the potential to be spiritualised and that is the great secret of the Bhagavad Gita. If work itself were worship then everybody in the world is already doing work, there is no need for Krishna to speak the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna speaks the Bhagavad Gita to help those who are already performing work, to transform that work into worship by the regular and guided practice of Bhakti. Thank you!