How to Make Sādhana More “Natural”?

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After studying the 14th chapter of Gita someone very feelingly asked, “I see people take to bhakti or other yogas very unnaturally, fanatically, and they wind up extremely depressed and stressed out. How can we follow bhakti or any spiritual path more naturally – not full of repression and artificial stuff?”

What is Natural for Conditioned Souls?

Natural is an adjective from the noun, nature, which is from the root, nat- which means “inherent.” Natural action is not forced. It is an automatic result of what is inherent in us. Natural things exist inherently, they doesn’t have to be manufactured artificially.

Our inherent nature is full of desire to enjoy the external field of perception. So our practices cannot be completely natural; there will have to be effort involved.

The key is to practice at a level we can sustain, and to gradually increase what we can sustain.

Unfortunately,  vidyā and bhakti are just not natural for us. Our inherent nature is full of bhukti – endeavor to enjoy the external field of perception. So our practices cannot be completely natural; there will have to be effort involved. They key, however, is the find a level of effort that our nature can sustain and support. This would be, relatively speaking, “natural practice.”

Bhakti Never Causes Stress or Depression

Rajaḥ, not bhakti, causes stress and tamaḥ, not bhakti, causes depression. But if this is true, why are many spiritual practitioners stressed out and depressed? I see two reasons: (1) they are not practicing as much as they can, (2) they are practicing more than is naturally sustainable for them.

Overzealousness occurs because we treat bhakti-yoga as another external object, trying to aquire more of it as a way to enjoy pleasures like renown, prestige, superiority, etc. These desires are raja-guṇa and cause distress.

In the first case, they are not getting rid of rajaḥ and tamaḥ as quickly as they could be. In the second case, they are brining rajaḥ and tamaḥ into their concept of sādhana. The overzealousness of the second case occurs because we treat bhakti-yoga as another external object, trying to aquire more of it as a way to enjoy pleasures like renown, prestige, superiority, etc. These desires are raja-guṇa and cause distress. And since raja-guṇa inariably invokes tamo-guṇa, that stress invariably leads to depression.

The key, then, is to practice at a level we can sustain, and to gradually increase what we can sustain.

How can we do that?

Upgrade Your Nature

All sādhana is based on śraddhā. The root of that word, śrad, literally refers to our “heart.”Śraddhā is about our nature.  If our sādhana is more intense than what our śraddhā can support, it will fall over like the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa – which falls over because the ground beneath it cannot support its weight.

The weight of our sādhana has to be supported by what we comprehend about life. We cannot expect to sustain something difficult if we don’t really understand the importance and realness of doing it. 

The most important thing is to deepen our comprehension of life. The deeper our comprehension, the more sādhana-weight we can naturally support.

The most important thing is to deepen what we comprehend about life. The deeper our comprehension, the more sādhana-weight we can naturally support. Getting rid of misconceptions about life (anartha-nivṛtti) leads to niṣṭhā – deep and steady practice, which soon brings ruci – very significant positive experiences that radically upgrade the śraddhā. 

Don’t Just “Read” or “Hear” or “Study”… THINK, SEARCH, EXPLORE, DISCOVER!

To deepen our comprehension of life, we should turn to śāstra.

Śāstra is often difficult to comprehend, so it is essential to find someone who, to the best of your estimation, seems to really comprehend it, and ask them to explain it to you

In many modern circles of practitioners there is a strong taboo against creative exploration and investigation of the śāstra (“speculation”), but this, sadly, is a huge impediment to spirituality.

Once you have an explanation, you have to really explore it, search the limits of how you understand it. Discover it. Don’t just “believe it” or “have faith in it” or “accept it” or even scholastically “learn it.” See it, taste it, feel it in the real world. In many modern circles of practitioners there is a strong taboo against creative exploration and investigation of the śāstra (“speculation”), but this, sadly, is a huge impediment to spirituality. In other circles śāstra is treated as an object of scholarship. This too falls short of the mark. Explore śāstra with your heart, and with your sādhana, too! Explore it until you understand it as well as you understand how to make toast, and see it as plainly as you see everything else you accept as real. You will probably make lots of mistakes, but that’s what learning is all about. Keep close to the sādhu-guru who really comprehends śāstra so that the flaws in your explorations and the misperceptions in your discoveries can gradually be ironed out. This exploration alone will make śāstra’s vidyā part of your nature, part of your heart, your śraddhā; allowing you to increase your practice in a sattvika manner.

