“In our Krishna consciousness movement, we have recommended that the neophyte chant at least sixteen rounds. This chanting of sixteen rounds is absolutely necessary if one wants to remember Krishna and not forget Him. Of all the regulative principles, the spiritual master's order to chant at least sixteen rounds is most essential.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 22.113 Purport)
The proponent of bhakti-yoga, which is the spiritual discipline following a mood of devotion directed at the Supreme Absolute Truth’s position as a personality, recommends that chanting the holy names is the best way for attaining realization of the self in the modern age. Specific acharyas, who lead by example in their quest to distribute the glories of bhakti to others, have more specific recommendations, targeted practices that can be implemented by anyone, removing some of the doubts associated with where to go next in the quest for enlightenment. The central practice, the one which all other rules and stipulations depend on, is the chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, for at least sixteen rounds a day.
Chanting this mantra is difficult for someone who is not accustomed to reciting words derived from the Sanskrit language. In the beginning it is recommended that one recite the mantra very slowly so that they properly enunciate the words, enabling the ears to hear the sounds and soak in the spiritual nectar. From the requirement for deliberation can come the immediate fear relating to how one will ever be able to follow sixteen rounds as a daily routine. “It takes me forever to finish just one round, which is 108 recitations of the mantra. How am I going to find time to finish sixteen in one day? And say that I do accomplish the feat once, how can I continue that day after day? I don’t think I can do it. There must be some other way for self-realization. What if I chant another mantra? What if I chant just eight rounds and focus the rest of my time on other pious acts?”
While this rationalization may seem valid, there is no reason for the outright rejection of the sixteen-round recommendation, especially since it was first instituted by Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead and saint most effective at disseminating the glories of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord, to the masses. The efforts of His disciples and descendants further add to Lord Chaitanya’s glory, revealing His true power in getting others to awaken their dormant love for Godhead. The human brain is quite powerful, so much so that it can conduct miniature scientific experiments throughout the day. If that dedication to science is applied to the bhakti field, and specifically to the chanting recommendation, through experience one can not only elevate themselves to the position of chanting sixteen rounds daily, but they can be firmly convinced of the necessity of the practice.
How does this work exactly? In any activity that you take up, you have a resultant reaction. For instance, if you decided to eat at a particular restaurant one night, depending on what you pick from the menu, you can notice the reaction that follows. If you visit the restaurant in the future, applying tight controls on the experiment you can see if the same reaction comes from following the same behavior. We already perform these little experiments in our mind all the time, even if we’re not consciously aware of it. Taking a different route to work in the morning is a sort of experiment, with the measurable result being the amount of time it takes to get to the office. If the new route, the change to the otherwise controlled environment, consistently yields better results, behavior will be altered permanently.
In the arena of bhakti, instead of dismissing the chanting recommendation, one can try to increase the number of rounds recited daily and see what effect it has on life. Start off with dedicated chanting of just one round, repeating the routine the same way, at the same time, day after day. If the time of day chosen doesn’t yield benefits, pick another time. The human being develops habits through behavior, so if the habits are beneficial, one can follow pious behavior without consciously thinking about it. Just as getting up on time is a force of habit based on obligations, one can make recitation of the holy name for one round on a set of japa beads a sort of involuntary behavior.
To be able to retain the results of the scientific experiments within the mind, sobriety is required. Therefore accompanying the chanting recommendation is the restriction on meat eating, intoxication, gambling and illicit sex. Seems rather restrictive, but every recommendation exists for a reason. It is not just that one preacher decided he would scan his light of righteousness upon everyone and mark as many people sinners as possible. Something is a sin based on the negative effect it has on consciousness. As the boon of the human birth is the ability to find the highest bliss through transcendental association, whatever behavior prohibits that attainment should be avoided.
Once the chanting of the maha-mantra for one round daily becomes a habit, another round can be added on. The key, however, is to make sure that the number doesn’t ever diminish, for that will foil the experiment. If the controls are not tightly maintained, there is no chance of the results being worthwhile. The second round doesn’t have to come at the same time as the first round. The perseverant devotee can try different timings and routines to see what can be done to fit both rounds into a single day. Once the two rounds of chanting becomes a routine, a third round can be added, and so on.
