Vanity thought #1681. Essence of life

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.

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Vanity thought #1538. Evernow

Saw this word on TV, it’s about some video game and I don’t think it means anything special there. For us, however, “evernow” is an interesting concept.

I don’t know much about Buddhism but I like their understanding of reality as illusion. It might not be a correct representation of Buddhism but that doesn’t matter, it works equally well across all platforms. The future is not real because it hasn’t happened yet, the past is not real because it’s already gone, the only reality is the present moment but even our present is made of connections to either the past or the future. We need to strip the present of these connections to appreciate its true value and see it for what it is.

Things we see around us are results of previous activities, they were made some time ago, given color and shape, and they constantly change, even if changes are imperceptible. Whatever we observe is, therefore, not the reality as it is but reality as it was and that reality doesn’t exist anymore. This means that relying on our senses to interact with “reality” is a delusion and nothing exists objectively.

Making plans is illusory, too, because plans are driven by desire to enjoy things that don’t exist yet. We think we can shape the reality in a way that pleases us but that pleasure doesn’t exist yet. It might come out satisfactory or it might be disappointing. Chasing it is not the reality.

The only reality, as I said, is now, our current state stripped of references to the past and projections into the future. I’m sure there’s a lot more to Buddhism explanations of this than that but it’s enough of a starting point for me.

There could be a big discussion whether what we feel now is real or illusory. Buddhists and advaitins would say that feelings are not real, we would say that feelings and their corresponding senses exist but they are not ours, and, furthermore, we also have our own eternal spiritual senses which are waiting to be engaged and experienced in service to Kṛṣṇa. The point where we could agree on is the importance of now.

When under the influence of the mode of passion we direct our consciousness into the future and make plans. Future doesn’t exist yet and when it comes it will happen according to the plans of the Lord, not ours, so hoping to extract pleasure from it is like a lottery. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but we get enough small victories to get hooked up and keep buying tickets. We think that we can become richer that way, that our lives will become fulfilled and that we’ll have enough memories to die in knowing we didn’t live in vain.

It might work – if we ignore the elephant in the room, the death itself, which is like the moment when you get thrown out of the casino. Yes, you might have good times there before that happens and even win something but in the end you always run out of credit and lose. “I’m going to gamble away all my money but I’ll have fun while doing it” is not a particularly clever life plan.

So, making our own plans for something that is going to happen according to somebody else’s will is gambling and it will end the same, in a big loss. That’s for placing our faith in the future.

Dwelling in the past is more of a mode of ignorance thing. It doesn’t lead even to creating future karma and earning future brownies. People in this state only try to relive their past moments again and again. As time passes by their memories fade and then they’d have good memories of the time when their memories were good. “I remember thinking about my wife made me feel warm but now I don’t even remember her name” – that type of thing. These days conversations like this are more likely revolve around “remember that time we got high and …”

People try to replay those old feelings and experiences even though they can’t actually feel them anymore and they can’t get off their asses to do anything about it. That’s dwelling in the past and it’s a very subpar way of enjoying your life even by materialistic standards.

Now is governed by the mode of goodness. One sign of it is knowledge – only people in full knowledge can let go off the past and stop worrying about the future. Why make plans when Kṛṣṇa has already made them? His plans are perfect and they have been put into practice an infinite number of times in the infinite number of universes. Trying to improve on them, which is what materialistic planners are doing, is futile. Even trying to predict them is pointless because things will happen anyway and in their own time and we can’t stop them from happening, nor can we protect ourselves.

That’s what trusting Kṛṣṇa means – we can finally stop planning our own lives and surrender to His superior will. It doesn’t mean that our minds stop working. Universe will keep on rolling and our minds will roll with it. Heart will continue pumping blood, lungs will continue inhaling and exhaling, hair and nails will continue growing. People in full knowledge don’t worry about that.

Kṛṣṇa also has His own cunning way to place us under the illusion any time He wants so that we continue acting out His plans. That won’t be the same kind of illusion that covers ordinary living entities, though, it won’t be controlled by cold karma but administered by Kṛṣṇa Himself, and sometimes He’d do it for His personal enjoyment, too, like He does with devotees in Vṛndāvana. I mean we shouldn’t worry that if we surrender to Kṛṣṇa our lives will suddenly stop. They won’t.

What should happen when we disassociate ourselves from both the past and the future, though? Will we cease to exist, in the Buddhist sense of the word? Maybe, I’ll tell you if it ever happens to me, but for now the best engagement I can think of is chanting the Holy Name.

Most of the time we chant while still thinking of either past or the future, mulling over things we said and done, dreaming up alternative scenarios, role playing future conversations to get ourselves ready, or feverishly exploring new ideas and inventions. All these things distract us from listening and add colors of passion and ignorance to the pristine form of the pure name. We’ll never hear the name as it is as long as we divert our consciousness away like that.

So, we should stop doing it, let it go, drop the plans, stop thinking about revenge and injustice, and simply concentrate on the name. Let the name speak to us instead of us shouting at it with angst or begging it to fulfill our desires. These desires aren’t even ours, they are born out of the false ego and directed by the material modes.

One could say that as eternal souls we can’t stop our desires but our real, spiritual desires will not manifest without the Lord revealing Himself first. We can’t have them without connection to the Lord, without the Lord being present, either personally or in the name, so we must learn to hear the name first and wait until it reveals itself. All desires manifesting before that happened are material and worthless, we should led them go.

Then we can discover the bliss of living in the eternal “evernow”.

Vanity thought #1391. Insanity

According to Einstein, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I tend to value his insights and I reminded other people about this observation multiple times but when it comes to myself the rules are always meant to be bent, aren’t they?

It was only a week ago that I tried chanting three lakhs of names and the lesson I learned from the experience is that for me it’s still premature. Then yesterday I heard that I might have another couple of days to myself next month and the first thought that came into my mind was “I should try again, I really want to try again”. Isn’t it insane?

This wasn’t the first time I attempted to chant three lakhs, I think I tried a few time before and succeeded twice, but there’s only one memory that is etched into my mind, from the very first time I completed the task. It was about 11 PM and I had only six or seven rounds left. I was tired like a dog, I was sleepy, my hand ached, the tip of my middle finger was cracked and almost bleeding, and yet I still had determination to finish. That’s when I sensed a kind of epiphany, it was as if Kṛṣṇa finally conceded that I deserve His attention and His recognition of my effort. It wasn’t just a second wind for me, it was sudden realization that my chanting mattered and I was “welcomed to the club”, so to speak.

