The ongoing Sunday meditation class includes 20-25 minutes of chanting as well as the usual 30 minutes of meditation. We chant to CDs by Krishna Das, as well as other chanting masters.
Chanting engages the energy of the heart center and releases the flow of love and devotion. It also stirs the moving center which activates the kundalini, the spiritual power latent in every human being. The intellect is not left out, for one can contemplate the qualities of the divine which are evoked and praised as the many names of God are chanted.
The practice of chanting is a powerful method of focusing the mind, turning it inward and arousing the spiritual energy of meditation. It enhances the experience of meditation in a joyful and effortless way.
Recently someone new to chanting asked me why there are so many names for God. It occurred to me that it is the same reason that the desert dwelling peoples have so many names for sand and the Arctic dwelling peoples have so many names for snow. Because sand or snow have been so germane to their very existence, the nuances and subtleties of these phenomena have been studied and noted in great detail And so it is with the peoples of India, who have specialized in spirituality for millennia. The cultures of India have been the source for so many great masters, saints and inspirational giants. Some even say that the Abrahamic religions had their source in India and that Abraham was “a brahmin.” There is an esoteric tradition that claims that Jesus Christ had an Indian master. Whether or not these claims have historical truth, they point to the spiritual power of the holy land of India.
Although I love chanting and spent several decades of its daily practice, I have been hesitant to include it in my teaching of meditation. I did not want to introduce any “foreign” practices that included Sanskrit or Tibetan – or practices that involved deities unfamiliar to Westerners. I prefer a simple focus on the goal of meditation – what we truly are. This goal is our deepest nature as human beings and does not require exotic practices to access.
However, one of my primary practices is to surrender to the flow – to follow the breadcrumbs, as it were. At the recent retreat I was inspired to teach on mantra and to introduce chanting. It seems that I am returning to my Hindu roots and more and more feeling the invisible hand of my root guru, Baba Muktananda, urging me to share the gifts I received from him.
Another primary practice of mine comes from the path of the bodhisattva and is to strive to be of benefit to sentient beings. As a meditation teacher, I cannot help but be aware that practices which engage the heart and body are of great benefit to meditators.
I also realize that, at least in Arcata, California, chanting is hardly a foreign or exotic practice. Although it is not quite as American as pizza, I suspect that it is moving in that direction. When I was growing up in the Midwest in the 40’s pizza was unknown. In the 50’s, I experienced it as an ethnic food and now it is as American as apple pie. May it be so with the beautiful spiritual gifts of the sacred land of India!
In the early 70’s in India, we chanted with Baba as a spiritual practice. There was no “band.” There was no emphasis on performance or display. It was taught as a yoga and it didn’t matter whether one could pronounce the words properly or sing on key. The important thing was the feeling, the intention and the immersion in the experience of singing the praises of the divine. In following this early training, I will be using CDs of chanting masters famed for their pure devotion and authenticity of feeling. While their artistry is of great benefit, it is their mastery of chanting, or kirtan, as a yogic practice that is the primary value for me.