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Dandavats! All Glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga!

Putting An End to Courtesy Japa

Thursday, 23 May 2019 / Published in Articles, Mahatma das / 9,894 views

By Mahatma Das

“Nish, nish, ram, ram, nish, nish, ram, ram.” Prabhupada once imitated how we sometimes chant without focus, without concentration, without proper pronunciation – how we chant when we don’t feel like chanting. You know the mood behind this chanting; “I have to chant but I’d rather be doing something else.” And in our minds we are thinking, “I can’t wait to get these rounds out of the way.” We all do this. And it can get pretty bad. I know devotees who chant rounds while watching football games on TV.

Prabhupada explained that this type of chanting is more or less useless because it will not produce the desired result, love of Krsna. To even call this chanting is a stretch. It is closer to a ritual. But Prabhupada acknowledged the value in the ritual by saying that although this kind of chanting is not very productive, at least those who are chanting this way are keeping their vow to chant.

I call this kind of japa, “courtesy japa.” “Courtesy japa” means that since you have taken a vow – either to your spiritual master or yourself – to chant a certain number of rounds daily, you keep that vow while chanting the kind of japa I described above.

Here are a few other examples (methods) of what I call “courtesy japa:”

* Chanting while talking to someone (you talk, and when they reply you chant).
* Chanting while reading (which could really work if you have two heads, one to read and one to chant).
* Chanting while listening to a CD or the radio (this is especially challenging while listening to the news or listening to rock and roll music).
* Chanting while shopping.
* Chanting while window shopping (this often happens on early morning japa walks).
* Chanting while you are dosing off (sometimes known as dive bomb japa).
* Chanting while site seeing or looking around at a million things (sometimes known as radar japa).
* Chanting while watching movies (Krsna Conscious movies are included in “courtesy japa”).
* Chanting a little, talking a little, chanting a little, talking a little (sometimes known as jibber japa).
* Chanting while …………………… (fill in your favorites).

Note, these are all excellent ways to ruin your japa and thus put your Krsna conscious transmission in park. You can make incredible advancement during japa. Good japa is like flying down the highway in fourth gear. Good japa produces inspiration, realization, detachment, increased desire to serve, attraction to study scripture, and an ability to see maya’s workings more clearly. And there are so many more gifts japa delivers. Yet we deprive ourselves of these gifts when we chant “courtesy japa.”

THE NEW MANTRA IS “DOWN WITH ‘COURTESY JAPA’.” “Courtesy japa” is like shooting a gun with blank bullets. When the trigger is pulled it just sounds like a bullet is being fired. Obviously you can’t win a battle firing blanks. Similarly, “courtesy japa” sounds like the Hare Krsna maha mantra but it is just an empty sound, a shadow of the real thing. Certainly you can’t win the battle with maya firing blank mantras.

The problem is – and this is something we have to accept philosophically as well as practically – if you keep practicing the wrong way, you’ll continue to get wrong results. What’s more is that bad chanting tends to produce more bad chanting. Let me say that in another way because this is really important. The more you practice the wrong way of doing something, the more it gets engrained/programmed within you and the harder it usually becomes to fix it.


Do you have a severe case of courtesy japaitis programmed into you? If so, ask yourself how you are going to kick the habit. This is an important question to answer because good japa is one of the pillars of spiritual life.

It’s all about fighting apathy in our japa. As Lord Caitanya said, playing the part of a conditioned soul, “I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for chanting Your Holy Names.” So we have two choices during japa. One is to go with the flow and just let the mind wander. The other is to go against the flow and make a valiant effort to focus on the holy name and chant in a prayerful, devotional mood. That’s not so easy. It takes effort. It goes against everything “courtesy japa” stands for. And this is not much fun for lazy japa chanters like me. After all, concentrating is hard work.

Japa can be a creative time. Often when I chant I get all kinds of ideas. Also the many things I have to do in the day – and even creative ways of doing them – keep popping up in my mind (or should I say keep pooping in my mind). Don’t dwell on these. If they come up, either neglect them (those good ideas will most likely come up later) or stop chanting and write them down so you don’t have to think about them while you chant. How will you break the habit of “courtesy japa?” Krsna is in your heart and He will help you as much as you want to be helped. Krsna says from Me come knowledge, remembrance and forgetfulness. So He will show you how to become a master of japa or a master of “courtesy japa.” It all depends on what you want. If you want to improve, He will show you when to chant (hint – early in the morning), where to chant (hint – where you are not distracted), how to chant (hint – in front of devotional pictures, tulasi, Deities, etc, not in front of a television or a non Krsna conscious magazine).
So here’s the exercise. Write on top of a piece of paper, How To Improve My Japa? Below that write the subtitle, Putting an end to“courtesy japa.” Then make your list.

