What Are The Benefits of Chanting?
Dr. Daniel Coleman, associate editor of Psychology Today and author of The Varieties of Meditative Experiences, after studying the meditational techniques of members of the Krishna consciousness movement, said, "I found the Hare Krishna devotees to be well-integrated, friendly, and productive human beings. In a culture like ours, in which inner, spiritual development is almost totally neglected in favor of materialistic pursuits, we might have something to learn from their meditational practices."
Everyone knows that a happy life requires good health. Proper diet, adequate exercise, and sufficient rest are necessary to keep our bodies strong and fit. If we neglect these demands, our bodies become weakened and resistance wanes. Highly susceptible to infection, we eventually become ill.
More important, but less well known, is the inner self's need for spiritual nourishment and attention. If we ignore ourspiritual health requirements, we become overwhelmed by negative material tendencies like anxiety, hatred, loneliness, prejudice, greed, boredom, envy, and anger.
In order to counteract and prevent these subtle infections of the self, we should, as recommended in the Vedic literatures, incorporate into our lives a program of self-examination and steady inner growth, based on spiritual strength and clarity of thought.
The transcendental potency necessary for developing complete psychological and spiritual fulfillment is already present within everyone. It must, however, be uncovered by a genuine spiritual process. Of all such authentic processes, India's timeless Vedas tell us that meditation on the Hare Krishna mantra is the most powerful.
The initial result of chanting the Hare Krishna mantra is summarized by Srila Prabhupada in his commentary on the Bhagavad-gita: "We have practical experience that any person who is chanting the holy names of Krishna (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) in course of time feels some transcendental pleasure and very quickly becomes purified of all material contamination."
In the preliminary stages of chanting, the practitioner experiences a clearing of consciousness, peace of mind, and relief from unwanted drives and habits. As one develops more realization by chanting, he perceives the original, spiritual existence of the self. According to the Bhagavad-gita, this enlightened state "is characterized by one's ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self "
And in the Caitanya-caritamrta, a seventeen-volume commentary on the life and teachings of Sri Caitanya, founder of the modern-day Krishna consciousness movement, the ultimate benefit of chanting is described. "The result of chanting is that one awakens his love for Krishna and tastes transcendental bliss. Ultimately, one attains the association of Krishna and engages in His devotional service, as if immersing himself in a great ocean of love."
So by chanting Hare Krishna, one reaps innumerable benefits, culminating in Krishna consciousness and love of God. We can realize the fruits of chanting by adopting the process of mantra meditation and applying it systematically. For clear understanding of the progressive effects of chanting, some of the more important benefits are discussed separately.
Peace of Mind
Initially meditation focuses on controlling the mind, for in our normal condition, we are slaves to any whimsical thoughts, desires, and appetites the mind may generate. We think of something and immediately we want to do it. But the Bhagavad-gita tells us that the meditator must learn to control the mind: "For one who has conquered the mind, then his mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will be the greatest enemy."
The materialistic mind attempts to enjoy by employing the senses to experience matter and material relationships. It is full of unlimited ideas for sense gratification, and being perpetually restless, it constantly flickers from one sense object to another. In doing so, the mind vacillates between hankering for some material gain and lamenting some loss or frustration.
In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna explains, "One who is not in transcendental consciousness can have neither a controlled mind nor steady intelligence, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?" By chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, we can control the mind, instead of letting it control us.
Mantra is a Sanskrit word. Man means "mind," and tra means "to deliver." Thus, a mantra is a transcendental sound vibration with potency to liberate the mind from material conditioning.
