A casual japa experiment that I (Author) tried with a uneducated gardener to make his chant 16 rounds became an eye opener of many principles of attentive japa. Here is an inspirational journey.
A few years ago, I had gone on a break from my regular routine, to our organic farm in Mysore by the river Cauvery, in order to dedicate a ten days entirely for japa and nothing else. I had decided that I would chant 108 malas of Hare Krishna Mahamantra every day, for the next ten days. Until then, I had never attempted to chant more than 25 malas on a single day.
The first day’s Struggle
On the first day, I started my japa at 5 a.m. However, I found it a big struggle to after finishing about 35 malas. It was a big struggle, as the mind would want to read or write or philosophize; would want to make telephone calls, reply to emails, etc. Somehow, I put up a big fight against the mind and managed to complete my vow to chant 108 malas by 10 p.m. with great struggle and austerity. It was not at all pleasant and was mentally exhausted.
The story of the gardner
I was all alone and the only other person around the guest house was a gardener from the village, who was assigned to help me during my stay. He waited upon me in the guest house the whole day outside my room. The second day morning when I saw the gardener, I thought that since he practically had nothing to do, I could engage him in chanting of the holy names. I told myself that chanting being the yuga dharma, even a simple-minded common man like him should be able to take it up. I decided to venture into the project of making him chant 16 malas as an experiment!!
On the second morning I approached the gardener with the proposal. The Lord in my heart inspired me to present the japa in as simple a manner as possible, so that he would easily do it. These workers are very used to carry out any directed task given to them as a work. That is the only language they understand- to carry out works as ordered. Obviously, I couldn’t have started by giving him philosophy. The Lord inspired me to break the ice in an interesting way. I called the gardener and asked him, “If I give you some new 'task', would you learn and do it?” He said, “Why not! As long as it is not very complicated, since I am an uneducated person.” Then I asked him to bring 108 pebbles from the sand heap nearby. He brought them and placed them before me on the door step where I was sitting. He was in the mood of executing some work that I was going to give him. He sat on the floor below the step.
I said, “You have to pick up one pebble at a time, counting from number 1 to 108 audibly, and place them aside, on the step below.” He laughed like a child, since the 'task' sounded so simple, and I sounded like a child asking him to do such a ‘silly activity.’ He smilingly did as he was asked.
Then, I asked him to place one pebble at a time, back to where they were, counting again as he did so. He easily did it and smiled again, amused by the silliness of 'task' I gave him. Then, I gave him a Hare Krishna mantra card in the local language with Krishna’s picture on one side and Mahamantra on the other side. I said ‘I want you to utter these holy names of God. Whatever understanding of God he had, he took the card in his hands and touched the picture of Krishna to his forehead, very respectfully.
Then, he told me that he did not know how to read and write. So, for the next half-hour, I made him memorize the Mahamantra by making him repeat it several times. First two words at a time, then four, then eight and then the entire set of 16 words at a time and he learned it soon. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama,Hare Ram, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
I made him repeat once the Pança Tattva mantra: Sri Krishna Çaitanya Prabhu Nityananda Sri Advaita Gadhadhara Srivasadi Gaura Bhakta V?nda, one syllable after another, to seek the blessings of Lord Çhaitanya and His associates.
I directed him to shift the 108 pebbles again to a new heap one by one by chanting the Mahamantra with each pebble that he moved. Once the 108 pebbles were moved, he would have to repeat the task, moving them to back where they were, one by one, while chanting. He would have to think all along, that he is making an offering to God.
The gardener was eager to do as I said. In half an hour, in my presence, he simply followed what I said, and all the 108 pebbles went back and forth as I had directed. Haribol! He had chanted 2 rounds (malas) of japa with no struggle at all!
The only thing he could relate with, was that these were God’s Names, and should be respected. And he also had respect for me and what I said as a sadhu. He did not even have specific knowledge that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
I was very excited with the result and wanted to continue further with this experiment. I was already confident that if he could do two rounds in this paradigm of a work or task, he can also do 16 rounds. I told the gardener that since he was sitting there with practically nothing to do the whole day, other than waiting on me, he could do more of this ‘worship work’ of God, and it would be good for him. I asked him to bring 16 bigger pebbles and made another heap of it. We moved two big pebbles to a fresh spot, since he had already completed two rounds of japa.
Next, I posed a challenge to him, that he had to move all the 16 bigger pebbles by the evening. A visual clear work goal. He could take a break, every time he moved a big pebble. I assured him that it would earn him a lot of blessings from God.
The gardener was excited with the challenge of a new work or task that I assigned to him. He wanted to prove to me that he can do it. He said, “What is so big about moving some pebbles and having to utter the same words each time I move them?” He said even a child could do this task. I was surprised by his tone of easiness with which he spoke. This is exactly what Sr?la Prabhupada had said that even a child can do it. To my great surprise by evening, before he went home, the gardener had chanted 16 rounds delightfully without any struggle just like it a simple work to be done. He said he was dissatisfied as he could have done more, but could not, as he was called away for an hour to fix a leaking hose pipe at the other end of the farm.
The gardener’s japa analysed
This made me do a microscopic analysis as what all gardener was doing and what the role of attention energy was during his chanting and hearing. By going through this exercise I discovered somethings that once for all cured my inattentive japa with which I have been struggling for decades.
