When I first started this blog I thought I’d write mostly about japa and chanting, I hoped writing about it would make me concentrate on chanting more. That didn’t happen. Why? What is the reason we can’t just be happy chanting our rounds? Why do I feel the urge to write about inconsequential things like Panama Papers?
To be fair to myself, chanting for me didn’t become a secondary activity, it is still usually forms the center of my day, but somehow or other I write about other things instead and this creates a somewhat dual personality. During japa I try to purge various “Panama Papers” topics from my mind as much as possible and feel great satisfaction when they go away, but when I put down my beads and sit down these “Panama Papers” is all I can think to write about. It’s like feeding on the refuse. Why do we do it to ourselves?
All I can notice in our books now is how one should not imitate elevated devotees like Haridāsa Ṭhākura and how, instead of dedicating our life purely to chanting, we absolutely need positive physical engagement. I’m not sure “positive” is the right word here but that’s how it feels when we do something related to Kṛṣṇa as opposite to mundane stuff like sleeping or working.
It’s as if we are not meant for chanting at all and we were specifically born to do “great things” instead. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself said as much when he talked about East meets West combination that made ISKCON so successful. We, the westerners, bring the muscle only and it’s all we will ever be good for. We do chant, of course, but only the bare minimum we managed to extort from Śrīla Prabhupāda who simply wouldn’t go below sixteen rounds per day. If he did we’d settle on four, maybe, just as they do with bābājīs in Vṛndāvana.
Let’s say we did set our mind on chanting as our sole devotional activity. This has been done before so the possibility is there. First thing we’d realize is that we need to give up our jobs and families and that we can’t stay in the West unless strictly in a temple without ever venturing out. This is a clear indication that our current bodies and our current conditioning is incompatible with this nirjana-bhajana. We need to place ourselves in a completely foreign situation which probably doesn’t exist anymore even in India, though temples would still be the safest bet – if we can deposit enough funds for our upkeep because temple management is usually not charitable to those who don’t do positive physical service.
This reminds me – Śrīla Prabhupāda was actually invited to stay at Rādhā-Dāmodara temple in Vṛndāvana, free of charge, he didn’t come, ask, and pay for it. This means that when it’s necessary Kṛṣṇa can make necessary arrangements and inspire others to cooperate with our service, though the word “can” here implies the possibility of changing His pre-existing plan for us because of our whims. It’s not a devotional attitude and we should drop it. Kṛṣṇa is not our servant to make special arrangements for us, He already has all the arrangements for those souls who follow His plan, we just have to take advantage of them and be thankful.
Our common translation of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra also indicates that we chant now to get physical service in the future: “Oh Lord, Oh energy of the Lord, please engage me in the loving service of Kṛṣṇa.” Straightforward reading is that we beg to place us in a position where we get to manipulate material energy for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure – build temples, distribute books, make new devotees, expand our mission and so on. We rarely translate Hare Kṛṣṇa to mean “please let me chant more and more and let chanting be my only reward”.
To be honest, that’s what I do when I don’t know what to write about in this blog. I just chant and hope that necessary thoughts would come into my head on their own. It’s the same karmic mentality of chanting for gains rather than chanting for the sake of chanting.
As I said, maybe we are not meant for japa at all, it’s not what Kṛṣṇa placed us in our bodies for and so we should concentrate on what is available rather than on what is perfect. Arjuna didn’t chant sixteen rounds, let alone day and night, and He pleased Kṛṣṇa by his physical service far better than any of us can ever hope. There are plenty of instructions in Bhagavad Gītā to follow our nature instead of artificially trying to be holier than we are.
One solution to this could be prioritization – chanting is the best and the most important service, as we know, and everything else should be subservient to it. Everything else illusory, it runs under the directions of the Lord, we shouldn’t be attached to the results, and so it shouldn’t require as much attention from us as chanting. All these other duties will eventually pass, we’ll get old and useless, the material nature would let go, and then we could actually dedicate our lives to pure chanting.
I don’t know the verse but Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja said that execution of our “material” duties require dedication, focus, and attention to detail. In other words, we should put all our hearts into it. At the same time it should also be done with detachment, which means “no attachment to results”, not “no attachment to the activity”.
When I sat down to type this post I was going to prove chanting as the essence of our lives but in the end it’s actually whatever service that is given that should take all our attention and it is our current engagement that should become the sole focus of our consciousness. Of course service to Kṛṣṇa is the essence of our lives but since we can’t see Him directly we have to choose between materially manifested activities, which include chanting, too.
This kind of focus is easier to achieve under the direction of the guru when he specifically tells you what you need to do and for the time being you can forfeit everything else you have ever heard but that kind of baby sitting cannot last forever and we need to manage on our own. All our duties ultimately come from guru and Kṛṣṇa anyway, or at least they are sanctioned by them – like when we go to work or look after our families. It’s this connection that we should see and honor and, perhaps, it’s this connection that can be called true “essence of life” on the material platform.