Japa: An Outline

1. We all have a relationship with Krishna.

A. We are fully and eternally related with Krishna on the spiritual platform.
B. The relationship is there whether we are theists or atheists, practitioners or non-practitioners.
C. We may be conscious of the relationship or not, and our consciousness may also be in various manners strong, weak or distorted.

2. If we are not pure devotees, that relationship is to some degree or another broken.

A. The full relationship is prema.
B. Brokenness in various ways characterizes all else.

3. Maha-mantra japa is, in the beginning, a preliminary demonstration of interest in restoring the relationship.

A. The use of the vocative case in three names Hare, Krishna, and Rama voices our request for a relationship, for a re-union.
B. We call to Krishna, and he responds.
C. The next question to confront us is: “Are we interested in pursuing this relationship-building further—and how far?”

4. At each step we must decide to go forward, to hesitate, to back out somewhat or altogether.

5. Since there is a broken relationship, it must be concluded that we have reasons for having broken it.

A. As we come closer to Krishna through chanting, his utter perfection and kindness become revealed to us.
B. We then must acknowledge the fact that we alone are wholly responsible for the breach, and the standard finding of “fault on both sides” by counselors and mediators does not apply in this case.
C. Another name for a broken relationship with Krishna is “sin.”

6. The reasons will become revealed to each of us, so that we can confront them.

A. We are not fully aware of them.
B. It will become clear that we harbor deep feelings of animosity, resentment, anger, and so on toward Krishna.
C. We become repentent and humble.

7. We become grateful to Krishna because we realize that although we turned away from him he did not turn away from us.

A. In spite of everything, we are able to chant the holy names.
B. Krishna has sent his agents to bring us back, and they have labored tirelessly.

8. Frankness and humility are foundations of progress.

A. Concealment, or being in a state of self-concealment (“in denial”) must be vanquished.
B. Pride is the symptom of a broken relationship and of concealment also.

9. Signs of advancement are increasing honesty or frankness and humility.

A. The false ego is being dissolved.
B. We experience its dissolution as self-destruction and hence as painful to the degree that we still identify with the body and mind.
C. Gradually what is painful becomes delightful.

10.  To the degree that we become frank and humble to that same extent our appreciation and love for Krishna increases.

11. In this way we become fixed in our practice and attain a natural, ever-increasing appetite for devotional activities.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Japa: An Outline

  1. Aninditadevi dasi

    Thank you so very much for such a concise outline of the meaning and process of japa. It would serve as a constant guiding torchlight in our endeavor to chant more meaningful rounds. It’s easy to forget the path we are on many times and become automated in our chanting. Thank you once again.

  2. Urmila devi dasi

    This outline was one of the best things I have read on japa–or the general process of advancement in spriitual life. I have sent it to dozens of people. I cannot thank you enough.

    Have you thought of enlarging it into an essay?

  3. Babhru

    I really like this. It’s a thoughtful, clear and concise expression of ideas we hear devotees discuss more and more these days, and long overdue. As the Bengali saying goes, mitam ca saram ca vaco hi vagmita: real eloquence is stating what’s essential concisely. It would be fun to see how you develop this outline into an essay.

  4. I found your outline very refreshing and stimulating.

    In the ever imminent danger of routinization, or that of turning a dynamic spiritual pratice into some form of routine from which the original creative element is gone, your description of japa as a request for a relationship with the Divine, restores this practice to its pristine distinction as true mysticism, path of direct knowledge of God attained through immediate perception.

    There is indeed a great power in the use of words. Our perceptions are in evidence in our words. It therefore follows, change the words and you start changing perceptions, people start to see things differently. What was once a spontaneous explosion of life [the chanting] but has now become a crystallized fossil (ahem), suddenly gets a renewed potential of becoming something of a revolutionary impact again… for some of us for the first time.

    You spoke of how the chanting process, when performed properly, by necessity entails a painful recognition of one’s own faults. In support of this I found it quite intriguing that Krishna speaks in the Bhagavad-gita (4.10) of the “austerity of knowledge”. Commenting on this phrase Baladeva Vidyabhusana explains that gaining correct understanding of Krishna is an austerity because it entails suffering arising in removal of old miconceptions and opposing ideas.

    As you made clear, the chanting process makes accessible to consciousness the primal hostility to the Lord by which we accuse Him of hatred and injustice for our own sin and consequent distress and alienation in this world. We want to blame the Lord for being the instigatior of all these. But as the Vedanta-sutra (2.1.35) says, the Lord has no injustice or hatred, rather He is favorable to the jivas, something which is experientially conformed by the devotee in the process of chanting. But coming to terms with one’s own faults means, buttom line, swallowing one’s false pride, something which is emotionally very challenging to do.

    My own understanding resonates with your explanation – the reason why lost of pride is the hardest thing to go through lies in the fact that in our conditioned state pride functions as the substitute of love and healthy self-esteem, of factual identity. As such lost of pride or the false ego, as you say, is for all practical purposes tantamount to a kind of death, the death of the false self, or in a more positive light, the birth of the true self.

    I very much appreciate you shedding light on all these subtle dynamics in your outline. It is my personal conviction that the language of psychology is an essential vehicle in our time to explain the healing of the consciousness effected in the process of japa. For one thing, it is a language that is better understood than the traditional language of spiritual theology, at least in the Western world. It also provides a more comprehensive understanding of the psychological dynamics which the Name and the practitioner himself or herself has to contend with in the healing and transforming process.

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