Let me present the discovery first and then we will see how it was derived by studying closely the different factors that made the japa of the gardener attentive. Because of the important factor of newness of the mantra and the process, the gardener’s japa was forced to be centred around only chanting and hearing the sound-string of the holy names and nothing else. But what all elements of japa were there in his japa, because of his newness to the process, which made his japa attentive?
The first discovery was that japa is basically offering of a ‘doing’ or a kriya along with ‘knowing’ of that kriya or very doing. Chanting is ‘doing the sound’ and hearing is ’knowing’ that very sound concurrently. Doing both concurrently was the secret. This came out of the analysis of what all acts, both gross and subtle, that the gardener did which enabled him to chant 16 rounds so easily and energetically without struggle of his mind to hold the attention.
That evening I did some search on vedabase on chanting and hearing. I was so thrilled to find the following four quotes where revealing this secret of concurrent chanting-cum-hearing practice of which changed my life in six months.
Here are the four quotes:
“The process is that you chant Hare Krishna, and exactly the same sound you hear”
Lecture Bhagavad Gita in New York (660725NY)
Chanting. You simply hear. When you say, “Hare Krishna” you try to hear the very sound, “Hare Krishna.” That’s all. Nothing more. This is meditation.
Lecture CC Madhya 6.24 Jan 8, 1968
You don’t keep your mind elsewhere. You keep your mind on the chanting.
“Hare Krishna” and hear. So, practice it, and you’ll see how spiritually you are making advancement. You simply chant Hare Krishna and try to hear the sound, that’s all……….
Lecture CC Madhya 6.24 Jan 8, 1968.
Prabhupada: Yes. When you chant, you must hear also. This is attention. This is yoga………. The chanting must be heard by you. That is attention, with attention.
Initiation Lecture in Los Angeles ( 690110 IN LA)
While chanting, you must hear. Hare Krishna-you must give attention to hear.
Lecture-Montreal July 29, 1968
Srila Prabhupada confirmed the key discovery of japa was to chant Hare Krishna and exactly the very same sound we should hear. My analysis was on the spot as Srila Prabhupada was advising. These are only five quotes that I found that evening. By now I had discovered total of 12 quotes. All of them speak of the same thing. That we should chant and hear that very sound we chant.
The fruit of understanding this fact and learning how to execute chanting and hearing concurrently brought upon me a tremendous change in my japa. This knowledge when applied deliberately was the way to be empowered to do good japa for a sadhaka and receive abundance of mercy that the holy name is raining unconditionally on the jivas in this kali yuga as His Lila. When discovered, I realized that japa is so simple and obvious. If we do not discover the simplicity of the method of energizing the soul by concurrent chanting-cum-hearing of the same sound and uninterrupted tasking repetition, it can evade us even after we do japa for decades keeping us far away from the benefits of attentive japa.
The new Japa experience
Voila! There was immediately a stark difference in energy level experienced to carry on japa and the smooth flow with which 108 rounds happened with zero mind struggle, on the third day, mala after mala when it done as a concurrent chanting-cum-hearing applying the doing effort and knowing effort from the heart without any other thinking. If the the first two days of 108 rounds was like moving my finger through thick viscous honey, the third day’s japa moved like moving my finger in the air. Definitely a new energy and strength that locked the attention had entered the scene due to chanting with concurrent hearing of the same sound and uninterrupted repetition.
Attentive Japa is not a struggle at all
The perception that attentive japa is always a struggle is not true at all provided it is done as it should be done. Attentive japa is not a struggle if it is done as concurrent doing and knowing that doing was the major discovery by the mercy of the Hare Krishna Nama Prabhu. The slogan should for attentive japa should be ‘Desire’ nothing else, ‘Do’ nothing else and ‘Know’ nothing else but Desire only to please the sound, Do only chanting and Know only the sound before you here and now’. So the solution to handle thinking during japa is not struggle to stop thought processing by self-control but instead start applying concurrently deliberate doing effort to chant and knowing effort to hear with the help of direction of Srila Prabhupada for it from the background mind.
A big problem solved
The gardener did 16 energetic rounds with so much ease and I also did my 108 rounds with great energy from the third day by applying the above steps of chanting and concurrently knowing that very chanting for each of bead with desire and hope to please that very Nama before me. There arose a hope and confidence at the end of the third day that attentive japa was not after all an impossible task if done properly as a concurrent doing of the sound and knowing that sound. Rather it turned out to be a soul and mind energizing activity. Definitely that was a new energy entering the mind of the chanter in chanting with concurrent hearing. I could get a glimpse of how great devotees like Thakur Haridas got the energy to chant three hundred thousand names every day.
It appears like a herculean task only because we think there are two ‘ doings’ in japa and the idea of linking them to the same sound as absent. Actually there is only one doing. The other is knowing. They are two different functions of the soul which it is capable of applying simultaneously. When I did the japa like the gardener did as doing and knowing that very doing my japa became energizing and there was zero mental fatigue in keeping the attention on japa for the entire 108 rounds. My attention never ran towards some thought processing as it usually happened. The Journey of Soulful Japa started.