Explore it until you understand it as well as you understand how to make toast, and see it as plainly as you see everything else you accept as real.

Very inquisitive, honest and thorough study of śāstra is absolutely essential. Understand the fundamentals of tattva, explained in summary in Bhagavad Gītā and much more elaborately in Bhāgavata Purāṇa bit by bit, step by step, patiently but thoroughly. Practice to the extent comes naturally as a result of what you have truly understood and can percieve as being true. If you keep this up, you will soon become truly advanced in bhakti-sādhana, and will attain its sublime goals.

Vraja Kishor das

www.vrajakishor.com

Sri Caitanya in the Bhagavata Purana?

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Gauḍīya’s cite a verse we claim identifies Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as the avatāra for Kali-yuga. Those who do not like this criticise us as giving a “sectarian interpretation” of that verse. Whether or not it is “sectarian” is not a concern, but let us see whether or not our interpretation is reasonable.

The Context

The verse comes in the fifth chapter of the Eleventh Canto of Bhāgavata Purāṇa.

In the 19th text King Nimi asks Śrī Karabhājana, “Please tell me about Bhagavān’s appearances among us at certain times. What are their colors, distinguishing characteristics, and names, and how do we worship them?”

In the 20th text Karabhājana replies about the times of the avatāra: “Keśava appears in the times called Kṛta, Treta, Dvāpara, and Kali.” And he says that each one has different colors, names, characteristics and methods of worship.

In texts 21-23, he describes the Kṛta-yuga (aka. “Satya Yuga”) avatāra: He is a white, four-armed ascetic worshipped by yogic meditation and known by names like Haṁsa.

In texts 24-26, he describes the Treta-yuga avatāra: a red, blonde, four-armed priest; worshipped by Vedic ceremonies, known by names like Yajña.

In texts 27-30, he describes the Dvāpara-yuga avatāra: dark blue, with yellow clothes and the Śrīvatsa mark; worshipped like a king (aka. by arcana), known by names like Vāsudeva.

Text 31 introduces the Kali-yuga avatāra, saying, “There are also ways to worship him in Kali-yuga. Now I will explain those.”

The Text

Text 32 is the key verse – which Gauḍīyas claim indicates Śrī Caitanya. Here is the verse:

कृष्णवर्णं त्विषाकृष्णं साऩ्गपाऩ्गास्त्रपार्षदम्
यज्ञैः सऩ्कीर्तनप्रायैर्यजन्तिहि सुमेधसः ।।

kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ saṅgopāṅgāstra-pārṣadam
yajñaiḥ saṅkīrtana prāyair yajanti hi su-medhasaḥ

The first word, kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ, appears to be a description of the avatāra‘s color, “Black colored.” Karabhājana used same phrasing for the Treta-yuga avatārarakta-varṇa (“Red colored). But for the Kṛta-yuga avatāra he simply said, “śukla” (white), and for the Dvāpara-yuga avatāra he simply said, “śyāma.” So Karabhājana does not always use the word varṇa to describe the avatāra’s color.

If we take kṛṣṇa-varṇam to mean “black color” we run into a problem immediately, because the very next phrase is “tviṣākṛṣṇa.” The first word in this phrase, tviṣā, means color much more literally than varṇa. Tviṣā literally means “light” and color is a primary quality of light. So Karabhājana seems to say, “He is black” (kṛṣṇa-varṇam) and “He is black” (tviṣākṛṣṇam). Why would he say this twice in a row? Redundancy is a defect, and we don’t expect defect in śāstra.

Perhaps tviṣākṛṣṇa doesn’t mean “black”? The rules of Sanskrit sandhi allow tviṣākṛṣṇa to be broken down in a few possible ways: tviṣā-kṛṣṇa (black colored), tviṣā-akṛṣṇa (not black at all), and tviṣā-ākṛṣṇa (sort of black). So, perhaps Karabhājana is saying: “He is black, really black.” Or, “He is black, but not black.” Or, “He is black… sort of.”

