SADHANA | Chanting
The beginning of your day determine how will it go and how much of a spiritual success will it be.
‘Chanting japa should be done early in the morning with full concentration preferably during the Brahma Muhurta time. Concentrate fully on the sound vibration of the mantra, pronouncing each name distinctly and gradually your speed in chanting will increase naturally. Do not worry so much about chanting fast, most important is the hearing.’ (Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Sivananda, 6 January, 1972)
The most important activity of Gaudiya Vaishnavas is the attentive chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on beads.
Srila Prabhupada writes,
‘When a mantra or hymn is chanted softly and slowly, that is called japa. The same mantra, when chanted loudly, is called kīrtana. For example, the mahā-mantra (Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare) when uttered very softly only for one’s own hearing is called japa. The same mantra, when chanted loudly for being heard by all others, is called kīrtana. The mahā-mantra can be used for japa and kīrtana also. When japa is practiced it is for the personal benefit of the chanter, but when kīrtana is performed it is for the benefit of all others who may hear.
In the Padma Purāṇa there is a statement: “For any person who is chanting the holy name either softly or loudly, the paths to liberation and even heavenly happiness are at once open.”‘ (‘Nectar of Devotion’, Chapter 9)
Kirtan is not tied to the musical instruments, as so even a lecture on ‘Srimad-Bhagavatam’ is kirtan (glorification of the Lord). And japa, if we will look at it from our present semantic point of view (whereas ‘japa’ is understood as ‘chanting on beads’), can also be a ‘kirtana’. Srila Haridas Thakur was always chanting first quietly, then louder, and in the end, very loudly — thus anyone who was near would also get the benefit.
Initiated ISKCON devotees are expected to chant minimum 16 rounds of the full maha-mantra (16 words) repeated 108 times:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Each maha-mantra is counted with a bead of one’s japa mala (beads that were put on a string). At the beginning of your spiritual journey, you can start with any number of rounds you are comfortable with and gradually increase.
When you start a ‘japa session’ (when you take your japa mala in your hands) it is recommended to first chant Srila Prabhupada’s (and then your Gurudeva’s) pranam mantra,
nama om vishnu-padaya krishna-preshthaya bhu-tale
srimate bhaktivedanta-svamin iti namine
namas te sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracarine
and then pray to Sri Panca-tattva who are the distributors of the maha-mantra:
And then, begin chanting.
It is recommended to chant japa in the early morning hours because it is the quietest part of the day before other duties start vying for our attention, and it is also the most auspicious time for spiritual practice. You can also divide your number of rounds throughout the day if it is not possible to finish them all in the morning. Most important is the undivided focus and concentration on every name of the Lord as we are uttering them.
Usually, temple morning japa sessions start with reading out loudly ‘The 10 Offences of the Holy Name’ to establish the proper mood before chanting. You can find below the 10 offences listed and also a PowerPoint presentation with a deeper explanation of each verse.
At the end of this page you will find a video by H.G. Mahatma prabhu on chanting.
THE TEN OFFENSES TO THE HOLY NAME
Taken from a section of the ‘Padma Purana’, known as the ‘Brahma Kanda’, Chapter 25, Verses 15 to 18.
(1) satam ninda namnah paramam aparadham vitanute yatah khyatim yatam katham u sahate tad-vigarham
‘To blaspheme devotees who have dedicated their lives to chanting the holy name of the Lord. The holy name, who is identical with Krishna, will never tolerate such blasphemous activities.’
(2) sivasya sri-visnor ya iha guna-namadi-sakalam dhiya bhinnam pasyet sa khalu hari-namahita-karah
‘To consider the names of Lord Siva or Lord Brahma to be on an equal level with the holy name of Lord Visnu.’
(3) guror avajna
‘To disobey the orders of the spiritual master or to consider him an ordinary person.’
‘To blaspheme the Vedic literatures or literatures in pursuance of the Vedic version.’
‘To give some interpretation on the holy name of the Lord.’
(6) hari-namni kalpanam
‘To consider the glories of the holy name of the Lord as imagination.’
(7) namno balad yasya hi papa-buddhir na vidyate tasya yamair hi suddhih
‘To think that the Hare Krishna mantra can counteract all sinful reactions and one may therefore go on with his sinful activities and at the same time chant the Hare Krishna mantra to neutralize them is the greatest offense at the lotus feet of Hari-nama.’
(8) dharma-vrata-tyaga-hutadi-sarva- subha-kriya-samyam api pramadah
‘To consider the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra to be one of the auspicious ritualistic mantras mentioned in the Vedas as fruitive activity.’
(9) asraddadhane vimukhe ’py asrnvati yas copadesah siva-namaparadhah
‘It is an offense to preach the glories of the holy name of the Lord to the faithless.’
(10) srute ’pi nama-mahatmye yah priti-rahito narah aham-mamadi-paramo namni so ’py aparadha-krt api pramadah
‘If one has heard the glories of the transcendental holy name of the Lord but nevertheless continues in a materialistic concept of life, thinking “I am this body and everything belonging to this body is mine [aham mameti],” and does not show respect and love for the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, that is an offense. It is also an offense to be inattentive while chanting.’