In his commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada explains, "Our entanglement in material affairs is begun from material sound." Each day we hear material sounds from radio and television, from friends and relatives, and based on what we hear, we act. But as Srila Prabhupada points out, "There is sound in the spiritual world also. If we approach that sound, then our spiritual life begins." When we control the mind by focusing it on the purely spiritual sound vibration of the Hare Krishna mantra, the mind becomes calm. As "music has charms to soothe a savage beast," so the spiritual sound of the mantra soothes the restless mind. The Hare Krishna mantra, being imbued with God's own supreme energies, has the power to subdue all kinds of mental disturbance. Just as a reservoir of water is transparent when unagitated, our mental perceptions become clear and pure when the mind is no longer agitated by the waves of material desires. The mind in its pure state, like a mirror cleansed of dust, will then reflect undistorted images of reality, allowing us to go beneath the surface and perceive the essential spiritual quality of all life's experiences.
Knowledge of the Self
The Vedas state that consciousness is a symptom of the soul. In its pure condition, the soul exists in the spiritual world; but when it falls down into contact with matter, the living being is covered by an illusion called false egoism. False ego bewilders the consciousness, causing us to identify with our material bodies. But we are not our material body. When we look at our hand or leg, we say, "This is my hand" or "This is my leg." The conscious self, the "I," is therefore the owner and observer of the body. Intellectually, this fact is easily understandable, and by the spiritual realization that results from chanting, this truth can be directly and continuously experienced.
When the living being identifies with the material body and loses awareness of his real, spiritual self, he inevitably fears death, old age, and disease. He fears loss of beauty, intelligence, and strength and experiences countless other anxieties and false emotions relating to the temporary body. But by chanting, even in the early stages, we realize ourselves to be pure and changeless spirit souls, completely distinct from the material body. Because the mantra is a completely pure spiritual sound vibration, it has the power to restore our consciousness to its original, uncontaminated condition. At this point, we cease to be controlled by jealousy, bigotry, pride, envy, and hatred. As Lord Krishna tells us in Bhagavad-gita, the soul is "unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, and primeval." As our false bodily identification dissolves and we perceive our true transcendental existence, we automatically transcend all the fears and anxieties of material existence. We no longer think "l am American. I am Russian. I am black. I am white."
Attaining real self-awareness also gives us the ability to see the spiritual nature of all living beings. When our natural, spiritual feelings are awakened, we experience the ultimate unity of all life. This is what it means to become a liberated person; by spiritual realization we become free of all animosity and envy toward other living things.
This higher vision is explained by Srila Prabhupada in the Transcendental Teachings of Prahlad Maharaja. "When a man becomes fully Krishna conscious he does not see, 'Here is an animal, here is a cat, here is a dog, and here is a worm.' He sees everything as part and parcel of Krishna. This is nicely explained in the Bhagavad-gita, 'One who is actually learned in Krishna consciousness becomes a lover of the universe.' Unless one is situated on the Krishna conscious platform, there is no question of universal brotherhood."
Brings Real Happiness
Everyone is thirsting for true and lasting happiness. But because material pleasure is limited and temporary, it is compared to a tiny drop of moisture in the desert. It gives us no permanent relief, because material sensations and relationships lack the potency to satisfy the spiritual desires of the soul. But the chanting of Hare Krishna provides complete satisfaction because it places us in direct contact with God and His spiritual pleasure potency. God is full of all bliss, and when we enter His association, we can also experience the same transcendental happiness.
In the Vedic literature there is an interesting account of how the pleasure of chanting far exceeds any material benefit. Once a poor brahmana priest worshiped the demigod Lord Çiva for a material benediction. Lord Çiva, however, advised him to go to the sage Sanatana Gosvami to obtain his heart's desire. Upon learning that Sanatana Gosvami had a mystical stone capable of producing gold, the poor brahmana asked if he could have it. Sanatana consented and told the brahmana he could take the stone from its resting place in his garbage pile. The brahmana departed in great joy, for he could now get as much gold as he desired simply by touching the stone to iron. But afterward he thought, "If a touchstone is the best benediction, why did Sanatana Gosvami keep it with the garbage?"
He returned to Sanatana Gosvami to satisfy his curiosity. The sage then informed him, "Actually, this is not the best benediction. But are you prepared to take the best benediction from me?"
