Chant and Be: The Happy is Inconsequential

ChantingonJapaBeadsBy Prema-bhakti dasi

Those who are familiar with the teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada will recognize from the title of this article the play on the expression coined by the acarya, “Chant and Be Happy.” This slogan came about in the late 1960s  to entice a generation of frustrated young people who were rejecting mainstream paths and alternatively seeking happiness and spirituality through an exploration of Eastern traditions and psychedelic drugs . The initial hook of getting hippies happy by chanting Hare Krsna was fairly successful. For those who actually took up the practice, the initial bliss experienced by coming in contact with the pure vibration of Krsna’s name through a proper guide placed them at the starting point on the path to progressive spiritual realization.

However, for most practitioners who continued their journey well beyond the initial bliss and novelty of coming in contact with the maha-mantra, the happy transformed into sobriety and the necessity for patience as one’s conventional ego was gradually transformed. There are many layers of egoistic conditioning which need to be peeled away as a result of  taking up the practice of chanting seriously. Anarthas, or extraneous desire, prevent one from experiencing authentic ananda (bliss). Anartha-nivrtti, the stage of clearing obstacles may be compared to a “dark night of the soul” experience.  This long haul requires one digging her heels into steady practice accompanied by good sanga, introspection, and the development of a deep conceptual understanding of the path upon which one is embarking. It is a long and winding road to the subsequent stage of nistha, the stage of steady practice.

This brings me to why I assert here that happy is inconsequential. Great sages proclaim that  in order to be successful in spiritual pursuits one should be equipoised in regard to fleeting emotions and thus steadily carry on one’s practice. Yet, I highlight happy here because happiness tends to be a major buzzkill in terms of spiritual progress.  There is a nice quote in this regard by Khalil Gibran which expresses this universal tendency, “You pray in your distress and need; would that you might also pray in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.” Just as the promise of happiness can be an enticement for the new convert, hence Srila Prabhupada’s slogan, it can also be an impediment as well for the progressive sadhaka. At times when happiness rears its head in my life, it often creates a sense of fulfilment that tends to overshadow any urgency.  Such clarity and spiritual urgency are replaced with an enjoying spirit. In the earlier stages of spiritual practice there is often a need for some negative impetus in order to sustain practice. It is the natural and human tendency to take shelter of one’s practice in difficult times; however in good times perhaps not as much. The tendency in so called “good times” may be to slacken in our practice or even fast from chanting our mantra altogether. The tendency to stop moving is strong especially when there is no necessity. When we don’t have a strong need we want to sit and when our desires are being fulfilled we want to stay.  But in the greater scheme of things we know quite well that frankly nothing lasts including fleeting happiness and therefore a serious sadhaka won’t invest too much energy either to keep it or attain it. A serious sadhaka however, will cultivate  knowledge which will give meaning to and thus fuel her practice.

This is not to say that happiness and satisfaction are not important in the lives of practitioners because they certainly are. The point I am asserting here is that in our practice we should not become distracted by our external situation because until our chanting is pure, emotions are fleeting and even in the best of circumstances are only a slight shadow of genuine ananda. As jiva sakti, we are part and parcel of the divine, who is eternally blissful. Such bliss can only be experienced when our full potential is reached.

The great rshika Kuntidevi from the epic Purana, Srimad Bhagavatam prayed that calamities come into her life so that she could experience the presence of Bhagavan more pragmatically. Kuntidevi was put into difficult circumstances by Bhagavan to highlight her devotion. Conditioned jivas like us need not pray for problems because they come of their own accord. Yet we can react to them in a way that promotes spiritual progress.

“Easier said than done!” you may reply,  and it is a fact…yet there is nothing else to do but sit with our mantra. Sure we can situate ourselves in a way that promotes our psychophysical well-being and create a solid platform from which to dive off into transcendence; we can seek out good spiritual sanga whenever we are able; we can invite a more sattvic influence into our lives; however, when all is said and done, it is our mantra, beads, heart, and hand in bag we are left with in those quiet morning moments. Without being faithful to a steady practice of chanting, we cannot take full advantage of all the other good influences in our lives such as a sadhu’s grace. We need to take the effective medicine of mantra in order to experience its effects. We make an effort to gain grace.

So without becoming “happy” in the meantime, what do we do? The simple answer is chant and be. Be present when chanting the names of Krsna. Be grateful for the grace of guru who connects us with mantra. Become familiar with the philosophy behind chanting. Be dedicated. Be humble like a blade of grass. Be sincere. Chant in the moment and one glorious day you will be situated in an eternal moment.

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6 Responses to Chant and Be: The Happy is Inconsequential

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful article, Prema!

    I can appreciate your idea of leaving happiness out of the equation of Prabhupada’s famous “formula”, if you will – and just be and chant. I also appreciate and love Srimati Kuntidevi’s prayers and attitude to calamities.

