Confessions of a Japa Retreat Junkie

The Holy Name is the Most Valuable Possession I Have

Without the holy name I would practically have no spiritual life, no real happiness, no intimacy with Kṛṣṇa, no peace of mind, and no ability to control my senses. My entire relationship with Kṛṣṇa, the most important relationship in my life, is revealed through His holy name. Without the holy name I would be lost, miserable, spiritually weak and destitute. Yet sometimes I treat this most valuable relationship as a botheration – something that gets in the way of me doing “more important” things or “more desirable” things. What helps me in these times is to remember that I get to chant, that I want to chant, that I love to chant (deep down inside). To think I have to chant reinforces the idea that chanting Kṛṣṇa’s lovely names is something I’d rather not be doing. 

Bad Chanting Becomes the Norm

After chanting bad japa for extended periods of time, bad chanting starts to become my default setting. I then believe that due to the circumstances I am in, this is the best I can do. Bad chanting thus reinforces itself with more bad chanting. And since bad chanting produces little or no nectar or realization, becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious becomes more of pie in the sky ideal than a reality. Chanting thus becomes totally a matter of duty and can easily become automatic, heartless, and robotic. Bad chanting reinforces the belief that my chanting can’t or won’t get much better. The real problem is that I believe this and I am ok with this.

Killing Some Time While Chanting

My mind derives great pleasure from thinking. So I have a problem when I chant because my mind goes pleasure hunting and wants to contemplate so many interesting thoughts, and thus not listen to the holy name. This happens most often when I am bored with chanting. It is sometimes really difficult to just hear the mantra because my mind says, “This is not interesting. Think of something interesting, like, what you are going to say in your next class, or how you are going to do this or that project in new creative ways.” My mind resists just listening to me chant because it’s always looking for something to ponder, something to do. And when it starts pondering some interesting thoughts, even though my lips keep moving with the mantra, I disconnect myself from my chanting and live in my little mental dream world. I realize I often do this in order to “kill some time” during japa and keep myself entertained. After all, just thinking of the mantra and nothing else can sometimes be torture for my mind.

Give It All I Got

To the degree that I give my all and all to my chanting, to that degree Kṛṣṇa reciprocates and thus bhakti increases in my heart. As one popular song of the sixties said, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” What I put into my japa is what I get back from it. Devotion doesn’t come back where devotion is not put in (garbage in, garbage out).

My daughter is learning to play violin and to inspire her we watched a virtuoso eleven year old violinist on YouTube. This eleven year old was so good we couldn’t believe it. As I watched in disbelief I thought, “If I took my japa as seriously as this kid takes her violin, I would be completely Kṛṣṇa conscious by now.” The reality is that if I only give 50% of my energy to my japa, then 50% is going somewhere else. If I want to properly chant and hear the holy names and reap the results that the holy names can offer, I need to give all my energy to my japa (both physical and mental). If I really value my relationship with Kṛṣṇa, I will do this. And doing this shows Kṛṣṇa how important that relationship is to me.

I Have No Time to Chant

Most of us who are raising families are challenged to find two undisturbed hours a day to solely focus on our rounds. Yet many of the activities that take our time away from chanting are activities that we specifically have chosen to do. After attending the second retreat I began thinking that the reason I have so much on my plate that takes me away from chanting is simply because I don’t like chanting enough. It’s what Prabhupada calls the “self created burden.” If I am finding it difficult to finish my rounds because of a lack of time, I am ultimately the one choosing to do all the activities that are getting in the way of my chanting. Even when I can’t really avoid specific work and responsibilities, still I am the one who is organizing those activities in a way that chanting often takes a back seat to the other things I do.

The Mind is Like a Loud Truck

While I was chanting the other day, a truck drove by that was so loud that I couldn’t even hear myself chant. As it got further away I again began to hear the mantra coming out of my mouth. As this was happening I immediately thought that the truck is exactly like the mind. Sometimes the mind is so loud that I can’t even hear myself chant. It just takes over and the maha mantra gets drowned. When I think of controlling my mind, I think of turning down the volume on all of its chatter. Once the chatter stops, I can hear the maha mantra. When I constantly work on turning the volume down, eventually my mind starts to peacefully listen to the chanting.