Previous to the advent of Śrī Caitanya, commentators like Śrī Śrīdhāra Svāmī explained kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇam to mean, “He is black, but not a dull black – a radiant (tviṣā) black, like a sapphire.” This, however, leads us to wonder why Karabhājana did not say the same thing for the Dvapara-yuga avatar, who is very famous in fact, as being ujjvala-nīla-maṇī (brilliant sapphire black).

The Gauḍīya Explanation

After the advent of Śrī Caitanya, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explained that the verse refers to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who reveals Krishna (kṛṣṇa-varṇa); who is bright colored (tviṣā-akṛṣṇa);  who accomplishes much of his mission through his very dear associates (sa-aṅga-upāṅga-astra-pārṣada); and who is worshipped mainly by Sankīrtan (yajñaiḥ saṅkīrtana-prāyaiḥ) enthusiastically, by those citizens of Kali-yuga who are particularly intelligent (yajanti hi su-medhasa).

Objections to this interpretation of the word varṇa are unfounded. According to Monier’s dictionary, वर्ण (varṇa) is probably from the root वृ (vṛ) which means “delimit.” So, the first two definitions Monier gives are 1) “a cover” and (2) “outward appearance.” Then, as examples of outward appearances that “cover” / “delimit” something, he first gives visual things (like color, size, and shape) and then gives sonic things (like musical notes, sounds, letters, and words). Thus varṇa is the percievable quality of an entity and therefore means many things: color, size, shape, sound, description, definition, quality, class, and so on.

Thus, although कृष्णवर्णम् (kṛṣṇa-varṇam) can mean “perceivably black” (i.e. black-colored) it just as literally means, “describing Krishna” (i.e. revealing Krishna’s sound, shape, etc.).

Now there is no need to explain the flaw of repetition in the verse, for there is none. Only त्विषाकृष्णम् (tviṣākṛṣṇam) describes the color. What color is it? As explained above, there are three options, but “black” is, in my opinion, not likely because in text 20 Karabhājana said that each avatāra has a different color, and black is already taken by the dvāpara-yuga avatār. So if there was a duplication of color I would expect a word to acknowledge it. Thus, I think it is unobjectionable that tviṣākṛṣṇa must mean “bright colored.”

Thus, the first pāda of the text must read that the Kali-yuga avatāra, “reveals Krishna, as is bright-colored.” 

We must also note that the second line of the text has uncontested meaning: “he is worshipped by saṅkīrtan.” And this is clearly a very exact fit for Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Thus, by no means can Śrī Jīva’s explanation be called “a stretch.”

Why Such a Riddle?

At this point we might ask, “Why is text 32, which is about the Kali-yuga avatāra, so much more cryptic then Karabhāja’s statements about the other yuga-avatāra?”

I can suggest two reasons:

1) Śrī Caitanya is not usually the avatāra for kali-yuga. That happens only once in a kalpa (roughly a thousand yuga cycles). So, the Purāṇa’s verse is designed to work for other Kali-yugas as well – in which (as Śrīdhara Svāmī and others suggest) there is no new avatāra. Kali-yuga usually has only the persisting forms of the black nīla-maṇi dvapara-yuga avatāra: the name of that avatāra – worshipped via saṅkīrtan, and the narrative of that avatāra, Bhāgavata Purana – worshipped via sumedhasa.

2) Even in that one-in-a-thousand kaliyuga where he does come, Śrī Caitanya’s motive is to experience and exemplify the life of an ideal devotee. To make his position as an avatāra known too widely previous to his manifestation would interfere with his goal, so Vyāsa and Krabhājana encrypted it.

Conclusion

Śrīmad Bhagavatam 11.5.32 reveals that there are three avatāra of Bhagavān in Kali-yuga: Krishna’s name  (see CC Adi 17.22), Krishna’s narration – the Bhāgavata (see SB 1.3.43), and, very rarely, Sri Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

Perhaps this is a “sectarian interpretation,” since only the Gauḍīyas seem to accept it, but nonetheless it honestly seems to be the best explanation.