"Yes," the poor brahmana replied. "I have come to you for the best benediction." Sanatana Gosvami then told him to throw the touchstone in the water nearby and then return. The poor brahmana did so, and when he came back, the saintly Sanatana initiated him into the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, the sublime method for experiencing the highest spiritual pleasure.
Liberation from Karma
The law of karma means that for every material action performed, nature forces an equivalent reaction upon the performer, or, as the Bible states, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap."
Material activities can be compared to seeds. Initially they are performed, or planted, and over the course of time they gradually fructify, releasing their resultant reactions. Enmeshed in this web of actions and reactions, we are forced to accept one material body after another to experience our karmic destiny. But freedom from karma is possible by sincere chanting of Krishna's transcendental names. Since God's names are filled with transcendental energy, when the living being associates with the divine sound vibration, he is freed from the endless cycle of karma.
Just as seeds fried in a pan lose their potency to sprout, so karmic reactions are rendered impotent by the power of the holy names of God. Krishna is like the sun. The sun is so powerful that it can purify whatever comes into contact with it. If any object enters the sun globe, it is immediately transformed into fire. Similarly, when our consciousness is absorbed in the transcendental sound of Krishna, His internal energies act to purify us of all karmic reactions. In his commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada stresses, "The holy name is so spiritually potent that simply by chanting the holy name one can be freed from the reactions to all sinful activity."
Freedom from Reincarnation
The Vedas teach that the living entity, the soul, is eternal, but due to past activities and material desires, it perpetually accepts different material bodies. As long as we have material desires, nature, acting under God's direction, will award us one material body after another. This is called transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation. Actually, this changing of bodies is not surprising, because even in this life we go through many bodies. First we have the body of an infant, then a child, later an adult, and finally the form of an old man or woman. Similarly, after the passing of our old body, we get a new one.
Liberation from this cycle, known as samsara, or the endless wheel of birth and death, is possible by freeing our consciousness from material desires. By chanting Hare Krishna, we revive the natural spiritual desires of the soul. Just as the nature of the body is to be attracted to sense gratification, the nature of the soul is to be attracted to God. Chanting awakens our original God consciousness and our desire to serve and associate with Him. By this simple change in consciousness, we can transcend the cycle of reincarnation.
Srila Prabhupada discusses this in his commentary on the Bhagavad-gita. "The cumulative effect of the thoughts and actions of one's life influences one's thoughts at death; therefore the actions of this life determine one's future state of being. If one is transcendentally absorbed in Krishna's service, then his next body will be trancendental [spiritual], not physical. Therefore the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra is the best process for successfully changing one's state of being to transcendental life."
The Ultimate Benefit-Love of God
The final goal and the highest fruit of chanting is complete God realization and pure love of God.
As our consciousness becomes increasingly purified, our steady spiritual advancement is reflected in our character and behavior. As the sun approaches the horizon, it is preceded by increasing warmth and illumination. Similarly, as realization of Krishna's holy name is revived within the heart, this increasing spiritual awareness manifests in all aspects of our personality. Ultimately, the eternal, loving relationship between God and the living being is revived. Before entering the material world, each soul had a unique spiritual relationship with God. This loving relationship is thousands of times greater and more intense than any love experienced in the material world. This is described in the Caitanya-caritamrta: "Pure love for Krishna is eternally established in the heart of living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, the living entity is awakened."
In our eternal, constitutional position in the spiritual world, we are able to associate with God directly, serving Him in a spiritual form just suitable for our mood of love and devotion. In this relationship of spiritual love, the pure devotee is absorbed in transcendental ecstasy. This state of ecstasy is described in The Nectar of Devotion. "At that time one's heart becomes illuminated like the sun. The sun is far above the planetary systems, and there is no possibility of its being covered by any kind of cloud. Similarly, when a devotee is purified like the sun, from his heart there is a diffusion of ecstatic love more glorious than the sunshine."