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Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
Shrila Thakura Bhaktivinoda in Hari-nama-cintamani Chp 15:
“The process of nama-sadhana is as follows-In the beginning, the introspective spiritual aspirant should cultivate the continuous chanting and rememberance of the Hare Krisna maha-mantra while endeavouring to give up the ten offenses. By loudly and distinctly uttering the maha-mantra, he should chant and remember the meaning. Gradually the chanting will become clear, steady and blissful. At that point one should meditate on the three-fold bending form Lord Shyamasundara while chanting.
While turning the beads with the fingers and reciting the maha-mantra, one should search out the meaning of the names with the mind. Then one will be able to meditate on the transcendental form of the Lord while chanting. Another procedure is to sit in front of the Deity of the Lord and behold His beautiful form while chanting and meditating on the maha-mantra. When the maha-mantra and the form of the Lord become one while chanting, one should voluntarily practise to remember the 64 transcendental qualities of Lord Krishna.
Thereafter when the maha-mantra, the form and the qualities of Krishna become one by regular practice, one should begin meditating on the pastimes (mantra-dhyana-mayi lila) of Lord Krishna and gradually make the pastimes one with the maha-mantra, the form and the qualities of Krishna.
As the meditation on the pastimes of the Lord while chanting becomes firmly established, the sadhaka can start meditating on the eight-fold daily pastimes of Shri Shri Radha and Krishna in the spiritual world as per one’s eternal constitutional position (svarasiki) and thus gradually but fully arouse the (rasa) mellow of pure love of God. In the beginning of this process of chanting, the sadhaka was a neophyte. But if he cultivates the above process of chanting the Hare Krisna maha-mantra. especially in the association of first-class (uttama) devotees, then very soon he will raise himself to the platform of an intermediate (madhyama) devotee and thereafter he will achieve the topmost platform of an uttama-vaishnava (defined earlier). When one practices chanting as a neophyte while chanting in namabhasa (without much faith), the unwanted things (anarthas) in his heart are destroyed and he gradually gets the qualification to chant the maha-mantra purely and serve the devotees.
nama smarile rupa aise sange sange;
rupa nama bhinna naya nace nana range.
“When one remembers the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, the transcendental form of the Lord Krishna appears in the heart and mind along with the chanting. When one realizes that the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and Krishna’s form are non-different then the maha-mantra dances on the tongue enabling the chanter to taste a variety of ecstatic mellows at every second.”
What follows are some wonderful extracts from Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s essay entitled “Nama Bhajana’ which vividly explain the process of chanting:
When the sincere thrills of joy and tears trickling down the cheeks the devotees constantly chant, hear and remember the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, they gradually reach the stage of Bhava. Appearing in the heart, Krishna erases their spots out and out from their mind, and thus cleansing their heart graciously blesseth them with His own Prema. Extreme humbleness and utter devotion are necessary to call Krishna to the heart. Then when earthly knowledge , reasonings and strivings are completely burnt to ashes, the soul’s eyes can perceive Bhagavan and His associated counter-parts.
The fortunate ones who earnestly long to ascend the terrace of Prema, do sincerely and incessantly chant the maha-mantra in the company of sadhus. They do not have any appetite for any other feature of devotion. When in a short time by the grace of the maha-mantra, the heart becomes closely attentive, the fruits of religious forbearance, control over sensual appetities, religious observances, withholding the breath by way of religious austerity, abstract religious contemplation, steady abstraction of the mind and indifference to external impressions are very easily gained without paying the least heed to all these. The maha-mantra alone is a complete suspension of the fleeting mental operations. The more the heart is pellucid, the more diverse pastimes of the Spiritual Kingdom play in it. The flow of milk of this felicity is so very fast running that no other means can give even the smallest drop of it. Jivas have no other wealth than the grace of Krishna.
