Vanity thought #1787. VC – fast as lightning

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

The next chapter in the book deals with the speed of light. It’s one of the most daring challenges the author throws to science. It sounds convincing but it also calls for accompanying math in support of it. I don’t know anyone who has time and the ability to provide “proofs”.

“Proofs” were central to the story of Ramanujan, a brilliant Indian mathematician who became a Fellow of Royal Society of London. His mathematical theories were revolutionary, they worked in practice, but Ramanujan was seen as too lazy to provide “proofs” and when he did they weren’t very impressive. The thing was that theories were manifested to him by his worshipable deity while “proofs” he had to supply on his own, hence a mismatch in quality.

Anyway, the chapter starts with a brief history of the problem. When Newton postulated his law of gravity it was thought that it works on distant objects instantaneously but later experiments proved that it was not the case. The cause of gravity manifested its effect with a delay. The solution was that the cause travels as some sort of a particle and so it takes time for it to reach its destination and create the effect. In modern science these traveling particles are called bosons – photons and such.

Then came the discovery of the constant speed of light which doesn’t depend on whether the observer travels towards the cause or not. This is a little bit of a gray area. I myself got very interested in this about ten years ago and pondered all sorts of paradoxes derived from this – how things become shorter or longer, how time runs faster or slower, how twins age differently and many more. I thought I got it but there was always some new twist that made no sense to me no matter how much I knew about this already. In the end I just gave up and now, ten years later, I can’t force myself to relive through that nightmare again.

With this experience being a chip on my shoulder I’m hesitant to endorse book’s presentation of this problem. I’m pretty sure if it was shown to actual physicists someone would find something to object, casting the accusation that the author doesn’t know special relativity and physics in general. I’m not going to get in between because, in my experience, both parties would accuse me of being stupid just to relieve themselves. When someone doesn’t want to answer his accusers directly I’m not going to be a messenger either. It would make me into everybody’s enemy.

In any case, the way the book states the problem is novel. In quantum theory photons do not travel through space in a traditional sense but rather hop from one fixed position to another with no stages in between. I want to drift away here for a bit because this is important.

Being conditioned souls we are unaware that we are accepting new bodies every moment of our lives. We agree that our bodies change from youth to adulthood to old age and as devotees we accept that after death of one body we will take another, and we theoretically accept that we take a new body every second, too, but we do not realize this practically.

When I pace up and down the room, chanting my rounds, I believe that it’s the same body that does the walking and travels through space. Everybody does. Based on this illusion we form our idea of three dimensional space where our bodies and all other objects can move around. Each point in this space can be connected to any other point by a straight line and, while traveling along this line, objects pass through the infinite number of locations, infinite number of points on the line.

From segments of such lines we can make triangles and squares and then we can create coordinate systems and move these shapes freely around, transform them, rotate them, skew them and so on. We still think that it’s the same object that we can manipulate in any way we want and this forms the basis of all our science – objects have properties and these properties can change their values. In geometry the properties could be locations and sizes, in Newtonian physics we can add momentum and speed, in electrodynamics we can change objects’ charge, and in relativity we can change objects mass, too.

This is all plain wrong from the perspective of Vedic science. It’s not the same body that moves through space, it’s a succession of new bodies, each slightly different and each with its own set of sensations. We watch these bodies like we watch a movie, which is also a succession of still images, and then we mistakenly interpret it as movement and from this interpretation we create a model of space. This space is illusory, there’s a new body with a new set of sensory values, there’s not traveling, no distance between things – it’s all in our minds.

There’s also a science of changing these bodies and the role our consciousness, time, and karma plays in all this but it’s not a subject for today.

So, quantum theory finally got this part right – there’s no smooth movement, photons hop from one position to another and there’s a fixed number of hops between the source and the observer. If the observer starts hopping towards the photon there will be less hops to be made before they meet, and how does the photon know the observer is approaching? Why would it slow down? How can the number of hops become smaller? What’s going on here? The book states that this is a problem that science doesn’t acknowledge yet. Maybe it is, but what comes next is the most interesting proposition here.

