Vanity thought #194. Lucky Lakhs.

By Lord’s grace I was able to complete three lakhs of Holy Names today, it’s the first time I squeezed them into an ordinary workday and I consider myself very fortunate. It’s a glorious opportunity, now that I know how to manage it I plan to chant three lakhs at least three times next week.

This opportunity comes with one big condition, however – I need to chant as fast as I can and pronunciation naturally suffer. While it’s dangerous to mispronounce the mantra it is still a blessing in disguise – I need to keep an ear out all the time, any drop in concentration and my mouth goes wayward.

I was a bit overexcited this morning when I realized that I got a real shot at three lakhs and so I started my rounds rather briskly, without giving myself any time to settle in first and increase the speed gradually. Usually it happens all on its own, I just have to sit back and watch but today I had no time for that and I was punished.

The first two hours were rather frantic, filled with worries and mangled words that sometime didn’t even resemble the mahamatra to my ear.

Eventually, when I saw that I was still on time, I was able to relax a bit, and then in the afternoon, as usual, the speed went up significantly again, giving me half an hour bonus when I finally finished.

I need to find the way to manage the speed better, I hope I’ll have plenty of opportunities but the real test is coming next Saturday when I have the whole day to myself. I won’t need to hurry anymore and the challenge would be to chant slowly.

Right now I can’t do it at all. I tried numerous times but I guess I run on an outdated gearbox.

Cars use gears to manage speed and keep the engine load at optimum levels. You can’t go very fast in the first gear and you can’t go very slow in the fourth, the engine revolutions would be unacceptable. Same thing happens with animals, actually with people to. Horses have gaits, they can’t walk at 40km/h and they can’t gallop at 4km/h. Horses naturally switch gaits appropriate to the needed speed.

People are somewhat strange animals. These days they are not choosing walking or running to preserve energy, they are interested in fitness, thus they invented jogging. One could probably walk faster but getting from A to B is not the point anymore. In the old days they wouldn’t run if they weren’t in a hurry, and they wouldn’t walk if they needed to bring the news of the victory when they were inventing marathon.

My point is that there’s something similar with chanting, too. There are bands of speed, for example slow, medium, and fast, and each band is matched with a band in concentration and energy.

If you start chanting slowly, carefully enunciating every sound, you can gradually increase your speed but only to a point. Eventually you’ll hit your internal engine’s redline, you’ll need to shift into a second gear that would give you speed at a very comfortable level of energy and concentration. What you lose is the ability to hear each and every letter in the mantra.

You can move freely up and down in this medium band but only to a degree, too. If you want to go really fast you’ll need to accept that some Names will be unclear, and if you want to go much, much slower you’ll need to shift to the much lower energy investment level, where you’ll be warned of the danger of falling asleep, or you will be itching for some action.

There are some overlapping areas where the same speed can be achieved in different bands of energy but I find them to be very small to be reliable.

So, next week I’ll try fiddling with my gears, try to find a comfort zone where I can clearly hear every word and still keep it under five minutes.

This is my personal band of medium speed – five minutes at the fastest. Once that barrier is broken I can start blurring “Hare Hare” everywhere, but I can go below four minutes in this higher gear easily without any noticeably degradation in quality.

What I want to achieve is to stretch medium zone, every Name is very clear, usually between five and six minutes per round, I want to stretch it down to four and a half.

While on a day fully dedicated to chanting I can afford to go at five minutes per round all day long, other considerations start to weigh in, too. It adds extra four hours of walking, for example. My legs are not what they used to be. Also, extra four hours of mind control is not easy at all.

Even if five minutes per round should be easy and clear, general tiredness and mind exhaustion take their tall, too. Chanting becomes too hard and bothersome. It’s okay to fight it through once or twice but facing this battle everyday is depressing.

I believe artificial difficulties like this should be avoided if possible.

In the long term I’m longing for the days when I can happily chant at five minutes per round or even slower all day long. Finishing too fast leaves too much time on my hands that I don’t really need. Idle hands is devil’s playground, as they say.

It’s okay for now, when I have other household duties, but in the long run I want all my time dedicated to chanting the Holy Names.

I can’t imagine myself being at Govardhan, for example, and finishing my three lakhs of names in the afternoon. What am I supposed to do next? Throw in another lakh for a good measure?

