Who should benefit from our chanting? Our first slogan has always been “Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and be happy” which leaves no questions about our goal – our happiness. There’s no shortage of Śrila Prabhupāda’s quotes along these lines, too. What about Kṛṣṇa, though?
The mantra itself comes from Kali-Saṇṭāraṇa-Upaniṣad where it is is given to Nārada Muni by Lord Brahmā as the best means of counteracting effects of Kali Yuga. It goes without saying that Kali Yuga affects us, the conditioned living entities so chanting is meant to benefit us, but what about Kṛṣṇa?
Similarly, mention of chanting in Śrimad Bhāgavatam (12.3.51) starts with kaler doṣa-nidhe rājann – Kali yuga is an ocean of faults, chanting then is recommended as a means to counteract those faults, so it’s done for our own benefit again.
Even our harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam verse mentions age of Kali. It does not specifically mention our own benefits but mere association of the mantra with Kali makes it dependent on material conditions which, in turn, makes its purpose contaminated with self-benefits.
This is the thing – as long as we are here our motives are selfish no matter what we do. Our consciousness here is contaminated and this contamination does not exist in the spiritual world, only down here, and it’s impossible to shake off, so we always chant for our own pleasure, not Kṛṣṇa’s.
Our Gauḍīyā literature of course sets the course straight – devotional service must please Kṛṣṇa, not ourselves, and it should be free from all material desires by definition. There’s no shortage of verses explaining that from all possible angles, too. How to make Kṛṣṇa the beneficiary of our chanting, though? That is the question.
We chant japa everyday for up to two hours, how to make this pleasing to the Lord? I don’t know.
Lots of thoughts enter our minds while we chant. Some are about solving problems, some are about future hopes, some are about scrutinizing the past, some are about proving our own righteousness, some are about blaming others – none of them are about Kṛṣṇa. Thoughts about Kṛṣṇa simply do not occur in this world, that’s not how mind works here. At best we can have thoughts about advancing our mission and improving service to our guru but that is not without contamination either.
If we were sincere about carrying out orders of our spiritual master then the order concerning japa is simple – do not think of anything else. If we start devising ways to do this or that we are already breaking this order, everything else is just excuses. So what to do? I don’t know.
It seems very simple – chant for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure, let Him enjoy our kīrtana, but how to put this in practice? We assume that He likes hearing His name over and over again but put yourself in His shoes – it must be really annoying to hear someone constantly muttering your name, hoping to attract your attention to his problems. Actually, not someone – everyone! Our only hope is that Kṛṣṇa is truly Absolute and so has unlimited patience.
Similarly, the prescription is to always remember about Kṛṣṇa. I try to follow it and as I observe myself I notice that all my remembrances of His existence are about my own problems. Whenever I decide to mentally chant His name it’s always about my own interests.
It could be about headache, it could be about helping to wake up, it could be about helping me to fall asleep, it could be about avoiding dangerous situations on the road, it could be about taking my mind off everyday problems, it could be about praying for some good luck, it could be about seeking protection, it could be about influencing other people, it could be about sustaining my fundamental assumption that things WILL get better. None of it concerns Kṛṣṇa Himself, and this is the problem I don’t know how to solve.
Generally, it goes like this – something happens in the world and it makes me remember Kṛṣṇa. On one hand it’s perfectly okay but on the other hand it contaminates me with material interests, especially if things happen to me.
Kṛṣṇa has no connection with this world and no interests in its goings on whatsoever, He left the business of running it to His trusted agents, so any time His name comes up in our minds in connection to happenings here He has no interest in it. I bet for Him our constant “prayers” is like spam texts from hell. First thing I’d do is to find a way to unsubscribe.
So I chant the mantra, something comes over me and pollutes my consciousness, eventually I notice it and try to purge unwanted thoughts and concentrate simply on listening to the name but the contamination persist for a while. It affects my attitude and with the wrong attitude we won’t get anywhere even in this world, what to speak about satisfying the Lord.
What is the right attitude then? I don’t know, I don’t think it even exists. We know what it should be:
śīlanaḿ bhaktir uttamā
Free from material desires and favorable to Kṛṣṇa but in conditioned state we are never free from material desires and on close examination our “favorable to Kṛṣṇa” part is based on using Him for our own ends. The fact that He is not lacking in anything doesn’t help either – what can you do for a person who is fully satisfied in Himself? He’s got absolutely everything He could ever desire and He does not desire anything we see in this world.
That’s why bhakti is so rare. In its absence we really have nothing to go on but Lord Caitanya’s instructions in Śikṣaṣtaka (CC Antya 20.21):
tṛṇād api su-nīcena
taror iva sahiṣṇunā
kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ
Notice how there’s nothing about love, service, or bhakti here. It does not require any qualities to our attitude that are not available in the conditioned state, just patience and humility, and in the next several verses Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī explains how to cultivate this attitude on examples of trees – objects available in this world.
It’s still not easy to follow in everyday life. Our mental attitude depends on what happens to us, not on what happens to some hypothetical trees. We can’t just feel being below the grass when our minds come with completely different estimates of our position here. We can’t practice tolerance when nothing seems to affect us either. When problems come tolerating them is not straightforward, too – we naturally wish for problems to go away and for us to be free from suffering but that’s not what Lord Caitanya wanted and it’s not how we could attain devotional service.
There’s a big debate always going on about real meaning of humility, too. What it means to be humble according to the dictionary and according to Kṛṣṇa consciousness are two different things.
It seems we are truly trapped in this world with no escape. We know that chanting must help but we don’t know exactly how. We, as our bodies, are simply not designed to be liberated, nor are we designed for serving Kṛṣṇa. Attaining devotional service to Him is a hope against hope, and that’s why it’s called causeless mercy.
In the meantime, chanting is the only way, pure or not, there’s no other solution. We are totally in the hands of Kṛṣṇa here, let Him arrange everything in the best possible way.