Sunday, January 18, 2009

GeeVees - 01.2: Early Experiences with Chanting

My early experiences with japa, or chanting Hare Krishna in this particular case, were in fact rather fascinating. It was only a decade later that I came to rediscover some of the same substance I touched on back then, substance soon lost in the depths of a missionary organization, and it was only then that I came to see a broader context for that particular segment of my early spiritual journey.

Bhakta Oskari, 15 years of age, posing for the temple magazine.

Japa Beginnings


The first vivid memory of my history with the Hare Krishna mantra is from one of those 40-minute bus rides to my mother's place I used to take every other weekend. It was a serene day, and as the bus kept humming its tranquil hymn and drove along the road, I closed my eyes as usual to contemplate on whatever it was that I used to ponder those days. Then, wholly out of the blue, it dawned to me that meditating on this mantra might be a cool thing to do.

It was only a matter of time before the occasional contemplation turned into loud melodic chantings of Hare Krishna as I wandered the forests of the neighborhood. There was no source to the discovery I'd have known of, if not for a cautionary video shown in school some years back, featured along with Satanism and Scientology by our back-then religion teacher, a staunch Christian and a priest of many years, whose generally less exciting presentations we weren't in the habit of paying much attention to.

Of course I did eventually meet a Hare Krishna book distributor, a Czech lady it was if memory serves, downtown Helsinki, buying a copy of Bhaktivedanta's "Life Comes from Life" to study; I had been tremendously interested in all things occult, oriental and esoteric. It was after a few weeks into visiting the weekly Sunday Love Feast at the local Krishna temple that I decided to purchase a set of japa-beads and start the mantra the way the devotees chanted, with some daily volume in the practice. My one regret with following their method is in ditching mental japa for some seven more years to come — for one was supposed to chant audibly in ISKCON.


Spring of Ecstasy


I believe it was autumn at this point. With the first day off with but four rounds of japa, the next day I kicked off with sixteen, as that seemed to be a standard number of sorts held in the temple. While I understood that many devotees held reservations over chanting near outsiders, I was not in the least worried; for it was only cool if someone spotted you engaged in something obscure and puzzling! My purple bead-bag with a Jagannath design, tagging along wherever I went, drew quite a few curious looks, yet few questions.

The practically endless pine forests in my neighborhood, in particular, provided a wonderful field for aimless solitary wanderings with the mantra rolling on. I remember deriving tremendous enjoyment from the practice. In fact, I remember being so thrilled at times that I had to sit down to let my system balance before moving on; a trait particularly inconvenient when moving around downtown, chanting. What I felt rather constantly as a result of chanting was an overwhelming surge of energy within my body, thrilling my limbs and warming up my face to a glow hitherto unknown to me. I suppose the almost forcibly manifest grin was the most visible of part of it all.

I only ever mentioned to one devotee of this. He was a new devotee as well, though already living in the ashram. A casual conversation on all things spiritual and sundry made for a perfect context to drop in my version of esoteric experience; it met with a puzzled shrug of shoulders, and then nothing. And for a reason: For it was believed that trembling of the body, grinning and laughing, dancing and the such were only manifest on the advanced stages of devotion, realms that were for the most part taboo, and were certainly not to be imitated under any circumstances.

This went on for a fair while, as I still lived home and kept going to school — and with tremendous effort at that, I might add, and with many a boring lesson chanted through. And good times they were; I was still buzzing at the height of discovery, for I had tapped into a whole new world to be explored, a magical world transcending the everyday reality I saw the surrounding society embrace and adore; it was a hollow world to me, the nine-to-five cycle of existence.


Covered Over


At this point, with the intensity of my experiences combined with my acquaintance with a couple of really cool temple devotees, it should come as a small surprise that I decided to join the temple after finishing my compulsory studies. I was in business with the chanting now, and the venture deserved to be seen through. After a bit of haggling with my parents, I secured a signed permission for becoming a resident of the temple, allowing me to "stay permanently" as I had promptly formed the agreement clause.

