by Cintāmaṇi Mādhavī Devī Dāsī (Kirtan Course Alumna 2014)
In 2014 I had to move from the town where I was born in Chile to the capital, Santiago, to continue with my studies of journalism. I rented a little room in the downtown of the city. When I arrived, a student living there warned me: “This place is nice. The only thing that may annoy you is that your window is right next to a Hare Kṛṣṇa temple, and they chant the whole day.”
Maybe he’s exaggerating, I thought. But the first week, I knew he was telling the truth. From early in the morning I would hear people singing, bells ringing, and some strange deep, thunderous sound (the blowing of a conch shell, I later leaned). I also smelled incense, as well as captivating food being cooked with ingredients I couldn’t figure out. I was curious.
What’s behind this that can keep these people chanting every day of the year?
The strangest thing was that they were always singing the same words: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma Hare Hare.
Months later I went to the temple for the first time. And after reading Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, I knew I wanted to be Kṛṣṇa conscious. But the mahā-mantra remained a mystery for me. Even after experiencing big changes in my life by chanting the mantra on my beads, I couldn’t understand deeply what was behind these sixteen words. With time, chanting my sixteen rounds became a mechanical duty, especially after I started to work in the rushed world of the media. Most days I would find myself chanting the last rounds at night, hoping to finish quickly to go to sleep. This negligence was silently and seriously undermining my enthusiasm for spiritual life. To revitalize my enthusiasm, I decided to take a time off from work, and I made the Kirtan Course at Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh, Belgium, my first stop.
The course started with an introductory workshop by Śacīnandana Swami, who made us dive into the holy name for a week, with philosophy, meditation, and kīrtana. “Worship Kṛṣṇa with the flower of your attention” was his advice the first day of class. After having chanted my rounds for so long with my mind wandering far and wide, I felt he was talking directly to me.
In the Harināma Cintāmaṇi, by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, it is said that pramāda, or inattention or carelessness while chanting the holy name, is the offense from which all other offenses arise. There are three types of inattention: indifference, inertia or laziness, and restlessness of the mind. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda instructs that one should always be careful to not only dutifully chant one’s rounds but to chant them properly. The remedy for improper chanting is to associate with devotees who have a taste for the holy name, because by seeing Vaiṣṇavas’ attraction for the name, one will be inspired to give up indifference.
The Kirtan Course was nine weeks of this type of association. We had the opportunity to learn about the history and meaning of the saṅkīrtana movement from scholarly and senior devotees, as well as leading exponents of kīrtana. Kṛṣṇa Kṣetra Swami taught the importance of sound, citing Vedic texts, and the different traditions of devotional music. Kadamba Kānana Swami drew us deep into the meaning of Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s Śikṣāṣṭakam, which includes instruction on the appropriate mood with which to chant the holy name. Mahātmā Dāsa explained how humility is the main component of kīrtana, and with Jahnavi Harrison we sang prayers by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, trying to understand the mood of an exalted devotee. Mahendra Dāsa took us on a journey through quotations and explanations about kīrtana in the sacred literature. Finally, Hridayānanda Dāsa Goswami gave us some ideas on how to present all this knowledge in the Western world.
Connecting with the Holy Name
In the purport to Bhagavad-gītā 12.8, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains, “The holy name of the Lord and the Lord are nondifferent; therefore when a devotee chants Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa and His internal potency are dancing on the tongue of the devotee.” To be able to realize this through great devotees who can transmit their blissful connection with the holy name was a transformative experience.
In addition, we seventeen students – from all over the world and from all kinds of backgrounds – learned harmonium, mṛdaṅga, and kartālas from the best teachers in a friendly and supportive atmosphere.
Indeed, these weeks were life changing, because you had the opportunity to appreciate the holy name from when you woke up till you went to sleep. When you feel connected with the holy name by chanting attentively, the whole day has a different taste – the sweet taste of Kṛṣṇa’s company. When we singing the mahā-mantra fully conscious, we water a plant that at some point will produce a flower that will bloom within our hearts. As stated in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 19.152): “When a person receives the seed of devotional service, he should take care of it by becoming a gardener and sowing the seed in his heart. If he waters the seed gradually by the process of śravaṇa and kīrtana [hearing and chanting], the seed will begin to sprout.”
Now I remember the days when the mahā-mantra first came through my window and I asked myself what could be the meaning of those words constantly repeated by my special neighbours. I could not have suspected that it was Kṛṣṇa Himself and that in the most merciful and simple way I could approach Him in these hard times of so much pain and quarrel. I hope many devotees can take advantage of the Kirtan Course and help the holy name open the windows of thousand of hearts.