What do you think happens when people do something for two hours a day and they are not with it? Psychology hints that if we again and again do something and are not concentrated, that activity, even if it is a good thing, will erode our personality and we become less fixed and focused. We will develop a habit of just not being there. Another result is that it will be difficult for us to come to the next step in our life and we will stagnate on our path.
I’m not saying that inattentive chanting is extremely dangerous, because we do hear in the scriptures that even by inattentive chanting, after a long, long time, there is some slight blessing. But what I’m trying to say is since we have committed to chant, we might as well turn our rounds into attentive rounds and since we are committed to glorifying Krishna in kirtana, we might as well find out how we can do good kirtana.
Good kirtana is only possible if you can relate to it – if you can enter into a relationship with Krishna in the form of His Holy Name.
A relationship cannot grow during inattentive kirtana. It cannot grow from our side and it will not from Krishna’s side. It will be a distant, formal, mechanical practice.
The kind of relationship you have to your japa and kirtana describes your relationship to Krishna. The moment you aspire for a good relationship with Krishna, you will become very focused in your kirtana and japa practice. When we meet people with whom we have no relationship, for instance during a walk in the park, we pay no attention to them. But as soon as there’s someone we have a relationship with, we greet them warmly. We immediately pay attention, even to small details.
So if you want to chant the holy name, you need to think about your relationship to him. Without a relationship to either the practice or the person whose name you chant, you will have a practice of inattention. And this distracted practice will most likely, unless you’re a stone, reflect in your other dealings. You will become an in-between species, a man or a woman who suffers from lack of focus in their life.
Spiritual life starts with sambandha, that is, when you are conscious that you have a relationship and you call out to Krishna, “Please accept me!” It’s not something mechanical. If you don’t address Lord Krishna in this way, Krishna will be like all the people in the park who you don’t even know. You won’t turn to Him. You won’t stop your ordinary life. You will not come out of your prison, which has two strong iron bars: aham (‘this is me’, false ego) and mameti (‘this is mine’). You will not even be a shadow of a devotee and you will be frustrated.
When a devotee starts realizing this, he or she will wake up and understand, “I’m in serious danger here; this won’t work for me. I now have to think.”
What you do when you see that your material desires have increased rather than decreased is you’ll wonder where you will go at the moment of death and then you’ll turn to Krishna and start making yourself dependent on him. You’ll say, “My Lord, please I’m not good, but you are very merciful. Please give me your mercy.” And you will start to allow yourself to surrender to Krishna.
What does this mean in practice for chanting? First, you start with connecting, that is you become aware. “Here I am, here’s my voice, here are my ears”, and then you chant and you hear yourself. Then, you bring your mind into the practice. You concentrate on what’s going on. You’re with it and you listen to it. And finally, you think of your relation to Krishna. You may want to address him like this: “My dear Lord Krishna, although I have forgotten you for so many long years in the material world, today I am surrendering unto you. I’m your sincere and serious servant. Please engage me in your service.” (Sri Caitanya-Caritamrita, Madhya 22.33).
Chanting with thoughts like this means establishing a relationship. It means coming from the platform of shadow chanting, which doesn’t really nourish us spiritually, to substantial or essential chanting, which will nourish us very much. And at that time, miracles can happen.