Now the actual membership is obviously deferred until I sufficiently purify my consciousness but from that moment on I knew that my place was booked, reserved, waiting for me to reclaim it.

Maybe it’s this one memory is all that drives me to try again and again, I want to relive that glorious moment, even if it didn’t feel like anything special externally. There was no tears, hairs standing on end, nothing of that kind, just an internal understanding that Kṛṣṇa was somehow pleased. And not even Kṛṣṇa personally, but the Holy Name or maybe the Supersoul – something or someone I have a regular relations with in lieu of relations with Kṛṣṇa Himself, my personal understanding of who or what the Absolute Truth is. It didn’t reveal itself, just let me know that my chanting had been heard, and I can’t forget it.

Several times after that I got a subtle message that “now it’s not the time”, and to augment it I was given some other engagements I had to accept. This last weekend was the first time the universe went along with my plan and that’s why I hoped it would work, but it didn’t. It’s still not the time, so why do I want to repeat it next month?

Well, I don’t actually want to repeat it, I want to learn from mistakes and do it differently, but I haven’t decided yet what exactly I want to change. Maybe I should set a lower limit, maybe set no limit at all, maybe set only the number of hours dedicated to chanting, maybe decide to chant whole day and simply record the number at the end. Maybe chant only as long as I feel like it, maybe find some other way to avoid the pressure. I still have time to find the best formula, and I think I will need it.

Last Saturday might have been the worst day in my recent memory, quality wise, but the week after that was easily the best week I remember. My mind was unusually cooperative and attentive and my consciousness was always in the right place. Now the effect is slowly wearing off and I might need another boost, another marathon.

Next time I try, should I chant slower, without a rash, and try to appreciate every Name coming out of my mouth? Or should I set a goal and try to hack my way through exhaustion and sleepiness and don’t stop until I’m done? I think this second approach is the one that worked for me last Saturday and that time when I actually finished my rounds. Should I change this winning formula and focus on quality rather than on the valiance of the effort?

It’s hard to say what’s better. Effort means sacrifice, sacrifice means reward, reward means mercy and recognition by Kṛṣṇa. Attentive, quality chanting might please Him right away, under normal circumstances it always feels better and it should be our goal anyway. Chanting is not just means to an end, a price to pay in exchange for some spiritual goodies, pure chanting is the goal in itself just as bhakti is the reward in itself. Whatever it leads to is not as valuable as the process.

The counterargument could be that my chanting is not pure yet and so for me it’s the effort that could possibly count, Kṛṣṇa is not going to listen to my chanting itself.

There’s also something to be said about other forms of purification. On Saturday I haven’t taken any prasādam, for example, and so only one function of my tongue was engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service. My intelligence was also dying for learning things, processing information, figuring stuff out etc. I didn’t give it a chance to purify itself through philosophical speculation or whatever way works for purifying intelligence.

And what is it with my using “I”, “my” and “mine” in every sentence today? Should I address this self-centeredness first? Is it possible for us to turn ourselves around and talk about these important things without filtering them through personal perspective? Is it possible to talk about them from Kṛṣṇa’s POV? I still don’t know how and this means I’m still not ready for pure chanting.

Or is pure chanting something that simply needs to be done, not talked about? Am I overthinking things? Should we just chant without seeking external validation from our intelligence? Should we give up our attachments to hows and whys and what fors and just chant. Chant, don’t talk.

Or is it completely natural to be nervous about it, like a boy before his first date, but this nervousness would go away by itself once our date with the Holy Name starts rolling?

What I really want to achieve is just being with the Holy Name. Being with the sound, being with the concept, live my life in its shadow, hang out together. Maybe then I’ll get a chance to interact with it, pray, hear feedback, or simply know that the Name likes my company, too. Maybe He will teach me faster, maybe He will purify my consciousness faster, maybe He’ll teach me how to surrender.

In any case, the Holy Name is not the worst company to keep.

Vanity thought #1388. Limits of the Name

There aren’t any, right? The Name is identical with Kṛṣṇa, what possible limits could be there? And yet my Saturday marathon experience tells me otherwise. How so?

I wanted to chant a gazillion number of rounds on Saturday and I thought the Holy Name would help me to get through but it didn’t. I don’t mean I blame the Name for not finishing the gazillion (though that kind of help would have been nice), I mean that I didn’t feel the Name cooperated with me at all.

It’s not the number of completed rounds that I was really after, I just wanted to spend the entire day with the Name, in Name’s company. Just sit and listen and be together. It usually works, but not this time. Of course there are days when my mind is too disturbed to listen and my heart isn’t in the right place but these distractions are usually temporary, like clouds in the sky. I would have accepted having one, two, maybe three bad hours, but this time it even felt differently, it was as if my mind was disturbed on purpose and not by myself.

I tried very hard to shut it off and find my place but it was impossible. Even when I ignored what was going on there and listened only to the sound it didn’t go away. I would even say that my heart was in the right place, I knew what I wanted and I tried very hard not to give in to mind’s temptations, but some other forces were at play, too. Did they limit the Name? I think so.

Actually, I think it’s not some external powers interference but the limits of the Name Itself. It just couldn’t do what I wanted it to do or what I expected it to do.

Btw, I decided to use a neuter pronoun “it” for the Holy Name because that’s how I naturally see it. If the day comes when Name’s personal form is revealed to me the I will address it accordingly. It would be weird for me to talk about the Name as “He” at this point, it might be technically correct but it doesn’t feel right and it doesn’t reflect the reality as I see it, and I’m talking about MY experiences here, so I’m just being honest.

So I was wondering why the Name appeared so cold and distant and not comforting at all. Usually It reciprocates with however we want to relate to It – in practice it’s really up to us how to feel about the Name – that’s how reliable Its reciprocation is. This time it didn’t work.

And then it hit me – the Name is fully contingent, fully dependent of the guru’s mercy. It’s the guru who limits Its power. The guru is the boss and the Name has to comply. As far as we are concerned, the Name has no separate existence.

Of course it does exist – I heard It, It was there, but It won’t reveal itself without guru’s permission, which is as good as being non-existent because it’s the relationship with the Name that matters, not Its existence per se.

Basically, what I’m saying is that if the guru tells you to dig you can’t chant your way out of digging. You have to do what guru says, there’s no alternative.

In my case the required minimum number of rounds per day is sixteen. We can certainly chant more than that but we have to follow guru’s other orders, too, we can’t neglect them. Of course we don’t have specific todo lists posted for us each morning and all other tasks are general, not daily requirements, but still.