Let’s put an end once and for all to “courtesy japa,” the great enemy of Krsna consciousness.

Thirumagal Mataji distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books
The Sweet Speech of Vraja

9 Responses to “Putting An End to Courtesy Japa”

  1. cbrahma says :

    Thank you for reminding me how serious I have to be when praying to the Supreme Lord. I am such an offender. I will do my best to improve.

  2. Umapati Swami says :

    Please accept my most humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!


    I once asked Srila Prabhupada about chanting while driving, as one cannot chant attentively at that time. Srila Prabhupada said that we should always be chanting but that we should chant 16 good rounds every day. So courtesy japa is not in itself wrong as long as we do not count it in our 16 rounds.

    Your most humble servant,
    Umapati Swami

  3. Tamoharadasa says :

    In 1975 in Sridhama Mayapura, in a morning class, Srila Prabhupada instructed us all to “always remember Krsna within your heart, and never forget Him”. One devotee asked if it was alright to remember the spiritual master in this way, and he said that this is also alright. So, the process of internalizing one’s service to compliment the daily external service is directly given to us, but how many are actually doing it? Could some of our difficulties in chanting effectively be removed by following this one of Prabhupada’s instructions? Quite likely!

    I hardly hear much mention of this in Iskcon, although our books are rife with the topic of advancing to deeper levels of devotional attention and concentration. Many prefer to simply chant and wait and see what happens, in some ways like a mathematics student hanging back on page one of his textbook, expecting higher mathematics to spontaneously pop up as a result of following the simple instruction on page one only. The highest results are by Krsna’s mercy, still we have to do our part also.

    So, this practice of always seeing, and I dare expand that to serving, the Lord within one’s inner vision, the ‘heart”, is directly instructed by Prabhupada. (Of course, one continues ones outer services fully engaged, doing both, as is required for this sankirtana movement ). For example, one may envision, with the eye of inner love, Tulsi Maharani. One can then water her, change the cloth she is wearing, circumambulate, etc. The concentration required to establish and hold this vision and internal service is great, but becomes natural with practice. This is be done simultaneously with the japa. The result is intense rounds that one does not nod out over! One quickly gets a taste of nectar, and so the practice is strongly reinforced by Krsa’s mercy. One finds deep satisfaction and encouragement as a result of this type of concentrated attention in the mood of surrendered internal as well as external, loving service.

    I humbly submit to the devotees that they may also follow this instruction, and just see what the reults are! I highly recommend this practice to you. Those new to japa may have to wait a little until they are hearing and chanting clearly and with good pronunciation, also chant before the Deities, learn correct Vaisnava habits and procedures etc., and naturally they can then progress to inoffensive remembrance with concentration. There are advantages; Even a poor singer can sing gloriously in the inner realm of service, there is no material restriction. Even one cannot afford nice artik paraphnalia, in the mana- mandira, one can have artik lamps made of gold and jewels.

    Always remember that the Holy Names are the Lord’s greatest benediciton to the jivas; Holy Names are with us always, and it is our constitutional position to be always chanting. These Names are the Lord’s greatest gift to us all. It is not that at some stage one gives up the mantra. Rather, be open to the experience of the Names. Always remember that the Names are Persons, not mere sounds. The pure sound arises within the spiritual realms, and is not material. Take shelter, in the awareness that this chanting is our eternal treasure.

    In response to the item in Mahatama Prabhu’s list of chanting while listening to music, I would like to share that for my part, just as Srila Prabhupada had us play shenai music during japa period in Mayapaura during the Gaura-purnima festival, in the same way listening to nice music, for my part, enhances my attention and helps me establish a nice mood, rhythm and speed. Indeed, remembering the spiritual emotions behind the bhajana you are listening to tends to bring about an appropriote ecstasy. Such help me to extend periods of devotional epiphany, such that they become a substantial part of one’s life. So, for my part anyway, I have not found listening to music to be problematic, rather the contrary. Of course, this is not necessary, but is one of the varieties of japa experience, and it may be helpful for some.

