How can we distribute our time between hearing and chanting?
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Transcriber: Suresh Gupta
Editor: Raji Nachiappan
Question: How can we distribute our time between hearing and chanting?
Answer: The essence of bhakti is neither hearing nor chanting. Rather, it is remembering Krishna.
smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇur vismartavyo na jātucit
sarve vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur etayor eva kiṅkarāḥ
(CC Madya Lila 22.113)
Krishna is the origin of Lord Vishu. He should always be remembered and never forgotten at any time. All the rules and prohibitions mentioned in the shastras should be the servants of these two principles.
Therefore, the purpose of all those rules and regulations is to always to remember Krishna and never forget Krishna. Hence, both hearing and chanting are meant to help us remember Krishna. Chanting is the yuga dharma, and we definitely have a prescribed number of rounds to chant. At the same time, chanting can very easily become mechanical if there is not adequate intellectual conviction for chanting. Intellectual conviction or spiritual inspiration for chanting comes largely by hearing.
Bhakti is a whole culture and there are so many activities which are done for Krishna. Chanting is important but we do not have to reduce all of bhakti to chanting alone. There is room for individuality in bhakti. There may be some devotees who may decide that every festival they will chant sixty-four rounds. While that is very good, there is no need for that to be universalised. We all have a prescribed number of rounds to chant and we do that. Beyond that, each of us has to take up individual responsibility, to find out, how best we can connect with Krishna and do that. Some devotees may find chanting very inspiring, while some others find hearing or deity worship or book distribution more inspiring, and devotees can engage in these activities as per their inspiration. Hence, there is prescribed minimum that we do, but just because some devotees practice one limb of bhakti more, that does not mean everybody has to do the same.
Once, Srila Prabhupada was in London which was at that time the European headquarters. Devotees from various parts of Europe like Germany and France came there and were reporting to Srila Prabhupada on how the outreach was progressing in their respective places. There was one devotee, Ishan Prabhu, who felt that everybody had something to do for Srila Prabhupada but that he did not have anything to do. Then, he went to Srila Prabhupada and asked Prabhupada what he could do for him. Prabhupada asked “What do you want to do?”. Ishan prabhu replied that he will do whatever Prabhupada tells him to do. Prabhupada insisted and asked him what he wanted to do for Krishna. Ishan prabhu thought Prabhupada was testing him, and he again replied that he will do whatever Prabhupada tells him to do. Prabhupada then told him to understand our philosophy and our philosophy entails that we find out what we want to do and then do it for Krishna.
Ishan prabhu thought about it. Next day he came to Prabhupada and said, “We have these mridangas that we bring from India and often they fall and break. Getting new mridangas from India are very difficult. Hence, I was thinking that we can make mridangas here in the west itself, using other materials which will be steadier and hence will not break”. Prabhupada was very happy. Prabhupad said, “Very good. Your western godbrothers are very passionate. So, make the mridangas so strong that even if they throw them down, they will not break.”
Therefore, the point is that at one level, we have to follow the instructions of spiritual master. That is true, however one instruction of spiritual master is to always remember Krishna. Hence, we have to find out how we can always remember Krishna. In general, there are many limbs of bhakti and we cannot connect with Krishna, with equal intensity through all the limbs. However, the important thing is to connect with Krishna. Yena kena prakarena manah kṛishne niveshayet – One should fix his mind on Krishna by any means. Hence, if we can find one limb of bhakti by which we can intensely connect with Krishna, then through that our purification will happen rapidly. As a result, when we experience Krishna more and more, we will be able to connect to Krishna through the other limbs of bhakti also.
Hearing specifically gives us two things, intellectual conviction and spiritual inspiration for chanting. Before chanting, even if we just take a few minutes, to read relevant scriptural verses about chanting or if we read a holy name meditation, then we find that our chanting becomes much better. Therefore, we should not reduce bhakti down to some externals, whether it is hearing or chanting or something else. Bhakti essentially is remembrance of Krishna and hearing, chanting, deity worship etc. are all meant to help us remember Krishna.
Smaranam is a limb of bhakti and it is also the essence of bhakti. One particular activity within bhakti is that we just absorb ourselves in remembrance. However, that activity of remembrance can be done through various other forms also and that is the essence. Only when we are hearing, our chanting will have quality and we will be able to connect with Krishna. Otherwise, our chanting basically becomes a counting game. We start wondering whether our mala has 108 beads or 1008 beads. Therefore, if we start feeling that chanting has become a boredom or a burden, that means that our hearing has gone down. Investing a little time in hearing will give us a lot more substance to bring spiritual experience in our chanting.
If we chant regularly, either because we have taken vows during our initiation ceremony or even otherwise, we are going to spend some time for the activity of chanting. Therefore, why let ourselves underuse that time by not being attentive? For example, if someone wants to build muscles, then he or she may lift weights. By lifting weights, the person will be able to build their muscles. However, if the person goes to the gymnasium and thinks that the lifting of weights is very painful, and hence, they decide to just move their hands up and down without the weights. By moving the hands up and down and the person may move them for a long time, no muscles are going to be built. Therefore, the whole purpose of bhakti is to expand our consciousness to become Krishna conscious. We want to lift Krishna in our consciousness through chanting. However, if while we are uttering the holy name, we are not remembering Krishna, then it is just like lifting the hand up and down without any weights. There will be some benefit because at least the sound of the holy name is being uttered but it is minimal benefit. Therefore, when we hear, then we remember Krishna and we get reasons for remembering Krishna. Then our chanting becomes more inspired and more convincing that way. The specific balance between hearing and chanting will vary from individual to individual.
We find what inspires us the most and do that. Through that inspiration, we bring spiritual strength in our chanting. Important is how we connect with Krishna and not which specific form of bhakti we use to connect. Since, hearing gives us the rationale to connect with Krishna, that is why it is the foundation. Srila Prabhupada also writes that, the essence of spiritual life, begins with hearing. Therefore, only when we hear we will get the inspiration and conviction to chant nicely.
End of transcription.