The light does not take any time to travel at all. Information is passed through space (which is an illusory concept, as explained above) instantaneously but what takes time is for the recipient to absorb this information and change his state, or rather his body, to a new one where this information appears as already absorbed.

This solution is simple and elegant and I think it’s brilliant. The rest of the chapter gives examples how this principle already works in everyday life. A teacher’s lesson, for example, is absorbed at different speed by different students depending on their background knowledge and the speed with which words reach their ears, ie speed of light, is irrelevant. What matters is how long it would take for a student to change from his current body to a body where the lesson has been learned, and this works across the whole universe.

There’s no point in measuring distance to stars and planets anymore, it doesn’t exist because light does not take any time to travel at all, and so our 3D model of space becomes redundant. What effect this explanation would have on modern science? Which formulas need to be adjusted? Is it even possible? I don’t think anyone knows the answer to these questions or has the ability and time to figure out the answers. It takes time for us to change from a state where these answers are unknown to a state where they trivial, and that state might not be in our karma at all.

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 #172. Need for speed.

“Need for Speed” is a racing game on Android phones and tablets. My phone can’t handle it, though, too old, but the name is catchy and I have my own need for speed, too, so there.

This week there were couple of days when I was under time pressure. On Monday I came short eleven rounds so on Tuesday I was taking no prisoners.

Mornings are always mellow for me, slower than the rest of the day, especially the first sixteen rounds, so I concentrated on proper pronunciation, trying to drill my tongue and mouth to make all the necessary movements and don’t miss a syllable when the speed gradually increases. It worked like magic, I tried stressing two or three names that I think I skip when I chant faster, I was getting them right and the movement was smooth and natural.

I did the first sixteen, then the second – speed was steady five minutes a round, if I extrapolated it on the rest of the day I was cutting it close but, as usual, I’m not really in charge of the speed, if I force myself to chant faster I start making all kinds of mistakes, so I waited.

I’m not in control, I was telling myself, if Krishna so desires I will chant whole day like this and if there are only a few rounds left I’ll finish them when everyone goes to sleep. I practically resigned to this outcome.

Then the speed just went up. In a space of an hour or so the mood changed, the flow has become much smoother and faster, I got into a different state of mind, relaxed but moving at a brisk speed. It eventually settled at fifteen rounds per hour – four minutes per round.

There wasn’t much I could do, and time was short, so I went along with it.

On Wednesday I started with even more attention on pronunciation, I realized that it’s my only chance to practice before afternoon avalanche, and, sure enough, it came, even earlier than I expected. From forty rounds up it was already at sixteen rounds per hour, too fast, but also incredibly smooth.

Unlike fast chanting before I could actually sit back and relax, I didn’t have to keep myself constantly moving to maintain the rhythm. I also could afford stressing any particular group of names if I so desired without losing a bit.

The biggest worry at this speed is, of course, pronunciation, it invariably suffers, yet there are two clashing phenomena that still keep me unsettled.

First, of course, is a blur of sounds, I can make out only a couple of shnas and a ram of two, the rest is unintelligible. Second is the fact that I still can enunciate the words if I want to, without losing speed. It requires a bit of an extra effort and it’s difficult to maintain for longer than few mantras at a time but it works. Which tells me that I AM saying all the words, they just don’t come out clear.

In the afternoon yesterday, and again today, the speed went up even further. Somewhere just over three minutes per round. This is just crazy. I can walk, I can sit, I can do little things around the house like closing windows when the rain starts, I can even lie down on a sofa – the speed hardly ever drops.

If I try I can make out each syllable at this speed but it is significantly harder, most of the time I just listen, and what I hear isn’t very pretty. I wonder what I get from this “chanting” when my mind goes away, and there are plenty of very long periods like this. If the mind is with me it at least follows the words internally, when it’s away and I’m chanting slowly I at least can hear the names even if not paying attention.