The Acarya of Multi-Tasking Japa

Too often I chant like a robot. Maybe someday things will get so bad that we’ll have japa robots and we can just put our beads in their hands and they will chant to a recording of us chanting japa.

Although that sounds far fetched, I am like that robot. I have chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa for so many years that I can do it my sleep; I can do it while driving; I can even do it while reading. I can do it while shopping, talking, sight seeing – you name it and I can chant simultaneously. I am the acarya of multi-tasking japa. Someone might say, “Well that’s good.” No, it’s horrible because I can do it without even being aware that I am chanting, what to speak of being aware that I am associating with Radha and Kṛṣṇa. It’s like someone shot Novocain in my heart and my heart has become so numb that I am not feeling a thing while I chant. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta said the name is not lip deep, it is heart deep.

Chanting is Boring

When I commit offences to the Holy Name, chanting becomes boring. In this consciousness chanting is tasteless, troublesome, and outright uninteresting, and it’s the last thing I want to do. Thus I do it only out of duty while my mind is totally disengaged from chanting. My mood is simply to get my rounds finished as soon as possible. This is a sign to me that my spiritual life is lacking. When I don’t do something to correct this, the bad chanting creates a domino reaction of less Kṛṣṇa consciousness in my life, which then produces more bad chanting, which continues to produce less Kṛṣṇa consciousness, which produces more bad chanting. And this could lead to something even worse than bad chanting. It could lead to no chanting.

Give Yourself A Gift

Prabhupada said the highest realization is to save yourself. I have so often neglected to chant well that I sometimes feel like I am dying of thirst for the nectar of the name. On the 64 rounds day (at the retreat, one day is reserved for 64 rounds and a vow of silence) I was finally taking the time to give myself the nectar that I so desperately needed. But because I had dried up so much over the years and thus was so thirsty, no matter how much I drank the name I still was thirsting for more. By the 64th round my thirst was just starting to become satisfied. 64 rounds is the most wonderful gift I have ever given myself. So at least I should give myself the gift of 16 good rounds every day if I really love myself.

Does the Holy Name Really Work?

Yes, the holy name really does work. Well, let me restate that: The holy name does really work if I chant the holy name the way the holy name is meant to be chanted. If I don’t properly chant the holy name, then I start thinking the chanting can’t really uproot my deepest anarthas. Because I am not experiencing Kṛṣṇa while I chant, I lose faith in the value and power of the holy name. Going to the retreat and being facilitated to chant some really good rounds was a major faith builder. The holy name began to work on me more deeply than ever. It was real, vibrant, active, and dynamic, as compared to the usual dead mantras I chant. Dead mantras were producing a dead Mahatma Das. But the maha mantra is a living thing and when I chant a living mantra I get life.

It’s All About a Relationship

Although chanting revives our relationship with Kṛṣṇa, chanting is also our relationship with Kṛṣṇa. We are there with Radha and Kṛṣṇa while we chant. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta said to welcome the holy name. Radha and Kṛṣṇa come to me when I chant. Do I realize this? Do I welcome them and take care of them when they come? Do I worship them when they come? Or do I think, “Oh no, I still have six rounds left?” If I think this way, I simply take chanting as a process, a process that often I can’t wait to end so I can get on to “more important” things.

Watering the Weeds Japa

Poor chanting can actually produce misery, guilt, unhappiness, frustration, boredom, lack of energy and a host of other negative emotions and experiences. When I chant bad japa it doesn’t make me feel like I am a blissful spiritual being; it makes me feel defeated for not applying myself. It also makes me both upset with myself for failing to come closer to Kṛṣṇa. And it makes me feel guilty because I know my guru expects more of me – and I could do better. It leaves me entering my day on a failed note. Wow! The very thing that is supposed to make me so happy when done properly has the potency to make me feel awful when not done well. Hopefully I can take this misery as a kick in the rear end and let it push me into chanting better rounds.

First Become Conscious, Then Become Kṛṣṇa Conscious

It’s amazing how many bad japa habits I have not confronted even though I know how much these habits hurt me. They exist, I see them destroying my good japa, yet I ignore them. They have a tendency to somehow camouflage themselves in a way that says, “I am here but don’t worry about me.” And I believe them and think, “Ok, I won’t confront you. Why? Am I afraid it will be too difficult or too much work to change? I must think it’s less painful to change than to suffer the consequences of bad japa? I was forced to become fully conscious of these habits, confront them and deal with them at the retreat. This was one of the best things I’ve ever done. If I didn’t do this, I don’t know how long these habits would have continued to undermine my potential for better japa.

