Kirtan: Ancient Medicine for Modern Man
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© 2004 - Hansadutta das

Kirtan: Ancient Medicine for Modern Man

By Hansadutta das

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Performing Kirtan

Kirtan--Humility and Submission

One can chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking one's self lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and should be ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind, one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.--Shikshastaka

Don't Hold Your Breath
Our first consideration should be how to chant Hare Krishna constantly just as our heart beats constantly. The heart is vibrating, the lungs are vibrating, the moon is vibrating, the entire creation is vibrating. As everything vibrates, so we must practice always vibrating God's name: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Chanting Hare Krishna should become automatic, like breathing.

Most people breathe improperly, and this creates various disturbances in the body. Breathing is the basis of life, because air sustains life. One may live for a short time without food or water, but one cannot exist without air. Similarly, without the holy name, one cannot have spiritual life. Kirtan is to spiritual life what rain is to agriculture. There must be Kirtan--the chanting of Hare Krishna, chanting on our beads (rosary) or Sankirtan (congregational chanting).

It is easier to chant in the association of others who are chanting. Good association is very conducive to spiritual life, because such association gives one strength and enthusiasm. When you become tired of chanting, the others are still chanting. We will see that when we are chanting Hare Krishna very attentively, we will get along with other people. In this age of irreligion and quarrel, no one gets along with anyone else, because no one is chanting the Lord's holy name.

The devotees of Krishna practice bhakti-yoga. Bhakti means devotion, or love, and yoga means the process of linking one's self with the Supreme. One of the practices of bhakti-yoga is to rise one and a half hours before sunrise. While everyone is sleeping--dead and oblivious--the devotee gets up and chants, "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare." At this time, the ethers are very pure. Nonsensical people are dead asleep, so they are not causing any disturbance. This is a very conducive time for spiritual practice. Krishna says:

What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.--Bhagavad-gita 2.69

Within a few hours, people will drive their automobiles, have coffee and cigarettes and turn on the radio or television. The freeways get jammed, because everyone is competing to manipulate the material energy and enjoy their senses. By the time the materialist starts his day, the devotee has already gathered enough spiritual strength to tolerate the pandemonium and execute the day's activities. In the evening, devotees return to the temple to bathe, dress, assemble and rejuvenate or purify themselves from their daily activities in the world by having Kirtan.

Purify Your Mind
After a hard day's work, a coal miner, mechanic or labourer goes home, takes a good hot bath and feels rejuvenated, but the real bath is to chant Hare Krishna. We have to purify our mind from all the rubbish that we accumulate in the course of the day by chanting Hare Krishna. In the morning we again rise at three-thirty, chant Hare Krishna and purify our mind from sleep, foolish dreams and lethargy. In this way, we begin another day of devotional service. This is the process for spiritual life, a life based on Kirtan.

One does not have to live in a temple to practice spiritual life. One can perform Kirtan wherever he is, whatever one's occupation. If we perform Kirtan on a regular basis, one day we will realise that we cannot bear to live without chanting. We will come to see, "I'm addicted to chanting. I can't do anything but chant." When we come to this point, we will be perfect.

Calling God
Kirtan is not just banging some cymbals together and absentmindedly chanting. Kirtan means calling out for the Lord in a mood of helplessness, humility and submission. Development of a submissive attitude will enable one to chant the holy name of Krishna properly. One can vibrate the transcendental sound with feeling--"O Krishna! Hare Krishna!" Suppose you were in danger, in great desperation you would call out, "Help! Help!" People call out, "Help!" because they do not know Krishna. If they knew that only Krishna could help, then they would call, "O Hare Krishna! Krishna, please help me!" That is communion. Communion means the conditioned soul is crying for help--"O my dear Krishna, please help me. I have fallen into this ocean of material existence, of repeated birth and death. Please help me, engage me. Give me some place in Your devotional service. Pick me up. Help!" This should be the sincere attitude of the chanter, then Krishna will reciprocate.

Krishna expresses this Himself in the following verse of Bhagavad-gita:

Proportionately, as one surrenders unto Me, I reveal Myself to him.--Bhagavad-gita 4.11

Krishna is not an idea. Krishna is not a philosophical concept. Krishna is not a stone. Krishna is a person, just as you are a person and I am a person. Krishna is the Supreme Person, and He will reciprocate with us personally, if we approach Him, sincerely calling His holy name.

Quality--Not Quantity
As conditioned souls, we are limited in our capacity to receive and transmit messages, but Krishna is unlimited. The act of chanting or calling on Krishna with feeling is heard by Krishna spiritually, not materially. The sound which we hear--Krishna--is the external feature of the holy name. That is not really Krishna. The real substance of the holy name is the feeling, the spirit with which we express or vibrate "Hare Krishna! O Krishna!"--not simply the mechanical sound vibration which we perceive with the mundane ear, the ear of flesh and bones.

The holy name is feeling. That feeling is called bhava. Bhava is the attitude or the sincerity with which the Lord's name is chanted. Bhava cannot be heard with the mundane ear; it can only be heard by the soul. As the Supreme Soul, Krishna can hear the quality of our chanting. The quality of our chanting is more important than the quantity of our chanting.

When many people assemble and chant Hare Krishna, they become inspired by one another, temporarily surrender their false prestige and chant Hare Krishna in a sincere mood. In Sankirtan, or group chanting, Kirtan becomes very effective, powerful, dynamic, inspiring and purifying. In a spirit of brotherhood, the wayward children cry out to their common Father.

When Krishna hears such sincere crying, even though His name may not be pronounced very nicely or the Kirtan may not be musically very correct, Krishna responds to that sincere, heartfelt feeling. There is nothing rigid in spiritual life. Love is higher than the law. One may not know the name of his father correctly, but when there is love and affection, whatever we say, he responds to it. This response is what the soul is always hankering for. Our heart wants to be satisfied with genuine love and affection. When we are genuinely affectionate towards Krishna, He reciprocates, and this exchange occurs during Kirtan.

Fire of the Holy Dance
Although unknowingly one may be hankering for Krishna, when Krishna sees a conditioned soul is hankering for the Supreme, then He reveals Himself. That is how one comes in contact with Krishna consciousness. Introduction to Krishna consciousness happens in an imperceptible, divine and transcendental way. It is descending. It is not that we find Krishna; Krishna finds us. God is not an object like a diamond or a ruby which is lying and waiting to be discovered. God is the supreme conscious being, the Supreme Person. When He sees that someone needs and wants Him, then Krishna pulls away the veil of maya and reveals Himself.

When Kirtan is performed with great attention, humility and sincerity, then Krishna is actually present. Krishna actually descends into the assembly of chanters, singers and dancers. When Krishna is present, then we become purified. That is the only time in our lives when we experience actual satisfaction and relief from being haunted by our material desires and sinful reactions. Through Kirtan, we shed all our fears and anxieties. In the fire of the holy dance, all sins are washed away.

Hansadutta das
Rittvik Representative of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

©2004 - Hansadutta das
Chaitanya MahaprabhuChaitanya Mahaprabhu

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