Chanting Hare Krishna on Japa Beads
There are no hard-and-fast rules for chanting Hare Krishna. The most wonderful thing about mantra meditation is that one may chant anywhere–at home, at work, driving in the car, or riding on the bus or subway. And one may chant at any time.
There are two basic types of chanting. Personal meditation, where one chants alone on beads, is called japa. When one chants in responsive fashion with others, this is called kirtana. Kirtana is usually accompanied by musical instruments and clapping. Both forms of chanting are recommended and beneficial.
You Need a Set of Japa Beads
To perform the first type of meditation, one needs a set of japa beads. These may be purchased from KrishnaStore.com:
Or, if you like, you can make your own japa beads at home.
If you decide to make your japa beads, follow these simple instructions:
- Buy 109 large round beads (at least as big as a dime), and some strong, thick nylon thread.
- Tie a knot about six inches from the end of a long piece of the thread and then string the beads, tying a knot after each one.
- After stringing 108 beads, pull the two ends of thread through one large master bead.
- This bead is called the Krishna bead. Tie a knot next to it and cut off the excess thread. You now have your own set of japa beads.
To meditate with the beads, hold them in your right hand. Hold the first bead with your thumb and middle finger (see illustration at the top of the article) and chant the complete maha-mantra—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Then go to the next bead, holding it with the same two fingers, again chanting the entire mantra. Then go on to the next bead and then the next, continuing in this way until you have chanted on all 108 beads and have come to the Krishna bead.
You have now completed “one round” of chanting. Do not chant on the Krishna bead, but turn the beads around and chant on them in the opposite direction, one after another. Chanting on beads is especially helpful, for it engages the sense of touch in the meditative process and helps you concentrate even more on the sound of the mantra.
You may want to chant japa indoors, but you can chant just as comfortably walking along the beach or hiking in the mountains. Just bring your beads along with you. If you chant sitting down, you should assume a comfortable position (preferably not lying down or slouching, for there’s always the tendency to fall asleep).
You can chant as loudly or as softly as you like, but it’s important to pronounce the mantra clearly and loudly enough to hear yourself. The mind may have a tendency to wander off to other matters when you chant, for the mind is flickering and unsteady, always looking for something new and pleasurable to absorb itself in. If your mind wanders (to anything except Krishna and things related to Him), gently bring it back to the transcendental sound vibration. It won’t be difficult, because the mind is easily satisfied when absorbed in the divine sound of the Lord’s holy names (unlike other meditational practices, where one may be asked to fix his mind on “nothing” or “the void”).
One may chant japa at any time, but the Vedic literatures note that certain hours of the day are most auspicious for performing spiritual activities. The early morning hours just before and after sunrise are generally a time of stillness and quietude, excellently suited to contemplative chanting. Many people find it especially helpful to set aside a certain amount of time at the same time each day for chanting. The recommended minimum for serious chanters is sixteen rounds. In the beginning you may find the chanting difficult but the more you chant Hare Krishna the more you become purified and the more you become attached to chanting Hare Krishna.
While japa is a form of meditation involving you, your beads, and the Supreme Lord, kirtana, on the other hand, is a form of group meditation, where one sings the mantra, sometimes accompanied by musical instruments. You may have seen a kirtana party chanting on the streets of your city, for the devotees frequently perform this type of chanting to demonstrate the process and allow as many people as possible to benefit from hearing the holy names.
One may hold a kirtana at home with family or friends, with one person leading the chanting and the others responding. Kirtana is more of a supercharged meditational process, where in addition to hearing oneself chant, one also benefits by hearing the chanting of others. Musical instruments are nice, but not necessary. One may sing the mantra to any melody and clap his hands. If you have children, they can sing along as well and make spiritual advancement. You can get the whole family together every evening for chanting.
The sounds of the material world are boring, hackneyed and monotonous, but chanting is an ever-increasingly refreshing experience. Make a test yourself. Try chanting some word or phrase for even five minutes. If you chant “Coca-Cola” over and over again, even for a few minutes, it becomes practically unbearable. There’s no pleasure in it. But the sound of Krishna’s names is transcendental, and as one chants he wants to chant more and more.
Enhancing Your Chanting
Although one receives immense benefit however and whenever one may chant Hare Krishna, the great spiritual masters who are authorities on chanting suggest that the practitioner employ certain practical techniques that will enhance the chanting and bring quicker results as well.
The more one chants, the more easily he will be able to follow the principles listed below, for as one chants, he gains spiritual strength and develops a higher taste. When one begins to relish spiritual pleasure from chanting, giving up bad habits that may hinder one’s spiritual progress becomes much easier.
