The most common experience of all chanters is the impossibility they feel in controlling the mind. The moment you sit to chant, the mind wanders all over the universe. It digs on the past and worries about the future. It imagines being prejudiced and fantasizes revenge, and enjoyment. Name it, and there’s nothing the mind wouldn’t do to discourage you from chanting the Holy Names of Krishna. As the mind helplessly drags us, some Bhakti Yogis feel despondent and wonder if we can ever chant well.
We can indeed chant well despite our mind’s unwillingness to cooperate. There are three important stages in our practise of the Hare Krishna yoga. If we can identify at which of these stages we are in, we can feel encouragement on our path. And also we could take the necessary steps to break from the present level, and rise to the higher stage.
The first stage of progress occurs when we acknowledge the unsurpassable power of the mind and our own puny attempts to quell it. An advantage of regular practise of the Hare Krishna meditation is it helps us see the restless nature of our minds. By constant practise if we begin to acknowledge the mind to be a formidable foe we have won half the battle against it. If you aren’t really convinced that your mind is a challenge to confront, you haven’t even reached the first stage. To at least reach this crucial stage of recognizing our mind as an enemy in our Hare Krishna practise, we need to repeatedly read the sacred scriptures and hear from seasoned Hare Krishna yogis. Radhanath Swami’s words of wisdom ring in my ears, ““If we understand the nature of the mind and we understand the results and reactions of not properly controlling the mind, then we will take shelter of the process of devotional service. We will be enthusiastic both internally and externally.”
Having understood the mind to be a rebel, the chanter then focuses on the second stage of listening to the Holy Names while chanting. Radhanath Swami quotes his guru who offered this simple strategy to control the mind; just listen to the words ‘Hare’, ‘Krishna’ and ‘Rama’ of the maha mantra while you chant. The mind will certainly rebel. But now you are prepared, having heard regularly about the nature of mind. It isn’t surprising or frustrating for you. You only focus on listening to the syllables of the mantra as you vibrate it softly on your beads. As the mind drags you repeatedly from the present, you gently but firmly pull it back to the Holy Names.
A devotee however is not satisfied in controlling the mind while chanting. He or she now endeavours to reach the third stage of offering our mind, senses and heart for the pleasure of Krishna. Radhanath Swami says that our goal is not to be great controllers of our minds. We want to instead purify the mind so that it can be offered for Krishna’s pleasure. At this stage, a Hare Krishna chanter endeavours to please Krishna in all aspects of his life. While chanting, and rendering various types of services, his focus is on pleasing the Lord. At this stage of devotional practise he is less worried if he has controlled his mind perfectly. He is more interested to know if he is aspiring to please the Lord by his thoughts, words and actions. He acts on the principle that we are parts and parcels of God, Krishna, and our constitutional position is to serve the Supreme Lord and experience spiritual union with Him.
For most of us who are struggling to reach the first stage of recognizing our mind to be an enemy, Radhanath Swami’s instruction is helpful, “To subdue the mind, the most powerful method is Naam Kirtan, the chanting of the holy names, because in every situation we could call out Krishna’s name- While travelling, lying on the bed or even while responding to the calls of nature.”