Nāma-japa is meditation on a mantra composed of Krishna’s name. We should therefore consider ourselves “meditators,” and we should be aware that we are supposed to be practicing our nāma-mantra meditation for 1 – 2 hours daily.
In meditation, negative simply clears the path for positive. Pratyahāra is the negative step – removing, silencing, negating all thoughts, all activity in the material mind. This negative step always must immediately be followed by the next step, the positive step, dharana – placing the object of meditation within the consciousness.
Consciousness cannot focus on emptiness, it focuses on a subject with a name, quality, etc. Therefore, we should not think that our objective is to keep our minds free of distraction – that is a negative goal. Consciousness cannot be satisfied to focus on the absence of distraction, emptiness. The absence of distraction simply clears the field so that consciousness can focus clearly and fully on the object we want to meditate upon – in our case the Krishna-nāma-mantra.
This is why my second japa tip is about how to be cognizant – how to have focus on the mantra. I have found two ways: (1) cognizance of the mantra itself, and (2) cognizance of the act of invoking the mantra.
Cognizance of the Mantra
Words are sounds, but they are a special type of sound – they are a sound which conveys meaning. Sound can often convey meaning without words, but words convey uniquely specific and exact meaning. The nāma-mantra is not made of sounds it is made of words, specifically, nouns, names, “nāma“.
Hearing a word is more involved than simply hearing a sound without meaning. When we hear a sound we can pay attention to its pitch, texture/timbre, volume, the sharpness of its attack, the mellowness of its decay, the rhythm formed by the alternations of its attacks and decays, etc. When we hear a word we also hear all these qualities of sound, but the most important part of hearing a word is to become cognizant of the exact meaning conveyed by the word.
I’ve written posts, like this one, about the meanings of the names in the Hare Krishna mahāmantra. While chanting, we must focus on these meanings of the sounds we hear! We must think about these meanings while hearing the words that encapsulate them. Not exactly in an intellectual way, but in an experiential way. Not so much to “understand” as to “experience.” We must listen to the words of the mantra – cognizant of their meanings – so that we can experience them.
Thus a good deal of improving japa happens when we aren’t chanting japa. We need to study about Krishna, deeply, so that we can fully comprehend (not just memorize) the meaning of his names. And we need to regularly review and remind ourselves of what we have already begun to learn about him.
Here is an attitude towards hearing that is simple and effective:
I remember the first time I heard Krishna’s names, especially the name Krishna itself. There was a certain tingle in my skin, flutter in my heart, excitement in my mind – when I heard the name. The sound, the pattern of consonnants and vowels, was a sonic stimulant that brought out an exotic sense of transcendental adventure and excitement. The sound itself had a velvet to it, a purr to it, an allure.
[by the way, thats why I continue to spell it “Krishna” and not “Kṛṣṇa.” For me, something about the shape of the letters in the word “Krishna” evokes those early reactions to the name]
When hearing the name today, I’ve heard it and said it and typed it so many millions and millions of times, I am a little desensitized to it. So, while chanting, I try to make an effort to put myself back in the mental and emotional space I was in 26 years ago when I started hearing “Krishna” for the first time. I find this very effective, the velvet and purr starts to come back.
Cognizance of the Act
We also have to be cognizant of what the act of trying to meditate on the name actually implies. This puts us immediately into the right mental and emotional space for the name to more truly manifest in our consciousness.
The Vedas explain carefully that the one becomes many for the sake of its thirst for bliss. We exist for the sake of enhancing the bliss of the one, and thereby experiencing the same, or even greater, bliss (just as a wire carrying current to an appliance also becomes electrified).
How do we enhance the bliss of the Original One? By pure love. Love is synonymous with ānanda, bliss. And ānanda is synonymous with consciousness in its supreme condition (ānanda-maya).
Krishna, the supreme consciousness exists full of all bliss (akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti), but has infinite thirst to expand that bliss infinitely. To do so he manifests you and I and everyone else. We among his manifestations who require sādhana however, are those not initially inclined to dedicate our existence to the expansion of his bliss. We instead have spontaneous interest in developing a separate existence for ourselves.
The act of nāma-japa and nāma-kīrtan is the most direct and powerful reformation of this inclination. To do nāma-japa properly, we must agree – “Today, for these next few minutes, I will give up hoarding my consciousness for my own separate interests. Now I place this consciousness at your feet, Krishna. You desire to expand. I offer you the infinite space within my consciousness. Expand! Manifest in me. Step into me, enter me, pervade me, expand within my consciousness. Take all that I am, take my conscious-universe, and do whatever you like with it. My darling, my love. I am yours. I exist for you.”
The very act of nāma-japa is thus the most profound revolution of consciousness and the most sublime expression of the essence of gopī-bhāva.
Let me strive for it. May my foolishly writing of it, not weaken the flame. May it serve the Vaiṣṇavas.
Vraja Kishor dās