When I’m going at a neck breaking speed and my mind veers off – what benefits are left there? There aren’t even distinguishable words and names to get at least partial benefits.

I’ve made a recording of myself and played it at 40% slower. Good news – the mantra is still there, the only difficult to make out part is “Hare Hare” after “Krishna Krishna”. There are two words there, I can see them on the waveform, but they are not exactly like Hare Hare, my tongue doesn’t come close enough to the palate to make a clear “r”.

There’s also a unclear bit with “Rama Rama” but that is the legacy of that incident long time ago when I tried chanting along with Prabhupada recording, when my mouth simply refused to mouth out “Rama Rama”. I went into “Prabhupada therapy” with that problem and came out with a new way to say “Rama Rama”, with less clear “r” as well. It saved me then but I knew it would come back to bite me, and it has.

At that time I thought it was divine intervention and I have not reason to doubt it now. Yes, there’s a problem with pronunciation and clarity but I’m trying to estimate the damage and find working solutions.

Slowing down seems as difficult as enunciating the words, better practice in the morning helps, as I observed some improvements over the past couple of days. Ultimately, though, I leave it Krishna.

Maybe I’m totally under the spell of some illusions, illusions about “flow” and illusions about Krishna being in control of such degenerate as myself. Maybe I should swallow a bitter pill and force myself to chant clearly, maybe I shouldn’t worry about completing all two lakhs everyday. Maybe I should concentrate on quality and quantity for now. Maybe, BUT…

I do not control speed as much as I want to. The mantra just flows faster by itself, even when I really start to worry about side effects and when there’s no time pressure whatsoever. It just won’t slow down. I figure that as long as I’m chanting and making sincere efforts Krishna will give me intelligence and the ability to overcome my problems. Maybe He’ll give enough courage to break the flow, snap out of it, and start chanting at a reasonable five-six minutes per round.

I’m not against this solution, I just need a nudge and maybe some assurances as it will certainly lead to less Names being chanted.

Ah, whatever, I’m trying the best I can, tomorrow and on Saturday I think I got a real chance at doing three hundred thousands Names, I don’t feel the rush to complete them, though, when I think of quality I first of all think of the presence of my mind, it needs to be with me. Pronunciation comes second. Faster chanting means less leeway for my mind, among other things. It works to a certain degree, as I get more comfortable the mind gets more freedom, too.

It’s way too complicated for me now. I’ll just keep chanting and hope Krishna will help and correct me. That’s my strategy.

Vanity thought #170. Body of proof.

Following a rather uneventful Monday I’m left wondering if chanting so much is working for me at all. I need proof. Or maybe I don’t.

It is kind of frustrating to look at my current state of consciousness and see no improvements at all, that’s not what I was expecting. A couple of months ago I was so excited about an opportunity to chant so many rounds, I cleared my schedule in advance, I was really looking forward to it, I was full of anticipation.

Now I do it everyday and it’s become a rather dull affair. I can’t deny looking forward to lunch and then the evening with the family, I can’t deny that I’m glad I have chores to do so that I can take my mind off chanting for a bit and work with my hands. The worst part is that while I’m dusting the shelves or sweeping the floor I’m still counting my beads. The worst part is that I consciously move chanting to the back of my mind because I’m so sick of it, I guess.

So is it working?

A while ago I was absolutely sure that it was and, on some level, I’m still sure it does but I doubt it’s the progress in the right direction. I need real proof but all I got is transformations happening with my body and mind – the body of proof it isn’t.

Take speed – if one repeats the same tongue twister again and again he would eventually master it and can dazzle his friends with his new skill. If I manage to chant my rounds faster it’s the same effect, there’s nothing spiritual about it, it doesn’t count. I still marvel at how other devotees, notably maharajas on my downloaded recordings, seem to take each mantra, each Name so seriously. They are really meditating on Krishna there. I’m just mumbling something to myself while looking for excuses to think of something else.

