Chant And Be Happy

What is the meaning of “Chant and be happy?” One answer, the first possible meaning that comes before unpacking it further, is that it means “chant and be grateful”.

Gratefulness, after all, is one of the fundamental symptoms of any kind of self-realization including, of course, the entrance of God into our lives in the form of the Holy Name. We become grateful to God, grateful to our fate that brought us here, grateful to the world and to everyone in it for facilitating our progress, grateful to the Moon and to the stars, grateful even to our so called enemies and to our misfortunes. Everybody contributed and so we are grateful for that.

I said “become grateful” but we should know the difference between being grateful and becoming grateful. “Becoming” is artificial. It implies that you are not actually grateful but by telling yourself what to think and how to behave you whip yourself up into the proper shape. There is nothing seriously wrong with that, I suppose, but we are told to “be happy”, not to “become happy”.

So the meaning is not “chant and become grateful” – just hear how it sounds! The meaning is not “chant and become hopeful” and it’s not “chant and be hopeful either”. No. The Holy Name has been given to us already and if it really took hold then gratefulness should appear naturally, without any extraneous efforts and sophisticated reasoning.

“Okay, grateful, got it. But where is happiness?” – “It’s there in that place where you are grateful.” If your gratefulness doesn’t overflow from your heart then happiness won’t do it either. Nor does it really have to – we should not expect these good feelings to manifest *in* the material body, which includes the mind and emotions, too. That would be materialistic and even if it happens this happiness is bound to end rather soon.

Why “materialistic”? Because we tie our happiness to changes in the state of matter – if it’s organized this way we are happy and if it’s organized in a different way we become unhappy instead. “The mind should be like this, the emotions should be like that, they should flow in this way and expand or contract, and it should affect our physical body, too – hair should stand on end, tears should flow from the eyes etc.” In this way we define our happiness in terms of configuration of material elements, and yet talk about spiritual happiness at the same time.

We can discuss the meaning of “matter” and argue that if we see these material elements in connection with Krishna then they are no longer material but that is only half the solution. There does exist purely spiritual energy, too! It’s not that the entire spiritual world is confined to the correct vision of the material energy and there is nothing more to it. Even if we accept that material energy can give perfectly spiritual experiences there is still limitation of time attached to it – whatever configuration we classify as “happy” will not last long.

I would rather discuss purely spiritual happiness here – we ARE spirit souls, we have our own spiritual nature, and we do not have to make ourselves dependent on whatever happens with our material bodies. This means that there is a space inside of our consciousness where we feel grateful (and so spiritually happy) but we do not always dwell there. Our consciousness constantly goes out into the world and interacts with it and these interactions constitute the bulk of our experiences.

My point is that about half of these experiences are negative and it would take time for us to detach ourselves from these negatives and see them as contributing to our spiritual progress. It won’t happen instantly – there have to be stages and they have to be passed. Stages like “I feel something” followed by “this feeling is unpleasant” followed by “it steals my attention and makes me disturbed” followed by “it has gone away” or “I learned to live with it” followed by “I understand why it happened” followed by “it was a good lesson and I’m grateful for it”.

In this way externally produced experiences have to become “digested” before we come to the point of gratefulness and detached appreciation. You can’t be instantly grateful for slamming your toes into bed leg as you stumble in the night after yet another trip to the bathroom – first you have to say a few choice words about it and people who designed your bed this way, then the pain should subside, which is a very important step, too – pure consciousness is consciousness unaffected by pain, which is the first “klesa” that has to go, if I remember my yoga sutras correctly. People in pain cannot be yogis.

So again, my point is that experiences that come to us through the course of our lives need to become detached from and digested before gratefulness comes and, with time, we should understand that it’s how the world works and learn to observe, with detachment, this movement of “food” through our system. From senses to the mind to intelligence. It’s the intelligence that allows for detached discernment, and then we can welcome it into the inner chamber of our consciousness where we are always grateful. We are not always in that peaceful place but the place itself is always there.

Placing these experiences, purified through knowledge and appreciation, beautifies (“su-“) the inner space (“kham”) of our hearts and this gives us the word for happiness – “sukham”. This is another proof that actual happiness should be felt inside of one’s heart and not on the tip of one’s sense organs. It’s when the heart becomes filled with light from inside and grows to embrace the whole world that one becomes truly happy – by material standards. Otherwise our inner heart is a part of a larger spiritual world and there are more definitions of happiness in relation to that world, but for our shared life here this will do – happiness is the “beauty of the heart”. Conversely, duhkha is the pollution of the heart.

Now back to chanting – the gift of the Holy Name immediately takes its place inside our hearts, maybe a very small place at first, but it’s already there and therefore Srila Prabhupada was perfectly justified to say “chant and be happy”. Our apparent inability to be happy is related to us placing the focus of our consciousness outside of that happy place and seeking reform of the outside world instead. Sometimes the world changes in our expected direction but at other times it doesn’t, and this creates doubts that we are not actually happy anymore – yeah, sure, outside of that sacred space inside your heart happiness is always transitory so don’t fret about it but rather seek that inside space and learn to live within it. It is always there, it will never go away no matter what you do, and this also where your real identity is waiting to be discovered (or built up – depending on your stance on inherent bhakti).

In the meantime we can take our external experiences, digest them, and bring them inside of our hearts where we can add them to our collection of things to be grateful for and where they start to shine as little golden bricks in the building of our love and devotion.