I mean guru tells us to read books – in general, though sometimes some disciples get an order to read minimum two hours every day. I don’t think it applies to me, though. Or maybe it does, I’ll get to that later. Guru tells us to preach or to distribute books but it’s also a general advice, it doesn’t mean that if we have other engagements on one particular day the it means we fail to follow. I guess if one has a deity to worship then he can’t skip on that service but I don’t have a deity, no deity in His right mind would ever entrust Himself into my service, that’s just how it is.

So, if all these orders are general and it wouldn’t be an offense to skip on them on one occasion in favor of something else, particularly chanting, why didn’t it work? Well, for one thing, reading everyday IS a standing order, I might not remember a specific occasion it was given but I know it’s expected. However, there are days when I don’t read and nothing happens, so that must not be it.

I believe the offense was of a different kind – we have a standing order not to imitate Haridāsa Ṭhākura and I tried to. I didn’t mean to, I just wanted to chant whole day – what’s wrong with that? The assumption that it is possible for me to do so in a proper service attitude, I guess.

All the other things I do everyday might not be as spiritually pure as chanting but when they are assigned to me by my karma and under Kṛṣṇa’s supervision it means they are meant to be done as service. There’s a whole Bhagavad Gīta to explain how everything must be done as a service to the Lord, no need to go into specifics.

What I did instead is ignore these naturally coming, and actually pre-arranged opportunities and decided to do my thing in my own way instead. AFAIK, neither Śrīla Prabhupāda nor my guru, nor any spiritual master in ISKCON wanted their disciples to chant non-stop, they’d rather have us working on purifying our material desires first, and I neglected this duty. Well, I didn’t have any particular material desires on that day, nothing that required immediate attention, but the point still stands – it is our duty to utilize material facilities provided by our bodies according to our nature to purify our consciousness. Attending to bodily needs does not have to be the source of bondage but we should turn it into a source of liberation.

Another argument could be made that since everything that happens to us happens with permission of the Lord, then how could my attempt to chant was any different? Wasn’t it arranged by the Lord for my purification, too? And if it did, how could it be seen as a transgression?

The answer is this very post – if I didn’t screw up my Saturday marathon I wouldn’t have realized the power of the guru and that the Name cannot be expected to act independently of him.

Of course Kṛṣṇa can do whatever He wants but in our relationship with Him He acts through our guru and only through our guru, and we wouldn’t want it any other way, considering that our goal is to be a servant of the servant of the servant. If Kṛṣṇa reached us directly, over and around our guru’s head, it wouldn’t be the relationship we want to have with Him or meant to have with Him, so He doesn’t.

Just think of all those manjaris in Vṛndāvana, if they had a bit of spare time, would they want to go and have a look at Kṛṣṇa on their own or would they have considered it as a betrayal of their commitment to facilitate relationships between Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā? They don’t want Kṛṣṇa for themselves, they want Him for Rādha. This is true not only for manjaris, too, very few people get to relate to Kṛṣṇa directly and on their own there, everyone else does so in the context of being subordinate to other devotees.

One more thing to clarify – by guru I don’t mean only the physical initiating spiritual master but the guru principle in all its aspects.

Vanity thought #1387. Dream turned into a nightmare

This has nothing to do with dreams we watch when we sleep, it’s my dream desire that got fulfilled and left me confounded and exhausted. I still can’t make sense out of it and speak about the experience with any clarity or certainty, so all interpretations are still on the table.

Last week I found out that I had Friday and Saturday all to myself and I thought it would be a good idea to dedicate these two days to chanting, especially Saturday. I haven’t done this in a long time, a few previous opportunities were lost to various circumstances, so I wasn’t sure it would finally happen, I was waiting and watching for any disturbance in the force, so to speak, but nothing happened and so Friday came.

I thought I’d prepare myself gradually and chant sixty four rounds first. My biggest worry was that my wrist would get tired of holding the beads and the skin on the tip of my middle finger might get bruised from counting the beads and rolling them between fingers as I chant, so I thought sixty four would be a good start.

I still had a few engagements on Fridays so I had to chant when I had free time, of which I had plenty. I finished the first sixteen in the morning as usual but the rest had to wait until the afternoon, minus some six rounds I squeezed at lunchtime. When I was finally free I took up the japa bag and did the other forty two rounds straight without a break.

It was tough but doable, I quite enjoyed the experience, it was just me and the Holy Name and my mind was cooperative. My wrist sore a little but I sensed no physical obstacles to the big Saturday whatsoever. Just one more day alone with the mantra, I thought. I was waiting for this a long time and it all looked good.

Then Saturday came and I started briskly. I was surprised at the slight increase in my speed and I took it as a sign that someone has done the calculations and decided that I had to chant faster to complete my task – I wanted to do the full three lakhs, or a hundred ninety two rounds, or three sets of sixty four, or twelve sets of sixteen.

At my normal speed it would have taken me just over nineteen hours, leaving less than five for toilets breaks, showers, and sleep. With the increased speed it would have shortened the time to eighteen with six hours for rest – a very manageable number. Give an hour for toilet breaks and showers and there would be five hours left to sleep. Less than I need but I didn’t mind sleeping late on Sunday morning.

The first sixteen rounds were counted as the required duty and they went fine, no worse than usual. Chanting was brisk, either my subconscious or the Supersoul were obviously pushing me, and everything seemed to be in order.

Then came trouble.

I don’t know what happened but my mind went completely berserk, I could hardly remember what I was doing, that I was chanting in the company of the Holy Name. The sick bastard seemingly went through every memory I have ever had, not missing anything, and I completely lost my composure. Externally I was fully on track but my consciousness just wouldn’t concentrate on chanting.

I thought that getting through this mind-storm was necessary and eventually it would quieten down but peace seemed to be elusive. The day was long, of course, a few hours of confusion wouldn’t matter if I finally found my place at the feet of the Holy Name, but it dragged on and on and on. And then I got tired.

I certainly couldn’t walk whole day like but sitting made me sleepy. I had this intolerable phantasmagoria in my head and at the same time I think I actually dozed off for a moment or two, still chanting and counting at the same speed but external consciousness being switched of. It was a state of torture while being caught in between being asleep and being awake.

So, at the end of the first sixty four rounds I decided to take a nap. It went well, I slept for maybe half an hour, woke up by myself, and continued chanting. Time wise I was still on schedule, everything was fine, except it wasn’t. Peace was still elusive, escapades of my mind stressed me out and I was thinking about finding a way to ignore it and listen to the Holy Name despite the cacophony of thoughts and memories in my head. I wasn’t very successful, but it’s certainly an idea to be explored further.