It didn't take too long for the magic of chanting to wane in the hectic temple environment, however. Constant traveling around and selling books and CDs took its toll, and hours spent chanting too early in the morning in too tired a state eventually led to a dramatic decrease in looking forward to the chanting experience, and subsequently in my interest in the practice itself. I did keep it going, of course, as a matter of obligation, but I had come a long way — and in the wrong direction — by abiding with the defunct modus operandi of the local temple and its hectic missionary spirit.

The standard explanation, of course, was an offensive attitude; there were ten offenses against the holy name that were taught of, and one way or another one could always imagine being guilty of at least one or the other. Then, as one might well expect, instead of biting into the root distractor in the way of inappropriate environment and circumstances, the offense-watching became a convenient facade for a failure to reach substantial levels of experience in chanting. And then, of course, it was supposed to be done for Krishna's pleasure, not mine, so I was wrong to seek bliss and euphoria in the practice in any case to begin with.


Rediscovering the Experience


It was only in 2005 that I began to explore the yogic arts deeper, still a staunch devotee, seeking to improve my sadhana. It so happened that one of our teachers, now at Radha-kunda, had also had a bit of a training in yoga, and had employed certain asanas or yogic sitting postures to support his chanting. (This, of course, is how you are actually supposed to be doing it, as any proper manual of sadhana ought to inform.) Mental japa combined with proper asanas and breathing techniques gave a substantial boost to my practice; it was as if all that preceded had not really amounted to much at all.

Incidentally, as I went further with my own studies of yogic meditation aids, I chanced upon the writings of late Swami Sivananda, an illustrious teacher of Yoga and Vedanta from Rishikesh, who called his way the Yoga of Synthesis and employed all relevant aspects of the four yogic paths, namely karma, jnana, astanga and bhakti-yogas. He was a big fan of devotion and chanting, and especially of sankirtan-styled chanting of Hare Krishna among other chants.

His perspective on diverse paths leading through a similar evolution towards the same goal put me first thinking, both curious and suspicious about practices comparable with my chanting experience. It was a text on kundalini-yoga that first depicted rather aptly symptoms akin to my early experience; parallels between bhava-bhakti and early kundalini-awakening were too evident to be ignored. In later solitary chanting sessions combined with pranayama I came to experience quite exactly the same as I had in my early days, and as I now was wiser on kundalini the unity of experiences became all too evident.

When I first embarked on studying the Buddhist theory of meditation, it became all too clear for me that we were dealing with universals. The Buddhist model for samadhi-oriented meditation featured a system of a whole hierarchy of meditation objects, and a general course of progress over which concentration grows and awakens certain states of mind. The first jhana, or meditative absorption, features the rising of an abundance of rapture and joy and is born of withdrawal arising from single-minded application of thought on the meditation object. In the second jhana, the experience springs from composure and unified awareness, and so forth — regardless of the object of meditation.


Conclusions


As to whether there is a certain hidden chamber in the mantra, yielding an abundance of extraordinary and transcendental relish and euphoria directly from the energy and presence of the rustic deity Krishna, or whether similar states of mind can be attained with diverse stimuli, I cannot say with any level of certainty. Though I did have my fair share of experiences one could call esoteric or deep, I suspect with a sufficient level of practice with a different object one could attain well comparable states of fascination and esoteric emotional turmoil.

Chanting Hare Krishna, or any mantra for that matter, when properly practiced in a conducive environment, can lead to a substantial level of concentration and inner mastery. While I no longer share a fascination for verbal meditation objects, I have no complaints of the process itself in principle, when practiced properly and in a balanced manner. However, excessive concentration endeavor is counter-productive, for with the rise of hectic concentration every surfacing negative mental pattern gains momentum.

Practiced in a distracting environment and under pressure, especially over filling daily quotas, japa becomes but a cruel means of beating the mind and sapping it out of its last vital juices. It should not, under any circumstances, be recommended to mend mental problems, lest they escalate as the wheels of the mind grind tighter and tighter. Contemplative methods such as vipassana hold much more therapeutic value for those seeking to first set straight the rudimentary inner landscape.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

nice post, Lordi Loponen :)

shiva said...