I’ve never heard of anyone chanting more than three lakhs a day, I believe I should slow down so that it takes up all my time. Right now it does, it takes all the time I can spare for japa, but this is an emergency situation, not the norm.

And the norm is???

I’m ashamed to admit, but I kind of dream about chanting Holy Names in Vrindavana, or Mayapur, or Jagannatha Puri. I indulge myself too much in fantasies like this, it’s unhealthy, I better stop now.

Vanity thought #182. Weekly roundup.

I just realized that a whole week has gone by and I hasn’t said a word about my only “service”, as if it’s not important to me at all. Looking back at these past seven days there were actually quite a few things happening, some for better some for worse.

First, the Monday curse. For several straight weeks now there’s always something’s going on Mondays that makes me cut my rounds. This Monday I managed to do just over a half of what I plan for weekdays. Great that I haven’t made chanting two lakhs everyday a vow. It’s not only the circumstances that conspire against me on Mondays, chanting goes a lot slower, too. I believe it’s because my mouth forgets how to do it over the weekend. Constant practice makes it faster and smoother while the lack of practice makes it harder and slower, that’s the fact I can’t ignore, pretty important fact to remember on those other days.

Anyway, carrying over from last week, my main concern regarding my japa was pronunciation and speed. I was afraid I was chanting too fast and the names didn’t really come out right. Didn’t matter on Monday, as I said, but on Tuesday I was back to my usual evil ways.

This Tuesday was different, however. Somehow I just couldn’t find the fault with the clarity anymore and by the afternoon the speed picked up to sixteen rounds an hour again. Same thing happened on Wednesday, too. I started thinking up ways to squeeze three lakhs in some days, not everyday but maybe once a week or maybe even twice.

On Thursday, however, the mumbling was back. It was back right from the start of the day, right from the first few rounds, the tongue just didn’t want to move. The speed eventually increased to sixteen rounds an hour by the clarity wasn’t there. Same thing happened on Friday.

Makes me wonder – how important it really is. Sure it’s better to chant clearly than not but what exactly goes on there?

Taking it back to the basics – we chant the Holy Names, so we should say them. Forget the japa/kirtana difference for a moment, names are supposed to be audible. It might matter not to Krishna but that’s the promise we made to our spiritual masters.

Okay, now that it’s established that the names should be audible, how clear should they be? What is more important – clarity or speed? Speed means guaranteed completion of a certain number of rounds. From the examples of Haridasa Thakura and goswamis of Vrindavana it appears that saying a certain number of the Names per day is more important than simply chanting 24/7. I made some observations about casual chanting with my clicker.

I think I’ve honestly chanted as much as I could and at the end of the day the most I’ve seen on the counter is five rounds. FIVE rounds for the whole day chanting? And it must have been two-three times less if I had been singing instead. If the number of the names that counts, casual chanting is a huge waste of time.

Oh, and that Kali Santarana Upanishad, too lazy to find the link now, also says about reaching a certain number of Names to reap the benefits, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati also took a vow to chant a certain number of names, which he then divided into monthly and daily quota without any concern for timing. He just counted until he hit one billion, didn’t matter how long it took.

So, who counts the Names? I do, of course, but I am not the one granting the benefits so my count doesn’t matter. That leaves Krishna as the score keeper. Well, okay, what’s His cut off point then? What are His criteria for accepting or rejecting the mantra?

Say, I swallowed a few Names. Will they count? I see several options here – they don’t count, so that when I think I’ve finished two lakhs it’s actually less in Krishna’s books. Does it matter? Since I’ve completed my service, at least in my opinion, it shouldn’t matter much – I keep my vows.

When time comes to drop the mercy, however, Krishna might postpone it until I hit the actual number. Means I’d have to wait a little longer. Does it matter? I have no idea how long I have to wait anyway, not even a slightest estimate when mercy will come. If Krishna postpones it by a few days I would not know about it.

Another scenario is that it’s not only the individual Names that count but the number of complete mantras matters, too. Singular Names have Their potency but the maha mantra should be relatively more powerful when it’s complete, and it should be more powerful in some unique ways that would be denied to me if I screw it up. Means that certain kinds of benefits will be locked until I reach the desired number of the complete mantras regardless of the overall name count.

Practically it would mean that if I drop one name in each mantra I’m losing not only 1/16 of the mercy but ALL of what chanting the complete mantra was supposed to bring to me. This is a lot scarier.

