Brahmājī on Nāma-Kīrtan

“The best way to turn our affection towards you is by hearing your heartfelt kīrtan issuing from hearts completely saturated with pure devotion. Then we will be able to see your All-Attractive form existing within the lotus of our own hearts, revealing yourself in exactly the shape we lovingly contemplate.

“This kīrtan is much more effective than even the most opulent religious ceremonies offered by host of gods, because the pomp of such ceremonies is still tied to self-importance. Those absorbed in fantasies of self-importance never truly turn their affection towards you, but anyone who abandons the fallacy of self-importance and embraces compassion for all beings can truly engage in your kīrtan and realize you as the Sweetheart of the Most Inner Self.

“I take shelter of you, Birthless One. The qualities and deeds of your avatāra are amazing, but especially amazing are your names! Those who embrace your name with their final breath, out of spontaneous affection or even just by mistake, immediately cast off all the impurities accumulated through countless lifetimes and perfectly attain limitless, immortal nectar!

– From Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Canto Three, Chapter Nine

“Material” Life is Material Life, that’s fine.

In my life I have a material existence and a spiritual existence. They both proceed, and they overlap, but they are distinct. I don’t anymore feel the need to sing “Hare Krishna to you” instead of “Happy birthday to you.” Or say, “Ho ho ho, haribol to all and to all a good night.” =) Or “We wish you a merry Krishna.” =) I’m fine with birthday cake and christmas presents having nothing obvious to do with Krishna. These are part of material existence, which goes on by its own momentum, by its own destiny, its own fate, its own karma. I am just along for the ride, as a passenger waiting for the vehicle to stop so I can get off.

Meanwhile I try to chant japa and look for opportunities to have kīrtan. That is the essence of spiritual life. If I can chant even one mantra attentively, the whole rest of the day can be spent in nonsense, and still I will not have another material birth. Though actually what I find is that by chanting attentively even slightly, I see the inherent, natural spiritual substance and presence of Krishna within “material” things, within each smile from my wife, children, etc. within each toy under the tree and each candle on the cake. So, without effort, the material life reveals its spiritual essence, as an automatic side effect of my spiritual life, as weak as it honestly is.

Unfortunately, often I am so distracted by false-ego that I fail to even chant one mantra attentively. But even on those days I console myself that at least I continue to chant inattentively, keeping the hope alive of chanting attentively now and then.

Is Krishna “Our Heavenly Father”?

Krishna is not really “our heavenly father.”
Brahmā is our heavenly father, the Pitamaha, the Param-Parajapati. At best we can perhaps say that Viṣṇu, being the mother/father of Brahmā, is the supreme father. Viṣṇu is also a “father” in the sense that his seed impregnates nature, thus activating the living entities merged in her. And perhaps since Viṣṇu is an expansion of an expansion of Krishna, therefore we can say that “our heavenly father’s mother/father’s origin of his origin is Krishna.”
Besides splitting spiritual hairs, it is important to differentiate Krishna from “our heavenly father” because Krishna is not concerned with responsibilities and enforcing morality and so forth, as a “father figure” is. The purpose of existence is bliss, and Krishna, the original existence, is simply involved in sharing bliss with his distinct parts and parcels. He is not interested in fathering anyone. In fact he prefers to be a child and experience the fatherly love of Nanda.

Art of Kīrtan 4 – Example

Here is a super basic example of the basic structure for using all three speeds of the 3-beat (half, normal and double speeds). Start off with the half speed, let it speed up and slow it back down. When you are ready, switch it to normal speed and let that consistently and gradually build speed. Then, switch it to double-speed. Let that build speed, and then break it back down to half-speed and repeat 24-hours a day.

Continued from Part 3

Art of Kīrtan, Part 3 — Rhythm, Tāla, w/ Karatāla

Continued from Part 2

Vraja shows simple ways to express the fundamental kīrtan beats (Tāla) using hand-cymbals (Karatāla). He shows the “3-beat” (8-mātra, 3-tāla) and the “2-beat” (6-mātra, 2-tāla), each in normal, double and half speed variations.

He also mentions the need to select karatāla carefully, being sure they are tuned to themselves and to one another.

Continued in Part 4

The Art of Kīrtan – Part 2 (Rhythm, Tāla, Clapping)

The Art of Kīrtan, Part 2 – Tāla (Rhythm)

Continued from Part 1 – Continued in Part 3

Kīrtan rhythm is a little different from the modern idea of rhythm. Arguably the Indian concept of rhythm is more complex and sophisticated than the western, globalized concept, but the biggest and most relevant difference is that our modern concept of rhythm is very rigid while kīrtan rhythm done right should be very elastic.

