Chanting with Feelings

By editor - 27.01 2023

Excerpt from a lecture by HH Nirañjana Swami

The following is a partially-edited transcription of an excerpt of a lecture given at the Baltics Winter Festival – Chanting with Feeling

Today I wanted to read and speak from a few quotes about the Holy Name. Some of them I have read recently and found a lot of significance to them, not only to myself but those with whom I shared them. A lot of times the devotees struggle to make their chanting relevant. The previous speaker, Dhīra-śānta Prabhu was using the word ‘mechanical’, and he was explaining how to avoid being mechanical.

The quotes I am going to present today are from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, and he is quite incisive in his presentation. The one thing I’ve really noticed when reading a lot of these references given by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta is that he is cutting and very clear. When I use the word ‘cutting’, I mean he really makes it very clear what is bhakti, and what is not bhakti. Sometimes he presents it in a way ‘what is useful’ and ‘what is useless’. Sometimes, if we are not careful in our own discrimination, we may not be able to see something as useless, the way he sees it. We may gravitate towards a certain understanding about bhakti, which may be compromised. And it’s compromised because we can’t fully surrender, and when we hear about full surrender, it’s disappointing because of our own limitations. Or, it may not be disappointing, but it may also be fearful.

As Dhīra-śānta Prabhu was saying before, “Kṛṣṇa is Hari – One who takes away.” When we hear that, sometimes we think, “Why should I let Kṛṣṇa take these things away?” And we become a little fearful about what could possibly happen if we chant too sincerely. We have this sense that if I chant too sincerely, Kṛṣṇa may take something away – and I am not ready for that! But although Kṛṣṇa is Hari (One who takes away), when one cultivates firm faith in Kṛṣṇa and in His Name, one finds that Kṛṣṇa not only takes away our obstacles but He also takes away our fear!

And that’s encouraging. When that begins to happen, then a devotee actually experiences progressive advancement in his faith. That’s why Kṛṣṇa very clearly states in the 18th chapter of Bhagavad-gītā ‘surrender and don’t fear’. He says, mā śucaḥ for a verygood reason. [Bhagavad-gītā 18.66] Generally we think, “Surrender is going to bring us a fearful state”, and that’s why Kṛṣṇa says, “Don’t fear. Don’t worry”.

We were recently reading a verse from the 4th Canto of the Bhāgavatam, where the Lord is addressed as Hari-īśvara. Śrīla Prabhupāda was breaking down these 2 words to hari and īśvara, with īśvara meaning ‘controller’. He says, “Because the Supreme Lord is the supreme controller, He can give full protection. He can also eradicate all the obstacles on the path of devotional service.” He also says, “Hari means ‘the Lord who takes away’.”

So, Kṛṣṇa not only takes away obstacles on the path of devotional service, which are generally our attachments, but He takes away our fear of losing them. And when a devotee experiences that freedom from fear, it’s liberating. When that happens, the devotee actually feels encouragement and gratitude towards the Lord.

Sometimes Kṛṣṇa puts His devotee in a very difficult situation, and the devotee begins to ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” But as we know, the Lord minimizes the suffering of His devotee. Sometimes the devotees have a false understanding, or false conception, to think, “If I am surrendered to Kṛṣṇa means I shouldn’t have to suffer.” And then they become doubtful, “Is Kṛṣṇa really protecting me? Why is Kṛṣṇa doing this to me? I am suffering! I surrendered so much to Kṛṣṇa – why should I have to suffer?”

But, the Lord minimizes the suffering. And minimization of the suffering means that we deserve a lot more than what we got. But minimization also means that whatever suffering the devotee has to experience now, presently, is actually burning up his previous reactions to sinful life, so that his future is bright – and in that way also Kṛṣṇa is minimizing the suffering of a devotee. That’s why Kṛṣṇa says mā śucaḥ… “Don’t fear! Your future is bright! Why are you fearful?”

When a devotee has firm faith in Kṛṣṇa’s words, he understands, “Kṛṣṇa is so kind that He is giving me just a small token in comparison to what I deserve. I have the faith that whatever Kṛṣṇa does is always for my benefit. And my fear goes away!” Mā śucaḥ… “Do not fear! I will relieve you from these sinful reactions.” But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the reactions are gone now. They are minimized by the grace of the Lord. The future is bright!

Therefore, as Bhāgavatam states, the devotee always goes on glorifying Kṛṣṇa, and he goes on serving Him with his body, mind and words. And then certainly, mukti-pade sa dāya-bhāk [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.14.8], he becomes a bona fide candidate for liberation.