Towards the end of the second set of sixty four I was very tired again. I tried to perk myself up, walk up and down to get the blood going, but nothing worked. At least the mind got tired – if I was tired of listening to it imagine how exhausting it must have been inventing all those things. Aww, poor little thing, all this trouble for nothing, as I simply kept chanting and chanting.

Eventually I realized that I needed a second nap or I couldn’t go on. I took it, maybe for fifteen-twenty minutes, chanted some more, and got tired again. I knew I was going to be tired and I thought I had enough energy to continue overall, but I underestimated my strength. About an hour later I had to take another nap, with japa beads still in my hand, safely placed on a clean surface, I made myself comfortable, closed by eyes, and let it go.

It felt so good and when I remembered myself again I thought I needed some more sleep, it was so sweet and so I caved in. When I finally woke up three hours were gone. I kept chanting and doing math in my head – “how many rounds left, how many hours, am I still on track?” Then I realized that I could possibly finish three lakhs in twenty four hours but it would mean my next day would be totally screwed as I would have to sleep at least until lunch. I wasn’t even feeling fully refreshed and so wasn’t sure another nap would not be necessary.

That’s when I realized I had to give up. I chanted a couple more rounds but once determination was gone and decision had been made I saw no point. I went to bed and slept for seven hours straight. The end.

I didn’t complete the three lakhs but still did a “respectable” hundred and forty rounds, almost three quarters of the goal, but, most importantly, whole day long I didn’t do anything but chant, all my waking time was dedicated to chanting, minus toilet and showers. I didn’t eat anything, only drank water, and this might have compounded my problems, but by now my body is trained to live without food, it knows where all the nutrients are stored and I didn’t feel any hunger at all. Perhaps an injection of calories would have given me needed boosts of energy but I was defeated by sleep, not by hunger.

Should have thought of that – big chanting marathon like this requires a fully rested body but my wasn’t. I collected a lot of sleep debt over the week and it so happened that I had to pay it on this day. Next time I should account for that, too.

There’s a bigger problem, though – the mind. Something happened to it and something happened to me, it was like chanting beyond sixteen rounds was unwelcome. Higher powers, fate and the Supersoul, did not object extra chanting like they did before but they did not cooperate either. All throughout the day I felt a disconnect, I wasn’t myself.

Maybe it was stress of having to complete the self-imposed vrata that did me in. If I chanted because I wanted to it would have been okay but I chanted to prove something to myself. Maybe it’s all the planning and calculating and worrying that did me in. I chanted sixty four rounds the previous day without any worries at all, I knew I had time, I didn’t have to hurry, it was perfect.

The best explanation I have, however, is that I should simply go with the flow and make the best of what Kṛṣṇa and my karma have arranged for me already. By their grace I have enough time to read and listen and otherwise engage myself in service, trying to improve on that is foolish. I have plenty of material desires that cannot be addressed by chanting alone yet, they need other outlets, and I shouldn’t deny them when Kṛṣṇa arranges for their fulfillment.

This realization makes me feel that every moment of our lives is truly special in that it has been arranged by the Lord to bring us closer to Him. As I said, it’s foolish to try and improve on that, we should instead learn to see Kṛṣṇa’s hand behind everything that happens even when things do not comply with strict requirements of sādhana.

I must say that chanting since that Saturday has been very sweet and illuminating, nothing to complain about whatsoever, and all other daily engagements in service were sweet, too. I see things with new eyes and with newly found respect, and I like it. Lesson has apparently been learned.

By back2krishna Posted in Japa Tagged

Vanity thought #1255. Thought process explained

Somehow my mind lost its focus and keeps forgetting things when I write these articles. It’s a curious situation, actually. I know what I’m going to type but no matter what I do, I always forget half of it. Sometimes the reason is that I just don’t fully prepare myself mentally, don’t visualize every turn of the argument before hand, so when time comes to sit down and type I follow a different path from what was intended before.

You’d think that the solution would be to think the post through and memorize the key points but that doesn’t work either because when time comes to sit down the mind does not follow previously covered tracks, it tends to think new thoughts instead. As much as I want to stick to the program it follows “inspiration” and things get forgotten.

Inspiration is an important consideration in itself. “Writers block” is a real thing and I don’t want it to happen to me. Real writers have the luxury to wait for their inspiration to come but I took a vow to post something everyday and I don’t feel satisfied until the article reaches a thousand words. I can’t wait for the inspiration, I can’t depend on it, I have to produce it myself. How?

I used to think about it while chanting but I stopped a while ago. I used to pray for it but then I decided that it’s not worth diverting my attention to during chanting. That took almost two hours of preparation from my day and so sometimes I just don’t have the time to think these articles through. I just pray that when I sit down Kṛṣṇa would not forget me and accept my efforts as a service.

With an attitude like that I have to respect the flow of my mind. Well, it’s actually mind under the direction of intelligence under the direction of the modes of nature under the direction of the Lord. And, despite of what my mind tells me, I’m not the one writing these things. I’m here just to observe. Mind sees something interesting, takes a note of it, contemplates the topic, gets suggestions, remembers things, looks for confirmation, and finally presents it as an idea for an article.

Personally, I try to learn to distance myself from it. It would happen with or without my participation, the material world is not going to stop just because I decided to lose interest in it. Well, it will eventually stop for me but not for everybody else.

Usually, when a devotee writes something about Kṛṣṇa we treat it as devotional service coming from his heart, authorized and supervised by Kṛṣṇa. A devotee has to make an effort to please the Lord and we can judge the result by the purity of this effort, and also by the quality of the presentation. No one likes to read half-arsed messages that do not elicit any interest or inspiration.

I”m trying to distance myself from such thinking. I’m not this body and I’m not a doer of anything. By the arrangement of the material nature this body sometimes does something related to the Lord and that’s what I should be grateful for. Sometimes these efforts look relatively more accomplished, sometimes they look sloppy, sometimes they look pure, sometimes they look contaminated with envy, ego, or desire for sense gratification. I really have no control over it, my body lives in certain conditions and it reacts to them.

We will not obtain devotion by building up our temporary intelligence and “understanding” things. We cannot go on on chanting only either, we need our heads in the game, too, at least for the time being. We need classes, we need books, we need devotees exchanging opinions, we need to argue in favor of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and against atheism, we need tips on overcoming our anarthas. All those things are necessary but only from the bodily consciousness point of view. As long as we are here the body will be doing something but that alone will not lead to devotion.

