Vanity thought #101. Chanting is thinking.

That’s what Prabhupada said when a devotee asked him what we should think about during japa. Striking answer, isn’t it? My problem is that I can’t figure it out, can’t find a proper practical application. Here are my thoughts so far.

First, I know what thinking is, it’s a mental activity that takes my mind away and I makes me forget about everything else, forget about where I am and what I am doing, even if for a few minutes. If it happens while I drive my body goes on autopilot and I forget several miles of my journey as if I wasn’t even there.

If it happens when I’m chanting I forget several rounds of my japa, but that’s exactly the opposite of what Prabhupada meant. So far that opposite kind of enthrallment has never happened to me and I wonder how it is possible. How to make chanting into thinking?

If I endlessly repeat some random words that would be called “semantic saturation”, the words will lose their meanings, and it’s not “thinking”. I guess it would be better if I say some meaningful phrases instead, like “That chick from accounting is really hot”, not *better* better but closer to “thinking”.

Now let’s add a name “Natasha from accounting is really really hot”. Now, with the name in it, it’s closer to chanting names. Actually the name “Natasha”, assuming one is fascinated with that woman, would evoke a whole gamut of emotions and thoughts. Depending on the stage of the relationship it could produce warm feelings in one’s heart or passionate desire or, if it’s going south, uncontrollable hatred.

My point is  – once you know the person the name is not just a sound anymore, you might not exactly “think” about it, in a sense of producing a series of coherent ideas, but it is just as engaging already. When a person in love says “I can’t think of anything else” he/she really, literally means it. It is not an intellectual exercise per se, people can’t rationalize it, it goes straight to the heart, the name speaks straight to the heart and mind is completely absorbed even if it’s not really thinking.

When it goes wrong and you do some stupid things people ask: “What were you thinking?” The answer is usually: “I wasn’t, I was in love.”

I guess this kind of total immersion is what Prabhupada meant when he said “Chanting is thinking”. Question is – how to achieve it?

First of all, the name must mean something to the person. It must come with images and memories and experiences. If the name is Krishna – what kind of personal effect it has on me?

I know that He is the creator of the universe and the cause of all causes but those are very abstract, impersonal statements. I have no clue how big the universe is, I have no appreciation how far the causes go.
I know that He is extremely attractive boy of bluish color with a flute and a peacock feather but I’ve never seen anything like that so it doesn’t elicit any emotional response either. Should it? I like our paintings of Krishna but they never really speak to me. At best I can say Krishna doesn’t look bad in many of them but I don’t feel any attraction.

So, how to put meat on my mental images of Him?

What about the other two names in the maha mantra? To this day people don’t even agree who they exactly mean. Is Rama the same Krishna but in a different mood, or is it a different expansion of the Lord. And Hare? Is it calling for Lord Hari sitting in everybody’s heart or is it a call for Srimati Radharani?

I think I’ve found a solution but it is a shaky one.

First I must admit that Krishna is not a complete stranger to me. Maybe it hasn’t been Him directly but Paramatma in my heart, Lord Hari, but some form of the Lord has been watching over me ever since I remember. It varied from subtle urges in my heart to choose this or that to alarm level wake up calls when I risked missing planes or something really really important. I won’t go into details but I don’t think my experiences are unique. I think every devotee can recall quite a few of the situations where Krishna’s hand was quite obvious.

So, I do have an image of Krishna in my heart, it’s not really an image, like a cowherd boy has an image, it’s just a “voice” but it is reliably there. Even if I have only one personal characteristic to it – helpful, it’s a start already. I, in return, occasionally feel grateful and occasionally guilty, not much but it’s a start, too.

Technically it must be the Supersoul, Lord Hari, not Krishna, so I appeal to  Him as  “Hare” when I chant, but I don’t think this degree of precision makes any difference at this stage. I don’t think I’d do anything wrong if I chant the entire mantra for Him only.

Another way to personalize Him is to apply our philosophical principles to my personal life. If I understand them well, if I realize them in my heart or at least in my intelligence, I can see that Krishna is the one who arranges these and those things in my life, Krishna is the one who gives me inspiration for this and for that, and Krishna is the one who gives inspiration to people around me, too.

I guess everyone has a few memories where we were about to blame someone else only to see in the last moment that the person was actually doing us a favor, sometimes without even realizing it. It’s easy to see God’s hand in these situations, too, and it’s easier to rationalize this behavior with our philosophical explanations.

Whatever works, but the result should be that we actually see God’s presence in our lives and chanting the maha mantra is actually calling for that aspect of God we realize personally.

Than chanting can really become thinking, even if for a short while.

The risky side of this method is that we might simply imagine things and assign them God’s hand when, in fact, there wasn’t any. Then there’s indisputable fact that our own images of God are not that of Krishna, at best we might have tiny realizations of the Supersoul, not of the most attractive boy in Vrindavana.

Even if I agree that I’m calling to Supersoul, He supposed to have four hands and hold various objects – that’s not what I “see” at all.

I said that my own images and experiences of God’s presence in my life is just a start. That maybe so, but I don’t have any guarantee that this method and path will eventually lead to Krishna.

I just hope that Krishna’s name will slowly reveal itself, more and more, as long as my mind is firmly fixed on chanting it. I know that it won’t reveal itself if I keep thinking of something else  – so what have I got to lose?

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