So when Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā 18.66, “Surrender unto Me, and I will deliver you from sinful reactions”, the components of that surrender, as explained by Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, are given in the previous verse.

man-manā bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi satyaṁ te
pratijāne priyo ’si me

“Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.” [Bhagavad-gītā 18.65]

That is our surrender. “Just Remember Me. Worship Me. Offer your homages unto Me.” And what else does He say? “Your future is bright! Surely you will come to Me.” Therefore He says, “When you surrender in this way, and when you abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender your mind to Me, then you have no reason to fear – you will come to Me.”

And that is the activity of Lord Hari, when that fear is taken away by remembrance of the Lord. Lord Hari is the ‘One who takes away’, but He also takes away our fear because generally, it’s the fear which is the cause of so much anxiety. As Śrīla Prabhupāda explains, ‘fear’ means to not know what lays in the future. That’s why we fear. “If I do this, what’s going to happen? If I get on the plane, is it going to land?” Fear comes from the anticipation of the unknown. Not only that, but when we hear, according to the statements from śāstra, that every living entity has a stockpile of reactions, where some are prārabdha (manifest) and some are aprārabdha (not yet manifest), sometimes we become anxious. “When is that going to happen? When is that disruption to my life going to appear?” But Kṛṣṇa says, mā śucaḥ… “Don’t fear. Just surrender and remember Me. I’ll take care of you.”

Surrender can be a fearful state, but it also can be a very joyful state. Because when that fear goes away, one feels so relieved that Kṛṣṇa is there. “Kṛṣṇa is protecting me. Kṛṣṇa is giving me His assurance that my future is bright. And I can see how wonderful my future can be, if I simply remember Him. Because if I am remembering Him now, and I feel so joyful, just imagine what it will be if I go on and continue remembering Him.” So, the devotee loses his fear by remembrance of the Lord.

As we were saying before, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati Thakura can be very cutting. What he says can almost instill fear, because in some of his quotes that we are going to read, he really draws the line: what is bhakti, and what is useless. Sometimes we don’t like to hear that something that we thought was useful, all of a sudden is useless.

There is a verse in the 3rd Canto of the Bhāgavatam, spoken by Devahūti,

“Anyone whose work is not meant to elevate him to religious life, anyone whose religious ritualistic performances do not raise him to renunciation, and anyone situated in renunciation that does not lead him to devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, must be considered dead, although he is breathing.” [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.23.56]

And Prabhupāda says in the commentary, “If all of our activities do not lead to devotional service, they are useless.” Here Devahūti is saying, “Anyone whose work does not lead to the religious life…”, so we may think, “Well, religious life – that’s auspicious! Especially if our religious life brings us to the platform of renunciation! That’s so auspicious!” But then she says if your renunciation doesn’t lead you to bhakti, you are like a dead body, although you are breathing.

Bhakti is what gives life. It gives validity to religion and renunciation. But if our religion and renunciation don’t lead us to bhakti – it’s useless. Therefore, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta draws the line what is bhakti, and what is not bhakti. But before I read these though, I wanted to read something from Śrīla Prabhupāda, because Prabhupāda has also spoken on this topic, about feelingly praying.

He says, “Our chanting should be relevant.” He makes it very clear that if there is no feelings, it’s not so relevant. He talks about this in his commentary to the verse in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, where Queen Kuntī is praying,

edhamāna-madaḥ pumān
naivārhaty abhidhātuṁ vai
tvām akiñcana-gocaram

“My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling.”

(Partial Purport) “…It is said in the śāstras that by once uttering the holy name of the Lord, the sinner gets rid of a quantity of sins that he is unable to commit. Such is the power of uttering the holy name of the Lord. There is not the least exaggeration in this statement. Actually the Lord’s holy name has such powerful potency. But there is a quality to such utterances also. It depends on the quality of feeling. A helpless man can feelingly utter the holy name of the Lord, whereas a man who utters the same holy name in great material satisfaction cannot be so sincere. A materially puffed up person may utter the holy name of the Lord occasionally, but he is incapable of uttering the name in quality…” [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.8.26]

Prabhupāda goes on to explain how such chanting is inferior. Materially satisfied man may even occasionally chant the Holy Name – not just uttering the Holy Name once – but Prabhupāda says he can’t be so sincere. Sincere chanter is one who chants with quality, with feeling.