There were also a few “special” realizations, like that time I really felt I wasn’t my body. Two things to bring me down from that high horse. First, I don’t see myself as such anymore, it just doesn’t come back. Second, it might not have had anything to do with spiritual progress at all. Yes, even namabhasa brings liberation and liberation means not seeing himself as a material body but I bet there are plenty of other, mundane techniques to achieve the same effect, too, like transcendental meditation or something.

Hare Krishna mantra is a very powerful tool, it can grant all kinds of things – remove anxieties, bring peace, it can excite and it can provide any kind of sensual enjoyment possible, it can bring yoga siddhis, it can bring liberation, it can do everything, and most of these things could be disruptive on the path of developing devotional service. So what if one can see himself as not the body, it has absolutely no value on its own. The only thing that matters is seeing oneself as a servant of Krishna and vaishnavas and I didn’t see that. So there – useless.

Also the fact that this particular realization doesn’t come back anymore might be a sign that it was just one of my mood swings, nothing more. Our real progress in our real devotional lives cannot just disappear. We can become rich or poor and the next moment we can become ill or famous – all these things come and go like the waves in the sea. One day we are extremely intelligent and perceptive, another day we are dumb and demented, one day we hover above the floor like Maharishi Mahesh yogi, next day we hover above a pile of dung as flies. None of it matters.

If, on the other hand, we manage to get accepted as Krishna’s servants we will never ever go back. Maybe we’ll have temporary setbacks due to the influence of the material nature and our impure hearts but that achievement is impossible to compromise. Krishna will always preserve it for us, He promised.

So, when I look at the signs of my real progress I can’t see any at all. I haven’t become more absorbed in Krishna, I haven’t developed the taste for chanting or for service, I haven’t gained any acceptance – I got nothing.

I probably have to admit that I was driven by the mode of passion, I didn’t care for the process at all, I wanted quick results, and now, when I’m not getting any, I’m naturally losing interest.

This coming Saturday I think I’ll get a chance to chant three lakhs of names, three sets of sixty-four rounds, and I can’t help but notice the difference in anticipation levels now and two-three months ago.

Okay, I know what happened, there’s an explanation, the real question is how to move forward now, when the passion has gone? What should I do?

Ideally I should elevate myself to the level of goodness and enjoy every step of the way but I can’t get there artificially. If I don’t like getting up early in the morning I can’t fake it.

Am I caught in the gap where passion has already worn off but the goodness hasn’t kicked in yet? Afaik, sacrifices in the mode of goodness do not feel great in the beginning but once one acquires taste for it one feels extremely satisfied without even caring for the results. I was hoping that the push of passion would help get past that initial aversion. Apparently it wasn’t enough.

Should I cheer myself up with some new, temporary and illusory visions of success and hope they will carry me to the point where I won’t need them anymore to chant? Sounds great but there are dangers in stocking passion, too. Those fires might die out in one place but the heart will still want the rush and so will look for them elsewhere.

This is what is happening to me now – since I’m no more excited about chanting I’m starting to get excited about all kinds of other things, I’m actually looking to get excited, I’ll take anything.

I know that it won’t bring me any satisfaction, like scratching an insect bite but, just like an itchy bite, it’s impossible to stop oneself.

In this situation it is probably better to get excited about something at least related to Krishna, and that brings me to the possibility of me giving up the chanting and taking up some other service instead, a service that fully occupies my hands and my mind. If I’m doing my extra rounds thinking about what to do with myself I’m not doing it right.

Does that signal the end of my experiment? Maybe, but I’m not going to give up so easily.

The Name itself is perfectly capable of solving all these problems for me. All I have to do is to keep chanting and never miss a chance to be sincere about it.

Actually, I do not need any proof that it works, I just have to keep going at it on faith alone, maybe even against all evidence to the contrary. That kind of strong faith should separate the logical path of my self-benefit and the selfless and causeless devotion.

