The Art of chanting Hare Krishna



Sense objects and desires encourage the mind’s natural tendency to run outward. Proper engagement of the senses helps internalize the mind. Scientists have proven that of all the techniques used to stop the oscillatory nature of the mind, those using sound and sight are the most effective. For example, the hypnotist subdues the subject’s mind by capturing his gaze (with a swinging watch), and speaking ina rhythmic monotonous way.

The following concentration technique, which combines sound and sight, perfectly controls the mind and engages it in serving Krishna.

While chanting the holy names-Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare…Gaze steadily at a picture of Krishna (or Radha-Krishna) for five minutes; close the eyes, and internally visualize the picture…Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare…During visualiztion, move the mind over the various limbs of the Lord. Begin with seeing Krishna’s lotus feet in the mind, then gradually rise up His transcendental body to His legs, knees, thighs, silk dhoti, belly, chest, pearl necklaces and garlands, Kaustubha gem, His neck, face eyes, flute, smile, hair, turban, turban ornaments, and peacock feather…Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare…

Then repeat the visualization going back down to Krishna’s lotus feet while continuing to chant Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. If the mental picture fades, open your eyes and gaze again. Then repeat the process of internal visualization five or six times. (The same can be done for Lord Gauranga’s form also) Do not be disturbed if in the beginning you cannot keep the picture of Radha-Krishna in the mind. Vigorous and regular practice of visualization will bring success. With a few months practice, you will clearly be able to visualize the Divine Couple (or Gauranga) smiling within your mind while you chant Hare Krishna in your heart.

Effect of Japa with Meaning

The method of chanting the holy name involves deliberating on the meanings of the syllables along with sincerely crying for the Lord. Success in any yoga system involving mantra meditation depends on remembering the meaning of the mantras being chanted. Patanjali stresses this point in the Yoga-sutra 1.28: “The sacred Om connotes Isvara (Supreme Controller). One should chant japa of Om along with understanding its meaning (yad-japas tad-artha bhavanam). Vyasadeva, the first commentator on the Yoga-sutra, says:

“The yogi who fully understands the relation between the word and the meaning must constantly repeat it, and habituate the mind to the manifestation therein of its meaning. The mind of the yogi who constantly repeats Om, and habituates the mind to the constant manifestation of the idea it carries, becomes one-pointed (ekagrata).”

For yogis of devotion (bhaktas), achieving the state of ekagrata, or one-pointedness of the mind, means to become absorbed in the trancendental sound of Krishna’s holy name.[…]
The practice of remembering the meaning of the mantra with affection is also mentioned in Hari-bhakti-vilasa:

manah samharanam shaucam, maunam mantrartha-cintanam;
avyagratvam anirvedo, japa-sampatti-hetavah.

To be attentive purification of the heart is required. This means keeping silence and avoiding unfavourable talking. While chanting, one must affectionately remember the meaning of the mantra. Steadiness, patience, and attachment to chanting are all treasures of chanting.

Increasing Detemination 1-4-16-64

In Kali-yuga, the mind is so lazy that it wants to quit without even trying. If one is not immediately successful in any attempt, his mind will balk, stammer and whimper, “Oh, I can’t do it. It’s too hard. I quit!” Working a steady job, maintaining a relationship, performing bhakti-sadhana, fasting on Ekadashi, and finishing one’s rounds of harinama are Herculean tasks in this techno age of fast living and low thinking.

Krishna teaches Arjuna that the mind can be strengthened by constant practice and detachment. An empowered mind serving the will of an enlightened master is a most helpful friend on the path of life an devotion. The determination to complete a task requires mental concentration, endeavour, surrender and the mercy of the Lord.

Achieving success in determined acts nourishes determination and enthuses one to undertake more difficult duties. Determination, being a mental power, becomes stronger by practice.

Form from Sound

Material creation begins from sabda or sound, which manifests all the material elements and is present in them. There is sound in ether; sound in air; sound in fire; sound in water; and sound in earth. Although vibration of sound is invisible, it creates visible vibrations in shape of form. In traditional Indian music, there are presiding gods and goddesses for each of the ragas and raginis (melodies) that can be invoked by sound. For example, it is said that when an expert vocalist sings the Vasanta-raga (spring melody), one can see a beautiful youth (Cupid) bedecked with flowers in the sky. In other words, the sound vibrations of the song create a visible form in the sky.

