By Mahatma Das
There is something I’ve noticed about my japa over the years: Bad habits don’t die easily. Prabhupada said chanting produces more chanting. But the question is what kind of “more chanting” does it produce? My experience is that bad chanting produces more bad chanting. And if the bad chanting goes on long enough, it pretty much becomes a habit. Then bad becomes the norm.
Since bad chanting is not relishable, japa tends to take less of a priority in life. It becomes harder to finish rounds and they get put off till later. And sometimes later never comes. As bad chanting continues, one becomes weaker. And as one become weaker, it becomes more difficult to chant well.
Of course, good chanting produces more good chanting. So if we turn things around and start chanting well, we can expect many wonderful things to happen in our lives. One of the greatest gifts anyone can give themselves is sixteen good rounds daily. By good rounds I mean the best possible rounds one can chant. But if old habits die hard, how does one turn things around? Here’s how I did it.
In March, Sacinandana Swami was scheduled to give a Japa Retreat in New York, a five day japa get -a-way at a beautiful retreat center surrounded by mountains and streams in the Catskills. Unfortunately Maharaja’s health prevented him from traveling to America and I was asked to be one of the facilitators at the retreat. The problem was I was asked only weeks before the retreat and I was very busy and really didn’t want to do it. I tried to wiggle my way out of it in every way I could: I couldn’t afford the time, I couldn’t afford to be away from my work, I had already been spending too much time away from home…..and the list went on. I really didn’t want to go. But the organizers were having trouble finding facilitators so I reluctantly agreed—yet was still trying to figure out how not to go.
After the retreat I was asked to share my experience and this is what I wrote:
“Every devotee in ISKCON, from guru to pot washer, would immensely benefit by attending a Japa Retreat. It was one of the best things I have ever done for my Krishna consciousness and was among the happiest and most satisfying five days I have ever spent. The Holy Name is now resonating in me in new and profound ways.”
As you can see, it was an amazing experience for me and I felt totally blessed that I had the great fortune of attending the retreat. Krsna was so kind to give me a big love pat in the rear end by forcing me to attend. Every moment of those five days was nectar.
My big realization was that if I don’t make every effort to chant well on a regular basis, I am depriving myself of deep realizations, increased faith, spiritual strength, and the purnamritasvadanam, the full nectar for which I am always anxious. In other words, I am cheating myself in a big way.
The deeper we go into the Name, the more powerful we realize it is. This realization just doesn’t come from chanting bad rounds. The only realization I get from chanting bad rounds is that I am bored and I’d rather be doing something else. And chanting well brings up dirt, dirt that is meant to come out. We face our fears, our motives, our pretensions, our lack or surrender—and we face it all head on. And chanting good rounds gives us the strength to deal with all of this.
My bad chanting habits started flying out the door at the retreat. I realize now that I needed this focused attention on chanting away from my normal life to overcome these bad habits. I can’t go back to those old habits anymore, at least not for long. When I do red flags go off in my mind and I immediately am aware of how much I am losing by bad chanting.
Was my experience unique? Not at all. It was quite normal. Let me share with you this quote from His Holiness Giriraja Maharaja.
“I can honestly say that the japa retreat in Ojai was one of the most
profound experiences of my life. It brought me to a significantly deeper
level of Krishna consciousness–of appreciation for the holy names and for
the devotees–and realization of our philosophy. The benefits from the
experience have continued until today, and I expect them to continue
forever. I recommend such retreats for all devotees.”
To me this quote is amazing. Any of you who know Maharaja, know that he is a deep person. I spent a lot of time with him and whenever I thought I understood something deeply, he would always take it step deeper. So for him to say, “it brought me to a significantly deeper level of Krishna Consciousness,” is also nothing less than significant. There is something especially powerful about doing nothing else than associating with devotees, chanting the holy name, and hearing from senior devotees on both the glories of the holy name and how to improve one’s chanting. And what is that something special? The retreat environment fosters such good quality focused chanting that the holy name takes over and does all the work. I watched in awe as devotees were becoming transformed by the Name, moved by the Name, revitalized by the Name, and deeply attracted by the Name. They left feeling that they couldn’t get enough of the holy name; and they also left with a keen sense of optimism for the future of their devotional lives.
I’d like to share with you Hari Kirtana Prabhu wonderful experience:
“The Japa Retreat was the most powerful and important event in my spiritual life since my initiation 30 years ago. My faith and determination have been supercharged. The knowledge and realizations that I received from the seminars, interactive sessions and the association of devotees who are all so seriously dedicated to improving the quality of their japa have left lasting impressions on me. And the tools I acquired have already begun to propel me deeper into the transcendental experience of attentive, heartfelt chanting. The Japa Retreat is a great example of ISKCON at its best. Thank you.”
I wanted to personally invite you to attend our next retreat held September 12-16 in northern Georgia. I would love to so much to see you there and share with you the nectar and inspiration that devotees are getting from these retreats. I see this as a vital function in our movement. Although devotees site different reasons for problems in ISKCON, the real problem is offensive chanting. I would like to end this article with one more quote from Yadunatha Prabhu, who shares his personal experience and his perception on how these retreats can impact ISKCON.
“The Japa Retreat is a unique and necessary presence in ISKCON. The many festivals we attend are wonderful—always very busy and often overwhelming. For some devotees, they can distract one from facing themselves and their own internal life. The Japa Retreat is a contemplative time for self-evaluation. This process of internal reflection is a powerful one and the Retreats I have attended are among the most profound experiences of my life. That is certainly the case in terms of making a doubt-free connection with the Lord.
I’ve never felt so enlivened by and connected to the devotees. A by-product of this work is that Vaishnava relationships develop, grow, and deepen in wonderful and fulfilling ways. From the new Bhaktas to the top leaders, I would recommend the Japa Retreat to all.
These retreats, if carried on, can revolutionize our movement because they force us to face ourselves and actually do that internal work; and when we develop our purity and devotion from the inside, we can more easily affect the world outside. It will happen naturally.
I truly believe that this work, if carried on, can revolutionize and revitalize our movement.”
For more information on the retreat, go http://www.bhagavatlife.com/retreats.php