By Dhanurdhara Swami: originally posted at Bhakticollective.com
The following is an interview with Sripad Aindra das for the book Kirtan Meditations – The Mood and Technique of Bhakti Kirtan compiled by Dhanurdhara Swami and Akincana Krishna dasa. Due to the unexpected loss of this great soul I decided to release his interview quite before the editing has been finished. More can be read at wavesofdevotion.com. I hope it gives some pleasure and solace to the congregation of the devotees feeling the loss of this great soul. Dhanurdhara Swami
Chanting with purity
Harinam-sankirtan means to loudly chant the holy name for the benefit of others. We should seriously consider to what extent we are benefiting others, and also to what extent we are benefiting ourselves. There is apparent kirtan and real kirtan. Only sankirtan where the pure name is chanted is real sankirtan. If someone is making offenses to the name, simply articulating the syllables “Hare Krishna,” that is not real sankirtan. One must thus carefully consider the offenses to be avoided in the matter of chanting.
Can you talk about the different types of chanting?
There is bhukti-nama, offensive chanting, which results in material gain; there is mukti-nama, shadow chanting, which results in liberation, and there is prema-nama, pure chanting, which results in prema-bhakti, pure love of Godhead.
Bhukti-nama means offensive chanting. By chanting offensively, you can benefit others only by increasing their material piety. Bhaktivinoda Thakura therefore states that a pure devotee should not participate in kirtan led by offenders to the holy name. Who are those offenders? Those who do kirtan for ulterior motives–who chant for money, or to augment their sex appeal, or do it for name and fame. Such chanting can at best result in material gratification.
Then there is mukti-nama or namabhasa. By such chanting one not only gradually becomes freed from all material contamination, but also liberates others from material existence. In other words, by hearing someone’s loud chanting of namabhasa, one can attain liberation from material existence. Sounds good, right? It’s certainly better than staying bound in the material world. But by such kirtan alone you cannot inculcate bhakti into the hearts of those who hear that kirtan, because namabhasa kirtan is only a resemblance of the holy name and not the pure name.
Lord Caitanya’s movement is the prema-nam-sankirtan movement. Its purpose is to give the highest benefit, pure love of Godhead. Therefore if one actually wants to give oneself and others the highest benefit, one must awaken pure devotion to Radha and Krishna and for Sri Caitanya. To achieve that purpose we have to chant purely.
Jagadananda Pandit in Prema Vivarta thus recommends that if one wants to elevate their chanting to the platform of the pure name, one should perform sankirtan (as well as japa) in the association of those who are chanting the pure name. Only then can sankirtan can give the highest benefit.
Purity is the main thing – musical style is secondary
The most important ingredient in kirtan is the mood in which it is done. If one is either chanting the name with offenses, or chanting for liberation, one will not get bhakti, nor will one be able to offer it to anyone else.
It doesn’t matter whether one is accompanying the kirtan with kartalas, mrdangas and harmonium1, using a drum set, electric keyboard and bass guitar, decorating the kirtan with flute and violin, or even just clapping one’s hands. One can chant with very melodious classical ragas, or one can sing raucous, hellacious, heavy metal chanting to attract certain people. One can sing ten tunes an hour or sing one tune every ten hours, sing in complex rhythmic patterns or simple rhythmic one. One can have jumping dancing kirtan or a very slow, contemplative kirtan. No matter what you do, no matter how you decorate the kirtan, if such chanting is not done with pure devotion, it will never ever inculcate bhakti into the heart of anyone.
In both my japa meditation, and in my performance of sankirtan, I begin by meditating on and worshiping Sri Sri Gauranga9 and Nityandana in Navadvipa. Then I gradually enter through the mood and bhava of Sri Caitanya into the chanting of the madhurya nama hare krishna maha-mantra and meditation on Radha and Krishna. Gaura-nama is audharya-nama, the name of compassion, and Radha-Krishna nama is madhurya-nama, sweetness personified. The audharya-nama-sankirtan can very quickly elevate the devotees to the platform of suddha-nama- sankirtan. And suddha-nama-sankirtan, as we have discussed before, has the power to inculcate bhakti-sakti into the heart of the people associated with the kirtan.
Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita “first surrender, then bhakti, or prema, comes later.” Gaura is so merciful, however, that he says without considering who is fit and who is not fit, “Just take love of Godhead.” Surrender comes later. But how can one just take love of godhead if one doesn’t take gaura-nama first?
What is the difference between japa and kirtana?