Here is a less esoteric example to understand the relation between sound and form. Every human being has unique individual fingerprints by which he can be identified. Similarly, he also has a “voiceprint” (the sound of his individual speech) by which he can be identified. Consider the example of a telephone call. As soon as you hear the sound of your friend’s voice in the telephone, yo can immediately identify, ‘Oh, it is Mr. So and So.’ Form manifests in the mind as soon as the name is heard and transmitted to the consciousness. This common experience conveys the basic idea of how sound of a person’s voice carries within it the form or picture of the person speaking. In one sense, sound equals form.

The relationship between sound and form is particularly relevant to chanting japa. Just as material sound vibrations produce visible forms, similarly, the transcendental vibration of Krishna’s name produces the visible form of Krishna in the heart of a devotee. When chanting the holy name of Krishna, one will eventually see the form of Krishna. This is because the sound of Krishna’s name carries within it the trancendental form of Krishna as well as His abode, associates and pastimes.

The entire material creation with its unlimited varieties of forms has appeared from sound. Similarly, the trancendental sound of Krishna’s name can dismantle the entire material world, and manifest the divine form of the spiritual world before the eyes of a prema-bhakta.

“Anavrttih sabdat” means, “liberation by sound.” The entire material manifestation began from sound, and sound can also end material entanglement, if it has a particular potency. The particular sound capable of doing this is the transcendental vibration Hare Krishna.” (SB 3.26.32 purp) By taking shelter of the primary element of Krishna’s holy name, one will realize and percieve the Lord’s gorgeous form.

Shrila Prabhupada on remembering Krishna’s pastimes while chanting:

“Regarding your first question, is it offensive to think of Krishna’s Pastimes while chanting, I think you should know that it is not offensive, but rather it is required. One must try for the point when he simply hears Krishna and immediately all of Krishna, His Pastimes, His Form, His Quality, are in his thoughts. So to always be immersed in thoughts of Krishna this is our process. When we are full in Krishna then where there can be any chance for maya in us? So this is our duty to remember Krishna’s Pastimes. One who cannot remember Krishna, let him always hear Hare Krishna and then when he has perfected this art, then always he will remember Krishna, His Activities, His Qualities, etc.

“The answer to your second question is that when one becomes accustomed to inoffensive chanting, then his fruit is that he is promoted to the stage of pure Love of Godhead, or prema. This prema is the perfectional stage of consciousness and the most blissful by very far..”(SPL 12/04/68)

“By constantly chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and remembering the transcendental pastimes of Krishna, one can be fully in Krishna consciousness and thus make his life sublime and fruitful.” (Krishna book Chp 35)

“Memory may be poor. But if you cultivate something, your memory increases. Everyone becomes expert, not in one day, but by cultivation. Similarly, if you try to remember, then your memory will help you to remember. It is not difficult.” (SPC 25/11/68)

It is stated in Bhajana Rahasya by Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura:

“While continuously chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, which is actually glorification of Radha and Krishna, one must remember Their sublime pastimes. If one can’t fix his mind to remembering Krishna’s pastimes, then he should chant the Lord’s principal names like Krishna, Govinda, Syama, Damodara and Giridhari, which will increase one’s attachment to Krishna. If one sings Krishna’s names and remembers His pastimes, he will get the treasure of krishna-prema and eternal residence in Vrndavana.”

manera smarana prana madhura madhura nama, vilasa jugala smriti-sara;
sadhya sadhana ei ara nai iha bai, ei tattva sarva-tattva-sara.

“The Divine Couple’s sweet, sweet holy names in the form of the Hare Krnsa maha-mantra is life for the mind’s memory. Their pastimes are the essence of all kinds of rememberance. Remembering Their pastimes is the both goal and the way to attain perfection. That is the truth of all truths.”

(Prema-bhakti-chandrika by Shrila Narottama Das Thakura, Song 6, text 2)

Eight Rules for Better Japa

The rules start with basic mechanical arrangements & end up with the proper mood and meditation. Anyone who follows these eight rules will surely improve his japa and receive delightful rewards from shri-nama.

1. Night before-Give up rice and eating heavy foods at night. Take simple foods such as milk and fruits. By eating a light meal you will sleep soundly, rise early without difficulty, and have full energy for attentive japa the next morning. The night before make a sankalpa or firm vow: “Tomorrow morning, I will chant with full concentration and sincere feelings.” Upon waking, take a full bath or at least wash the mouth, face, hands and feet with cold water before chanting. If you feel sleepy or dull headed, a kirtana with karatals will immediately invigorate the dull mind and purify the environment.