Vraja Kishor das

www.vrajakishor.com

Is there Bliss in the Soul?

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Ātmā is jñāna-mātra / cin-mātrā (which means that the most essential quality of the “soul” is that it is the “substance of congition” – consciousness).

Ātmā is consciousness, but what is consciousness (cit)? It is inseparably related to reality (sat) and bliss (ānanda), for it is the ultimate substrate of reality-sat (it is the condition in which reality exists), and is the “wick” on which the flame of ānanda shines (bliss is a state experienced by consciousness – so consciousness is the substrate for bliss, too).

So, the ātmā (aka jīva) has, as its inherent potential (dharma) the capacity to experience,participate in, and amplify reality (sat) and bliss (ānanda). This is it’s potential. It is not svatantra (independently capable) in fulfilling that potential. It has to cooperate with another śakti to realize its potential.

Some conscious individuals are not naturally oriented towards the true source of bliss, Bhagavān. (They are “bahir-mukha”, “looking away”). Because I am counted amongst them, I have not yet experienced what reality (sat) truly is, but I do experience a reflection of it, due to my cooperation with Bhagavān’s māyā-śakti. Similarly, I have not yet experienced what happiness (ānanda) truly is, but I experience a reflection of it via māyā-śakti.

Because I experience reflections of sat and ānanda, I know that such things exist. And because my dharma is to be in contact with sat and ānanda my whole existence hungers for them and is nothing but a quest for them. But because I am cooperating only with māyā-śakti, not bhakti-śakti I cannot really find the full, original versions of sat (reality) and ānanda (happiness). But as I gradually might transfer the focus of my consciousness from māyā to bhakti, I may gradually come to experience the infinite, true, absolutely substantial forms of divine sat and ānanda.

It has been said by those who exist in bhakti that the sat and ānanda experienced there makes the reflections seem non-exitent.

Vraja Kishor

www.vrajakishor.com

Krishna & Eros

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To fall in love with Krishna, we have to know what he is like. But we can’t directly know what he is like, because he is initially beyond the perception of our mind and senses. So on the Vedāntic principle of “anyārtha parāmārṣa” we have to infer what he is like by our experience of things that are somehow similar to him. 

Texts 19-42 of Gita’s Chapter 10 give many, many different examples of things that are somehow similar to Krishna, and therefore can give us a hint of what he is like. These are things that we can readily experience in our everyday life – and these experiences can give us a hint of what is beyond our current ability to experience. For example, we can get an idea of what it is like to experience Krishna by more mindfully understanding and experiencing the Sunlight, Ocean, Spring, Mountains, etc.

The pattern here is for Krishna to first point out the general field of experience (like “light”) and then give a specific thing within that field (like, “…of which I am the sun”), which is somehow both the origin (prabhava) and central point (pravarta) of the rest of the things in that field – and thus is directly analogous to Krishna’s “aham sarvasya prabhava, mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate” relationship to the cosmic field. 

At one point (10.28) Krishna suggests that we can comprehend him via the experience of, “Procreation, in which I am the Eros” (prajanaś cāsmi kandarpaḥ).” In this particular case, Krishna suggests procreation as the general field of experience, and points to Eros (interestingly presented as the origin, prabhava, and central purpose, pravarta, of procreation) – as the part of procreation that especially represents him and thus reveals what it is like to experience him. 

By referring to procreation and Eros as being illustrative of his character, Krishna is sharing the hint that he is extremely creative and not at all a boring fellow, nor is he celibate, prude, victorian, repressed or even reserved in the slightest. He gives us a clue that he is an erotic, exciting, incredibly PLEASURABLE person.

Indeed all of his most important names (Krishna, Rāma, Govinda, etc) hint loudly at the same thing.

Krishna suggests in 10.28 that the experience of eroticism in our everyday life gives us a hint of what Krishna’s personality is like, and what it is like to actually interact with him. This statement might seem problematic to celibates and to persons with a Western religious orientation, because it suggests that eroticism has spiritual implications and use. But this doesn’t at all mean that every bhakta has to be sexually active. The statements at the end of Chapter 10 are meant for a wide range of people, who relate to a wide range of things. But for those who are, or have been sexually active in a positive manner – Krishna suggests that the riveting and liberating joy of sexual pleasure reveals an important hint (which we can immediately access even in our current state of existence) of the profoundly riveting, liberating, and yes, “orgasmic” joy of experiencing him.