Bhakti is not the result of activities on the material platform so our interest in what happens here must be limited. We also need to learn to focus only on Kṛṣṇa related things and look past everything else. I can’t stress this enough – look past everything else that bodies do and focus only on their engagements in Kṛṣṇa related activities.

Sometimes there’s not a lot to get focused on, our appetites for sensory inputs might be bigger than what little Kṛṣṇa consciousness is available, and so we might get involved with something else, less directly related to the Lord. That’s natural, too, but then we should build patience and realize that simple remembrance of the Lord is more important than having mind and intelligence fully engaged in any other topic. Mind and intelligence are moved by the modes of nature, sometimes these winds don’t blow in the desired direction, but should’t it be an opportunity to disengage ourselves from the material world altogether? Let it do whatever it does and let not become judges of that. There’s still Kṛṣṇa to be remembered.

Judging things is what keeps us here. We need to have a look and form an opinion. We need to feel the satisfaction of figuring out something. We need to feel comfort of being properly adjusted in our position. We need safety of knowing our situation in time and place. We need to have a grasp on things. We need presence of our minds, and not only that, we need clarity. All that is on top of lower sensory engagements.

Well, we don’t need any of that. That’s what false ego wants – to be a fully integrated and fully adjusted part of the material nature. It’s not in our real interest at all.

To step back a bit – all these arguments started with two episodes I experienced while chanting. First was when I was doing japa in total darkness and very comfortably seated on a sofa. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t hear anything, the whole world just disappeared and there was only the sound of the Holy Name. After a while I stopped trying to produce this sound and just listened to it. I couldn’t really locate its source then – I didn’t hear it coming out of my mouth, I didn’t hear it entering my ears, the sound vibrations turned into the Kṛṣṇa’s names somewhere in my brain, which is impossible to locate. That’s when I started hearing “myself” as an outsider. The effect was similar to listening to recordings of one’s voice for the first time – our voice always sounds different from what we imagine when we speak.

So that was the point when I started to realize that my body does its chanting on its own, I’m here just to listen. It chants by the mercy of guru, Kṛṣṇa, and devotees, and it’s the material nature that makes my lips move accordingly. I can only express interest in the process, that’s all.

Second episode was when I just woke up and immediately took my japa bag. I wasn’t fully awake yet, had no real concept of what time it was, how much time I had, what was my schedule for the rest of the day, and where everyone else was. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings and during this time I realized that I don’t need to know any of those things, chanting is perfect without this kind of knowledge.

So there… Word of caution, though – these articles shouldn’t be seen as inspired by Kṛṣṇa from within or anything like that. They are written by a conditioned soul under the modes of nature and according to its limited experiences in this particular incarnation. It so happens that during this time we see a rise of the movement of Lord Caitanya and so some of these experiences are influenced by the Lord and, accordingly, some of this stuff becomes related to the Lord, and that’s what should be appreciated, the rest is best forgotten. It will be forgotten at the time of death anyway, and whatever is taken by the soul into the next incarnation is not worthy of remembering either. Only the Holy Name matters, and it’s there with us at all times and it never changes, as fresh and youthful as ever.

Now I have to go and change the title of this post because that’s not what I had in mind when I sat down to type it at all.

Vanity thought #1216. Value of japa

For the past couple of days I’ve been writing about ways to improve japa but there’s a question that still bugs me there – what is japa’s relative value compared to other forms of devotional service. Usually I say that chanting beats everything but chanting is an English word that encompasses many forms and methods. Which one is the best? Can we survive solely on japa, for example?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, because as long as we chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra we can survive anything, and no because we have plenty of instructions requiring us to use different forms of chanting instead.

Take Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, for example. Simply sitting and listening to it, and asking appropriate questions, is enough to achieve perfection in devotional service. In some ways it’s even more effective that chanting the mantra because it engages our intelligence and fills us with awe and wonder, something we can’t easily experience by simply repeating the names. Just think of it, we can easily sit through an hour long class being fully absorbed and not losing concentration once. That doesn’t happen with japa, as I now clearly see from my logger.

We can’t repeat Mahārāja Parīkṣit’s feat of listening to Bhāgavatam for seven days non-stop without sleep or food but, if not for physical inconvenience of sitting on the floor, we can easily go for hours and hours, and with food and toilet breaks can easily listen to Lord’s pastimes for a whole day. The quality of our concentration would also be much better than during our japa.

More importantly, though, prescription for this day and age is hari-nāma saṇkīrtana, not japa. Japa is supposed to be a practically silent meditation, at most a practitioner might pronounce the mantras just loud enough to hear them himself. In this aspect japa is different from kīrtana and so we should remember that while kīrtana is a legitimate process of devotional service, japa is not. Why do we even use it, then?

Mostly because of Haridāsa Ṭhākura, our nāma-ācārya. He was chanting japa loudly all day long and it was accepted by Lord Caitanya as fully legitimate form of service. We are not to imitate but follow in the footsteps, and so our recent ācāryas set a daily minimum of japa for us all.

Contrary to the tradition we chant loudly, usually loud enough for others to hear, too. Haridāsa Ṭhākura argued that there’s always someone listening, if only insects on the ground, and even if the dead matter resonates to the sound of the Holy Name it still gets purified. Loud chanting purifies everything, the place, the atmosphere, everything and everyone within the reach of the sound.

ISKCON devotees were often laughed at by “experienced” vaiṣṇavas for their loud japa but that’s how we do it, we want it to be counted as kīrtana and in that there’s little difference between loud chanting on beads or singing or recitation or any other way of chanting.

Our japa satisfies “hari”, “nāma”, and “kīrtana” requirements but I’m not so sure about “saṃ” part, which is essential to our success. Lord Caitanya inaugurated the saṇkīrtana movement, not just kīrtana alone. We are in saṇkīrtana movement, and saṇkīrtana is understood to be different from japa.

There are many forms of saṇkīrtana, listening to Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is saṇkīrtana, too, and there are different interpretations of what “saṃ” prefix mean there exactly. Usually we say it’s congregational chanting, that people come together and get united in chanting. Japa doesn’t provide that, we chant japa for ourselves and the whole point is to shut out all other sounds when we chant. It can’t be called saṇkīrtana in this sense at all, so why do we do it?

Is it only because our ācāryas told us to do so? What is their reason, however? Maybe they realized that getting people to chant collectively is very hard while some form of chanting must go on every day regardless. That’s why our japa is the absolute minimum we should do, and it can’t be silent, it has to be like kīrtana, not mental meditation.