2. Time, Place, Mind-Start chanting very early in the morning, either with devotees, Tulasi-devi, Thakurji, or in a place free from disturbance. Sit before your Deities or Tulasi-devi and chant prayers to Shri Guru and the parampara, the six Gosvamis and the Panca-tattva. Remember Namacharya Thakura Haridasa and pray for his mercy. Pray to the holy name to help you chant with full attention, purely, and free from offenses.

If the mind starts ‘jumping,’ calm it down by prayer, pranayama, or loud chanting. Shri Chaitanya’s Sikasastaka is the ideal prayer to recite and reflect upon before and during japa. A very good technique of concentration is to remember the meaning of the third sloka (trnad api sunicena) throughout the japa period.

3. Chanting Techniques-a) “Sit properly.” Yoga sastras proclaim that sitting straight facilitates concentration: “Right posture makes the mind calm.” (Tantra-raja-tantra 27,59) “For purification of the body and for success in yoga, posture is absolutely necessary.” (Rudra-yamala-tantra 2.24.38-39) “By the practice of good posture the body becomes disease-free, firm and efficient.” (Graha-yamala 2.85)
b) Chant without interruption. Once in Los Angeles, disciples asked Shrila Prabhupada what would please him most. “Chant sixteen rounds of japa at one sitting without interruption!” said Shrila Prabhupada.
c) Be careful to clearly and distinctly pronounce the holy names.

4. Concentration-Collect all thoughts into one; concentrate on the sound vibration.

5. Control the Mind-a) Pull it back when it wanders. Chanters Beware!!! Yoga sastras say that tamo-guna and sleep usually attack a sadhaka after he has practiced one hour of meditation. In other words, after sitting peacefully and chanting japa for one hour, one should be watchful and check his energy and attention levels. If you feel drowsy or dull headed, then chant loudly to shake off tamo-guna; go outside for a japa walk; drink some cold water and splash some on your face; do sirsasana (headstand) for 2 minutes and 10 rounds of pranayama; or a few stretching exercises. Refreshed and invigorated, sit before Tulasi-devi again and renew your japa meditation.

b) Cut the tendency to recall events from yesterday, last week or the year before. The bird of the mind flies on two wings: the past and the future. Cut off the wings. Be here now: Hear, chant and remember-love, serve and surrender! “Forget the past that sleeps; and never the future dream at all. Deal with times that are with you, and progress you shall call.” (Sarnagati) c) Don’t plan today’s duties. If the mind persistenly dwells on the “shopping list” or “things to do today”, then stop briefly, write down the points, and chant japa with a tranquil mind.

6. Absorb Four Qualities-try to fill the mind with the four qualities recommended in the third verse of Shri Chaitanya’s Siksastaka: humility, tolerance, pridelessness and respect for all.

7. Meditation-while chanting, meditate on the form of Radha-Syama or Nityananda-Gauranga, or the meaning of the holy names revealed by the previous acaryas.

8. Mood-chant with a feeling of longing for Krishna, hankering for Krishna and crying for Krishna. “This chanting is exactly like the genuine cry of a child for its mother’s presence.” (Shrila Prabhupada in the Science of Self-Realization) Of course, this should not be done in an artificial way. But rest assured, Shri Krishna will respond to the sincere and helpless cries of a humble devotee chanting with a repentant heart.

Glories of the Holy Name

One will strengthen his faith and determination to chant japa by repeatedly hearing the wonderful glories of the holy name, and by studying different slokas in praise of nama-bhajana. Such practices are endorsed by the previous acaryas such as Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura who said, “Chant the nama-mahima (glories of the holy name). Practice that daily. I also do that. Harinama is our life.”

Whether chanted correctly or incorrectly, knowingly or unknowingly, carefully or carelessly, the all-powerful name of Krishna will always give results. The unlimited glories of the holy name cannot be understood with logic, reason or intellect. Only by faith, devotion, and constant chanting can one realize the greatness of shri-nama. In this dark age of Kali, krishna-nama is the easiest, quickest, safest and surest way to attain spiritual perfection in love of God. In the matter of self-realization, nama-japa is the “king of all sadhanas.”

Chanting Krishna’s sweet names purifies the heart; sanctifies and steadies the mind; destroys the six enemies [lust, anger, greed, envy, illusion, madness]; stops birth and death; dissolves sins; scorches samskaras; annihilates attachment; induces detachment; uproots desires; empowers one; makes one fearless; removes illusion; bestows supreme peace; delivers prema; reveals the Lord and His dhama; shows one’s svarupa; showers bhakti-rasa; and engages one in his nitya-seva for the pleasure of Radha-Syama.