    By saying the Names such that you can hear, but not so loudly, one requires less breath. I have also found this favorable. By inhaling and exhaling without stoppping the chanting, the mantra becomes continous. In other words, you can chant on the in breath as well as the out going breath. Meanwhile, the inner visualization does not stop either for breathing.

    Such nice topic! Haribol! I hope some may find these hints helpful, or at least interesting.

  4. Gita says :

    Thank you for your comments and reminders of inattentive Japa (10th offense -to be inattentive while chanting – which is supposed to be avoided) -). . Most of the descriptions of the ‘Courtesy Japa’ as you call is given in Satsvarupa Maharaj’s book called ‘Japa Reform’ Interested devotees will benefit greatly from this book.

    I really appreciate your mention of gifts that we get even at a neophyte stage of chanting the holy name – – ‘inspiration, realization, detachment, increased desire to serve, attraction to study scripture, and an ability to see maya’s workings more clearly. And there are so many more gifts japa delivers’ – I wish more devotees will share their realizations.
    Thank you

  5. Om says :

    Very inspiring article and comments!

    In the past I used to chant while I did shopping, talking etc…Frankly I found no perfect time to chant after I once heard a powerful lecture on how to chant, I literally stopped at one point to chant after hearing that it was useless to do these kind of prajalpa chanting, mainly because I had no interest in the ultimate goal, rather I was chanting just because I had promised.
    Now that I am chanting, sometimes or often, I would say its prajalpa chanting, mostly the talking little and chanting little.. I wonder what I could do to help myself get to that real meditation chanting!

    any suggestions?

  6. Tamoharadasa says :

    In regards to the “courtesy” label for japa as used herein, I find that devotees mostly do make a distinction between their 16 rounds and this so-called courtesy japa. To maintain our position in the spiritual realm of consciousness, we like to vibrate spiritual sounds continously, even if it is not morning japa time.

    One very nice devotee, Sriman Dharmaprana Dasa Maharajah of New Remuna
    ( Toronto Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha Mandira) once told me, “When there is no chanting of the Holy Names going on, when there is no transcendental sound, it is like hell”.
    He has reached a stage of deep attachment, such that when there is no chanting, for him it is hell. May we all soon attain such an exalted position!

    Chanting the glories of the devotees, the holy dhamas, the pastimes of sankirtana and devotional services; vibrating these is not different from japa, and keeps the situation pure and relishable. These devotional topics all have the same purifying and maintaining result. Prajalpa drags one down. Even inattentive chanting is better than vibrating Maya’s glories, and will help lead us on to greater degrees of acceptance and pleasure in the chanting, especially if we are indeed chanting our daily 16 nicely also. Even inattentive chanting is better than a void! The result of inattentive chantring may not be directly love of Godhead due to concommittant material desires, ie. offenses, but purification will still occurr if we have any sincerity and stick with the process, by Grace of Sri Guru and Gouranga.

    When worst comes to worst, when there is no taste and we are falling down, I humbly recommend begging wholeheartedly and crying before Sri Radhe.

    OM Prabhu; you speak as if you are representing the neophyte devotee for the sake of giving an opportunity to address inattentive chanting for fools such as myself. Thank you for this opportunity to say something more about japa. I am quite convinced that if one hears the glories of the Holy Names, gets adequate daily rest according to your personal bodily needs, and disciplines the mind by withdrawing attention from topics other than the Names or the Lord’s forms and service while chanting, then in due course the attention will be focussed. Good rounds make for a good day overall. Poor rounds likewise can make for a blurry unfocussed day. When we actually realize this by application, the sincere souls will be attentive and more concentrated in order to be in the best conscioussness for loving service. Just this practical daily experience in itself should be enough to motivate us further. (Rewards tend to increase the behaviors that led to the good result.) Failure to advance in japa may be due to insufficient reading about the all-importance of this service, hence offenses due to inadequate faith and knowledge.