Yeah, devotion is causeless, isn’t it? Its benefits can’t be rationally explained to other people, if you being totally honest about it in your presentation they are not going to accept it, not unless you are a pure devotee yourself.

Here’s a possible topic for tomorrow – what’s in it for myself?

Vanity thought #167. Round up.

Today is the last day of chanting two lakhs for this week and so it is time to count the chickens and reflect on recent developments.

It turns our chanting 128 rounds or roughly two lakhs is easier than it seemed before. Somehow time had freed up here and there and I’m hardly even under pressure to complete this new daily quota.

Maybe it’s my material interests retreating so I don’t feel the need to waste time on trivial pursuits anymore. That would be a good thing, of course, or perhaps it’s Krishna shifting my schedule around so that I can keep up with my promises. Come to think of it, the second explanation is probably even more pretentious than the first.

There were no major breakthroughs but I had observed two major developments, not sure if they are for the better, though.

Ever since I realized a couple of days ago (again..) that the only moving force behind any progress is the sound of the Holy Name my attitude and approach to chanting has changed yet again. I can’t concentrate anymore the way I did before. There was time when I could manually force my mind to listen to the names for at least one round without any deviations. There was time when I could maintain a reasonable level of concentration for hours. Not anymore.

Forceful attempts are no more accepted, they just don’t work.

I think I can explain it if I assume I made progress. First I realized that my desire to reach Krishna via chanting and listening that gave me strength previously is actually false, it’s coming from my false ego and it’s directed toward my false ego satisfaction. As long as I identify myself with my body all my desires are sourced from thirst for either sense enjoyment or liberation.

A few weeks ago I had a momentary lapse of reason, so it seems, when I clearly saw that I’m not this body and ever since then I can’t wholeheartedly subscribe to any urges coming from either my body or my mind. That’s why I can’t harness any more strength to summon Krishna with every mantra, nor can I summon strength to renounce my thoughts and impulses.

That is due to another realization – renunciation is a sign of impersonalism. Impersonalists see this world and all its phenomena as illusion that must be ignored, that hardens their hearts to devotional service. That’s why renunciation is not listed amond sixty four limbs of devotional service in Bhakti-Rasamrita-Sindhu or Nectar of Devotion. We practice yukta vairagya instead – take everything from this world and engage it in Krishna’s service.

Practically it meant for me that I shouldn’t punish myself by banning thoughts and ideas from my head or my heart. There’s another reason for this – by suppressing these desires I might fool myself that I don’t have them anymore. Suppression doesn’t remove the roots of the desires and while it might work for a while there’s always a danger of falling down and Krishna Himself said that this jnana yoga is a very very difficult path. Even more so in Kali Yuga.

The only way to deal with the desires is by cleansing the heart itself and that is done by loving devotional service – the heart must be soft and receptive. For me it means more chanting. As, yet unmanifested, interest in Krishna arises in the heart all other desires naturally disappear.

That’s what I’m doing at the moment – the natural way. As soon as I spot something unwanted in my head I chant at it and it goes away. Usually a few mantras is enough.

Some people had this gift right from the start but it took me many many years to develop it to the point of any reliability.

It works this week, btw, it might not work next week. I hope if that happens it will be replaced by something better.

So this problem – wandering mind, has been somehow addressed. Next goal is to develop taste for chanting. I catch myself again and again counting the hours and minutes to the next break. Chanting is still something I have to do, even force myself to do, though admittedly it’s much easier now than before.

I want counting the hours and minutes and wishing they run slower instead. Sometimes it happens with ordinary pleasures – no one wants the end of the holidays, especially school holidays if you are kid, if you are a parent you probably can’t wait to offload the offspring to someone else’s care.

People don’t normally count the hours till the end of the party, too. Some of them would never give up and pull all-nighters, drinking until the morning comes and they run out of batteries.