1. Just by chanting Hare Krishna, one will automatically want to follow the four regulative principles of spiritual life:
A. No eating of meat, fish, or eggs.
B. No intoxication.
C. No gambling.
D. No illicit sex (sex outside of marriage or not meant for the procreation of God conscious children).
The four above-mentioned activities make it especially difficult for one to progress in spiritual life, because they increase one’s attachment to material things. Therefore they are not recommended for one who has taken up the chanting of Hare Krishna. The chanting is so powerful, however, that one may begin chanting at any stage, and the chanting will help one to make the necessary adjustments.
2. One should read Srila Prabhupada’s books every day, especially the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. If one simply hears about God, His uncommon activities and transcendental pastimes, the dust accumulated in the heart due to long association with the material world will be cleansed. By regularly hearing about Krishna and the spiritual world, where Krishna enjoys eternal pastimes with His devotees, one will fully understand the nature of the soul, true spiritual activities, and the complete procedure for obtaining release from the material world.
3. In order to be more fully immunized against material contamination, one should eat only prasadam, vegetarian foods that have been spiritualized by being offered to the Supreme Lord. There is a karmic reaction involved when one takes the life of any living being (including plants), but the Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita that if one offers Him vegetarian foods, He will nullify that reaction.
4. One should offer the fruit of one’s work to the Supreme Lord. When one works for his own pleasure or satisfaction, he must accept the karmic reactions to his activities, but if one dedicates his work to God and works only for His satisfaction, there is no karmic reaction. Work performed as service to the Lord not only frees one from karma, but awakens one’s dormant love for Krishna.
5. As much as possible, one who is serious about chanting Hare Krishna should associate with other like-minded persons. This gives one great spiritual strength.
Srila Prabhupada has instructed that serious devotees must follow the four regulative principles mentioned earlier and chant each day on japa beads a minimum of sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna maha mantra. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the incarnation of Krishna who popularized the chanting of the holy names five hundred years ago in West Bengal, India, introduced the system of chanting a fixed number of rounds each day. Careful completion of sixteen rounds daily will help the disciple to remember Krishna always.
In essence the main principle of Krishna consciousness is to always remember Krishna and to never forget Krishna. And chanting Hare Krishna is the simplest way of maintaining this constant state of God consciousness, for the mystical potency contained in the mantra’s vibration will always keep you in touch with Krishna and your own original, spiritual nature.
All of Krishna’s innumerable spiritual potencies, including His transcendental pleasure principle, are contained in His holy names. Therefore, the pleasure you will feel as you begin to chant will be far, far greater than any material happiness you have ever experienced. And the more you chant Hare Krishna, the happier you will feel.
We can follow Haridasa Thakura’s example, however, by chanting sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on our beads every day and offering respect to the Tulasi plant. This is not at all difficult for anyone, and the process of chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra with a vow before the Tulasi plant has such great spiritual potency that simply by doing this one can become spiritually strong.
Important Mantras to Chant First
As preachers of the Krishna consciousness movement, we first offer our obeisances to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu by chanting this Panca-tattva mantra; then we say Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. There are ten offenses in the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, but these are not considered in the chanting of the Panca-tattva mantra, namely, sri-krsna-caitanya prabhu-nityananda sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is known as maha-vadanyavatara, the most magnanimous incarnation, for He does not consider the offenses of the fallen souls. Thus to derive the full benefit of the chanting of the maha-mantra (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare), we must first take shelter of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, learn the Panca-tattva maha-mantra, and then chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. That will be very effective. (Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila 7.4)
nama om visnu-padaya krsna-presthaya bhutale
srimate bhaktivedanta svamin iti namine
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krishna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet.”
“Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Sarasvati Gosvami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Caitanyadeva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism.”
sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda.
Hare Krishna Maha Mantra:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
We always have to chant Srila Prabhupada’s pranam mantras and the Panca-Tattva mantra before chanting Hare Krishna. But different devotees have different opinions on the fine details. Personally I chant Srila Prabhupada’s pranam mantras before I start chanting on beads and before chanting each round I chant the Panca-Tattva maha-mantra once. Some devotees suggest chanting Prabhupada’s pranam mantras also before every round and some other devotees will just chant Hare Krishna with no other mantras before each round.
These are small details and the main point is we have to chant Prabhupada’s pranam mantras and the Panca-Tattva maha-mantra before we chant the Hare Krishna mantra. Everyone agrees on this although different devotees may achieve this in slightly different ways. Personally I recommend you chant Srila Prabhupada’s pranam mantras before you start chanting on beads and chant the Panca-Tattva maha-mantra once before each round of the Hare Krishna mantra you chant.
Respect for Japa Beads
We need to respect our japa beads. They should be kept in a bead bag generally and we should not allow the beads to touch the floor or our feet and in general we should be careful with our japa beads. Although there are no rules and regulations as to where we can chant Hare Krishna, for example it is perfectly OK to chant Hare Krishna in the bathroom, we can not take our japa beads into the bathroom.