The Upanishads use nearly identical language in describing the fundamental nature of the original consciousness, so kamayata bahu syama prajayeya (Tai 2.6)

Vraja Kishor (www.vrajakishor.com)

Krishna & Pleasure

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To depict Krishna and his rasa-līlā as something totally unlike what we ourselves know of happiness and pleasure is suicidal, for it causes us to feel that Krishna is irrelevant to what we spontaneously, naturally, and powerfully want and need. The fact is that nothing could be farther from the truth. Krishna is called “Krishna” for a reason! Rāma. Govinda. Madan Mohan. Rasarāja. Gopi-vallabha. All these names are bursting with exactly the flavor and experience our heart and soul spontaneously, eternally crave. If we deny or ignore that, why should we be surprised that our bhajan lacks life and attentiveness?

Yes, something also needs to be said to explain that our concept of happiness and pleasure pales in comparison to the pleasure and happiness experienced in rāsa-līlā. This is fine! Say it loudly, for it is also inspiring and powerfully attractive to us, right now, and for real. And let us clearly explain that this difference arises because of a fundamental difference in the nature of our approach to pleasure (karma and kāma – “selfishness”) vs. Krishan’s approach to it (līlā and prema – “selflessness”). Stress this all you want, and then some, otherwise we will never attain that all-attractive rasa!

But please beware of depicting Krishna as utterly “transcendental” as if “transcendental” means having no similarities at all with what we already understand and have spontaneous emotional attachment to. Besides being philosophically inaccurate, it will prolong our spontaneous disinterest in Krishna and his bhajan.

Vraja Kishor das (www.vrajakishor.com)

Jīva and Māyā

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Q: Is māyā a “temporary fix” for the jīva who is disinclined to Krishna?

It need not be a temporary fix. If a jīva is happy with māyā, so be it; Mission accomplished. Krishna’s mission is to expand happiness, so if a jīva is happy with māyā, his mission is accomplished. Therefore not all jīva end their relationship with māyā. Only some do. 

To us it may seem odd to hear that a jīva can be happy with māyā, because we currently live in a very stressful yuga with fairly unhealthy bodies and minds. But there are many, many other ways to exist in māyā besides being a human being on the Internet in 2016. If some of these living conditions satisfy the jīva, great; Mission accomplished.

Those who do not find satisfaction in māyā, however, are more fortunate – for they have a chance to be attracted to something even greater. 

Q: I understand that time is continuous; and I also understand that māyā is one of Krishna’s shaktis so she has always existed. Still I am wondering if there was any point in time where māyā was not available to individual consciousness which lead them to become ‘lost souls’ in the darkness?

No. Śāstra describes the relationship of jīva and māyā as anadi. (“Without a previous condition”). For example Krishnadas Kaviraja (in Cc) uses the phrase anādi-bahirmukha (“oriented away [from Krishna] without a previous condition”). Śrī Jīva (in Ts) uses the phrase anādi-bhagavad-ajñāna (“unaware of Bhagavān, without a previous condition”). Krishna himself (Gītā 7.27) says that the māyā (moha) of jīva is inherent in their sarga (“their initial condition”).

Krishna and his śaktis are eternal. He has three categories of śakti: jīva, māyā, and bhakti. All three are eternal. Krishna is the enjoyer. Jīva is the contributor to the enjoyment. Bhakti is the means by which a jīva experiences pleasure by contributing to Krishna’s pleasure. Māyā is the means by which a jīva seeks pleasure independently.

Vraja Kishor (www.vrajakishor.com)

Men & Women – Mouths & Candies

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If you are a man, it’s like living in a candy store, but having persistent jaundice and indigestion. If you are a woman, its like being an amazing candy, but in a store full of cavity ridden, bad-breath mouths.

The man tries to cure his jaundice and indigestion, but finds that his eyes are always bigger than his stomach. The woman hopes against hope that a better mouth will come into her store, but finds that even the best are still too blunt and blatant for her true flavor.