Regardless of the instructions for Kali Yuga, chanting of the Holy Name is universal. It always works and it’s the best method of service at all times. We chant a lot because we have a concession on offenses, if people tried it in previous ages they would be slaughtered by the reactions while ours do not count, karmically speaking. Mental ones do not count at all, for example, even if the Lord takes notice of our attitude and withdraws His mercy for a while. For some of our thoughts people in Satya Yuga would go straight to hell, we don’t get even a slap on the wrist.

Still, there’s another meaning of “saṃ” in saṇkīrtana – perfect and complete. In this sense it means pure, offenseless chanting coming from a heart filled with loving devotion. This kind of chanting is beyond the material platform, beyond the Kali Yuga, beyond minimum japa requirements, it reaches the Lord directly and so is perfect in every way. It’s chanting done by true paramahaṃsas who do not even see the material world anymore, only Kṛṣṇa Himself.

Can our japa qualify? Obviously not, but that’s how Haridāsa Ṭhākura chanted, if we want to follow his footsteps it’s how we should chant, too, otherwise it would also be imitation. Hmm, following is a thin line here – can’t chant too much and can’t chant sloppily either. Forget sloppily, we should chant on a transcendental platform if only for sixteen rounds instead of one hundred ninety two (about three lakhs).

So, can we justify our japa by saying that we are following Haridāsa Ṭhākura? Not really, not if we do not do it absolutely right. Perhaps more appropriate justification for us is that śāstra tells to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra and so we are doing it one way or another, better than no chanting at all.

There’s the next step in interpreting “saṃ” in saṇkīrtana, too. When one chants perfectly, on a pure spiritual platform, his chanting can still be improved if he does so in the company of like minded pure devotees. If it can be improved than it’s not really “saṃ”, the argument goes.

It’s not quite the same congregational chanting that we do on the streets filled with non-devotees. That chanting is sublime in its own way, but this saṇkīrtana is like the talks between Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya, not meant for the general public, except we don’t say anything provocative, just the Holy Names.

This is really the best kind of chanting, it’s like our Bhāgavatam classes on steroids, the advantage being that we are not attracted by presentation, it’s not meant to please our minds and intelligence, as often happens in our classes. It’s just pure exchange of love for Kṛṣṇa.

The key to this chanting is perfect company. Perfect here means not in absolute terms but relative to other participants. It’s chanting between devotees who are just right for each other, no one is an obvious neophyte and no one is too far advanced for his chanting to be unappreciated by others. Every instance of the Holy Name in this company would spark love and devotion in each participant without fail and the feedback would melt chanter’s heart on the spot, too.

This kind of chanting is a real blessing, very rare to come, and it certainly beats murmuring japa to ourselves while our minds wonder off to far reaches of the material world.

If it’s not available, however, then we are perfectly within our rights to pray for this blessing when we chant our daily rounds. In any case, whatever service the Lord allows us to do is perfect in its own way, we can’t think of it as deficient, it’s meant for our gradual upliftment and therefore should be cherished.

Vanity thought #1215. Don’t think twice

Yesterday I concluded with this little advice I adapted to chanting japa and I believe it deserves a bit more than PS at the bottom. The more I think of it, the more I realize how awesome that idea is. Not mine, but the general “don’t look twice” injunction.

We can’t stop stuff from getting into our faces. It’s easier to avoid it if one is locked up in a temple but these days even temple devotees are exposed to all kinds of contamination. Going out on saṇkīrtana isn’t safe either, relax only for a minute and you’ll start noticing all the awful things going on around you, and then it just snowballs.

That’s what happened to Ajāmila and countless others beside him. He saw a couple doing something inappropriate, another sage saw fish copulating, yet another heard ankle bells, it always ends badly. Mind senses something that looks like a promise of enjoyment, examines it closely, imagines how it would feel if it tried it itself. Kṛṣṇa, in the meantime, sees it as an offense against the Holy Name, keeping material attachments while chanting, and withdraws His mercy. Without His mercy we lose attraction to chanting and we lose concentration. Without attraction and focus our minds feel free to contemplate all kinds of sense enjoyment. The more we watch our mind work, now with eager anticipation, the more offenses we commit, the less mercy is left, and pretty soon we get completely lost in our thoughts and fantasies, nothing can save us.

Ajāmila got completely distracted until the very last moment of his life, we are usually luckier but only because Lord Caitanya’s unlimited patience. He doesn’t count offenses against the Holy Name and His support extends to even the worst offenders, He always ready to give us a chance. What’s even better, if we lose His trust, there’s always Lord Nityānanda, there’s always our guru and there are always other devotees.

If out lifestyle is completely centered around devotional service then performing it even automatically purifies us and sets us back on the right path. That’s why maintaining devotee association, no matter what happens, is extremely important for our spiritual survival.

There’s another principle at play here, however, not always visible but it’s nevertheless the only reality. Let me start from something closely related.

Today was Ekādaśī and it was also my second day of logging japa. Yesterday I had five interruptions and today, considering that it’s an hour more chanting, the number should have been higher but it wasn’t, it was only four. Why?

I belive it’s the power of Ekādaśī, chanting is almost always easier on Ekādaśīs for me. Mind is always more peaceful and I swear it feels like it’s actually enjoying chanting. It’s not attracted to any other Ekādaśī aspects, like reading or fasting, but it likes chanting. I have no explanation for this, considering that the mind is a dead material object, it must act under superior power, and it’s not me, it’s the guṇas of nature. They must have a special offer on Ekādaśī days, a special combination, as it would appear from śāstra.

There must be a reason to single out Ekādaśī among all the other days and connect it with Viṣṇu. In Kali Yuga the universe appears to be disconnected from the Lord but, perhaps, the fault is only on our side, we are not qualified for establishing those connections, which is usually done through Vedic mantras and rituals. Ekādaśī, however, is universal, just like change of seasons. Its effects probably felt better in previous ages but they still work. That’s what I think, anyway, I have no better explanation for magically improved chanting on Ekādaśīs.

What this means is that the quality of my chanting depends on external circumstances. Sometimes the guṇas are favorable to it and sometimes they force my mind to think about anything else but the Holy Names. I have no say in the matter – it all determined by currently predominating guṇa, external stimuli, and accumulated memory, minds reaction is purely physical and totally predictable. Not just on Ekādaśīs but every day and every moment of our lives.

The attempt to control one’s mind is, therefore, misguided. It’s okay to try it when we identify ourselves with our bodies but even on our side it’s intelligence that controls the mind and intelligence is just another material element, it’s not us, and it acts under its own masters. The only good thing that is going for it is that it remembers knowledge and instructions of our gurus. By Lord Caitanya’s grace our intelligence has been exposed to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we didn’t teach it ourselves.