Somehow it doesn’t happen with my chanting and I wish it did. I know it’s a major step forward, probably irreversible, I might just as well ask for a Moon, but as long as I wish for mantra to end and something else to start I’m still like a hamster running in the wheel – I don’t move anywhere, it’s not devotion, it’s not service. At best it’s training for when the real thing comes at worst it’s an easy way to force God to provide for my enjoyment – I do my part, like a circus clown, and He supposed to send me a paycheck.

Another major development is the speed. This is something I didn’t expect and I don’t know if it’s a boon or a curse.

Every morning I start chanting at a nice and steady pace of six minutes per round, every syllable comes out crystal clear, but then, in half an hour or so, the speed goes up by itself. For about two or three hours I chant at five and a half minutes per round, but in the past two days it bumped up to five minutes straight. Pronunciation is still clear, though, so I’m not complaining.

Major speed boosts were initially observed in the afternoon but now that’s been spreading to the morning, too, and it’s started to seriously affect my pronunciation. I do not explicitly wish for it to happen but the rhythm and the flow come naturally and are impossible to break. At best I can chant a bit clearer. On some days I swear I was doing fifteen rounds an hour, four minutes per round.

Just like with everything else I decided to leave it the Holy Name itself but Krishna seems to be not interested in correcting me in any way. He apparently likes the speed.

The flow feels so natural that for days I didn’t even dare to record myself, considering it to be an interruption. Finally I did it though and sure enough – syllables in the recording aren’t any clearer as when I hear them myself. I don’t know what to do about it.

Looking at the rhythm I’m not missing anything, the sounds are not clear but I still spend time on saying them, I hear them in my mind, that would be okay if I was doing japa but technically, we are doing kirtan, not meditation in the mind.

Prabhupada’s japa wasn’t always clear either, sometimes it’s impossible to make out individual names and even sounds. All the maharajas, on the other hand, pronounce the names extremely clear.

What to do?

Leave it to Krishna, if it worries me and if it’s important He will be kind enough to eventually intervene.

The week is over, I won’t be speeding for the next two days, no reason to worry about the future, is there?

Vanity thought #159. Out of my hands.

Another japa diary. I don’t have any other input to process and my hands are full with chanting, nothing else registers.

Usually my first morning rounds are the best but today something happened that turned my day upside down.

It all started with a dream. I was at a brandy tasting(!?!) and I met a woman. It wasn’t that we “clicked”, it was like opening a window to a new world. “Soul mate” implies finding a perfect match for yourself but this woman made me forget who I am and offered a brand new, unique and exciting opportunity that could not be passed no matter what. And then I woke up.

The warm, happy feeling was still in every cell of my body and soul, I saw that it was just a dream but the opportunity felt very real. What will happen if I actually come across such a female specimen?

That’s when I realized that I AM the body and there’s no place for me in Krishna’s service. The dreamy feeling penetrated too deep for me to defend myself against. For the life of me I couldn’t find its roots, it went into the very core of my being, deeper than the deepest I’ve ever been aware of. And she wasn’t some kind of angel, despite the overwhelming attraction the reality has set in even in the dream – she was married, she went on and on about the place where she lived and the dream ended with me impatiently waiting for her to finish a telephone conversation.

Despite its power it wasn’t a new beginning – it was the same, well traveled road to nowhere, yet I was totally hooked on it.

So I gave up – there’s no way I can turn this sack of flesh into anything even remotely spiritual. I cannot find even a tiniest particle in my identity, in my “I am”, that isn’t grossly materialistic. There’s no point in me praying “I’ll do this and I promise that” – they are all cries for personal enjoyment, and not very well disguised either, and that’s not me, this “I” is not my real self, it’s false ego.

Why should I, or Krishna, for that matter, care about well-being of this false ego? Going along with my prayers is not only hopeless, it’s an exercise in futility. So what next then?

Being totally bewildered I also succumbed to desire to fix my home network once and for all, allegedly to copy japa recordings I downloaded earlier to another computer. Various ways to do it and all kinds of solutions and tricks have overwhelmed my mind and so the first thirty two rounds had gone to the dogs. I think I’ve lost half an hour comparing to my regular speed and names were coming out of my mouth with such difficulty that I resigned to being powerless over the process, over my mind, over my life.