We need a miracle.

The first miracle happens the moment a man realizes that it’s more natural to be a candy than to be a mouth. He just cannot produce unlimited digestive fire, and just cannot become fully perceptive.

The second miracle happens the moment a woman realizes that there is only one mouth with unlimited digestion and refinement – the root of all persons, rasarāja, the true enjoy of flavors.

These miracles happen as the sugar-dust from the footprints of bhakti-śakti falls on our heads.

Maya is not Evil

Maya is not the devil. She is not hunting you or persecuting you. You are not the victim, you are the perpetrator and you are the beneficiary. There is no “Satan vs. God” paradigm, please stop imposing Christian world-views on Bhāgavata Dharma. There is no evil super villain who is going to eat your soul if you don’t get protection from the great big superhero in the sky. No one is after you. No one is out to get you. Give up on these childish nightmares. Give up the teddy bears and security blankets. You are the ultimate cause of your predicament, and no one but you are the ultimate root of your enlightenment.

Maya is compassionate and kind, you are the one who refuses to even play by the one and only rule she enforces: “share” that’s why she spanks you and you are the child feeling anger over getting spanked for doing something very wrong.

This video is an excerpt of a class session from an online course called “God, Consciousness, & Reality” in which we are discussing Śrī Jīva Goswāmī’s analysis of Vyāsa’s samādhī. Because the topic is so important, and misunderstanding of Māyā is so widespread and deeply rooted today, I decided to make the video available on YouTube, etc.

Please watch it carefully and patiently. Jīva Goswāmī’s revelation of the Bhāgavatam will revolutionize your outlook on life.


Vraja Kishor das (www.vrajakishor.com)

Who is to Blame for our Illusions?

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An extremely important section of the Bhagavatam (1.7.4-6) describes Vyāsa’s samādhi (divine vision). In this vision, he saw Māyā (the power of illusion) subordinate to Krishna (the complete, original personal-consciousness), but bewilering the jīva (individual consciousness). Analyzing this in Tattva Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Goswāmī brings up a very important question, “Who is to blame for the jīva’s infatuation with māyā?” 

Who is to blame for our illusions?

Śrī Jīva explains that only the jīva is to blame. 

Māyā does not bf5501ea3148d587f0405e2253c7cce4“entice” us. She would actually prefer not to give herself to us, and is ashamed and humiliated by having to do so. We approach her and proposition her, she merely agrees to our proposition – out of compassion. Thus the whole idea of māyā as a “temptress” has no basis in Bhāgavata. It is a saṁskāra from Abrahamic/ Western thought.

Krishna is also not to blame. Our unique individual nature is to be fascinated with enjoyment more than love, and Krishna provides māyā to placate this incongruous and unconstitutional disease of consciousness. Within māyā he includes “medicine” for this disease. The lower potency medicine is karma – a slow-acting but constantly applied mechanism that gradually encourages the jīva towards love/cooperation and away from self-centered enjoyment. A higher potency (but more rare) medicine also exists, becuase Krishna causes bhakti to manifest within māyā, to grant the jīva an opportunity to experience Krishna (which is possible only through bhakti), the glimpse of whom begins to slacken our fascination with māyā’s selfish pleasures and supplant it with a fascination for Sri Krishna’s exhilarating love.

Thus neither māyā nor Krishna is to blame for our situation. We are to blame.

That we are the root cause of our own problems also means that we have to be the root cause of our solution. The jīva’s rectification requires the help of bhakti-śakti, but only the jīva can decide to become receptive to that bhakti-śakti or remain fascinated with the opportunities for self-centered enjoyment provided by the illusions of māyā.

Vraja Kishor (www.vrajakishor.com)

Meditation and Imagination (nāma-bhajan)

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Q: There are many tips and instructions, such as “just hear the mantra” and “listen to yourself chant sincerely”, as well as “the name reveals everything – but to let it do so you need to arrive without own made-up concepts!”. However, there are also recommendations to  actively focus on the meaning, maybe even “imagining” it.  Could you help me reconcile these different teachings? 