Maybe you can explain what you mean by comparing "kundalini-awakening" and bhava bhakti? Bhava bhakti is about awakening a relationship between God and a jiva. Where do you see parallels?

Also, your experience of chanting japa is similar to many people who joined ISKCON. At first the japa is very powerful, or rather you experience something powerful while or after chanting. Then after you join ISKCON japa becomes something that is an obligation if you want to remain in the ashram, it becomes a job.

By that alone the act of japa affects you in a different psychological way then before it was required. It is no longer something you do because you want to do it, it becomes something that is forced upon you, and naturally nobody wants to be forced to do something.

So your subconscious attitude towards japa changed. By forcing people to do japa, subconsciously people end up with a negative feeling towards it. It then just becomes a tedious matter of trying to finish your daily obligation, instead of being a meditative tool.

That was and is one of the problems of ISKCON life. By making a spiritual practice mandatory upon threat of expulsion, that transforms those activities into chores. Nobody likes to do chores. Therefore, in ISKCON nobody but the new bhaktas are consistently enthusiastic about sadhana. Most people end up leaving ISKCON, probably the main reason is the pressure to do daily sadhana. When they joined, many or most, they did so because the sadhana had caused them joy. After they joined, when sadhana became a chore that was demanded of them, after a while the joy was gone. This was because a psychological subconscious dislike develops because of being forced to do something, whether it be sadhana, housework, a job, etc.

Vegman said...

If you have an attraction for Krishna (bhava), then I have found that chanting produces profound, undeniable relish, sense of well-being and the ingress of "mellows" that waft through the consciousness like sweet breezes.

Problem is, if you really don't have any real attraction or sense of love for Krishna, you can chant till you are blue in the face and get no noticeable results.
Ananda is testimony to this.

Ananda just never really had any true attraction (bhava) for Krishna.

Whatever his reasons for coming to the Hare Krishna movement were it was obviously not due to a serious and sincere attraction to the person of Sri Krishna.

If you have bhava for Krishna, then chanting certainly produces profound results.

If you are approaching bhakti intellectually and mechanically without a sense of attraction to Krishna, then such vaidhi-bhakti will not get you far.

Though Ananda tried to present himself as a "raganuga" devotee for the last few years, he was actually the least of all in attraction to the lotus feet of Krishna and that is why today he no longer practices or pursues devotional service to Krishna.

If you aren't attracted to Krishna, then you certainly have no business posing as a Hare Krishna devotee as he did for several years.

That is why I think that Krishna consciousness should be for adults and not something that young people are brainwashed or indoctrinated into as Ananda was.

Eventually, that brainwashing and indoctrination wore out as he ventured out away from strict devotee association and fell victim to association with ignorant people who have no real spiritual knowledge or purity of heart.

Now, he has jumped ship and is swimming in the ocean of illusion trying to fabricate a personal ideology that fits the particular material desires that are now overwhelming his mind and heart.

Anonymous said...

Shiva: daily sadhana is not an invention by Iskcon, all yogis, Buddhists, even Christians have their daily sadhana of japa, meditation, prayers, etc. Its okay to chant/meditate/pray whimsically, only whenever you feel like, but that may not lead to results I guess.

Mr. Ananda said...

Shiva: I mean to say that the symptoms of bhava-bhakti, or more specifically the sattvika-bhavas and some of the prominent vyabhicaris, are rather identical with symptoms of kundalini rising and are experienced by hatha-yogis and the such just the same.

After all, even Gaudiya sources explain the mechanics behind sattvika-bhavas with the theory of prana connecting with different elements -- drawing of course from the classic theory of drama.

Of course Rupa would have it clear that the specific defining factor making bhava-bhakti so unique is in the specific vibhava or stimuli, the object and the related environment, that makes the difference between bhakti-rasa and conventional rasa.