Become Spiritually Strong
Haridasa Thakura used to chant the holy name on his beads 300,000 times daily. Throughout the entire day and night, he would chant the sixteen names of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. One should not, however, imitate Haridasa Thakura, for no one else can chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra 300,000 times a day. Such chanting is for the mukta-purusa, or liberated soul.
We can follow his example, however, by chanting sixteen rounds of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra on beads every day and offering respect to the tulasi plant. This is not at all difficult for anyone, and the process of chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra with a vow before the tulasi plant has such great spiritual potency that simply by doing this one can become spiritually strong.
Therefore we request the members of the Hare Krishna movement to follow Haridasa Thakura’s example rigidly. Chanting sixteen rounds does not take much time, nor is offering respects to the tulasi plant difficult. The process has immense spiritual potency. One should not miss this opportunity.
Chant 16 Rounds Every Day Without Fail
It is most important that our activities be regular or, in other words, on a schedule. Everyone should chant his beads sixteen rounds daily without fail and follow the regulative principles strictly. These basic Krishna Conscious duties are essential to be performed regularly, and they will give you the necessary strength of spirit to keep always fixed up in devotional service. As soon as a devotee is regularly engaged in this way, always engaged in Krishna Consciousness, Krishna will reveal the whole spiritual science from within the heart of such sincere devotee. (70-02-19 Letter: Sucandra)
Please follow the regulative principles strictly, and chant daily sixteen rounds of beads regularly without fail. This is the essential process for dissolving the clouds of illusion or maya; and when the cloud of illusion is removed, then we can understand Krishna Consciousness perfectly and that is the highest perfection of human life. So be fixed in devotional service, chant Hare Krishna mantra and be happy. I am waiting to hear of your further progress in spreading this Krishna Consciousness movement for the benefit of all concerned. (70-03-06 Letter: Nityananda)
My request to all of you is that you very seriously stick to the principles of devotional service as you have learned them, and especially observe strictly the four prohibitions and without fail always chant at least 16 rounds on your beads daily. In this way you will be always happy.
Now you have got the golden opportunity of this human form of life, and it is not by accident that you have met your spiritual master, so if you are actually intelligent you will stick very tightly to your position of Krishna Consciousness and go back to home, back to Godhead. The essential point to remember is that you should try always to please your spiritual master under every condition. That means to follow his orders and instructions very carefully. My first instruction to all of my disciples is that they should help me spread this Krishna Consciousness movement all over the world, utilizing their energy as best they are able to do it. In this way, keeping yourselves always engaged in Krishna’s business 24 hours, you will become free from all attachment to maya by Krishna’s grace. Just as when the darkness and the light come together, the darkness cannot stand before the light, so maya cannot remain in the presence of Krishna. Always remember therefore to chant Hare Krishna and that will save you in all circumstances without any doubt. (73-01-09 Letter: Hasyakari )
In the Naradiya Purana it is directed: “One should not accept more than necessary if he is serious about discharging devotional service.” The purport is that one should not neglect following the principles of devotional service, nor should one accept the rulings of devotional service which are more than what he can easily perform. For example, it may be said that one should chant the Hare Krishna mantra at least 100,000 times daily on his beads. But if this is not possible, then one must minimize his chanting according to his own capacity. Generally, we recommend our disciples to chant at least 16 rounds on their japa beads daily, and this should be completed. But if one is not even able to chant 16 rounds, then he must make it up the next day. He must be sure to keep his vow. If he does not strictly follow this out, then he is sure to be negligent. That is offensive in the service of the Lord. If we encourage offenses, we shall not be able to make progress in devotional service. It is better if one fixes up a regulative principle according to his own ability and then follows that vow without fail. That will make him advanced in spiritual life. (Nectar of Devotion 7)
Immense Spiritual Potency
“We request you to chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, and your life will be sublime. (69-10-08 Letter: Krsna dasa)
Haridasa Thakura used to chant the holy name on his beads 300,000 times daily. Throughout the entire day and night, he would chant the sixteen names of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. One should not, however, imitate Haridasa Thakura, for no one else can chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra 300,000 times a day. Such chanting is for the mukta-purusa, or liberated soul.
We can follow his example, however, by chanting sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on beads every day and offering respect to the tulasi plant. This is not at all difficult for anyone, and the process of chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra with a vow before the tulasi plant has such great spiritual potency that simply by doing this one can become spiritually strong. Therefore we request the members of the Hare Krishna movement to follow Haridasa Thakura’s example rigidly. Chanting sixteen rounds does not take much time, nor is offering respects to the tulasi plant difficult. The process has immense spiritual potency. One should not miss this opportunity. (Caitanya-caritamrta Antya-lila 3.100)