By HH Janananda Gosvami
â€śI shall personally inaugurate the religion of the ageâ€”nama-sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy name. I shall make the world dance in ecstasy, realizing the four mellows of loving devotional service.â€ť - Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Caitanya Caritamrita Ă„di 3.19
I am sitting in the prasadam room surrounded by buzzing devotees in Bury place, London - My first time ever in a Hare Krishna temple.
Enthralled and astonished by whatâ€™s going on around me. Filled to the brim with prasadam â€“ all my conceptualizations that yogis donâ€™t eat have been smashed to pieces. Suddenly someone talks to me.
â€śWould you like to come on sankirtan?â€ť
â€śWhatâ€™s that?â€ť I reply.
â€śIts complete ecstasy, bliss, just try it.â€ť He replies.
Iâ€™m out the door into the tsunami waves of people on Oxford Street â€“the busiest shopping street on earth.
Wow what an experience. Oh what am I doing here with hair down to my waist, a mrdanga in my hands?
What an experience. The not to praiseworthy comments from the passersby. The strange behaviour of some of the devotees, the screaming kid in the pram in front of me, having to beat a mrdanga for 2 hours which sounded like a â€śfuneral beatâ€ť according to the Sankirtan leader. I managed to escape the party halfway and make a quick retreat back to the temple.
Donâ€™t remember much bliss on harinama that day but it was an indelible impression in my memory.
6 months later I joined the Temple and it wasnâ€™t long before I, like all other devotees in the temple, was out on the street 6 days a week 7 hours a day chanting and dancing. Thatâ€™s all I thought Hare Krishna devotees did â€“ chant Hare Krishna, dance and take prasadam. A few other things in between, but that was the heart of it all and the beginning middle and end.
It was real easy if you surrendered to it. Exciting, purifying and â€ścomplete bliss and ecstasy.â€ť
As if 7 hours was not enough. Back at the Temple there seemed to be nothing much going on either, except hearing and chanting about Krishna, with 4 or 5 classes daily and everyone â€“ practically â€“ being there. Lots more kirtans and dancing. The devotees would even chant whilst cleaning, whilst bathing, whilst cooking, whilst serving prasadam, whilst going to the shop, in the toilet, in their sleep. There were no computers or even phones or tape recorders at our disposal in those days. Wow those must have been boring times and real primitive. Ummmm?
Well times changed and we all know the history. Other services came in and Harinama became a background or backburner activity. A bit of a show once in a while if youâ€™re into it, or pushed. Something to take pictures of and stick in our publicity magazines to make out we are doing the yajna..
Temple programmes also became minimal. Special programmes were introduced â€“ bhakta programme, bhakti sastra courses etc to try to fill the gap. But there is really no alternative in Kali yuga We talk a lot in classes and articles about chanting but ask ourselves, â€śHow much are we chanting?â€ť
I look back just for interest and learning sake.
ISKCON has grown â€“ large communities of devotees. In the west few devotees are living in the temples. Many other programmes for spreading Krishna consciousness have been developed. Grhasthas now obviously far outnumber the â€śrenunciatesâ€ť. In the early 70â€™s it was more or less in or out. Grhastahas even lived with their kids right in the temple. One â€śbig or smallâ€ť happy family. Even the kids were on harinama.
In London there were about 20 of us in the temple. Now letâ€™s do a bit of a comparison. Work it out 20 devotees, Each day about 15 would be out on Harinama for 7 hours of the day. Multiply 20 devotees x 24 hours x 7 days = total 3360 hours available hours per week (and that includes the time sleeping). Letâ€™s call them man hours.
Of that 15 devotees going on Street Harinama 6 days
for 7 hours = total 630 man hours. = 19% total time
available on Harinama if you can work that out.
Just before I left the UK for Malaysia in 1984 I did a similar calculation of the devotees living in the temples in UK . Itâ€™s interesting to note â€“ Living in the temple at that time about 250 devotees.
Using the same ratio: 250 x 24 x 7 = 42,000 total available man hours. Now that is not including the thousands of congregation devotees.
