One of the best ways to associate yourself with God, is through His name. All aspiring celibates should constantly be associating themselves with God. Chanting / Mantra repetition is one of the greatest ways to do this. God’s name or his Mantra is a deity in itself. It is God in the form of sound, and has descended from Om, to help you here on this plane where the mind and ears need something Divine to listen to.
The main reason I’m writing this is because I’ve recently been interacting with the ISKCON movement (Hare Krishna) and reading the writings of Prabhupada. As wonderful as this movement is, I have gripes with some elements of their teachings and the way they chant. I’m merely stating my issues here for the benefit of others who are chanting, but may have been mislead by certain “rules” laid down by an official from ISKCON.
The main issue I have is the speed in which they chant (and also teach others to chant). I recently popped into my local ISKCON and was pulled to one side and told to chant at a speed incomprehensible to the human ear. This has no benefit to anyone. It’s not a race. There is no bhakti in this kind of chanting. We only benefit from the name of God when we can hear it clearly and distinctly, to meditate upon so we can penetrate its mysteries. You can’t do when jabbering it like a lunatic so you can get a round done in record time.
After leaving the temple mildly disgruntled, I checked with Prabhupada on this issue; I found out that he himself said that a round (108 repetitions of the mantra) should take no more than 10 minutes. The quicker the better! Y’what? Is he serious?
To tell you the truth, I don’t even believe in “rounds” at all. Bhakti shouldn’t be measured by numbers. It should be about how intense the Lord’s name is felt in your heart and mind, and the feeling you put into your chanting. I chant slowly, clearly, from the heart, making sure every fibre of my being is connecting with the sounds of my lips. I also never keep count or use beads. It just doesn’t fit in with what I’m doing.
Another issue I had with the guy at ISKCON was his rule to keep the eyes shut while chanting. Others may disagree with me on this, but I believe you get a greater benefit from out-loud-chanting with eyes kept open. The vocalised mantra becomes an external deity, like a picture of a Saint or Guru; it’s an externalised sound, therefore for the mind to latch onto this external sound, it’s best to keep the eyes open. Muktananda kept this rule in his ashram for chanting sessions, and would hit people with his stick that shut their eyes during the chanting of the Guru Gita. He was very strict about it.
I’m not trying to be a spiritual big-shot here, or play Guru. All I’m saying is don’t let an Organization pin you down with rules and regulations or speed-goals with your chanting. Just chant from the heart. Chant like a child would call for its Mother. Don’t chant like a door-to-door salesman rattling off his terms and conditions.