As such bhava-bhakti of course has psychological aspects not present in the symptoms attained through alternative approaches, but hey, a good Hindu knows there are many paths for many men, paths remarkably parallel in direction.

Mr. Ananda said...

Ksamabuddhi: First of all. You neither know of the people I spent my time with after leaving from Radhakund, nor have you the foggiest idea of the people I currently live and spend time with.

So you can now cut the guesswork, as the contents of your shabby shots are progressively more sad, and it is getting rather wearisome for everyone involved, except for you of course, as you apparently get your kicks from trying to bite chunks off someone's ass.

Any future comments from you will be deleted if they are not straight on topic or otherwise diverge unnecessarily into the personal lives of myself or people around me.

Overall, I am profoundly worn out by your silly love-hate rollercoaster with me and my writings. Yea, I know you cut it all off as fun & games, but your tedious and clueless attempts to poke at my personal life tend to not be much more than rants that hardly even manage to piss anyone off, if not for cluttering the page.

I've entertained you for a fair while as I know you don't have that much of a social life in the backwoods you live, especially at your age, but you need to keep the spirit quite precisely cordial if you intend to be hanging around much longer. Your call.

Vegman said...

Damn Ananda, that is a hell of a way to talk to the only guy here that clicks on all your adsense ads and banners.
Sorry, Anandaji.
I just love to yank your chain and get a bark out of you.

If you boot me, then who is going to click on your ads?

Mr. Ananda said...

The ongoing month's total seems to be 9 clicks with a whooping grand total of $2.58 Americano. I don't know how much you've been clicking, but I think I can handle up to a 50% cut of income without breaking a sweat.

People trying to make you bark just loses it charms somewhere during the fourth year ongoing, you know. Is that how you treat your dog, pull its chain whenever you wanna hear some annoyed barks?

Vegman said...

I treat my dog very nice.
I guess I do treat you kind bad and you didn't even piss on my floor.

Sorry Anandji.

In many ways I totally understand your feelings.

I am just very thick-skinned and I tolerate a lot.

I tolerate a lot of contradictions I see in the teachings of my guru and I tolerate a lot of what now appears to have been bad judgments of several things as well.

I try to think that the contradictions have a purpose and the bad judgments were not really bad and there was a purpose behind them as well.

You tolerate a lot of crap from me.
Most than about anyone I could ever imagine.

You obviously have a lot of spiritual qualities.

I will try to be less critical.

Mr. Ananda said...

I don't personally give a skit in the end about groovy gossip on me. It's when people go into intimating the stupidest ideas about people around me what irritates me, not the least because I need to hear from them about some dick (as expressed to me) flapping his mouth on things he hasn't the foggiest fuckin' clue about. It's not a situation I particularly enjoy being in, and as such I'm getting more and more trigger happy with the delete button.

Vegman said...

I do understand what you are saying.
You have always been more than fair and demonstrating a depth of humility and tolerance.

Please give my apologies to anyone that I have offended on your side.

I have a tendency to let out of control on the internet what I keep under very strict control in ordinary dealings.

I like all kinds of people.

I can't fault you.

But, I am just a loner with a very public job.

I spend all day around all kinds of people, but when I come home I just want to be alone with my family.

Oh, by the way.
I am not so remote out in the swamps or anything.

I work at a mall 20 minutes drive from here.

My house is right off a main highway.

I don't live in the swamps.

In fact, there aren't any swamps around this part of Florida.
That is why it is called "High Springs".

Beautiful pastures and rolling hills characterize this area.

Just wanted you to know that.

I am one mile from downtown.

Just another day in Paradise.

valo pellervo lankinen said...

Kikkelis kokkelis. No johan on pojilla täällä kovat jutut! Jatketaan kun tavataan. Olisi kiva päästä istumaan iltaa inhimillisessä seurassasi ystäväni Ananda. Jahka tästä Tanskaan selviän.

Mr. Ananda ∴ μ α ω λ said...

It is like this... Said Iam Thatiam Once for All!

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