A personal transformation
I have a daily schedule of spiritual practises which begins at 4.00 am. For the last two decades I live in a monastery where we chant, pray and meditate collectively. One important item in this list is to chant the Holy Names softly on our beads, for over two hours. We repeat an ancient mantra over 1500 times and keep a simple counting process that would tell us when we had done our quota. We’d often hear in classes and also individually affirm that we need to be ‘present’ during our chanting, and how being ‘here in the now’ is the essence of this sacred practise.
Yet ‘attention’ is easier spoken about than experienced in this age of massive distractions. Even monks in a monastery could be victims of social media and watsapp and a plethora of other apps that sucks away our ability to be attentive. I’d get discouraged because the mind, needless to say, runs riot during the chanting and the session becomes a mere ritual that needs to be done with. The heart isn’t experiencing the sublime glories of the Holy Names that we hear from our scriptures.
One evening I realized the gap between the attention I wish I had daily, and the harsh reality of being terribly distracted could be bridged by a simple practise.
I decided to not worry about the inattentive 1500 mantras, but just get five attentive mantras done. As I slowly and consciously invested my attention and prayer on the Holy Names, the five chants of an ancient sound nourished me. I was tempted to chant another one. The extra I chanted was because I wanted to do it, not because I have to or I have vowed. Slowly I realized I was chanting more then 50-60 attentive mantras during my two hour session. That’s a big deal of three percent attention rate. Compared to a dry ritual that my spiritual practise had become, now I was chanting three percent of my mantras attentively! Yet I stuck to my minimum of five mantras. Then even if the mind wandered I wouldn’t be harsh; I’d accept my inattention. I would soon tell myself, ‘It’s all right, you have already done your five mantras, you could try one more if you wish’.
As I began to go through the motions of chanting my 1500 mantras, I felt a sense of victory because I did chant fifty of those in attention. Slowly I was tempted to raise the target to ten, not because I ‘have to’; rather I ‘want to’ and it’s within my expanded comfort circle.
To be continued….