Devotees who are desirous of ascending the terrace of Prema should remember a few points even before entering the field of the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Firstly, they should know it for certain that the form of Krishna, the form of the maha-mantra, the form of the service to Krishna and the form of Krishna’s servants are eternally free-eternally spiritual! Krishna, His abode and His paraphernalia are all spiritual and beyond the grasp of Maya, the illusory energy. No mundane consideration exists in seva or service. The seat, room, garden, forest, the Yamuna and every other thing of Krishna are spiritual and hence untouchable by matter. They are furthur aware of the fact that this, their belief is not a blind worldly faith-it is absolutely true and eternal. The exact forms of all these do not in truth manifest on this earth. Such ideas perpetually reign in the pure hearts of pure devotees.
Devotees who thirst for Prema and are on the way to it sing and realise this Hare-Krishna-Nama by counting. While chanting and remembering the maha-mantra incessantly, they remember His spiritual characteristics by the way of explaining to the mind the meanings of the maha-mantra. By this means their heart is very soon freed from every spot of scrapes and becomes pure and stainless; and with the morning twilight of the maha-mantra as the heart is puirified by constant rememberance, the maha-mantra dawns in the horizon of the pellucid heart with full shining rays.
Those who have accepted the maha-mantra are either self-realized devotees or are still trotting onward to self-realization. Of these, the latter class of devotees are divided according to their early and advanced stages. Devotees, besides these, who are eternally free, no more confound the soul with the body, never identify themselves with body and mind. Devotees in their early stage begin to chant the maha-mantra by a fixed number, and as they gradually increase the countings they come to the stage when their tongue stops not for a moment from singing the maha-mantra. Though choler tongued by avidya, devotees in their first stage have no taste for the maha-mantra, still a patient and continuous utterance of the maha-mantra proves to be the only remedy; now they feel uneasy if stopped from singing the maha-mantra, and a constant and regardful chanting produces a supreme liking for Him (the Lord). Zeal and earnestness to avoid sacrileges to the maha-mantra are very needful in the first stage, which can be done only by an avoidance of the worldly-minded men and the company of devotees. Incessant chanting of the maha-mantra will, when the first flow has passed way, naturally create a love for the maha-mantra and kindness to the jivas. In this karma, jnana and yoga have nothing to do. If their workings be even then strong, they may help the devotees of the maha-mantra in maintaining their livelihood. If the Hare Krishna maha-mantra be sung with a firm inclination, it will ere long cleanse the heart and burn avidya and when avidya vanishes, the brighter illumination of a true unbiased abnegation and a sense of the relationship between Krishna and the jivas will appear in the heart. Numberless times has this been proved to be true among the wise.
With a happy heart one should recollect the meaning and form of the maha-mantra and should pray to Krishna with a heart-rendering lamentation and this will draw the grace of Krishna which will lead him onward in the path of bhajan; or else, births will pass in vain like karmis and frustrated jnanis.
The case is different with those few lucky ones who have an exclusively firm faith in the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. They take by the unbounded grace of Krishna, the shelter at the feet of such a spiritual guide who is an ontologist of the maha-mantra, i.e. who has realized and does see the Swarupa (form) of the maha-mantra. Of the rights of such a preceptor, Shri Mahaprabhu says that though formal initiation may not be necessary still a guide is essential in the bhajan of the maha-mantra. The mere letters of the maha-mantra may be had at any place and from anybody, but the profound and unknown truth that is lurking behind those letters can only be exposed by the grace of a true preceptor who is purely devoted to Krishna. By the grace of the spiritual guide alone, one can pass over from the early twilight of the maha-mantra to the pure light of it and can save them from the ten sacrileges himdering the true service of the maha-mantra.
