Improving our japa begins when we assure ourselves that it’s possible.
By Mahatma Das
Affirmations for devotees eager to improve their japa and taste the sweetness of the holy name.
[Excerpted from Japa Affirmations: 20 Meditations to Deepen Your Chanting, by Mahatma das. Copyright ©2018 by Sattva Books. All rights reserved. This excerpt retains the book’s style for Sanskrit and other considerations. Available from the Krishna.com Store.]
- I happily and enthusiastically welcome the holy names every japa session.
This first affirmation is meant to set the proper mood. Sometimes devotees who haven’t had the best experiences with japa begin chanting in a negative mood, reasoning that because in general their japa hasn’t been good, it will be the same again today. So they enter with an expectation of a negative experience, approaching japa more as a chore than a loving relationship.
This first affirmation is meant to create a mood of welcoming a very special guest (the holy name) to our home. We make our home attractive because we want to make the time with our guests special, and we want them to feel happy in our home. In the same way, we want to make our consciousness special in preparation for a special japa session. We welcome the holy names into the clean and attractive home of our heart.
To prepare in this way some devotees will read verses, some will read prayers, or some will take a moment to reflect on what they are doing and what they wish to accomplish. Again, this is to place themselves in a positive, welcoming state in relation to the holy name. So the main idea of this first affirmation is to get yourself in the right state of mind for japa. You prepare yourself to ensure that you chant mindfully. Rather than thinking the goal of japa is to somehow or other just finish your prescribed number of rounds, you shift your consciousness into a different attitude: you view chanting as an exciting opportunity to connect with the Lord, something blissful that you enthusiastically look forward to.
- I easily chant my prescribed number of rounds with focus and attention.
Affirmations prepare you to enter a task with a positive and favorable attitude. Many people ask whether we can easily chant with focus and attention just by saying so. While it may seem simplistic to believe that an affirmation can improve your japa in this way, consider how believing you can’t chant with focus and attention affects you. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, and thus you find it difficult to focus. You even find it difficult to try to focus; after all, why would you try to focus if you believe you can’t? The problem is exacerbated when you continue to chant with a lack of attention and focus. You become predisposed to think that your japa will always be more or less like this. Thus the belief that you can’t focus becomes the cause of not focusing, which then strengthens the belief that you can’t focus. So as it works against you when your mind produces negative affirmations, positive affirmations work for you by aligning your attitude with your goal (in this case the goal is good japa).
Attention is an interesting phenomenon. Our mind has many thoughts, not only bad thoughts. So where we place our attention is what is important. Right now you could place your attention on Vrindavan or you could place your attention on your office. Since we do have control of our attention, this affirmation is meant to remind us that placing our attention on the holy names is not difficult if we set out to do this.
The idea is that when I enter my japa session I am not thinking that it is going to be a struggle; rather, I think that giving my attention to the holy names is natural. We want to enter a mood in which we feel it’s natural to chant with focus and attention, not that it is some herculean task that only a few people can accomplish. If I enter with a proper mood, if I consider japa to be essentially important to my spiritual life, then it’s going to be much easier to chant with focus and attention. With this affirmation we confirm that it is possible to be attentive, and that we will control our attention while chanting.
- When I chant, I chant.
Although this affirmation sounds simplistic, it is actually quite profound. When you chant you often are doing something else internally. You are chanting externally, but internally your mind can be somewhere else, thinking what you did yesterday, what you have to do today, what problems you need to sort out, etc. In this way you can become disconnected from the holy name. “When I chant, I chant” encompasses the principle behind everything I teach in The Japa Workshop.
When you chant, your whole world should be put on hold. It must be about you and Krishna, nothing else. Sometimes I joke that the eleventh offense is to have your cellphone on when you are chanting. In other words, when I chant I don’t do anything else: I am not on my computer, I am not reading a book, I am not doing this or that; I am just with the holy name.
Some devotees say that when they chant they give two hours totally to the holy name. They have no distractions around them, and they sit in one place. (We call that sitting in your sacred space, creating that quiet space where you can peacefully chant without distraction.) But when I ask if they have also created an internal sacred space, often the answer is no. “When I chant, I chant” means not only creating the external space, but more importantly creating the internal environment in which you don’t allow yourself to be distracted. We could also say, “When I study, I study,” or “When I work, I work.” It is the same principle. I have seen people become so absorbed in reading their newspaper that they become oblivious to everything around them. We should be this way with our japa. When I chant, I want to be completely given over to my japa and not to anything else, externally or internally.