Did I consider surrendering? Feeling helpless is a perfect reason, isn’t it? I ran into a small problem, though – I saw no point in trying to surrender what is not me. I could, theoretically, try to surrender my false ego but that would have been under false pretenses, too. “I”, as I know myself, was not worth surrendering.

Then I finally turned on those blasted japa mp3s and in quiet amusement observed a total reversal of fortune. Suddenly my own japa started flowing, not just chanting, consciously producing the words – it flowed entirely on its own instead. When I tried to think about it, I started staggering. When I tried to think of anything else, I started staggering. The only way to keep the flow was to shut up and listen.

I had no idea where my limits were. When I thought I was swallowing some syllables and tried to vigorously monitor myself – I staggered.

It was out of my hands, for the second time in the morning.

I couldn’t pray – it interrupted the flow, I couldn’t concentrate – it interrupted the flow, too. No mental activity was allowed. For a couple of days I was thinking how to introduce the “rapt attention” in this blog, today I was shown that it interrupts the flow, too.

To make matters worse, after one recording maharaj said a few words about importance of chanting or something, I didn’t listen, I just skipped forward to check if he is still talking and the only words I caught “simply chant for Krishna’s pleasure, don’t think of anything, and gradually…”

Don’t think of anything? Simply chant? Is this piece of advice a mere coincidence? Whole morning I’ve been wondering if I should let go of all thoughts and simply chant.

Why didn’t I think of that before?

Well, I tried to concentrate, I tried to put all my heart into chanting, I tried very hard to control my mind, if “simply chant” was so easy I would have done it long ago.

Finally, by Krishna’s grace, I’ve been given this wonderful flow of japa that does not allow for any interruptive thoughts at all. Also, to maintain this flow I need to keep up the speed, it just doesn’t want to flow slower, so to speak.

In the afternoon it went through some kind of rapids, I guess. Round after round it sped at four and a half minutes, on Prabhupada’s japa even faster. I was doing sixteen rounds at an hour and ten-fifteen minutes, solid.

Sometimes it was impossible to follow and it allowed my mind to wander away while still keeping the speed up, and at this time I thought I was going crazy – my awareness of the world around me went to zero. Only chanting, listening, and filling the gaps with the voice of japa recordings – nothing else was allowed if I wanted to stay sane.

God knows I missed lots of syllables but I was in no position to argue. Chant slower, enunciate every word, and the mind goes astray, japa stops, tongue stammers – all kinds of bad things happen.

Out of my hands, I reminded myself, again.

I can’t imagine where it will all go tomorrow. Too unpredictable.

Vanity thought #158. Chores.

This is a boring diary entry, just doing my chores.

By all accounts this was turning into an uneventful week.

I don’t know how I didn’t see it before but this week chanting 128 rounds sounds perfectly normal. Perhaps it’s Krishna’s magic, perhaps I am actually losing interest in certain things and that freed up time for extra rounds.

Today is the second day I did these two lakhs and I’m optimistic I can continue it as a new weekday standard. The whole process takes about twelve hours since the moment I wake up. When I look at it like that I regret about the other twelve hours I spend on god knows what. It genuinely bothers me and I deal with it the best way I know – by ignoring it.

In absence of any revelations I concentrate on improving the quality of my japa. There’s a truly gargantuan task in front of me – chant 200,000 Holy Names with utmost concentration, humility, and respect. I don’t think the Name will reveal itself to me if I keep thinking of pleasures or pains of the material world.

Put it simply – the truth is that the maha mantra is the only reality, it contains both Krishna and all His forms, qualities, energies, all His devotees and all His pastimes. It is all in there. If, however, I still believe that the reality is my body and all the things that surround it, I’m not going to see Krishna.

I simply cannot divide my attention, I can’t maintain interest in both.