These premarurukshu (earnest desiring pure love for Lord Krishna) devotees chant and tell their beads three lacs (300.000) of times in 24 hours, and such felicity they find in the Hare Krishna maha-mantra that a moment they cannot spare without Him, then when no time can be kept in time of sleep etc. they become incessant in their bhajan. Repeated rememberance of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra as explained by Shri Gopal Guru Goswami will by degrees, drive out every scrap from the nature of man and then the maha-mantra appears in person before the spiritual eyes of the devotee. When the swarupa (form) of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra fully appears, it is identical with the spiritual form of Krishna-the appearance of the swarupa of the maha-mantra is the appearance of the swarupa of Krishna. The more clearly and purely is the Hare Krishna maha-mantra visible, the more the bhajan proceeds in the presence of His swarupa, the more do the three elements of which primordial matter is said to be composed, namely sattva (the stand of goodness), rajas (the stand of activity) and tamas (the gloom of pride, haughtiness etc. of the lowest inherent principle), disappear and there appear the spiritual attributes of Krishna in the heart of the devotee. Then again, when there is a happy union of the Name, Form and Attributes of Krishna, and devotees in their bhajan see them, the Lila (pastimes) of Krishna is awakened by the grace of Krishna in their pure heart as soon as they are absorbed in deep and easy natural meditation. Incessantly then does the maha-mantra dance on their tongue, the form of Krishna is then visible to their soul’s eye, all the attributes of Krishna are then observed in their heart and the bud of lila blooms in their soul while they are buried in meditation. In this stage five conditions of the practising devotee are to be noticed.
1.Shravana dasha 2. Varana dasha 3. Smarana dasha 4. Apana dasha 5. Prapana dasha.
The happy mood which the devotee feels at the time of listening to the object of pursuit and the means to hear from the lips of a true Spiritual Preceptor may be called Shravana dasha. In this stage, every bit of knowledge about how to take the maha-mantra without committing any sacrilege to Him and of the processes and fitness of taking the maha-mantra is gained; this facilitates the continuity of the maha-mantra.
When fit to receive, the strung-together beads of Nama-prema can be had of Shri Gurudeva, i.e. the disciple with every delight and from the deepest recesses of his heart cordially welcomes the boon of surrendering himself to the feet of Shri Guru for pure and unalloyed bhajan and receiving invogorating strength and faculty from him. This is Varana-dasha (i.e. the choice of Shri Guru for bhajan by the acceptance of the maha-mantra and strength from him).
Rememberance, contemplation, concentration, constant meditation and trance (final beatitude) are the five processes of smarana. From the rememberance of the maha-mantra, the devotee thinks of the form which gives him a steady conception of the attributes; this steady conception of the attributes gives him a firm conviction of pursuing the lila of Krishna and having entrance in the lila he is completely absorbed in Krishna-Rasa. This is Apana dasha. By these smarana and apana, the devotee can know and adore the eternal and daily lila of Krishna at eight different periods of the day; and when he is deeply absorbed in it, he realizes his own self and that of Krishna. These self-realized devotees are Paramhamsas.
Then at the time of departure from this world, the devotee by the grace of Krishna becomes an associated counter-part of ideal object of his worship in Vraja and thus attains the summum-bonum of the bhajan of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
The following is the translation of a song from Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Sharanagati:
“My heart is just like a desert, hot with the rays of the sun. This is my internal mental condition. The desire for mortal things cannot satisfy me because by nature they are death-producing. And not one or two, but thousands of such death-producing desires have taken shelter in my mind. So, my subconscious region is always burning. This is my condition. But somehow, by the grace of the sadhu and guru, the Hare Krishna maha-mantra with its infinite prospect has entered through the holes of my ears and reached the plane of my heart. And there, with some peculiar hope, with infinite, auspicious possibilities, it touched my heart with a new kind of nectar.
“New hope is aroused by that sound of the maha-mantra. Then by force it comes form the heart towards the tongue. Not that by the endeavor of my tongue I am producing that sound no. What came from the heart of a pure saint through my ear, entered my heart, and that forcibly appeared on my tongue, and began to dance.
“That is the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. It descends from above. It cannot be produced by the material tongue. It's source is above. And through an agent of the absolute it comes through the ear to the heart. From the heart it gathers some sympathy, then the maha-mantra forcibly appears upon the tongue and begins to dance. With great force it comes to the end of the tongue, and that sweet sound begins its dancing.