What is that feeling? We want to read a few of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s quotes about what that feeling is, and here is the first such quote, which is an answer to the question “Whose offering does Lord Kṛṣṇa accept?” Here Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta draws the line! Pffffffshhhhh! [Guru Maharaja make sharp sound like drawing the line] Let me show you what that line is.

“ ‘O Kṛṣṇa! I do not want from You any happiness for myself. Whatever You want from me, I will obey without fail. Even if I have to suffer in doing Your will, that suffering will be my pleasure. You are the all-auspicious Lord, and as such, Your arrangements can never be inauspicious.’

“If a servant of Kṛṣṇa prays to Him with such faith and feelings, the Lord will certainly accept his offerings. Without these feelings and faith, the Lord will not accept that which is offered.” [“Amṛta Vāṇī: Nectar of Instructions of Immortality” by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswati]

In the first part Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta is actually speaking this as if it’s a prayer. “O Kṛṣṇa! I do not want from You any happiness for me.” Are we ready to say that? “Kṛṣṇa I don’t want from You any happiness for me. Please, spare me of that. I don’t want it. Whatever You want from me, I will obey without fail! Even if I have to suffer in doing Your will, that suffering will be my pleasure.” In other words, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta is making it clear that a devotee only wants service. That’s all he asks for.

In the second part, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta draws the line. Pffffffshhhhh! If one doesn’t have these feelings, Kṛṣṇa doesn’t hear! Kṛṣṇa doesn’t listen!

Oftentimes we quote a verse from Prahlāda Mahārāja, where he’s speaking to his friends, classmates in the school, sons of the demons.

“My dear friends, O sons of the demons, you cannot please the Supreme Personality of Godhead by becoming perfect brāhmaṇas, demigods or great saints or by becoming perfectly good in etiquette or vast learning. None of these qualifications can awaken the pleasure of the Lord. Nor by charity, austerity, sacrifice, cleanliness or vows can one satisfy the Lord. The Lord is pleased only if one has unflinching, unalloyed devotion to Him. Without sincere devotional service, everything is simply a show.” [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 7.7.51-52]

Pffffffshhhhh! Here is where Prahlāda Mahārāja draws the line. Who does Kṛṣṇa look at? Who gets Kṛṣṇa’s attention? Those who have unflinching faith in the Lord. Not by dint of their austerities, not by dint of their sacrifices, or their acceptance of vows. These things in themselves do not capture the Lord’s attention. That’s why Kṛṣṇa says,

“Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform – do that, O son of Kuntī, as an offering to Me.” [Bhagavad-gītā 9.27]

Somebody may perform very severe austerities. Hiraṇyakaśipuwas very austere! Many people perform very severe austerities for other reasons, but Kṛṣṇa says, “Do it for Me!” So, Prahlāda Mahārāja is saying that if one doesn’t have this unflinching, unalloyed devotion to Kṛṣṇa, than whatever one does is simply a show! It’s meant to get somebody else’s attention. But Kṛṣṇa is not looking. His attention doesn’t go there. Kṛṣṇa’s attention only goes to those places where devotees have firm faith in Him.

That’s why it’s always recommended that we should associate with, and hear from, and faithfully serve those who have faith, because if we don’t have that unflinching, firm faith, how are we going to get Kṛṣṇa’s attention? We cannot be waiving our hands, “Hey Kṛṣṇa! Look at me! I am here!” No. It’s devotion which draws Kṛṣṇa’s attention.

Therefore Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta is saying that if a servant of Kṛṣṇa prays to Him with this faith and these feelings, then Kṛṣṇa will certainly accept his offering. Without these feelings and faith, the Lord does not accept the offering.

Who does the Lord listen to? Those who are not asking for anything, except for His service. Because they have firm faith that service is everything. The opportunity to serve Kṛṣṇa is the safest place. “Kṛṣṇa is so kind that He accepts me. He takes notice and gives me service.” When the devotee sees that kind of recognition, his faith increases.

Sometimes devotees ask a question, “What can I do? They don’t give me any service!” But what are we thinking service is? We think, “Service is what I’ve selected for myself to do! And no one gives me any service (that I want)!”

But when the devotee is sincerely chanting – feelingly! – he thinks, “Please, my only shelter is service! I can’t live without an opportunity to serve You. That’s all I want!” Lord Caitanya is teaching us,

na dhanaṁ na janaṁ na sundarīṁ

kavitāṁ vā jagad-īśa kāmaye

mama janmani janmanīśvare

bhavatād bhaktir ahaitukī tvayi

“O Almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor to enjoy beautiful women. Nor do I want any number of followers. What I want only is the causeless mercy of Your devotional service in my life, birth after birth.”[Śikṣāṣṭaka, verse 4]

This should be the sincere prayer of a devotee praying to Kṛṣṇa, “Please, engage me in Your service.” Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta says, that is a proper mood to chant the name of the Lord. Then one who feels deprived of service can chant with feelings. Then it can become very relevant. “I feel deprived of service. Kṛṣṇa please, give me service, because without service there is no meaning to my life.”

