Published on June 16th, 2016 | by Harmonist staff6
Chant and Be: The Happy is Inconsequential
By 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.