“The real effects of the maha-mantra have been described here. If it is a real and living mantra, the voice will be choked up, there will be shivering in the body, and the legs will be unable to stand. Sometimes tears will flow in a current on the body, and one's hairs will stand on end. Sometimes changes of color will be found in the body, and we will be unable to find any trace of the mind or consciousness.
“We may fall in a swoon, the whole body and mind will appear as if it is being attacked, shivering, and influenced in different ways. Apparently it may seem that so many troubles are created in the body and the mind, but the real heart is overflowing with a particular kind of strange, sweet juice. Sometimes the devotee thinks-I am in an ocean of nectar. My whole existence is within an ocean of nectarean liquid. I am beside myself. I can’t understand where I am. Where am I? What is this? What is all about me? It has almost made me mad. Am I a madman? Where is my past experience, my seriousness, my gravity, where are they? What am I? I have been converted wholesale by a foreign thing. I am a doll in the hands of a great force, which is also so affectionate to me. I can't ascertain how it is possible that by my faith I have entered this great, unknown environment, not experienced before. And at last I find that I am captivated. My entire being, within and without, has been captured by a particularly sweet force. I can't help being prey to such a sweet power. I can't give any proper description of this. I came to take shelter of Him (maha-mantra) and accept Him as my guardian; now at His hand I am being dealt with in such a merciless and despotic way.
“Still, I feel that everything is very pleasing, beyond my experience. What is this? I can't resist anymore. I am fully captured. Let my fate go anywhere. I can't come out. I am a captive in the hand of a sweet friend (maha-mantra); my whole independence is gone. There is no way left to me but to surrender. I am unable to describe my real position.
“I find that He's (Krishna in the form of the maha-mantra) an autocrat. Whatever He likes, He will do. Since it is not possible for me to give any resistance, I must surrender. Let me also cooperate with whatever He is pleased to do. Otherwise I find that the sweetness of the maha-mantra is condensed like a blossoming flower, and very wonderful streams of sweet current are flowing from it. The maha-mantra contains so many sweet variegated forms of current within Him, and He is wonderfully expressing Himself in different ways. Sometimes He emanates a peculiar type of color and figure, and disappears.
“So many charming aspects are shown as if to my eyes within, and He (maha-mantra) forcibly takes me to surrender at the foot of that altar. He shows Himself in His full-fledged form, in Vrindavana, in His Braja-lila, with Radharani, and He takes me there. I find that I am in the midst of His peculiar, very sweet and loving paraphernalia. And He says-You see! I have so many wonderful things. This is your home. I am not merely imagination, but concrete reality. You will find here that the environment is very favorable and sweet. You are to live here. I see there that He is dealing in different ways with His associates, in different rasas (mellows). And I find that I have another spiritual body that has emerged through the chanting process and the previous material one has been destroyed, and that there is a permanent place here in His service.
“Such a new life I find here. And then I find ultimately that all consideration of my past life and experience has vanished. And it is true: my real life is here (in the spiritual world). This is proper, and that was a sham, that life has vanished. Then I find that chanting the maha-mantra gives me new encouragement, a new prospect, and new hope. Whatever we want, whatever is our internal demand, it is supplied by the maha-mantra. If we take the maha-mantra, all our internal hankerings will be fulfilled. It is eternal, it is the purest of the pure, and it is full of ecstasy.
“Now I find I have been completely converted. How, my innermost hankering is this: Let whatever is against the sweet chanting of this Hare Krishna maha-mantra vanish eternally from the world. If anything is in opposition to this sweet life, let it vanish, and if necessary, I will give my life to make it disappear from the world forever. Then others will be able to enjoy it at their free will. No hindrance should come to that fulfillment of life. It has no other second. So, everyone may come here, and if necessary, I will sacrifice myself to finish any opposition, so that all can smoothly, peacefully, and without any danger, enjoy this absolute, sweet, and blissful life by constantly chanting the maha-mantra:
hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare;
hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare.”