When chanting is so simple why do we feel so lazy – how can we chant constantly?
From Raja Pariskhit P
Transcribed and edited by: Vrindasundari Devi Dasi
Question: Why do I often feel so lazy about chanting, a simple activity in which I just have to move my lips? Sometimes I don’t feel like chanting at all. How can I chant constantly?
-Chanting is simple but not necessarily easy because we must do it consistently with repetition.
-If the mind becomes very lethargic we can take a brief break and do some other activity to kickstart the mind back into action.
-Blaming or condemning oneself for not having taste in chanting can result in discouragement in our bhakti process.
-Find out how can we keep our consciousness moving toward Krishna. Chanting is most important but there are nine other processes we can engage in to keep our consciousness moving toward Krishna. As our heart becomes committed to Krishna, then increased chanting will also result.
Chanting is simple, but it is not easy. A tremendous amount of effort is required to keep doing the same activity again and again. Although we are repeating the same sound, applied effort is required to continually repeat the same sound with concentration. The process is simple but not necessarily easy because it has to be done consistently and repeatedly.
As far as laziness is concerned, there are a few points in this regard. Firstly, there are different kinds of engagements which different people are inclined to. Based on their inclinations, they will be attracted to certain things and will be lethargic about certain things. For example, for a person who is inclined toward physical activity, sitting down in one place for a long time may be difficult. Is that necessarily a deficiency? No, we shouldn’t have to bother going into that zone of whether it is deficiency or not. The important part is to find out how we can fix the mind in Krishna. Sometimes if we find ourselves being very lethargic, there is no use in blaming or condemning ourselves thinking “I am so fallen that I don’t have taste.” Yes, the acaryas have expressed that sentiment, but after expressing that sentiment they have continued devotional service depending more on the mercy of Krishna.
If we are not able to chant or find ourselves becoming too lethargic about chanting, and start blaming ourselves for not having taste for chanting, that sort of blaming often results in interruption of our Krishna connection. We shouldn’t reduce the process of bhakti to chanting, and we shouldn’t think that because I am not able to chant, I am a good-for-nothing devotee. Humility is one thing, but letting humility translate into discouragement in bhakti is actually not humility. Letting our notions of humility translate into discouragement in bhakti is undesirable.
Kunti Maharani says (Srimad Bhagavatam 8.42):
tvayi me ’nanya-viṣayā
matir madhu-pate ’sakṛt
ratim udvahatād addhā
O Lord of Madhu, as the Ganges forever flows to the sea without hindrance, let my attraction be constantly drawn unto You without being diverted to anyone else.
If we are not able to chant, we have to find out how can we keep our consciousness moving toward Krishna. Yes, we need determination, and if the mind is wandering we need to bring the mind back. At the same time, if we are getting very distracted, it may be advisable to take a break for a few minutes. If the mind is wandering too much, take a short break, do some other activity, recite a few verses, read something about the holy name. It may not be necessary, especially if we are chanting in a temple setting and there is a collective inspiration to chant our rounds together. But if there is too much agitation of the mind and we are just running the beads through, it’s not that just by chanting 16 rounds in one go without concentration is going to help us. Yes, it is good we are exercising our will power, we are forcing the mind submit to discipline and routine, but at the end of it all, the point is we have to fix the mind on Krishna. It is not that we simply want to increase our will power or control the mind. We want to control the mind and increase the will power so that we become more Krishna conscious.
If the mind becomes very lethargic then to kickstart it back into action we can do some other activity. Sometimes taking a small break for a few minutes for reciting some verses, singing some kirtan tune, just looking at some pretty picture and praying to the deities, these are various ways in which we can activate the mind. Once the mind is activated, we will be able to chant better.
It’s not advisable that every time you start feeling inattentive or lethargic about chanting you start doing this and consequently after every round or half-round you want a break—that is not good. We need to have some amount of determination to pursue in chanting but there are times when chanting seems to be like hitting the head against the wall—when we are not able to connect with Krishna at all, when we are not able to concentrate at all. At that time, rather than getting into a blaming or moping mode, we try to see what else can we do. We have to know that it’s a war. In the war, the point is not to stick to a particular strategy, the point is to win the war. If we go into war with a sword and we find that the enemy is shooting arrows, then before we even reach the enemy, the enemy will use the arrows to kill us. Even a person who is good at fighting swords and who has planned to fight with swords may have to change strategy and use arrows to fight.
The point is that bhakti shouldn’t be reduced to chanting. Although chanting is the most important limb of bhakti, there are nine limbs of bhakti and we shouldn’t conclude that because I can’t chant constantly therefore I am a good-for-nothing devotee. No, even if I can’t chant constantly, the point is how can I stay Krishna conscious. I can read, memorize verses, hear classes, do other services etc.
Some devotees may try to chant constantly. They may do this, but chanting constantly should not be divorced from the overall development of our devotee disposition. Some people, despite their constant chanting, may be inattentive and irresponsible in doing their other services. They may claim to be chanting constantly and when somebody is talking to them they feel distracted because they are chanting. Somebody may commit to some service and forget the service with the excuse that “I am chanting.”
The chanting should be an expression of our hearts’ commitment to Krishna. That commitment is expressed through various activities, through the development of responsible service attitude, through doing whatever we can to connect ourselves with Krishna. As our heart becomes committed to Krishna, then increased chanting will also result. The more we commit ourselves to Krishna, the more our hearts are committed to Krishna, constant chanting will result organically. When we feel lethargic, we have to push ourselves. It’s not that the first time we feel lethargic we give up chanting. Gradually, as Krishna says, what tastes like poison in the beginning tastes like nectar eventually. We will get the taste.
Take for example Srila Prabhupada’s life. He would chant often, but it was not that he was constantly chanting. If his goal was only to chant constantly, then could well have stayed in Vrindavana. He would have never had to go to America. He went to America and traveled all over the world. Yes, he was inspired to chant and he was also inspired to chant by speaking philosophy and teaching the philosophical rational for chanting. So there is no need to reduce bhakti to chanting, but rather understand that trying to practice bhakti and connect ourselves with Krishna is a war. By Krishna’s mercy and the Vaishnavas’ mercy we have been given many weapons and many strategies to fight in this war. If one particular weapon at one point is starting to not work, its not that we are defeated. We try some other weapon, some other strategy and we keep fighting so that our consciousness keeps moving towards Krishna.