The only thing we can do, by our constitutional nature, is to sit there and observe (BG 18.61):

īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānāḿ
hṛd-deśe ‘rjuna tiṣṭhati
bhrāmayan sarva-bhūtāni
yantrārūḍhāni māyayā

    The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.

The Supreme Lord directs all wanderings of all living entities, which means He also directs the wanderings of our minds and it’s by His grace and order that our minds occasionally focus on listening to the Holy Name or to presentations of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We can only sit and observe.

It’s with this principle in mind that I appreciate “don’t look twice” injunction more and more now. If all we can is to observe than we should avert our attention from things that we do not need to see to maintain our internal purity. If we don’t look Kṛṣṇa won’t show, it’s as simple as that. Sometime He might want to test us but that’s “sometimes”, and even then we should not look at the temptations. It’s bad enough to know that they are there, don’t look at them twice.

Same is true for controlling minds during chanting, as I said yesterday. Thoughts pop up and they offer interesting follow ups but we should not follow them, it’s not worth it, just ignore their offers. I also found that it helps to retrace distracting thoughts back to their origins – understanding how mind works helps catching it in the process, it becomes easier to recognize when it’s about to wander off in pursuit of interesting ideas.

Seeing the cause also makes ideas less fascinating, strips them of their magical attraction. This process works in the material world, too. Explaining jokes, for example, kills them most effectively, you can’t laugh at them anymore. Exposing background stories and reasoning also alway stakes away mystery and makes otherwise awesome individuals look mundane. TBF, it somehow doesn’t work on celebrities but there might be other forces at work there.

There’s also an expression that familiarity brings contempt. Usually we are warned about it in relation to our gurus and senior vaiṣṇavas but if we apply it to fascinating ideas that steal our minds then contempt is actually pretty useful.

Bottom line – watching the mind closely and stripping it of its magic is helpful to ignoring it, makes it easier not to look twice because you’d already know what you are going to see and you’d already know how it will all end, nothing interesting there.

Last thing – it all seems as technical as trying to control the mind in any other way. After all, we don’t have a choice whether to think twice about something or not, it happens under Supreme Lord’s direction. Perhaps I should have found better words to express it, if they even exist, but this expression of interest happens within our consciousness, comes from our soul, the Lord simply accommodates our desires. We might be forced by previous karma to experience attraction to this or that but eventually karma runs out or we earn new one that makes our minds ignore everything that is happening around us while we chant.

All we can do is appreciate how the Lord is helping us and guiding us on the way back home, even if He sometimes sends us on wild goose chases around the material world. It’s all for our ultimate good, our ultimate purification, we just have to be patient and appreciate His loving care.

Vanity thought #1214. Japa Logger

So I was thinking how could I improve my japa and got an idea to try. In general, though, we can’t improve our chanting or our devotional service on our own, only by the mercy of the devotees or by the special mercy of the Holy Name. Typically, Kṛṣṇa speaks to us through devotees, often through the guru, that’s where we get all useful advice and feedback.

There are plenty of cases where we seem to figure something out ourselves but we should accept it as Kṛṣṇa’s help, as He promised in Bhagavad Gita (dadāmi buddhi-yogaḿ taḿ yena mām upayānti te). Besides, we wouldn’t know if we actually improved things by our inventions unless devotees confirm it for us.

We can’t go around asking people to evaluate our japa either, most of the time we’d simply annoy and inconvenience other devotees. If Kṛṣṇa wants to tell us something we’ll hear it without asking, we can’t force Him ourselves, that’s why it’s called causeless mercy. We can humbly ask when situation is right but it shouldn’t happen too often and we should be prepared to fully implement whatever we’ve been told. We can’t just cherry pick whatever we like and dismiss whatever we find impractical, and then next day go and ask for advice again.

When we ask for spiritual guidance we should do so with a right attitude, attitude of total surrender. There should be no second-guessing or asking for second opinion, or simply refusing to follow. Not ready? Then don’t ask.

It’s okay to leave it to Kṛṣṇa instead of soliciting advice ourselves, He knows better how to guide us out of this world and He takes it far more seriously than we do ourselves, it’s perfectly okay to be fully dependent on Him in each and every way.

Having said that, I got an idea that I think answers concerns expressed above. I think it would be useful to keep a log of my chanting and then assess it objectively. Normally we think we know what we are doing and we think we are fairly objective in our self-evaluation but often that is not the case. Other people see things that escape our attention and, in this case, formal log keeping might reveal something I usually miss.

Logging in this case should be different from keeping a diary, diary is subjective, it’s just an extension of our thoughts, while logs keep factual records as they would be seen by external observers.

We can’t keep our logs totally objective, though, as we would have to write down information we notice ourselves. There aren’t any external sensors yet that would record our japa performance. Maybe we can record our chanting on video but then reviewing it would take too much valuable time. So, the first thing I thought I should do is to make extremely clear what kind of things would go into my log. Having a clear standard would reduce subjectivity, I hope.

First thing, I thought, would be to record start and end time, day after day, week after week. That part would be totally objective. I might think that I usually chant my rounds as early as possible but it would be nice to have an actual record of how often I chant late, how often I split sixteen rounds into two or three sessions, how often I leave a couple of rounds to finish before sleep, and so on. I would also see how much time I spend chanting every day and if there are any fluctuations.

These statistics would allow me to make some sort of resolutions, like to reduce late night chanting by 30% next month, for example.

More importantly, though, I thought I’d record my distractions. This is subjective so by distractions I mean a certain amount of memory loss while chanting. If I don’t remember completing the round, for example, that would qualify. I’m ashamed to say but sometimes it happens that I move round counters totally on autopilot. Generally, every time I catch my mind completely drifting away would qualify, too.

So I put together a little script, since my computer is almost always on when I chant anyway, and gave it a try. It records only three things – start time, end time, and every time I feel my mind has been distracted. Today was my first real attempt at logging and it went rather well.

At first I didn’t feel distracted enough to warrant a log entry and that puzzled me a little but then things became just as predicted. So, today’s log ran as follows.

My japa was split in two parts, six rounds and then ten. First six rounds were “perfect”, I didn’t think my mind drifted far enough even though in general these weren’t the best six rounds of my life.

Second batch of ten rounds started similarly but then I caught myself thinking about something else. It was about certain, shall we say, incompatibility between different sides of my extended family, and when I caught myself thinking about it I could trace it back to the very first thought I had that led to this deviation. I duly recorded it and continued chanting.