Classical western music has some sense of elasticity in the tempo and rhythmic pattern, but over the last few decades especially machines have defined the tempo of almost all the music we hear almost all the time – with an unyieldingly rigid uniformity. So we have to make some effort to become fully aware of how rhythm should flex to serve and augment the all-important emotional content of the kīrtan.

Speeding up and Slowing Down

The archetypical kīrtan pattern is to begin very slow, gradually enter normal speed, eventually shift to high-speed, and then dramatically bring it back to a very slow tempo and repeat the cycle indefinitely. So there is a pattern of speeding up and slowing down that takes place gradually over the course of many repetitions of the mahā-mantra.

But there is another “speed-up/slow-down” pattern that is at least equally important, and far less understood by most contemporary people doing kīrtan. It is a pattern which spans only a single mantra, and is particularly exaggerated when the kīrtan overall is in one of it’s very-slow phases. The pattern is that the mantra begins slowly and gradually speeds up after coming to the second half (“Hare Rāma…”), increasing the intensity of acceleration as it comes near the end (“Rāma Rāma”), and then suddenly and dramatically slowing back down at the end (the last “Hare Hare”) so that the next repetition of the mantra again starts slowly.

The Beats

You’ve heard how the tempo of beats has to flex and bend with the emotion of the kīrtan, speeding up and slowing down. Now let’s talk about the beats themselves. I will show you the two beats used in at least 90% of all Gauḍiya Kīrtan. Each one has three “speeds.”

Here is the abstract theory on beats. They are made of any number of “particles” (mātra), where only specific mātra are not silent.

I should mention that the idea of accentuating the “1” (the first mātra of a beat) is valid and important in Indian rhythm as well as in western. So, when you hit the “1” you would clap a little louder than the other claps in the beat. (or hit the cymbal or drum with more emphasis than for the other parts of the beat).

Here is a video to explain what all the rest of the scribbles actually sound like:

8-Mātra “Three Beat”

This is the most common beat used in nāma-kīrtan, usually referred to as a “three beat” (“tīn-tāl”). It has 8 mantra, three of which are not silent. Count out the mātra, and clap where you come to a mātra that isn’t silent (indicated below with a “+”). Of course, when you get to 8, immediately start over with 1.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
+ + +

That’s the “normal speed” version. You should also use a “half-“ and “double-“ speed version to make your kīrtan more rich and enjoyable to Krishna’s ear, listening from within your heart and from all around as well, from all ears.

The best way to note a double and half version of the above is just to speed up or slow down the rate at which you could the mātra out. But to make it more clear on paper I’ll violate the rules a bit and write it out as if the different speeds change the number of mātra in the beat. A “half-speed” version of the 8-matra 3 beat would stretch it’s three beats out over twice as many mātra. So it would look like this on paper:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
+ + +

And a “double-speed” version of the 8-mātra three beat would squeeze it’s three beats into half as many mātra:

1 2 3 4
+ + +

So, start a kīrtan off with the slow half-speed “three beat”, gradually let it accelerate a little bit, then, when it feels right, shift it to the normal-speed “three beat.” Let that accelerate gradually, building enthusiasm. Then, when there is enough gusto, shift into double-speed “three beat.” Let that accelerate for a while and when it gets tiring, or when it otherwise feels right, drop it back down one or two notches to normal or half-speed. That is a nice, expressive structure for a simple nāma-kīrtan.

6-Mātra “Two Beat”

This is the second most important and prevalent beat for gauḍiya-nāma-kīrtan. You will commonly hear it referred to as “two-beat” (“du-tāl”). This one has 6 mātra, with only two not silent.

1 2 3 4 5 6
+ +

In half-time this can be written like:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
+ +

And double time:

1 2 3
+ +

Continued From Part 1 — Continued in Part 3

If Krishna’s Name Approaches Your Mouth…

If Krishna’s Name Approaches Your Mouth…

“Oh, it is amazing!” Devahūti exclaimed to Kapila, “If your precious name comes even to the tip of anyone’s tongue, even a barbaric dog-eater, that person becomes the most respectable guru! Those who embrace your beloved name have successfully completed all self-disciplines, sacrificial rituals, sacred baths, and studies of divine wisdom. They have surpassed all the evolutions available in even the most advanced human culture.”

— Śrīmad Bhāgavata 3.33.7

aho bata śva-paco ’to garīyān
 yaj-jihvāgre vartate nāma tubhyam
tepus tapas te juhuvuḥ sasnur āryā
 brahmānūcur nāma gṛṇanti ye te