Philosophically speaking this world is real, of course, but unless I see Krishna I can’t see the material energy as it is and try to take shelter in it, and that is total madness.

So if I keep half of my mind on chanting the mantra and the other half on scavenging the contents of my fridge – I’m doomed to fail. Keeping my mind off the fridge at all times seems like an impossible task but I believe I’m making progress.

Progress not in a sense of how long I can stay on the mantra but in how fast I can bring my mind back. Maybe I’m fooling myself but I feel like it is much easier to drop all other thoughts and concentrate on listening. Maybe I should look at my posts from a few weeks ago and see if there’s any factual evidence left there. I remember I’ve been having epic struggles with my mind, it was totally out of control, it’s much more docile now.

What helps me shut it down is realization that I’m not this body and anything related to this body is irrelevant. If some memories pop up in my brain – irrelevant, if the mind starts thinking of food for dinner – irrelevant, job, family, friend, hopes, dreams, successes and failures – it’s all irrelevant and must be dropped the second I realize they stole my attention.

Of course the body and all its multiple interests must be maintained in good working condition but not in my japa time. I can always think about things later, all I need is one good thought, not two hours of repetitive nonsense. Krishna can supply good thoughts in proper time if I need them, they have not right to distract me from japa.

And so I was puttering along, making awkward moves from one thought to another, not quite hitting the hole but not quitting hope either. Then I decided to enlist some help – I searched ISKCON Desire Tree for recordings of japa and downloaded myself a few hour long playlist that has become my afternoon companion. It’s in the afternoons that I have less power to control the mind, mornings I reserve strictly for my own struggle.

It so happened that all the recordings are by sannyasis and initiating gurus so all these devotees have decades of tireless, selfless service to the Lord and so must be very, very dear to Krishna. They’ve also tried their best for these tapes. One thing is immediately obvious – when they say “Krishna” they really mean it, they are indeed meditating on the sound of the names. I chant much, much faster, but, in my defense, I have more rounds to cover and that’s all I really do. I don’t need to give classes, meet disciples, fly to some other country and so on.

At first I worried about it a little but I discovered that difference in speed is not a problem. It’s just the first hour after lunch I’m slower no matter what or whose japa is playing in the background. There’s one recording where one round takes twelve minutes to finish but I found that all I need is to try and raise myself to the same level of concentration and then chanting twice as fast ceases to be a problem.

Each devotee’s mood and approach is slightly different but whoever it is, they all stop my mind from wondering when it doesn’t want to listen to my own chanting. When I take breaths it listens to their japa, for example.

It took me a couple of days to get used to it, at first I was totally bewildered, there was nothing fixed neither in my mind nor in my heart, but maybe that’s exactly the point – just listen to the sound of the names.

The last recording is by Srila Prabhupada, it’s the one with shennai in the background. The sound of the music makes Prabhupada’s chanting sound more natural – the way you would hear it in the crowd.

Two weeks ago it helped me with pronunciation of “Rama Rama Hare Hare”, when my own voice had been drowned by Prabhupada my mouth found a new way to produce the sounds. Today I noticed that it’s slipping up again, the distinction between two “Ramas” was barely noticeable.

While I was paying attention to that I also noticed that my speed increased. I was chanting softly and effortlessly but the clock started showing unbelievable times, instead of losing ten-twenty seconds on five minutes per round all afternoon I suddenly started gaining. A couple of rounds clocked at four minutes twenty seconds and four and a half minutes has become a norm.

That was totally unexpected, that was not something I was looking for, it as just a gift. This is the third time it happened. First I shaved about a minute to five and half, then another half a minute dropped, and now I’m on four twenty if I don’t waste any seconds on pausing or repeating the mantra?

I don’t know the meaning of this. New speed mean new worries if I’m not up to it, means new worries about clarity, new level of energy and concentration. Actually energy level was about the same, maybe even lower, but the flow has improved. Why? What for?

Are people expected to chant this fast? There’s no one to ask, but if it happened there must be a reason, I just don’t know it yet.