Nama Reveals the Spiritual Body

Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura clearly explains that the experience of one’s internal spiritual form (siddha deha or svarupa), which is necessary for practicing raganuga-bhakti, is revealed by the grace of Krishna’s holy name. Generally one realizes his spiritual form at the stage of bhava-bhakti. At this stage of perfection, which precedes prema-bhakti, Shri Krishna’s suddha-sattva or svarupa sakti (personal spiritual potency) is transmitted into the heart of the sadhaka from the heart of one of Krishna’s eternal associates. This in turn reveals the specific attributes of one’s eternal spiritual form. By purely chanting the holy name, therefore, one can realize his spiritual body.

Siddha Pranali

Once a grhastha follower of Gaura-kisora dasa Babaji asked for siddha-pranali (ekadasa-bhava initiation). Babaji Maharaja replied, “The Hare Krishna maha-mantra is a siddha-mantra. Within this mantra are the siddha-rupa of the Supreme Lord Krishna and the siddha-rupas of all living entities. If you chant the maha-mantra purely, the syllables of the maha-mantra will gradually reveal the spiritual form, qualities, and pastimes of Shri Krishna. This chanting will also reveal your eternal spiritual form, service, and the eleven particulars of your spiritual identity.”

Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains how Krishna’s holy name awards one a spiritual body:

ishat vikashi punah, dekhaya nija rupa-guna, citta hari laya krishna-pasha
purna vikashita haina, vraje more yaya laina, dekhaya more svarupa-vilasa
more siddha-deha diya, krishna-pashe rakhe giya, ei dehera kare sarva-nasha.

“Such is the power He manifests that when His holy name starts to blossom a little further, it then reveals His own divine form and qualities. Thus the holy name steals my heart and takes it to Krishna’s side. When the flower of the holy name is fully blossomed, it takes me directly to Vraja and reveals to me His own love-dalliance. This name awards me my own eternal spiritual body, keeps me right by Krishna’s side, and completely destroys everything related to this mortal frame of mine.” (Shri Nama-Mahatmya from Sharanagati of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura)

A Story of Faith

To attain the perfection of human life, a sadhaka must have strong faith in his guru and the holy name of Krishna. The following story from the Ramayana shows the power of faith:

After vanquishing Ravana, Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya along with Sita-devi and Vibhisana, the pious brother of Ravana. When it was time to return to Shri Lanka, some of the rakshasa attendants of Vibhisana asked how it would be possible to cross the ocean in the absence of the famous bridge (setu), which had now been dismantled. Vibhisana wrote the name ‘Shri Rama’ on an asvattha leaf, tied it in a knot of cloth, and handed it to one of his men while saying, ‘Hold this knot tightly, dive into the water, and you will easily cross the vast ocean to Lanka.’

With implicit faith, the rakshasa held the knot in his hand and jumped in the ocean. Surprisingly, the water was only knee-deep, so he walked across effortlessly. At the mid-way point, however, pride and doubts entered the rakshasa’s mind. He wondered, ‘What is in this knot that my master gave me that works such wonders?’

So he untied the knot, and upon seeing a mere leaf with ‘Shri Rama’ written on it, he began to laugh and scoff at it. Overcome with doubt, he thought, “What is this? How can this name play such havoc with the ocean?” As soon as this doubt rose in his mind, the rakshasa entered a watery grave due to a sudden flood of waves and rough sea.

Know Your Mind

Whether the mind is your best friend or worst enemy-know for sure that he is here to stay. So you had better get to know him. One can understand the ways and habits of the mind through daily introspection, self-analysis or self-examination. If one knows the laws of the mind, it will be easier to control it.

The mind exists not in the physical body, as does the brain, but in the astral body. However, the brain and the mind have intimate connections with the functioning of the physical body. The brain, which is part of the physical body, acts as a computer, carrying out the thoughts of the mind, and transmitting electrical impulses within the body to maintain and control the different life systems.

You cannot see, touch, or weigh the mind. Yet the mind contains all the feelings, ideas, and impressions from this life and all previous lives, as well as intuitive perception of the future. The mind (manah) has three functions: sensation, thought and volition [thinking, feeling, willing]. It also has three aspects: the superconscious mind, the conscious mind, and the subconscious mind. The subconscious serves as a storehouse of memories and past experiences. Intelligence (buddhi) performs the function of discriminating and making decisions.

