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Chanting Steven J. Rosen
“The benefit that one attained in the SatyaAge by meditation,in the Treta Ageby sacrifice,and in the Dvapara Ageby temple worship, can be had in the KaliAge merely by reciting the names of Krishna.” – Bhagavata Purana 12.3.52
Sonic Spirituality 78YOGAmagazine
A Sound Form of MeditationRoots andhas Ancient Modern Popularity
through sensual, mental, and intellectual levels of exis-Among the many existing forms of spiri-tence – all lower strata of consciousness – for the pur-tual practice, calling upon the name of God is central. pose of purification and spiritual enlightenment.The If bhakti, or devotional mysticism, is the essence of the sounds of different letters, particularly Sanskrit letters, spiritual path, which it is, then the practice of the have been shown to affect the mind, intellect, and audi-Name is the essence of the essence.That being so, I tory nerves of those who chant and hear them.The would like to outline the basic philosophy, culture, and seven energy centers (chakras) of the spinal column, it implications of such chanting – where it comes from is said, all respond to especially composed mantras, and where it seems to be going. bringing practitioners to elevated levels of awareness. To begin, the world’s earliest spiritual tradition – Most of these mantras are prayers, of sorts.There are embodied in theVedas– was steeped in mantras and literally millions of them, usually traceable to theVedas verbal intonations of sacred sound. Brahmin priests themselves, either in seed form or in full phrases, as performed sacrifices with the help of mantras, the they are chanted today.The “seed-form” mantras would proper pronunciation of which was crucial for maxi-1be incomprehensible to most people; unless one is a mum effect. Sanskritist, it is difficult to know what an ancient mono-Portions of theVedic literature read almost like text-syllabic utterance represented in bygone eras. books on chanting, informing devotees about an Otherwise, the full prayers, though in Vedic language, are ancient art in which sound was used as a spiritual tool. easily translated into English.A famous one runs as fol-The same concept reverberated in lands as diverse as lows: “Lead me from nonbeing into being, from dark-Egypt and Ireland, which tell of a time when mystical ness to light, from death to immortality.” vibrations were harnessed by spiritual adepts for the 2 benefit of mankind.Like the Bible, which states “In the THE POWER OF GOD’S NAMES beginning was the Word” (John 1.1), theVedic scrip-The spiritual sounds most lauded inVedic texts are tures affirm that the entire cosmic creation began with the names of God.These sounds are said to have pow-sound: “ByHis utterance the universe came into ers that surpass those of any other uttered word. being” (Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad 1.2.4).Vaishnava Vaishnava texts state that in much the same way that texts add that ultimate liberation comes from sound 3one can awaken a person who is sleeping by making a as well, in the form of chanting. sound or calling out his name, man can awaken from his The Vedictexts developed chanting into a science. conditioned, materialistic slumber by calling out the Mantras, or sacred sounds, were used to pierce name of God. In fact, the world’s major religious tradi-tions concur in regard to the impor-All TheNames tance of God’s name. For example, in the Bible, King David Praise of God’s holy name is foundof the Lord, one can become free from throughout the literature of thematerial bondage and be promoted to thepreached:“From the rising of the sun to Vaishnavas, particularly in theBhagavatatranscendental kingdom.its setting, the name of the Lord is to be Purana.Here are some examples:(Bhagavata Purana 12.3.51)praised”(Psalms 113.3); Saint Paul said, Oh, how glorious are they whose tonguesDevotional service, beginning with the“Everyone who calls upon the name of are chantingYour holy name! Even if origi-chanting of the holy name, is the ultimatethe Lord will be saved”(Romans 10.13); nally lowborn dog-eaters, they are to bereligious principle for the living entity in Mohammed, in the Koran (87.2), coun-considered worthy of worship.To havehuman society. seled,“Glorify the name of your Lord, the reached the point of chanting the Lord's(Bhagavata Purana 6.3.22) most high”;Buddha declared,“All who name, they must have executed various The holy name of Krishna is the spiritually sincerely call upon my name will come to austerities andVedic sacrifices and achieved blissful giver of all benedictions, for it is me after death, and I will take them to all the good qualities of true Aryans. If they Krishna Himself, the reservoir of pleasure. paradise”(Vows of Amida Buddha, 18); are chantingYour holy name, they must Krishna's name is complete in itself and is and theVaishnava scriptures repeatedly have bathed in all holy rivers, studied the the essential form of all spiritual relation-assert:“Chant the holy name, chant the Vedas and fulfilled all prescribed duties [if ships. It is not a material name under any holy name, chant the holy name of the not in this life, then in previous ones]. condition, and it is no less powerful than (Bhagavata Purana 3.33.7)Lord. In this age of quarrel there is no Krishna Himself.This name is not tinged by other way, no other way, no other way to My dear king, although Kali-yuga is full ofany aspect of material nature, because it is attain spiritual enlightenment”(Brihad-faults, there is still one good quality aboutidentical with Krishna. this age: simply by chanting the holy name(Padma Purana 3.21)Naradiya Purana 3.8.126).
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