Soon enough I caught myself thinking about some other thing and I wondered how I got there. Again, I was able to reconstruct the thought chain and that’s when I realized how to separate real distractions from insignificant ones (insignificant for now, their turn will come, too). If it takes two-three, or even more steps to arrive there from something that simply popped into my mind then I have been legitimately carried away and need to record it.

I can’t stop seeing people outside my window, for example, but if their image reminds me of something else, I follow that thought, and from there go somewhere else – time to record it.

Then it started happening quite often and I even thought to myself that I should probably not ruin my first day with excessive logging. That’s another problem with subjectivity – I still want my stats to look good even if I’m not sharing them with anyone. In my own view I expect a certain number of distractions that is not too high and not too low and I try to massage my logging to stay within these acceptable parameters.

This problem is something I should keep in mind but this was just he first day, hopefully I’ll learn how to deal with this kind of things, and something else will probably come up, too.

Looking at the stats after I finished I found out that my chanting was more or less focused for the first half an hour or so but then I got log entries every five-ten minutes. Last two rounds, as I was talking about it yesterday, we almost “perfect” but I caught myself distracted right before the end, on the last eight-ten mantras.

I long suspected I followed a pattern like that – start okay, slump in the middle, and straighten up towards the end, but I need more data to put actual numbers on it. Let’s see how it goes tomorrow.

PS. Apart from logging itself, another useful idea from today’s experience – do not follow your mind. I don’t remember who said it first but there’s apparently a rule that if you see an attractive woman on the street you can’t stop it from happening but DO NOT LOOK TWICE, for that would be a deviation. Same thing could be applied to chanting – do not follow up on pop-up thoughts.

Vanity thought #1213. iHealth

I’m not sure what it is, it’s one of those new-fangled thingies that is pushed into everybody’s face for no apparent reason. It comes with new iPhones, I gather, but doesn’t do anything when you open the app for the first time. I suspect it needs various sensors to act as its sources and then it might show something useful. Sensors don’t come with an iPhone but there’s a company called iHealthLabs that might sell them somewhere somehow, then you can get to monitor your heart rate or blood pressure, or count number of steps taken each day, whatever.

I might be totally wrong about this, it’s my time to be out of touch with cutting edge technology, though I somehow think that people of my age should be the prime target of health monitoring applications. But then again, maybe today’s teenagers are all into calorie counting and jogging, I’m too old to know. I thought of iHealth for an entirely different reason anyway.

Long time ago in a galaxy far far away I decided to experiment with my japa. What if I use all my mental energy on forcefully keeping my mind on listening to the Holy Name? The idea came to me mid-japa so I thought I’d start with the last round. Nothing extraordinary came out of it but the idea stuck and now I often try to revive it with reasonable success rate, I think.

Maybe repeated mental exercise made it easier or maybe I just got more accustomed to simply listening but I think I face reasonably less distractions. The rule is very simple – chant the last round as it if was the last one. Evey name, every syllable must be enunciated and carefully, actively listened to. If mind wonders off somewhere else don’t fret, bring it back immediately and keep going. No emotions, no reflections, no judgment, only chanting.

Well, when I said “as if it was the last one” I wasn’t honest – chant the round as if the world doesn’t exist, there’s no life, no death, nothing is happening and one moment is no different from any other, not closer to anything and not further from anything either, just listening to the name, sound by sound, syllable by syllable.

Recently I expanded the effort to two last rounds. One day I had two rounds left before going to sleep and I wanted to chant them “perfectly”. I gathered all my strength and determination and tried my best. Now I try to repeat it everyday with last two rounds, if I don’t forget. Turns out I don’t have enough strength, though, so the first round becomes a preparation and I go full powers only on the second round.

After a while I expanded it to three last rounds, and then to three first ones, but it doesn’t work like the original “last round”, which will always be special because full power of concentration can’t be turned on permanently, or it wouldn’t be full power.

There are downsides to it, too – sometimes I feel like I spend too much energy on monitoring the mind instead of listening to the Holy Name. I make sure my mind “hears” it but it’s not the same thing. Best chanting happens when you completely forget you are making an effort, though it’s my subjective conclusion, Kṛṣṇa’s own criteria might be totally different.

Sometimes I catch myself listening to the names and forgetting to monitor the mind at all, which is a good thing, I guess, but not what I set out to do with my mind control effort, not that I mind. Perhaps it’s the sign of progress, the sign of of getting some results because that’s what I ultimately want – the mind fully absorbed in listening to the Holy Name. Making mechanical effort should be only the first step, I’m waiting for the stage where mind becomes naturally attracted to chanting so no force should be necessary.

I can’t quite describe how that force is applied. In the beginning it’s literally focusing on each syllable, one by one, without distractions, without looking at the clock, without estimating how many mantras left, without letting the mind think of anything else. It is exhausting and, for me, it’s impossible to maintain this level of concentration for longer than a round. Actually I can’t maintain it even for all 108 mantras but what I mean is that I can’t even gather enough determination to chant more than one round in this mode, I had to relax a little and spare the best of the last.

On this note – chanting should be a sacrifice, not a walk in the park. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being totally exhausted by the end of one’s daily rounds. It might not be demanding physically but, and it’s fact, our brains can burn quite a lot of energy when really stressed. The calorie counting is not straightforward on this but there are plenty of mentally demanding activities that leave people totally drained – taking tests or playing competitive chess, or cramming for exams.

Sometimes hard mental work is easy, like when people read engaging books, but what raises the stakes is stress. Reading a book for tomorrow’s test is not the same as reading for pleasure. So, on one hand chanting could be easy but we are also asked to chant like little children who lost their mothers, which is undoubtedly stressful. I understand that unless one is liberated and fully adjusted in Kṛṣṇa’s service he should chant like there’s no tomorrow, thus burning a lot of energy and getting really tired.

That is not to say that feeling tired is a sign of good chanting. Maybe in the beginning it is, because, and it’s also has been scientifically observed, skillful brains do not work nearly as hard while producing objectively better results. I guess it’s the state where devotional service feels easy, and that’s why I don’t mind if I don’t need a lot of effort to chant with the same attentiveness, but it’s still an exception rather than a rule.

So, while contemplating all these things I thought they should make an app for monitoring our spiritual health, iHealth For Devotees, monitoring our own RPM, rounds per minute, with our own BPM, bhajan pressure monitors. In fact, I think I’m onto something here and I already started implementing this idea, let’s see how it goes first, I’ll report as soon as I find anything interesting.