The mind is like a lake on which rise and fall innumerable waves of thoughts known as vrittis. In the average person thousands of vrittis appear in the mind at every minute. The finite soul is the passive witness of all that is perceived. Thought is the most powerful force in the universe, and it initiates all action. All work is first completed in the mind, and later carried out on the physical plane.

The mind is always conversing with itself, wandering down memory lane, discussing the pros and cons of various options, and planning for the future. One can silence the internal dialogue by loudly chanting Krishna’s holy names and begging for mercy. The Supreme Lord controls every inch of creation, so if He desires He can easily control one pagala-mana, crazy mind.

As previously described, the mind is filled with countless samskaras. Samskaras are grooves or impressions in the mind of any previous experience or acts done in a former state of existence. Habits and desires from a previous life or this life are engrained or embedded in the mind. When these latent habits and desires manifest, the mind pushes one to act in a particular way.

For example, as soon as one sits for japa meditation, all sorts of nonsensical thoughts will manifest to disturb the mind. An astonishing parade of old memories, past enjoyments, future schemes and tasty scenarios will bubble up from the subconscious to spin the mind in a whirlwind of distraction. Thoughts and people, desires and things will gush out in a continuous stream from the subconscious reservoir. One should throw out these material thoughts just as one uproots weeds from the ground. One should fill the garden of the mind with divine thoughts of Krishna’s eternal service and memories of His splendid pastimes.

Yoga sastras teach that in the initial stages of practicing any type of meditation [such as japa meditation], many bad, evil or distracting thoughts will come to the surface of the mind to capture one’s attention. However, one should not feel discouraged or disgusted by this and give up chanting japa. It is a natural phenomenon in meditation that all the evil thoughts, instincts, illusions, delusions, and dark forces hidden in our subconscious will appear on the surface before they die. The German philosopher Hegel used to say, “You have to die to live!”

The determined and continuous chanting of Krishna’s holy names will eventually purify the mind, intelligence and ego. It is only after such purification that further chanting and meditation on the Hare Krishna maha-mantra will yield the fruit of spiritual realization and love of God.

Petitioning the Lord with prayer is very beneficial at every stage of chanting: “Oh Krishna, please help me! Oh Murli-manohara Hari, please capture my mind, control it, and accept it in Your service.” Never despair and do not be discouraged. The constant chanting of Krishna’s holy names will very quickly burn up all desires, illusions, sinful thoughts and memories from the mind.

Solitude and Chanting

The previous acaryas were very particular about chanting in ultra quiet, undisturbed settings. Just imagine how tranquil Vrndavana was five hundred years ago? Yet to avoid any possible distractions, the medieval saint Sanatana Gosvami chanted japa in a cave twenty feet under the ground in Gokula! Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura recommends chanting in a quiet “distraction free zone” to fully concentrate on the holy name. In his house in Godrumadvipa, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura constructed a small “meditation room” with a thick door to create a quiet place for concentrated japa. He advises sadhakas to make similar arrangements for staying alone in a secluded place in order to absorb the mind in the holy name.

When the mind wanders, one must withdraw it from sense objects and concentrate intently on the mantra. A transcendental sound vibration that can free or deliver (tra or trayate) the mind (mana) from material attraction and attachment is called a mantra. Meditate deeply on the meaning of the maha-mantra. Do not be distracted by random thoughts or external influences. Chant Krishna’s names with feelings of devotion. Lastly and most importantly, one must turn to Krishna in the mood of a beggar, praying intensely for His mercy. Seeing your sincerity, Krishna will surely reciprocate and capture your full attention once again.

4 thoughts on “The Art of chanting Hare Krishna

  1. Hare Krishna,
    Please accept my humble obeisances,
    All glories to Srila Prabhupada & Gurudev,

    Thank you for the wonderful article on chanting. It will certainly improves chanting, specially when you begin to realize by the mercy of the devotees the relationship between physical body & astral body. So far we are only this body & chanting we just do it. This article help so much to understand the whole process of chanting.

    Your servant

  2. Hare Krishna Pr.,


    As per a devotee’s advice, i have a habit of counting each round by mentally marking 1,2,3… till 108. I also constantly have a match with my mind, ie., the number of rounds i won against the mind and vice versa and i have felt a beneficial effect. Is this kind of chanting ok and approved?

    In the service of Srila Prabhupada.

    Arun Ramakrishnan.

    • Hare Krishna

      I have not heard of this technique of mentally marking 1,2,3… The whole idea of chanting is to hear the each and every syllable of the Mahamantra attentively. Conquering mind this way is the best solution.

      Vaishnava sevabhilasi,

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