There are two prominent ways that the gopis are absorbed in the services of Radha and Krishna. One is in nikunja seva, where one serves Radha-Krishna alone. The other is rasa-lila – dancing and singing and serving Krishna with all the gopis.
Similarly as all the gopis have their individual kunjas for individual personal service, we chant nama japa in the mood of nama seva, to assist in personal intimate service. Nama japa is thus like facilitating the meeting of Radha and Krishna alone.
So nama japa is a more secluded, personal affair. You may even pull your chaddar over your face so that no one can see your emotions. Japa is your own relationship to Radha and Krishna without the consideration that your feelings are shared with others. One is thus free to allow the heart to flow and express one’s desperation for the eternal loving service to the holy name in a way that one can’t do in public assembly.
However, nama japa is not simply a matter of only one’s personal relationship with Radha and Krishna. We also perform nama japa to become inspired to share our devotion to Radha and Krishna with others in the form of nama sankirtana. In that way japa is never a selfish affair. So japa can either be chanted for the satisfaction of Radha and Krishna or chanted to attain the spiritual experience necessary to have real compassion on others. In either case, the aim is never selfish or self aggrandizing.
As practicing devotees, it’s powerful to chant nama japa in the mood of separation – especially a type of separation called purva raga, which means the intense, desperate anticipation to meet Radha and Krishna. The idea is that you meditate on the types of services that you would like to do for Radha and Krishna and pray, “When, oh, when will that day be mine?” That is purva-raga.
Sankirtan, on the other hand, can be performed in the spirit of Krishna’s rasa lila. The rasa lila acts as an appetizer to wet Krishna’s appetite for more intimate reciprocation with his gopis. In Ujjvala nilamani10, however, there is a description that says that the rasa lila generates in Krishna a happiness that far surpasses even the experience of His complete intimate union with Srimati Radharani and the gopis. One may ask “How is it possible for rasa-lila to be the highest when the culmination of all pastimes is Radha-Krishna enjoying alone in the forests of Vrindavana? “The answer is vipralambha; it is the mood of separation. In the rasa lila Krishna although so close is so far away as well. He is dancing with the gopis, but not yet in his most intimate association with them. The rasa lila is thus like the hors d’oeuvres that are served before the meal. The meal is the real objective, but hors d’oeuvres can often be more tantalizing, more piquant and full of rasa than the feast itself. In the same way the most exuberant expression of nama-bhajana is not being alone with Krishna in japa, but in the performance of nama-sankirtan with others.
By nama-kirtan Krishna also sees that you are serious about sacrificing your egocentricity for the purpose of helping others to gain access to the holy name. An attraction thus naturally awakens within Krishna to the soul who is performing that yajna. It induces him to relish deeper with that devotee even more intimate, loving reciprocation in the form of nama japa In that way, nama-sankirtan and nama japa are always inter-supportive
Nowhere, however, it is said that nama japa is the yuga-dharma, the specific spiritual practice for this age. The yuga-dharma is nama-sankirtan, loud chanting for the benefit of others. And that’s what brings nama seva to the highest level.
The yuga-dharma facilitates the proper result from the performance of all other practices of devotional service. Therefore without performing sankirtan, one cannot gain the highest benefit and deepest realization of the purpose of hearing the Bhagavata, chanting nama japa, taking first-class sadhu-sanga11, worshipping the Deity, or of residing in the holy dhama12. In other words, one cannot gain the highest result from engaging in any other practice of devotional service without spending sufficient time in the direct performance of nama-sankirtan.
How does one achieve the highest benefit in all devotional practices by nama-sankirtan? When Krishna sees that someone is helping others by giving them the opportunity to hear the holy name, then Krishna from within and from without lifts the curtain of yogamaya from that person. He thus allows them to see the actual nature of the Deity and to penetrate and realize the deepest imports of the Bhagavata, the path of spontaneous devotion. And by serving guru and Krishna on the path of raga, or at least by practicing serving them on that path, ones understanding of Bhagavata and ones relish of the Deity becomes even further enhanced. Then all one’s practices enter the raga dimension and helps one evolve to the plane of raganuga bhava, vraja bhava. That is real sankirtan. That is the sankirtan of Lord Caitanya and his associates – the relish of vraja bhava in the course of performing sankirtan-yajna.
It is essential that devotees who are actually very serious about advancing in Krishna consciousness, advancing to the perfectional stage, to come to this position of performing raga-mayi-sankirtan, kirtan laden with spiritual emotion. Only then can one help others awaken their deepest appreciation of the Bhagavata and their deepest appreciation of all gifts that Srila Prabhupada and all the acaryas13 have left.