The great increase in the number of devotees speaks for itself in terms of the preaching but still Harinama is the single-most important activity and to get a taste, to sustain we need it. In 1984 in UK around 100 devotees were going once a week on harinama on average. 100 devotees for one hour (and many of them were from the congregation). The Bhakta programme were also going out. About 10 of them - 5 hours a week. There were a few extra bits here and there. Letâ€™s be really generous and say a total 250 total harinama man hours a week. Now coupled with that the attendance of classes and temple programmes had dropped phenomenally. Tape recorders have replaced devotees chanting whilst doing service etc.
So at most 250 hours of street sankirtan out of 42,000 thatâ€™s a bit of a drop â€“ from 19% to 0.6% Now that does not take into account the thousands of serious community devotees, many of whom rarely, if ever, get out on street sankirtan.
I doubt the ratio or percentage has gone up over the last 20 or so years, at least where I have visited of late. A common question the public ask nowadays is â€śwhere have you guys been? I donâ€™t see you anymore.â€ť
We advertise huge increases in number of devotees. It is ironic when the movement was just a few temple devotees a common statement was â€“â€śI see you guys everywhereâ€ť
Anyway, never mind itâ€™s only the yuga dharma â€“ the only way to attain love of God, the only way to save the world. With the growth of the movement the chanting doesnâ€™t seem to have kept pace at all.
True the vast majority of devotees are not living in temples etc. Still the process is the same â€“ chanting the holy names and be happy. It applies as much now as ever.
I certainly havenâ€™t transcended the need to chant the holy names, neither has anyone else.
No doubt many other very wonderful innovative methods of spreading the holy names have been developed. The reality still remains that the sign of one advancing is that we are developing more and more of a taste for chanting the holy names and dancing. The effect of hours of Harinama cannot be replaced with any amount of sophisticated technical devices to keep us busy.
Most of the early stalwarts in our movement were raised on the street dancing and chanting.
In a recent lecture Suhotra prabhu had quoted the following from early Mayapura memories of Bhavananda Prabhu.
â€śOnce a lady disciple of Srila Prabhupada in Mayapura was physically unable to engage in any service except chanting. She lamented about that to Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada responded that chanting was actually real service, but because we were not able to chant all the time he therefore had to tax his brain to find things for us to do.â€ť
So where is all this leading â€“ whatâ€™s the punch line?
Ah I do have a vested interest here.
This year at the Mayapura GBC meetings the following resolution was made:
Annual World Holy Name Day
Therefore it is resolved, That World Holy Name Day is made an annual program for all ISKCON centers. Different countries or continents can modify the name to suit their needs.
The observance of World Holy Name Day is to be held in connection with Srila Prabhupadaâ€™s arrival in the USA (Sept. 17, 1965) to coincide with, and commemorate, his delivering the gift of the holy name to the world.
A Global Coordination Team for World Holy Name Day shall be appointed consisting of His Holiness Lokanath Swami, His Grace Janananda Das, and His Grace Ekalavya Das.
The chanting of the holy name is the yuga dharma, â€śThe vision of ISKCON is to bring the holy name to every town and village and this program is helpful in fulfilling this vision.â€ť - Quote from purposes of ISKCON.
Every year, there would be massive harinama sankirtan festivals held across the planet, generating a tremendous amount of media interest and coverage.
Every year, devotees around the world would share their ideas on spreading and glorifying the holy name.
There would be an increased focus in ISKCON on the chanting of the holy names.
A step in the right direction?
Letâ€™s hope so. We humbly request all devotees of ISKCON in and out of temples, to please be merciful to yourselves and others and try to turn up the chanting of the holy names. At least take advantage of this little push to increase the chanting and take part in WORLD HOLY NAME DAY.
This it the first of many articles which will appear relating to â€śWORLD HOLY NAME DAYâ€ť. Future articles will be more specific giving details, guidelines, news and views, quotes etc.
Any devotee who would be interested in trying to inspire devotees in your area to get more involved in Harinama or would like to take some responsibility to organize World Holy Name day in your area please let me know.
Have to stop for now. I hear a voice coming up the stairs of the Sydney Temple:
â€śHARINAMA SANKIRTAN IS LEAVING. WHOâ€™S COMINGâ€ť
â€śYou mean that ecstasy and bliss. Sorry prabhu Iâ€™m busy, very, very busy.â€ť UMMM.
Got to go on with the show, no time to be slow, let the sankirtan flow, give maya a blow, Krishna consciousness grow and our hearts do glow, - HARINAMA letâ€™s go.
Janananda Gosvami (Janananda.firstname.lastname@example.org)