I ask because when I try to really just focus on the sound and feeling of the names on my tongue it feels kind of dry and void often and my mind slides into contemplation of the named persons – but I am not sure if this is just a psychological thing going on, because of something I recently read, a picture I saw etc. or, I almost don’t dare to write it, the slight beginning of spiritual revelation?

Mantras are made of very special words.

Words are sounds that have meaning. A word without a meaning is not a “word” – it is a sound. If I listen to Mandarin Chinese, for example, it sounds like music, not like words – because I don’t know the meaning within the sounds. Thus if you listen to a mantra without comprehending the meaning, you are not listening to the mantra fully.

Often people argue that a mantra is magical. All you have to do is hear the words, and poof, something happens.

It is true that mantra are magical, but even magic operates according to principles. You’ll notice that mantras are not melodies or whistles and claps. They are words. This means they are more than “vibrations” and “frequencies” – they are vibrations and frequencies with meaning. To truly hear the vibration requires comprehending the meaning.

This is why dīkṣā and śikṣā are always coupled together. Dīkṣā bestows us with a mantra. If the sound of the mantra itself is all we need, then what is the need for anything further? What is the need for sambandha if the abhideya is completely “magical” and works by its own power, with nothing from our side? Dīkṣā is always accompianied by śikṣā because to use the mantra correctly requires learning what the words mean. To do the abhideya properly requires sambandha.

If you listen to a mantra without comprehending the meaning you are barely listening to it. There will still be an effect: the effect is that you will eventually inquire about the meaning, receive proper śikṣā and then start to meditate on the mantra much more effectively. Thus even simply hearing a mantra does lead eventually to the full fruit of the mantra, but only after it leads to the stage of meditating on the mantra correctly.

Now, contemplate how “comprehending the meaning of a word” happens.

It is a function of buddhi, intellect. Buddhi recognizes patterns of sounds, and associates them with meaning. Then it presents an image of that meaning to the manas. The ahankara establishes how the manas reacts to those images. And the whole affair is observed by the ātmā (consciousness) via the citta. 

Think about it carefully. What buddhi does is translate a pattern of sound into an “image” with meaning.

Therefore intelligence works through imagination. And you will notice that the most intelligent people are excellent at visualizing and imagining abstract things, even things they have not seen before with their eyes.

It is not “imagination” in the sense of making something up. But it is “imagination” because the word produces an image of its meaning in the intellect.

 So, hearing a mantra should produce an image in the mind, then the mind should react to that image. This is how the mantra changes the citta (ceto darpana marjanaand soon the ātmā can see into the mantra directly, without clouds of saṁskāra in the citta. Then there is direct samādhī of the mantra and one immediately attains the full effect of the mantra.

In the case of a Krishna nāma-mantra. The words should produce vivid images in the buddhi, which are not “imagined” according to the saṁskāra of the individual, but are informed by the “dictionary” of śāstra. The sambandha-jñāna gained by study of śāstra allows the sound of Krishna’s name to produce a reasonably accurate manifestation of itself in the buddhi. The manas should then react to this with affection. This causes the ahaṁkāra and citta to develop saṁskāra positive to bhakti. Which allows the ātmā to perceive the complete presence of Krishna within the sound of his name.

The image produced by the nāma in the sambandha-jñāna-yukta-buddhi will contain in it the guṇa and rūpa (particular qualities and specific beauties) of the named. Later, when still more clarified and powerfully manifest, those guṇa and rūpa will “animate” – revealing the other entities they interact with (parikāra) and the way they all play together (līlā).

Thus the full dhāma of Krishna exists in the name “Krishna” but we require dīkṣā and śikṣā to develop buddhi that can host those names and thus clarify the sentience/citta so that the ātmā can directly contact them.

Simply trying to chant the nāma-mantra without any image in the mind is ineffective, as you yourself have noticed. People without proper sambandha may want to err on the conservative side by avoiding “imagination” of the meaning of the mantra but that is a very short-term solution at best. We actually need proper śikṣā from śāstra immediately following dīkṣā, then nāma-smaraṇa can be truly done.

When japa is done with perfect sambandha the entire dhāma manifests to our perception.

Vraja Kishor das (www.vrajakishor.com)