Next step is considering when mispronouncing a Name qualifies as a fail. What makes chanting a Name into success? There are several components – the intention, the concentration, the listening, the hearing, the pronunciation and the actual sound. What about the accents?

I can easily check the success or failure of the voice input if I run it by voice recognition software – if it gets the words right it’s success, if it gets them wrong it’s a fail. Unfortunately there’s no voice recognition software for Hare Krishna mantra.

Even if there was, the thing with software is that you can tweak it in any way you want and you can actually teach it to recognize your particular speech. If someone else said exactly the same words the software wouldn’t understand it. The goal here is to recognize the intention of the speaker, not the actual soundwaves.

Does this apply to Krishna, too? He tweaks His voice recognition Himself, though. He might make it tough or easy, and He knows the real intention of the speaker anyway. How much do actual sounds really mean to Him?

There’s also the “four levels of sound” phenomenon. I don’t know enough about it to speak with any certainty but it appears that the “normal” sounds we usually hear are only the first, the most gross form of sound. In deeply conditioned state we can’t hear the sounds on the higher levels but it doesn’t mean they are not present.

This is the reason, for example, why we are encouraged to chant Sanskrit shlokas as much as possible, even if we don’t understand a word and we get pronunciation completely wrong. On higher levels of sound it still brings us benefits. Shouldn’t it be the same with Hare Krishna mantra?

Of course we still try to get our Sanskrit right and we know the value of correct pronunciation when it comes to performing sacrifices and such.

Yet we also have the example of the illiterate brahmana who was laughed at for his mangling of Bhagavad Gita but every time he read it tears would flow down his face because those were the words of Krishna anyway. No need to guess who Lord Chaitanya favored in that argument.

I guess I can sum it up this way – it’s the intention that is of primary importance, whether the words come out right or wrong is secondary. If the intention is right Krishna will eventually provide the better facilities. Also, if the intention is right one would care very much to get his job perfectly and chant each and every Name with utmost clarity so there is no room for slacking.

Practically, for me, it means that I should not give up my attempts at better chanting. Yesterday I argued that one would never achieve perfection anyway, not by his own standards and measurements, so there should be no permanent satisfaction with one’s efforts. If something appears perfect one day it’s only because one is not self-critical enough.

Also one should never forget the priority – the intention. Thinking about how good or bad the outcome is makes one forget about the intention, one should be unattached to the results, just as Arjuna was advised in Bhagavat Gita.

I guess I have to analyze the speed on some other day, it’s getting late now.

Vanity thought #139. Week in review.

Five day japa marathon is finally over, time to count the chickens.

Can’t string my thoughts into any coherent narrative, so, in no particular order.

My life does not belong to me, my time does not belong to me either. I promised to chant sixteen rounds a day and that’s all I can claim for myself. Beyond that I’m at the mercy of the elements. If elements combine themselves into a shape and that shape picks up the phone and says “There’s something I need you to do..” then I must oblige because my body has responsibilities.

It’s because of the Kali yuga – there’s no sannyasa, no renunciation, one must live in his household life and perform his household duties. No one can sit down in meditation and tell the rest of the world to get lost.

Also, this is not the kind of yoga that we practice. Before Kali yuga meditation was the norm and no one could ever disturb a meditating yogi or rishi. First of all it was simply not done, there was no higher duty than meditation, second – it was plain dangerous. Wasn’t it Kardama Muni who was distracted from his samadhi and with one look of his eyes he burned sixty thousand princes with their armies to ashes? And he wasn’t even angry, they say. The offence was so great that those unfortunate souls got burned by their karma, not by Kardama Muni.

Now consider bhakti yoga. You might sit and think about Krishna’s pastimes all by yourself but if a vaishnava comes up to you and humbly begs for your help you drop everything you are doing and go out of your way to satisfy the devotee. That’s how our yoga works – we don’t do anything for ourselves, even our own advancement depends on serving others first.

Okay, looks like weekend will be lost on family and relatives but next Monday I’m planning on chanting at least a hundred rounds a day again.

What changes did this week bring?

First, my hand no longer cramps or sores, even the tip of the middle finger doesn’t bother me anymore, it’s a bit numb but at least there’s no pain. My legs are getting used to the routine, too. I still can’t sit for long periods of time but I figured – I’m not chanting so that I learn to sit quietly, if I need to walk I’ll walk – whatever works, sometimes I even lie on the bed and stretch myself. There’s no rule against it, it’s not traditional yoga.