What I Do Today Affects My Chanting Tomorrow

What I do when I am not chanting affects the quality of the rounds I will be chanting later. For example, if I am critical of devotees (or even of non-devotees), it will be more difficult to chant good rounds. If my mind is engaged in activities from morning to night that have nothing to do with Kṛṣṇa, my attraction to chanting the next day will diminish. However, if I make an effort to be as Kṛṣṇa conscious as possible during the day, my rounds the next day are easier to chant and more relishable. My activities today are linked to the quality of my japa tomorrow. One devotee told me that if he goes out and gives people the maha mantra, his rounds are always better the next day.

All I Want

When it comes down to it, all I want is to chant well, feel Kṛṣṇa’s presence while I chant, relish the nectar of the name, and be a servant of the name. Bhaktivinoda Thakura says there is nothing else in the three worlds but the holy name. Kṛṣṇa has shown this to me by allowing me to observe other devotee’s transformations through good chanting. As their chanting improves, their desires changed. As they relish the sweetness of Kṛṣṇa, they wanted more. They realize this is all they really want. When Kṛṣṇa is kind enough to give a drop of the taste of the nectar for which we are always anxious, we realize how much we have in our life that is not giving us this nectar (amrita – deathless) and how much we have in our life that is actually producing death.

Talks With Dad

I once read a book in which a woman said that the walks she took with her dad when she was young were the defining moments of her life because she learned so much during those walks. I have always felt the same way about japa. My time with the holy name is the most valuable time of my day. Good chanting always gives me realization, strength, determination, and taste. Those two hours with the holy name are the most valuable time of my day, and to waste those two hours on bad japa is the greatest loss. Once I blow those two hours with bad rounds, that’s it; I can’t buy them back. Thus, I miss the opportunity to have Dad enlighten me that morning.

Kṛṣṇa Enchants Me

When I chant well and am relishing Kṛṣṇa’s name, Kṛṣṇa’s form, words, and pastimes all become more attractive to me. On the evening of the 64 rounds day, Dravida Prabhu recited poems while showing slides of Kṛṣṇa. Those pictures, one’s I’ve seen many times before, all of a sudden were especially attractive and alluring to me. And those poems, although I’ve read them before, enchanted my mind like never before. My senses became purified and thus everything about Kṛṣṇa became more attractive. And the wonderful consequence of this is that everything not related to Kṛṣṇa became less attracted to me.

That’s Unacceptable

Bad chanting is unacceptable to me. I now have set the bar higher and when I go below the acceptable level, red flags go off in my mind. Poor chanting is not making me Kṛṣṇa conscious, so I reject it. The consequences of poor chanting are so undesirable that simply being aware of those consequences gets me back on track. I have accepted unacceptable japa too often – and that’s simply not acceptable any longer. If it is acceptable to me it means I am satisfied with poor chanting and not overly concerned about doing anything to improve. And if I am not concerned about improving my japa, it won’t get better on its own.

Good Chanting Produces More Good Chanting

How do I know I have chanted good rounds? One of the best indicators for me is that when I finish my rounds I want to keep chanting because I am getting such a nice taste. If I am relieved to put my bead bag down after my last round, that’s an indication that my chanting is not being done properly. Good chanting always produces a taste to chant more. Prabhupada said sixteen rounds is the minimum; that constant chanting is the goal.


Offer a prayer to the holy name that describes your aspirations to best serve the holy name, to go deeper into your relationship with the holy name. In order to help you with this exercise, I am including a prayer I wrote at the end of one of a japa retreat.


“My Dear Holy Name,

Please allow me to taste Your nectar, to fully experience Your presence, to feel joy and enthusiasm when I meet You. Please allow me to become attracted to You, to always hanker for your association, and to never become tired of spending time with you. And please reveal how You are non-different from your form, qualities and pastimes – how You are fully present in your name.

I pray that someday I will have as much attraction to chanting Your name as I now have for material things. And I pray that this attraction will be such that others want to chant and relish Your name just by being in my presence.

I have two special last requests:

Please allow me to feel affection for You when I chant Your name.

Please allow my heart to melt (at least one time in my life) when I chant Your name.”

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