Pilgrim’s Diary 8a. Hare Krishna

Previous article mentioned grasping the meaning of the Hare Krishna mantra and I didn’t feel I did the justice to this topic. There is so much more to say about it and I don’t want to continue with pilgrim’s journey without elucidating on those points first. Main reason is that I might not get around to it again, but also because the study of the diary won’t be complete without us making relevant observations or adjustments in our own practice. I don’t want it to be theoretical or even simply inspirational, I want it to be practical.

On the minus side – I should have typed this up at least a week ago when it was all still very fresh in my head. Instead two weeks passed from the last entry in this journal and I might forget this or that, never mind losing a clear structure I intended for this post. I had it, and then it dissolved because other things came into my consciousness. Still, I have to commit this material to paper at least for posterity, so, in no particular order…

I mentioned singing Hare Krishna with specific tunes being expressions of specific feelings rising during the conversation with the Holy Name. I don’t see how it could be done during japa and it’s a good argument for advantage of kirtan over japa, but let’s not forget that Hare Krishna mantra, unlike the Jesus Prayer, already is in a verse form. There are four lines with eight syllables per each. This is the same structure as the famous Anustubh, the meter of the first verse in Sanskrit ever, the one that came to Valmiki. There are many varieties of Anustubh but I can’t easily find the one that fits with Hare Krishna. By varieties I mean sequence of guru and laghu syllables, or short and long, as we say in English. Guru means heavy and laghu means light but in this context “long” and “short” are fine. In Hare Krishna mantra they alternate as follows, with long syllables in capitals:


haRE RAma haRE RAma
RAma RAma haRE haRe

or, if we replace long and short with “o” and “O”:

oO Oo oO Oo
Oo Oo oO oO

and this repeats for “Hare Rama” part. Try to repeat it without actual words and you WILL feel the pattern of call and response. Put this pattern back into you mantra, listen to it, hear it reverberate through your mind and body, make it “your own”. I put it quotation marks because, if we think about it, it’s not our own. It’s not a call and response between us and God but between two different aspects of Divinity – between Hara and Krishna, who changes His mode from Krishna to Rama in the process.

In this way we have two beings but the main one among them responds to the interaction by modifying itself creating a third word in the mantra, but more about this in a moment. Let’s look at the numbers first.

There are 32 syllables, and it’s the syllables that are the building blocks of words and meanings in Sanskrit. Syllables themselves are consonants modified by vowels so it doesn’t contradict the scientific understanding of individual sounds being the most basic unit of information, especially if we consider that consonants and vowels are two fundamental categories of sound and so it’s their combination that produces unique meanings, which are syllables, and we have 32 of those in total. 32=2⁵, of course, which means the entire mantra has 2 as its base elements with no “third wheels”. Let’s see how it goes.

First there are two parts – Hare Krishna and Hare Rama. Each part has two names – Hare and Krishna or Hare and Rama, each name has two syllables, but that’s where we get stuck because there are 6 unique syllables in the mantra – Ha, Re, Krish, na, Ra, and ma. But, as I said, Rama is just another name of Krishna and it gets born out of interaction with Hara so we still have two beings, each being’s name made of two syllables, and not just “two” but one short and one long.

It’s the interaction between short and long syllables that creates the rhythm of the mantra, but it’s not the end yet. The mantra has 16 names, repeated 108 times, and then 16 rounds of those. Here is an obvious idea – why not make meaningful use of this repetition? It has been tried before with individual mantras but matching 16 names to 16 rounds sounds very natural. What do I mean? I mean making stress on each individual name in turn. First round stressing Hare, second round stressing Krishna, third round stressing Hare – see in capitals below, with unchanged parts omitted for now:

HARE krishna hare krishna krishna krishna ….
hare KRISHNA hare krishna krishna hare hare ….
hare krishna HARE krishna krishna hare hare…
hare krishna hare KRISHNA krishna krishna …
hare krishna hare krishna KRISHNA krishna …

Just try to hear how putting stress on different names changes the sound of the mantra, how the mood of it changes. When you make one individual name stand out as the main pillar of the entire mantra you will see how all these mantras suddenly become different. Let’s see how to make more sense of it.

If we split the mantra into pairs then we have “Hare Krishna”, “Krishna Krishna”, “Hare Hare”, and so on. They are distinct combination and one explanation I heard is that “Hare Krishna” and “Hare Rama” indicate the union of Hara and Krishna (or Rama) while “Hare Hare”, “Krishna Krishna”, and “Rama Rama” indicate a call in separation. Thus you can notice that the entire mantra is a vibration of union and separation. Interestingly, first they are together, then Hara calls for Krishna, then Krishna calls for Hara, and then they get together again.

Usually we talk about crying out for Krishna when chanting but in this scheme it’s not us who feel separation, it’s the Divine Beings themselves, and we are here only to observe. Or to make them dance – dance with each other, not with us. WE are the third wheel in this relationship! We should facilitate it, not barge in with our own ideas. Manjari bhava, remember? We are here to make THEM happy, not to worry about ourselves. We’ll be alright, no need to worry about it. I mean we will get old, sick, and die, and no amount of chanting can ever change that.

Anyway, if we stress 16 successive names for each round of our japa we get perfect number of 16 rounds. It’s just meant to be this way. And if we want to increase our rounds it is done in multiples of 16, too.

There is another consideration here as well – let’s say we chant the same “hare krishna HARE krishna …” during one round. Are all these mantras the same? No. Each bead represents one of the 108 principal gopis, which means each one of these gopis has a unique mood. Some are reconciliatory, some challenging, some domineering, some submissive – there are a lot of these classifications in Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu and then in Ujjvala Nilamani. They ARE different personalities and we CAN inject their mood into each mantra, if we ever get to learn their names and peculiar characteristics.

In this way the mantra never becomes repetitive and expresses different moods with each bead and then with each round. There IS something to keep our minds busy, if we learn these distinctions.

Can we turn it into genuine music? Possibly – nothing stops us from changing the tonality of our voice as we chant, and rhythm is already there, as I said. What more do we need for a song? It might not follow our own hearts, with us being concerned with dinners and politics, but, as I said, it’s not our mantra to chant – it’s the dance between Radha and Krishna. We can follow it if we can, that’s all. It would obviously be ideal to learn to fully feel and appreciate it but we probably can’t do it right away, so let’s make baby steps first.

One thing we should remember – japa is not a mindless repetition. It appears so only until we learn its meaning. It’s not mindless even when we simply chant and hear how it sounds and explore the variety of meanings, moods, and emotions already contained within. It becomes mindless only when we want to think of something else but force ourselves to chant. Which is what we do most of time. There are other pitfalls to avoid, like investing ourselves too much when we haven’t learn to patiently hear yet. As I also said above – it’s a dance between Radha and Krishna and they don’t want our opinions and requests just yet. Leave them alone. Learn to appreciate what they are already doing first.

One comment on “Pilgrim’s Diary 8a. Hare Krishna

  1. Pingback: Pilgrim’s Diary 11b. Philokalia – Nikiphoros | back2krishna

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