Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #31 – Chant and Be Bored

August 5th, 2019

Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī was not bored:

 

“I do not know how much nectar the two syllables ‘Kṛṣ-ṇa’ have produced. When the holy name of Krishna is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the holy name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert.” (Vidagdha-mādhava 1.15)

 

Is this our experience? Do we sometimes, often, or even always get bored by the repeated recitation of the holy names?

 

Chanting the same syllables over and over again? How can something so monotonous not be boring?

 

Obviously, others have a different experience. Although they repeat the same syllables again and again, their chanting becomes more, not less, exciting. How can that be?

 

Friedrich Nietzsche was not a theist, but he said some things about boredom that I think are relevant to our discussion. He described boredom as the “unpleasant calm that precedes the creative storm”, and described that he who never fortifies himself against boredom “will never drink the most powerful elixir from his own innermost spring”.

 

I think what Nietzsche portrayed about tolerating periods of external dullness to reap the benefit of inner excitement is especially applicable to those struggling with meditation. In meditation, when one withdraws from external objects boredom may arise, especially today when we are so conditioned by the fast, intense, and changing stimuli of the world. When we resist moving towards those impulses, however, one’s consciousness automatically becomes redirected inward to the self, and the experience of meditation becomes dynamic. We then gain faith that our temporary struggle to focus was indeed only the entrance to something deeper and exciting.

 

In bhakti meditation there is something even more. The object of meditation is not just a prop to still the mind, but the holy names of God, which is a direct manifestation of the Divine in sound. As we have an innate relationship with God, and there is a natural energy called “love” between beings in relationship, when we meditate on the names of God, the energy of that relationship, which is the highest love called prema, gradually awakens.[1] The repeated recitation of the same words, which initially may have felt somewhat monotonous, then becomes an object of great attraction, and in time one surely drinks “the most powerful elixir from his own innermost spring”.

 

Boredom is, therefore, ultimately not what we are doing, but how we feel. We are thus never bored in deep devotion, regardless of how much we withdraw from external stimulation. Bhakti yogis have chanted the same names of God over and over again with increasing internal relish despite withdrawing their senses from the world. The example of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, the guru of Śrīla Prabhupāda, immediately comes to mind. He took the vow of Nāmācārya Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura and sat in the jungles of Māyāpur for ten years chanting one billion names of God.[2] He certainly was never bored.

 

Now the real question: What does this have to do with us? We are speaking here not about an attainment, but rather a principle that is certainly applicable to us — to advance in meditation one must initially tolerate the withdrawal of one’s consciousness from external stimuli with the faith that shortly one will enter into something deeper. Even one who has achieved samādhi in his meditation never starts at the level of samādhi. They have to rev up the consciousness first through the preceding stages of dhāraṇa and dhyāna before again getting up to the level of samādhi. It is like a car that has potential for fifth gear, but every time needs to go through the other gears first to get there.

 

In other words, we don’t start any activity at our full potential, especially meditation. We may have to initially tolerate, as Nietzsche said, “the unpleasant storm before the creative force” to awaken some real interest or feeling for the mantra. Our daily potential is surely not samādhi, but if we concentrate for a set period of time every day without interruption, then even a sincere beginner will feel that energy of connection to the divine, an experience that should allow us to get over the initial challenge of chanting that at times may feel tedious. We can then chant and be happy, rather than chant and be bored.

 

“I am never bored; to be bored is an insult to one’s self.”
― Jules Renard

 

 


[1] Verse two of Nārada-bhakti-sūtra states sā tv asmin parama-prema-rūpā; that the highest form of love is to God.

[2] One billion names is 192 rounds a day for ten years.

 

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