Different Ways of Chanting, Focus during Japa

Question: I would like to know which chanting is more powerful, in the mind or audibly.

1) Srila Jiva Gosvami writes in his Krama sandarbha: “The names of God should be chanted loudly.”

2) Baladeva Vidyabhusana explain in the Stava malabibhusana bhasya, “If one chants the Hare Krsna mantra loudly, Krsna personally dances on his tongue.”

The Most Powerful Chanting

Sri Vinod Bihari Gosvami

Question: I would like to know which chanting is more powerful, in the mind or audibly.

1) Srila Jiva Gosvami writes in his Krama sandarbha: “The names of God should be chanted loudly.”

2) Baladeva Vidyabhusana explain in the Stava malabibhusana bhasya, “If one chants the Hare Krsna mantra loudly, Krsna personally dances on his tongue.”

3) In Caitanya-bhagavata Adi Khanda, with purports of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, it says that loud chanting is best.

Answer: Both are powerful and both are recommended. I have practiced both. My personal experience is that manasic japa is superior in focusing the mind on the mantra. But it must be learned from one who knows. If audible chanting helps one to focus, that is good for him/her. However, Jiva Gosvami or Baladeva Vidyabhusana are not forbidding mansic japa. Manasic japa is the same as smaranam, and Jiva Gosvami has written about smaranam and its importance.

A famous quote from Padma Purana says that the essence of all rules and regulations is to remember Krsna and never to forget him. Narada also says in the first chapter of the Seventh Canto that somehow or other one should fix the mind on Krishna – which is smaranam.

As far as the Chaitanya Bhagavata story is concerned, that is to glorify the Name. I do not disagree with it. CB is also not forbidding mansic japa. It only says that vacika is 100 times superior to manasic. The reason for this is that by vacika, the plants and animals also benefit. But if the chanter himself is not making progress, how will the plants? This may be true in the case of people like Haridasa Thakura who chant purely. But others must be free from offence themselves to benefit others. The Holy Name does not manifest His power otherwise. One who chants for the benefit of others must be pure to think like that. Normal people are not able to concentrate while chanting. In the list of offences inattentiveness is also counted. So if one can chant with attention loudly, that is good. But to come to that stage, you may have to go through manasika japa.

In regards to 100 times, there are slokas which say that manasic chanting is 1000 time superior to vacika. Of course one may say that it is applicable only to Vedic mantras and not to the Name. Vedic mantras should not be chanted loudly. But when chanted like a mantra, the Name should follow the rules for Vedic mantras. Loud chanting is kirtan and manasic japa is smaranam and both have their glory. Mahaprabhu glorifies kirtana – kirtaniya sada hari, and also smaranam  – smarane na kala.


Focus During Japa

Question: When chanting, should I associate the sound of the Lord’s name with His form or the sound of His name with the written representation of His name? I have heard different views about this. And if my association should only be in respect to one of the two, then is that not contradictory to the statement that the Lord’s name is non-different from His form?

Answer: You associate the sound with the letters. That is recommended. It is not contradictory because although the Lord is non-different, He is also different in some sense. Otherwise we would not have separate two words for them.

In Bhakti Sandarbha Sri Jiva Gosvami writes that one should begin hearing and chanting the Name. This will purify the heart and then form, qualities and pastimes will manifest in the pure heart. He says that one can follow any order but he recommends to begin with the Name.

Beads and Japa

Question: I read that the individual beads that make up our mala, which we use to chant with, is meant to represent the 108 gopis – is that accurate? If not, what is the purpose of the beads – to focus our attention?

Answer: The purpose is to keep your mind on the mantra and also to chant a certain amount regularly. Otherwise one will be irregular. The beads are made of Tulasi, so it also keeps in touch with Tulasi Devi who is dear to Krsna. 108 is a mystical number. You can interpret it as gopis or Upanisads, or related with the number of breaths. According to numerology, it is the complete number, 1 plus 8 is equal to 9, so it brings completeness, or it links you with the Complete Person.


The Meaning and Purpose of Chanting

There is an interesting verse in Srimad Bhagavatam in regards to chanting: sanketyam parihasyam va stobham helanam eva va vaikuntha-nama-grahanam aseshagha-haram viduh: “One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins, even if he chants indirectly [to indicate something else], jokingly, for musical entertainment, or even neglectfully. This is accepted by all the learned scholars of the scriptures.” (SB 6.2.14). I was wondering if Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur has said something further on its meaning.

Answer:  He adds that none of these things should be offensive. Otherwise he only explains the meaning of these terms.

Question: As you know, many devotees of Krsna are lecturing and doing kirtan at various yoga studios in the USA and Europe. Some conservative devotees feel that we shouldn’t compromise our Vaisnava philosophy one iota while others are more liberal and are encouraging yogis to chant even if it has the above mentioned flaws. Any thoughts on this matter, specifically in regards to the above mentioned verse?

Answer: Well, the real thing is to know the purpose behind chanting. Its primary purpose is devotion to the Lord – to do it for His pleasure. It is not a means of entertainment, which is usually the case. Even many conservative devotees fall prey to this tendency.

The above mentioned verse is not an injunction to chant in this manner but an explanation of the power of the Name. You can chant in Yoga centers or wherever, if your intention is proper, and ultimately you should let it be known. Sometimes I also chant but I also explain the meaning and purpose of chanting.


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Comments ( 5 )
  1. Vraja Kishor

    I really like this post. Please give us more like this for time to time.

  2. Vraja Kishor

    Can you please comment on Sri Rupa’s statement (BRS 1.2.149): “mantrasya sulaghūccāro japa ity abhidhīyate” [Japa is to be considered very light utterance of a mantra.]?

    • snd

      What you have referred to is the basic definition of japa. Then it has further three divisions called vacika, upamsu and mansika. See Haribhakti-vilasa 17.155. HBV 17.155 also says that among these three, the later one is superior to the previous one. The next three verses, i.e. 17.156-158, give the definition of each one of them. Then 17.159 says that upamsu japa is 100 times superior to vacika and mansika is 1000 times superior.

  3. Vraja Kishor

    Thank you for that answer. Here is another question: so far you’ve addressed the subject of volume, how about the subject of tempo? Is there any recommendation or injunction regarding the speed / mace at which we should chant japa?

    Personally I find that chanting as fast as possible without dropping syllables prevents my mind from wandering into daydreams and other dramas… but I’m not so sure if its really the key to getting to true attentiveness.

  4. snd

    Yes there is recommendation for tempo. But it will shock you if i tell you now. So wait till you see me in the Svadhyaya (jape retreat).

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