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  • Writer's pictureJitendra Savanur

Screenless Chanting

(This article was inspired by conversations with my mentor, HG Mukundanand Das)

Nothing in the world today enamors us as much as ‘screens.’ Gone are the days when teachers in schools would chastise students for looking out of the window during classes. Now the window has been replaced by the mobile screen. ‘Screen’ may refer to any kind of screen, the mobile screen, the television screen, the computer screen and so on. In fact, this screen is such an amazing window (and much more dangerous), that with a click of a button, we can know what is going on throughout the whole world (and also what might not be going on around the world). I vividly remember myself as a child, glued to the television screen watching cartoons every evening, oblivious to the events happening around me, and after I grew up, to the computer screen, playing games that didn’t have any relevance whatsoever to my life.

Indeed, the world is designed in such way that it provides us with ample opportunities to drift away from what is utmost beneficial for us. Therefore, any material advancement, however beneficial it might be, has a small flip side to it, if not a huge one.The advancement in ‘screens’ is not an exception to this principle.

In Kali Yuga, the process recommended for spiritual emancipation is harinam or chanting of the Holy Names of God. The chanting of Hare Krishna maha mantra is particularly recommended for this age, as it has the potential to wipe off and cleanse our mind of all the impurities which come as a result of Kali Yuga (Kali Santarana Upanishad).Therefore we see that Srila Prabhupada recommended all serious practitioners of bhakti yoga to chant a prescribed number of rounds of Hare Krishna maha mantra daily (minimum 16).

But with the advent of technology, the avenues for the mind to dwell on unimportant things has also increased greatly, one such thing being the ‘screen’. And when this ‘screen’ is coupled with its good friend internet, it assumes massive potential. Although not bad in and of itself, and invented with the sole intention of ‘connectedness’ in a global environment, the internet provides us the opportunity to dive into useless things just by the click of a button. And this fascination with the internet often becomes a distracting force while chanting the Holy Names.

Given the fact that good chanting is the cause for most of our spiritual progress, it is very important that we do it in a focused way, to get maximum benefit out of it. Screenless chanting refers to chanting without being distracted by the ‘screen’. With applications like WhatsApp and Facebook being used by millions across the globe, it becomes very tempting to know what is going in and around our world.The list of such applications is indeed huge, and more huge is their impact on the human psych. And the mind seems to revolt in the strongest way when we are trying to chant with focus.

In the Padma Puran, Srila Vyasdeva lists out the ten offenses against the Holy Name, which all serious devotees should consciously avoid. Srila BhaktiVinoda Thakur points out that inattention or distraction is a serious offense which often leads to the other offenses to be committed. "Distraction in chanting produces a type of illusion, causing serious offenses against the holy name that are difficult to overcome. This illusion leads to craving for wealth, women, position, success, and cheating. When these material attractions cover the heart, one loses interest in chanting the holy name." (Harinama-chintamani). He goes on to discuss three types of inattention to chanting namely apathy, laziness and distraction. He categorizes these three types of inattention under pramada or madness. Indeed, a very strong categorization. According to acharyas, if we call out to Krishna by chanting His Names and simultaneously ignore Him by being distracted, it is not at all befitting a sincere sadhaka.

BhaktiVinoda Thakur, in his book Bhajana Rahasya lists out four types of obstacles to devotional service. They are:

1. Tattva Vibhrama (misconception of the Truth)

2. Asat-tṛṣṇā (desire for illusory ends)

3. Aparādha (offences)

4. Hṛdaya-daurbalya (weakness of the heart)

Asat-trsna or thirst for material objects which we have cultivated prior to our devotional life impels us to become distracted to the callings of the ‘screen’. Hrdaya daurbalyam or weakness of the heart further takes away whatever little determination we might have to tolerate the urge and continue our meditation. This leads to inattention and the subsequent offences we commit (aparadha). And when offences reach a threshold, we become bewildered about our conception of the Truth (tattva vibhrama). All these combined are enough to take away our taste for chanting the Holy Names and to serve Krishna with devotion. BhaktiVinoda Thakur also goes into intricate details of the above four offences, delineating what comprise each of the four categories.

Even after knowing the grave consequences of inattention, the mind still tries take us on a ride and sometimes it does so in such a systematic way that we do not even realize that we have come far off from the Holy Names, into our own world. To tackle this, Krishna gives a practical advice. In the sixth chapter of the Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “From whatever and wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the Self.”(BG 6.26). Thus, although the mind may flicker, we can consciously try to bring it back to Krishna.

When a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada was told to define Krishna Consciousness in one word, his immediate reply was, “Krishna Consciousness means absorption.” Thus, we have to go beyond the screens of inattentiveness in order to be better absorbed in Krishna. Addiction to screens is on the rise today. Being devotees, we are not exempt from the problems it could give rise to in our devotional life, if we allow it to. While there are many surveys conducted to show the world interesting statistics about internet addiction and the whole gamut of addictions that it brings along with itself, it is interesting to note that Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures also talk about distractions to the mind and ways and means to alleviate the problems faced due to an uncontrolled (or for that matter, distracted) mind.

Yes, we cannot and should not turn a blind eye to the good side of the ‘screen’ and internet. They have surely helped humanity in many ways by giving us a renewed way of living life while being closely connected with others. Even within the broad devotional culture, ‘screens’ and internet have proved to be helpful to gain quick access to festivals, events, discourses etc. happening all around the world, thus enabling us to appreciate bhakti by overcoming geographical limitations. Meditating on the Hare Krishna mantra or a beautiful form of Krishna on the screen while chanting can be a good way to dovetail the ‘screen’ in a devotionally enriching way. Yet, we need to acknowledge that this connectivity through ‘screens’ comes with a price to pay. And let us not pay that price by putting our connection with Krishna at stake.

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