I also learned a bit more about vocative case. We don’t have it in English but that would be something like “John, come here”, or just “John” when you call him. It took me a while to realize the obvious – we put so many different meanings in that simple call for John. It could be a threat, it could be a plea for help, it could be an invitation, it could be a tease – one simple word can carry so many emotions. Exactly the same thing happens with Hare, Krishna, and Rama.

We are not supposed to think about anything when we chant the mantra but we can still put a lot of different emotions in our calls for these names. We can sound content or frustration, or pleas for mercy, or even aggression (“I’m coming!”)

At one point during this week I got a knock on the head to tone it down a bit. It’s nice to express feelings towards the Lord but it’s better if the feelings come from a purified heart, and to purify my heart I have to listen to the Names themselves first, otherwise I just drown them with my own immature, material, contaminated emotions.

So for the last couple of days I’ve been learning to listen. It was unremarkable at first but today, during the last couple of hours, I really got used to it. Whatever thought comes up – discard it and just listen. Don’t beg, don’t cry, don’t gloat – just listen, but intently. It was not possible for me before but I see that it can be done now. I see no other reason than a lot of practice.

You could say it’s Krishna’s mercy, but I didn’t have this mercy until I chanted ten hours a day. For some people mercy is easy to come by but I’m not one of them. I could have chanted for months like this with no effect, too, but Krishna decided to show me some proof that it’s not all in vain. I’m truly thankful but also a bit jealous of my effort. If someone gets the same result for free I would consider it unfair – there’s still a lot of dirt in my heart.

Speaking of dirt – I’ve noticed that lust has become easier to manage. Just two days ago or so it required a gargantuan effort to divert my mind to something less agitating, today it was simply listening a bit more attentively. It came up more often but each attack was less severe. Don’t know whether it’s sustainable or it’s just a temporary reprieve, I’m glad it happened anyway.

Then there was something bizarre and unusual – couple of times my mouth went completely out of control. It happened in the morning so fatigue couldn’t be the reason. First I noticed that last “Hare Hare” were becoming unclear and I tried to correct my pronunciation. To my total amusement I suddenly lost the ability to pronounce anything! It was like a deaf person trying to speak – words coming out very slowly and at unusual pitch. I had a real trouble trying to say “K-r-i-sh-n-a”, after half a minute or so it was all back to normal.

Then, an hour later, it happened again. The tongue would just not budge. I had to pause, relax, and try to sing the Names instead. Push the reset button, so to speak.

Later in the day it happened again and again but not as severe. Luckily, it was always when my mind was drifting away and doing some thinking on the side. As soon as it was off, either last “Hare Hare” or the “Rama Rama” parts were all mingled.

At first, in the morning, I thought there’s something wrong with my brain, maybe I got a tumor or something, but in the afternoon it was really a boon – easy to notice that the mind is drifting, and easy to bring it back, by concentrating on pronouncing the mantra at the usual speed.

Amusing, to say the least.

Finally, a big discovery – I was reading HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s book to keep me going and one particular “meditation” reminded me the reason why I’m doing this.

I sort of accepted that I survive only by Krishna’s mercy. Okay, half the time I don’t even remember but that’s the situation as I understand it. Today, however, I realized that I should survive not by mercy but by my love. Like a mother, for example, who doesn’t stop and think about what mercy has been given to her so that she could continue caring for her child. She puts her love first and foremost, mercy and means might come or not, doesn’t hinder mother’s love for a second.

Practically it means that I must chant not because Krishna has given me a chance but because I love chanting and can’t live without it. I must try to chant with whatever minuscule powers I, as a jiva soul, possess, against all odds and regardless of Krishna’s provisions.

That’s a tall order, but it is also true. I sit and listen to myself and I wonder – where is this love? How can I put non existent attraction for the Names above all other interests? Sex and material love, for example, are very welcoming and promising and comforting, and they are very real. How can I even compare them with my taste for the Holy Names? How could this “taste” overcome sexual attraction, or hunger, or need for sleep?

No idea, but I better keep on chanting, because that’s the only way to develop it, and, there’s a chance Krishna might lend a helping hand, too.