    However, I think we can err on both sides: while we can surely put too much emphasis on trying to “become happy” as sadhakas (as the nature of happiness is always somewhat limited in this world) but I feel that we can also err on the side of minimizing it’s importance.

    Speaking from experience – and as someone who has spent some time consciously cultivating happiness – I have to say that by becoming happy (again, I’m not speaking about ananda here, just about reaching some kind of basic psychological state of well-being) that it has made all the difference in my life (both material and spiritual).

    I think it’s important and reasonable that we seek to find a favorable space for our bhajan (both internal aka happiness/well-being and outer, i.e. our environment). I think Guru Maharaja put it nice and clear in a recent Guru Purnima lecture, referencing to Sanatana Goswami, that we should seek out a favorable place to do our bhajan and that tolerance doesn’t mean we should tolerate anything and everything that disturbs our bhajan.

    I take it to mean that it’s okay for us to, for a lack of better word, cultivate happiness both in our inner realm (psychological happiness/well-being) as well as in our external realm (social environment) and, if necessary, to make some changes and/or to actively remove ourselves from unhappy situations – again both internal and external. And that the tolerance we are advised to cultivate need not be blind tolerance at the cost of our happiness, well-being and bhajan.

    Rather we should do our best to find a favorable place – both internal and external – for our bhajan. A place where we can do our bhajan happily and peacefully. And then, from that happy/peaceful place, we can deal with the inevitable disturbances and problems.

    I think you hit the nail on the head here:

    we can situate ourselves in a way that promotes our psychophysical well-being and create a solid platform from which to dive off into transcendence; we can seek out good spiritual sanga whenever we are able; we can invite a more sattvic influence into our lives…

    On more thing, about happiness. I have noticed that for me, chanting (and my bhakti practice as a whole – which is to say, really, mostly my Gurudeva’s mercy 🙂 ) has brought a different, more subtle kind of happiness to my life. It is not like the happiness that the world asks for us to pursue – so dependent on things and external circumstances – rather it is a subtle happiness, not at all dependent on what appears to be going on in the surface of my life.

    In short: through my spirituality, through bhakti, through chanting I have gained the precious and vital knowledge that “I am not my mind nor my emotions.” Therefore, everything could be going to hell either in my mind or in my life – yet there it is, this unshakable, persistent and even determined happiness within me that is born out of this experience: “I belong to my Guru. I belong to Gaura-Nityananda. Everything is good.” 🙂

    Emotions – the happy’s and sad’s of this world – come and go. It is true. But this kind of happiness: “I am Krishna’s.” It is here now and forever. 🙂 ( That said, I still prefer the happy’s to the sad’s! 😉 )

    You wrote:

    The simple answer is chant and be. Be present when chanting the names of Krsna. Be grateful for the grace of guru who connects us with mantra. Become familiar with the philosophy behind chanting. Be dedicated. Be humble like a blade of grass. Be sincere. Chant in the moment and one glorious day you will be situated in an eternal moment.

    Oh yes! To be like this…takes some (more) chanting 🙂 Thank you, Prema!

  2. Thank for your wonderful comments Tadiya!! I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    I appreciated your point and I have that same experience of the subtle sense of happiness that comes from the security of being under the guidance and shelter of guru and gauranga. Such happiness is both substantial and sustenance for the sadhaka.

    • Gaurasundara Das

      A nice Sanskrit word to describe what I think Tadiya and Prema are speaking about is “santosha”. A contentment that comes from being present and not identifying with the happiness and distress that come and go. Or finding satisfaction in the life of sadhaka even while our sadhana is anistha.

      A quote:
      “Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.”
      ― Eleanor Roosevelt

      • Thank you for the comment and the offering of this wonderful word, santosha.

        I really appreciate the E. Roosevelt quote as well.

  3. Prahladanatha das

    There is no greater sense of happiness than the one that comes From chanting the Holy Names. The Word Happiness must be well understood. Nowadays everybody offers you happiness. They sell you the sense that you will become happy if you buy a car, if you drink alcohol, if you practice this or that. Most of this offerings come related to the satisfacción one obtains From the contact of the senses with the objects of the senses.
    Maybe bliss should be used instead. Bliss is the intense happiness that is felt and realized by awakening to the eternal, by symptonicing with the present and live that moment with intense love for God.
    The chanting of the Holy Names aré the road that takes us there, but it is also the destination. Nothing is higher than the chanting of the Holy Names, the Mahamantra.
    What is the best way to honor the chanting of the Holy Names? Listening. Listening to the Holy Sound. Nothing else. Their presence will do the rest.

  4. Thank you for this inspiring article, Prema. It’s amazing to wake up in the morning and find such sober and down to earth spiritual text. Following comments were equally enlightening. My experience is similar:steady sadhana, however insignificant, not depending on the fleeting emotions, brings special, deep-rooted peace and sense of harmony.

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