Just a few days ago, I was listening to a lecture where Śrīla Prabhupāda was saying, “Living entity who has no service to Kṛṣṇa, is like the finger that’s been cut off from the hand.” Has no purpose. It’s useless. Finger’s usefulness is only when it’s connected to the hand. Similarly, a devotee’s usefulness is when he is connected to Kṛṣṇa’s service.

In another lecture, given in 1973, Prabhupāda says, “Even if a devotee can’t serve to his full capacity, even if he wants to serve, Kṛṣṇa accepts that ‘wanting to serve” as a service! And his life becomes successful.” In another words even if there are obstacles to service, but if we want to serve, then Kṛṣṇa accepts that desire of ‘wanting to serve’ as service.

Prabhupāda is explaining in the Upadeśāmṛta that devotional service is a cultivation of desire: we simply have to cultivate the desire to serve Kṛṣṇa, and not our senses. And when we look at our own hearts and see our non-capacity for doing that, we should feel something. We should feel that we need help. That’s what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta is going to say in the next quote, which is an answer to the question “How should we call the Supreme Lord”.

“Sri Gaurasundara taught us that in order to chant the Lord’s holy names, we must become lower than the straw in the street. Unless we consider ourselves insignificant, we cannot call upon another for help. Only when we pray for another’s help do we consider ourselves helpless. In such a state of mind we think that without another’s help we will be unable to do anything. We will understand that it is impossible to do alone that which is meant to be done by five people. Sri Gaurasundara has instructed us to chant the Lord’s names. We get this information from our spiritual master. To chant the Lord’s names means to take His help. But while chanting, if we consider Him our servant or expect Him to do our work, then there is no question of our living in the conception, “I am lower than the straw in the street.” [“Amṛta Vāṇī: Nectar of Instructions of Immortality” by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswati]

How often do we think, “I got everything under control: I got my life together, I know exactly what I am doing.” But, we have to feel insignificant. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswati says, “Unless we consider ourselves insignificant, we cannot call upon another for help. Only when we pray for another’s help do we consider ourselves helpless.” Are we praying for help? If we are, what are we praying to help us with? “Kṛṣṇa help me with my wealth… Kṛṣṇa help me with my anxiety… Kṛṣṇa help me with my distress, with my suffering… Help me get a job…” So many things we can ask from Kṛṣṇa. But Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta says, “No, we should not engage Kṛṣṇa in our service.”

Our prayer should be, “Kṛṣṇa, help me be Your servant! I need Your help, because when I look in my own heart and I see all the things my mind is filled up with, unless You help me, I will never be able to remember that I am Your servant.”

Uh-oh! What does that mean? Is Kṛṣṇa going to do something that can be a cause for fear again? Do we have enough courage to ask Kṛṣṇa like that? Again, mā śucaḥ… Don’t fear! If we simply sincerely pray, Kṛṣṇa will take away that fear! “Kṛṣṇa help me, I am helpless. I look in my heart, I see lust, greed, the desire for prestige. I see so many things which are dragging me away from Your service. Help me be Your servant and remove these obstacles which are preventing me from serving You. I cannot do that alone.”

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta says, “In such a state of mind we think that without another’s help we will be unable to do anything.” Then he goes on to speak about being lower than the straw on the street, and the proper mood of humility, which I will skip reading, because we are running out of the time. Bhaktisiddhānta ends this quote with saying.

“… We often think we are doing the Lord a favor by offering Him prayers; that we could have engaged in some other activity instead. Such a mentality is an example of a lack of tolerance. We need someone to protect us from such a mentality, someone to help us become lower than the straw in the street. We certainly need to take shelter of a person who will deliver us from sinful motives. Śrīla Narottama Ṭhākura says, “Lord Kṛṣṇa does not reject those who worship Him under the shelter of the spiritual master. Others who do not do this simply live and die uselessly.” [continued “Amṛta Vāṇī: Nectar of Instructions of Immortality” by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswati]

Uselessly. Pffffffshhhhh! Draws the line.

Thank you very much. Jay Śrīla Prabhupāda!