The wonderful thing about following this routine is that we already know what results to expect. So many people have reached the platform of chanting the maha-mantra for sixteen rounds daily, and they love it so much that no amount of money will make them give it up. Instead, they look for even more ways to connect with God in bhakti. There is the offering of food preparations to the deity manifestation within the home or temple. There is the singing of songs congregationally with others. There is dancing to the songs and reading books about Krishna. The chanting routine only opens up so many other avenues, though it is never abandoned by the serious spiritualist.
Though we can take the word of the practicing devotee as authority, still the doubting mind needs convincing. Therefore through our own scientific experiments, tweaking the daily routine and finding what works, we can reach a stage of purity that is not found through any other endeavor. The feverish pursuit for material success attacks one’s honesty and compassion. Review the great entrepreneurs and businessmen of the past and you’ll see that they were quite brutal on many of their workers, not tolerating any blemishes or subpar effort. In business, bending the truth, acting harshly, negotiating with toughness, and trying to destroy your competitors are par for the course, almost requirements for success. Yet for all that effort, only material success is attained, which vanishes at the time of death.
In bhakti there is a similar pursuit for success, except one becomes purified of all vices and character flaws during the process. The necessary ingredient is sincerity. The more one is sincere in their service to Krishna and the spiritual master, the more they will get out of the process. The topmost transcendentalist is referred to as a paramahamsa, which means that they can extract the sweet nectar out of anything in life. Notice that the topmost spiritualist isn’t he who can find new ways to criticize others. That can be done by anyone, even the most ignorant hater. The truly enlightened see God’s influence everywhere and can appreciate everything He has to offer.
More importantly, the paramahamsa knows how to extract the topmost loving sentiments, the undying spark for transcendental action, from within everyone. That is a definition of a true saint. A saintly character is one who sees good in others and tries to help them, but the best saint is one who sees everyone with an equal vision and knows their true potential for serving Krishna, which makes both the Lord and the worshiper happy.
Question: What if I get to sixteen rounds and still don’t see any results?
What should the spiritualist do if they reach the sixteen round routine and still don’t find any results? It should be noted that there is no such thing as a utopia, even in spiritual life. The uniqueness of bhakti is that time and space have no influence. Time is the agent for change, causing misery when there is happiness and dissipating the sadness that comes from separation and loss. In bhakti, there is the eternal link to Krishna, so even separation can become a time of joy. The perceived loss of Krishna’s association only strengthens one’s mental attachment to Him. And since Krishna is absolute, thinking of Him is just as good as being by His side.
The most important barometer in bhakti practices is the change in behavior and how much Krishna is within the consciousness. If through chanting and following the regulative principles one is more in control of their senses, less angry, more determined to reach Krishna, less attached to material objects, and more appreciative of their spiritual guides, then progress is being made. If there are still issues in these areas, chanting still should not be abandoned. There is no loss on the yogi’s part, especially if they are sincere in bhakti. This is validated by Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita.
“The Blessed Lord said: Son of Pritha, a transcendentalist engaged in auspicious activities does not meet with destruction either in this world or in the spiritual world; one who does good, My friend, is never overcome by evil.” (Bhagavad-gita, 6.40)
In any other area of endeavor, failure to complete the tasks results in a waste of effort, or a total loss. Perhaps there are some lessons learned about what not to do and some experience gained, but the object only half constructed has no value. On the other hand, in bhakti there is progress in terms of knowledge and temperament and also the house of devotion, wherein one keeps Krishna within their heart to be remembered and honored daily. Thus making an experiment out of bhakti and tweaking the procedures to meet the stated objective is always worthwhile, something every intelligent human being can take up and then monitor for progress.
Follow the same path to work day after day,
Let me try something new, a different way.
If my commute does improve this move,
Then going forward to use me it behooves.
In bhakti recommendation is holy name to chant,
Recite mantra daily even if you think you can’t.
Vow of one round daily first to take,
Add on later, see what effect it makes.
What can be the harm, in chanting no cost,
To see God soon, no chance of loss.