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Why Chant Japa?


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My wife, Archana-siddhi, a veteran facilitator of the wildly successful japa retreats of some years ago, presented a class on japa at our small temple. After our signature arotik and kirtan with guitar, mandolin, and vocal harmony, she began her talk in her favorite facilitator style by asking the class to write down why they chant japa. Fortunately, as she discovered by asking, everyone present chanted japa on their beads at least some days if not regularly. Then, as she had hoped, we all found the shared answers inspiring, hearing some perspectives we hadn’t considered in the exercise, but thoroughly appreciated.

While we generally cite certain verses in Vedic scripture proclaiming that Shri Chaitanya, the avatar for this age, came to propagate the congregational chanting of the holy name, chanting japa is a very important aspect of the life of a sadhaka, or spiritual practitioner in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Lord Chaitanya and his followers all took a vow to chant a certain amount of japa. The general principle is to always remember Krishna and never forget him, and it could be argued that the holy name is the same whether in kirtan or in japa—and for many devotees, kirtan is easier to do than japa—which brings us to today’s topic, of why should we chant japa.

Those who chant 16 rounds of japa on their beads find it takes from 2-3 hours, so why can’t we just do kirtan for that time? Certainly we can do that if we have a taste, and yet, we find that new initiates take a vow to chant a certain amount of rounds of japa, rather than to do a certain amount of kirtan. From this we can conclude that chanting japa is not less important than kirtan. Many of the leading kirtaneers consider that their focused japa helps the purity and taste of their kirtan.
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Although japa can be done with others, it is still an individual endeavor. For followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s line as outline by Shrila Rupa Goswami, japa generally means the soft utterance of the maha-mantra, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. Three types of japa are given in scripture and by our acharyas: out loud, murmuring (for one’s own hearing), and silently within the mind. As is often the case we find verses which seem to give opposite instructions, glorifying both silent and loud chanting of the holy name. We have to sort the reasons for this by hearing from advanced devotees and personal reflection rather than only advocating one method. The main idea is to do what is most favorable for meditating on the mantra and remembering Krishna and his divine energy and greatest devotee, Shri Radha.

For most new devotees it isn’t advisable to chant japa only within the mind as it requires a high level of concentration and purity. Shrila Prabhupada generally encouraged his disciples to chant loudly and this was effective for many of his disciples who found the loud chanting helped them control their sometimes crazy minds. I have gradually come to a practice of soft chanting especially when I am in a group setting. This type of chanting helps me to concentrate on the sound. One or more person’s loud chanting can disturb the atmosphere for others who may not be able to hear themselves chant. I would recommend experimenting with all 3 types of japa and seeing what works best for you to become absorbed in the holy name. And of course, if one’s guru recommends a particular method, than that will have power for the disciple.
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Here are reasons some of the devotees gave for chanting japa. Devotees did this for their own benefit, and Archana only decided at the end to have the devotees turn in their lists—which gave me the idea for this blog. We had mainly new devotees and a few seasoned practitioners participate. All kinds of people come to Krishna with varieties of motivation and seriousness. Through regular chanting, hearing the philosophy, active service, and good association, our soul gradually awakens and our higher motivations and desires manifest. After you read the list, I encourage you to write your own, or if you don’t chant japa, consider beginning the practice. You may find it helpful to find a devotee who chants japa and make a time to chant with them, or visit a temple during the morning japa session.

Today can be the first day of awakening your relationship with the holy name, or a deepening of your spiritual practice. Be a possibility thinker of your highest potential and don’t buy into your conditioned reasons for avoiding the holy name. If you are in a rut, pray to get up, and seek inspiration. Be the change you want to see, and help others rise. As you give, you will be helped. Chant and go deeper into your soul and awaken your service nature. I write to encourage you, and do so as a fellow spiritual voyager and friend.
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Why I Chant Japa?
--for purification
--as service to my Gurus and our Deities
--my vow
--as spiritual practice
--to see my desires and ideals
--as a prayer for spiritual advancement
--my private time with Radha and Krishna
--to remember my identity as a servant of Krishna
--remembering Shri Chaitanya and his mission
--practicing loving Krishna
--offering myself to Radha and Krishna and their names

--meditation (it clears the mind)
--gets you closer to Krishna
--passing the time in the best way
--gives your fingers a workout
--as service
--its fun
--relieves stress

--to make sure Krishna never leaves your mind
--to experience maximum pleasure
--to keep you regulated
--good form of bhakti

--theoretical understanding of where it will take me
--some practical experience
--I’ve done this for a long time and don’t want to break the continuity
--I accept/believe in the instructions given by Shrila Prabhupada and the Vedas regarding its efficacy
--better japa, better day/life

--to purify heart and mind
--to unravel all the material knots
--because my guru stresses it
--because Archana says we’ll have a better day
--to have direct experience with Krishna
--to realize my fallen nature as an impetus for spiritual practice
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--pure vibration=pure lives
--increase of awareness
--increase of focus
--increase of discipline
--increase of surrender
--decrease of negativity
--increase of connectivity to the Supreme Controller
--developing goodness
--relaxing into a higher dimension

--to love and remember Krishna
--to follow the spiritual master’s example

--connecting with Krishna
--overcoming material boredom
--freeing me from anxiety
--for someone else’s japa class

--to love Krishna
--to get closer to Krishna
--to please Krishna
--to experience Krishna’s pastimes
--recommended process for this day and age
--to receive mercy
--to be a good devotee

--to remember Krishna
--as devotional service
--connecting to Krishna
--heart cleaning
--good practice in morning and evening
--as gratitude
--to understand the mantra
--developing my relationship with Krishna
--spending time with Krishna
--communicating with Krishna
--to improve my japa and myself
--sharing love with Krishna

--frees me from anxiety
--to associate with Krishna
--to fulfill my vow
--brings my mind and senses under control
--will eventually awaken my love for Krishna
--I like it
--Krishna likes it
--so I can become a devotee
--following in the footsteps of great Vaishnavas
--keeps me happy, peaceful, balanced
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