- I get to chant, I want to chant, and I love to chant.
Often, when devotees begin their japa, they don’t feel inspired to chant. Sometimes they would rather do something else, like read or do service or just get busy with some pressing tasks or service. For whatever reason, they aren’t looking forward to their japa and would rather be doing something else.
When you begin chanting in the morning a fear may subtly speak to you, saying, “This is going to be difficult; this is going to be boring; this is not going to be sweet.” You may fear that you are not going to be able to control your mind and your japa is going to be a struggle. If your chanting is not consistently good, if you have gone through some low points in your chanting for some time, it is at these times that these thoughts are likely to haunt you. You may not even realize you are thinking this way, but if you become conscious of this you may notice a little voice that sometimes says, “Oh no, here we go again.” Now you might say, “I do feel this way sometimes, but how is saying, ‘I get to chant, I want to chant and I love to chant’ going to make a difference?”
My belief is that you do love to chant, you do want to chant, and you do view it as a special blessing. In the many workshops I have done, I have asked devotees, “What would your life be like without the holy name? What if you were prevented from chanting? How would you feel?” When asked these questions everyone says, “That would be horrible.” This means at heart we all want to chant, we appreciate the holy names, and we see chanting as an opportunity rather than a burden. On a deep level I do want to chant, I do appreciate the great fortune of having the holy name. I made a commitment to chant. No one forced me. Ultimately you started chanting because you decided to chant. You wanted to become pure, uplifted and closer to Krishna.
Deep down all of us really love to chant. When you chant properly, you love it. And you love the effects of chanting even when it’s difficult. Connect to the holy names on this level. Realize that you really do “want to chant, get to chant and love to chant,” even if you don’t always consciously feel that way. This affirmation can connect you with your natural desire to chant. Many devotees have told me that just saying this affirmation before they begin chanting has a tremendously positively effect on their japa. I know it might sound strange that a few words could make that kind of difference. But they are not just saying the words; they are connecting with their desire to chant and bringing their conscious mind to this awareness. This affirmation reminds us that we really do appreciate chanting. Just by saying, “I get to chant, I want to chant, and I love to chant” you alter your attitude towards the holy name, and thus alter your experience.
If you are chanting and losing your connection, or you are getting bored or distracted, then this affirmation will be very powerful for you. It’s a reminder that deep down you really want to be chanting, and that ultimately it is your favorite activity. As you recite this affirmation, you are affirming to yourself that you appreciate the holy name and the rare opportunity you have got to chant.
- I treat the maha-mantra as Radha and Krishna, fully present in sound.
Srila Prabhupada said that intellectually we cannot understand that the holy name is non-different from Krishna; it is something that we must experience. Those of us from the West did not understand the concept of God being present in a deity, but with faith in Prabhupada’s words we worshipped the deity as Krishna. Because we worshipped the deity with that faith, we began to realize and experience that Krishna is in the deity. And Krishna reciprocated. We experienced His presence and we became attached to the deity. It’s the same with the holy name. You may not be able to intellectually understand how Krishna is the same as His name, but you can experience it. This affirmation will get you off the intellectual platform and help you embrace the name as Krishna. You may not always have much of an experience of Krishna in His name, but when you place awareness on the reality that you are associating with Radha and Krishna while you chant, your experience of Krishna in His name deepens.
When you worship the deity in this same consciousness, you begin to experience the presence, mercy, and various aspects of your relationship with the deity. In the same way, when you treat the holy name as Radha and Krishna deities in the form of sound, you increasingly experience and realize the presence of Radha and Krishna in their names. Prabhupada said the name is non-different from Krishna, that Krishna is fully present in His name. Therefore I affirm that I will treat the holy name as Krishna fully present in sound. I bow down to the holy name within my heart, and I chant the holy name with the understanding that this is Krishna. In one lecture, Srila Prabhupada said when you chant the holy name it’s the same as taking darshan of the deities. Just as when the curtains open you bow down, you bow down to the holy name as you chant, thinking that Krishna is manifesting His presence.