  7. ykd108 says :

    The effort of Mahatma prabhu to provide us with his realization about chanting the Holy Names is praiseworthy. And I am sure most of us will thank him for it. Yet, there is another spin on this matter. We really don’t know the powerful extent of Sri Krishn’a Holy Name. We are given a glimpse only. I have quoted a verse from Srimad Bhagavatam (see below), which we were required to memorized, during our bhakta training, somewhere in 1978. The verse so beautifully portrays the glory of the Holy Name. Basically, it says that even if a person utters the Holy Name “unconsciously” there will be some spiritual benefit. Of course, as Mahatma prabhu points out, we shouldn’t be inattentive while chanting. At the same time, we would concur with the other prabhus in this forum, in that it is better to chant lousily than not chanting at all. Yet, a serious initiated devotee will do anything to improve his quality of japa. In that, we also concur with Mahatma prabhu’s assertion.

    Yugala Kishor dasa (Alachua, FL)

    āpannah samsrtim ghorām / yan-nāma vivaśo grnan
    tatah sadyo vimucyeta / yad bibheti svayam bhayam

    “Living beings who are entangled in the complicated meshes of birth and death can be freed immediately by even unconsciously chanting the holy name of Krsna, which is feared by fear personified.”


    Vāsudeva, or Lord Krsna, the Absolute Personality of Godhead, is the supreme controller of everything. There is no one in creation who is not afraid of the rage of the Almighty. Great asuras like Rāvana, Hiranyakaśipu, Kamsa, and others who were very powerful living entities were all killed by the Personality of Godhead. And the almighty Vāsudeva has empowered His name with the powers of His personal Self. Everything is related to Him, and everything has its identity in Him. It is stated herein that the name of Krishna is feared even by fear personified. This indicates that the name of Krsna is nondifferent from Krsna. Therefore, the name of Krsna is as powerful as Lord Krsna Himself. There is no difference at all. Anyone, therefore, can take advantage of the holy names of Lord Śrī Krsna even in the midst of greatest dangers. The transcendental name of Krsna, even though uttered unconsciously or by force of circumstances, can help one obtain freedom from the hurdle of birth and death.

    Srimad Bhagavatam 1.1.14

    • Dmd says :

      Jaiva Dharma, Chapters 23-25 presents the Gaudiya Vaisnava science of progressive chanting. As with any science, one must study it carefully to understand how it works.

      During the last several years we’ve been presenting ecourses which specifically focus on helping people chant better japa based upon these principles, but we use Srila Prabhupada’s books as the basic texts rather than Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s book. For example, for the last two weeks we presented 14 Janmastami Meditations from Srimad Bhagavatam and KRSNA Book with Suggested Daily Japa Meditations. Participants began reading daily segments of the pastimes beginning with Mother Bhumi approaching Lord Brahma, up to the time of Nanda Maharaja celebrating the birth ceremony. Each day we meditated upon the Nama, Rupa, Guna, and Lila of the Lord which evolves into a progressive method of absorbing one’s consciousness day after day.

      This practice is concisely described in NOI, Text 8 Purport, revealing how one can create a lifelong, progressive path of deeper and deeper japa:

      “Recollection, absorption, meditation, constant remembrance and trance are the five items of progressive kṛṣṇa-smaraṇa. At first, remembrance of Kṛṣṇa may be interrupted at intervals, but later remembrance proceeds uninterrupted. When remembrance is uninterrupted, it becomes concentrated and is called meditation. When meditation expands and becomes constant, it is called anusmṛti. By uninterrupted and unceasing anusmṛti one enters the stage of samādhi, or spiritual trance.”

      Read the entire purport here:

  8. Pusta Krishna das says :

    “Be careful. You are dealing with Krishna.” (Srila Prabhupada)
    Chant ‘attentively attentive’. We should cultivate that mentality. Lord Chaitanya, when addressing the mayavadi sannyasis said, “My guru said that I am a fool, and I must simply chant Hare Krishna.” So on the order of spiritual master, even Lord Chaitanya is chanting, what to speak of us. At least when chanting, it is vital to take this as sadhana, practice. I can say without any doubt, from my experience, that i lost my enthusiasm and left the sannyas ashram in the late 1970s because of inattentive chanting. I am re-engaged for many, many years in my Krishna conscious practices, and I can tell you that it does not matter if you are sanyas, grihastha, brahmachary, etc. It is vitally important to chant “attentively attentive”.
    Best wishes to you all….Pusta Krishna das