By Ajit Krishna Dasa
Recently I read this on the internet:
Devotee : “Appears to be a myth going around ISKCON that we MUST sit down when chanting our rounds. The following anecdote from Srutakirti Das (“Srila Prabhupada Uvaca”, 62) debunks that myth:
It was easy to understand that Srila Prabhupada enjoyed chanting japa. He always stressed the importance of chanting our 16 rounds. He once told me that as a householder, he used a simple process for completing 16 rounds that we could apply. “When I was a householder,” he said, “I would chant four rounds before each meal and four rounds before retiring in the evening. In this way 16 rounds could be chanted without difficulty.” He laughed and said, “If you don’t take prasadam before chanting your four rounds then you will be sure to get them chanted.” In New Dwaraka he told me, “In the evening, if I get tired, I walk and chant. If you are tired, then walk and chant like I do. Sometimes, if I am tired, I pace back and forth in the room. Simply, in one room you can do everything. If you are tired, you can stand up and chant, like I do.
I seems to me that a few devotees would like to use this as an excuse for walking while chanting. We sometimes see devotees almost running around the temples rooms or outside while chanting. Walking has for many become the norm instead of something we only allow ourselves to do if we are too tired or passionate to sit down.
To get a clearer understanding of this issue, let us analyze what Prabhupada is ACTUALLY SAYING in the above quote:
(All emphasis added to improve your understanding)
“In the evening, IF I get TIRED, I walk and chant. IF you are TIRED, THEN walk and chant like I do. Sometimes, IF I am TIRED, I pace back and forth in the room. Simply, in one room you can do everything. IF you are TIRED, you can stand up and chant, like I do.”
What are we allowed to conclude from this quote? Logic only allows us to conclude that IF we are TIRED, THEN we may stand up or walk (Prabhupada repeats this “IF” four times) Contrary to what some devotees seem to think (or like) this particular quote is not evidence that we can just walk when we like and as we like. In and of itself this quote only allows us to conclude that IF we are tired, then we can stand up or walk.
What about the following quote?
Devotee: Prabhupada? We know that His divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati always sat very erect and it is stated here in the Bhagavad-gita that one should sit erect. Will this aid us in our concentrating on chanting our japa, if we try to concentrate, if we sit erect while chanting?
Prabhupada: No, no, it doesn’t require any sitting posture. But IF you can sit, IT HELPS YOU. IT HELPS YOU. IF YOU CAN SIT STRAIGHT LIKE THIS, IT WILL BE VERY NICE, IT CAN HELP, YES, YOU CAN CONCENTRATE IN CHANTING AND HEARING. Therefore these things ARE REQUIRED. But we are not very much particular about this. But he was brahmacari, he could sit like that. That is the sign of brahmacari. He was not a false brahmacari, but he was real brahmacari. (end) (Bhagavad-gita 6.47, Ahmedabad, December 12, 1972)
What can we infer from this quote? First of all we can conclude that…
1. IF you can sit IT HELPS YOU (Prabhupada repeats this three times)
2. IF you can sit it will be VERY NICE.
3. Sitting can help you concentrate in hearing and chanting.
Prabhupada goes on to say that these things are required, but then he immediately says that we are not very particular about it. Why not? Because we are not real brahmacaris like Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. This indicates that what Prabhupada is saying is that since we are fallen devotees we cannot be expected to follow this instruction even though it is the best and will help us in our hearing and chanting.
So standing up or walking while chanting is all right, but it is a lowering of the standard. It is a concession for people (like myself) who are too restless and disturbed to sit down while chanting. They have to be instructed in a lower standard.
We have to see things as they are, not as we would like them to be. Prabhupada does NOT say that walking while chanting is as good as sitting. On the contrary he says sitting is best, it helps in hearing and chanting. If you can’t sit – like if you are too tired or restless – then you can stand up or walk.
Some devotees might claim that is it easy to concentrate while walking. But that should not be the case. Yogic postures for meditation are designed to aid concentration and boost our energy, so we will not feel tired. Walking forces us to focus on navigating in the external environment and therefore forces your attention outside instead of inside and thus hinders the pratyahara and dharana stages of yoga – what to speak of dhyana and samadhi. Only a devotee far beyond the stage of anartha-nivrtti can see Krishna in everything and thus chant in all circumstances without loosing his Krishna consciousness. Before we reach such an advanced stage we will unavoidably be more or less inattentive to the holy names (the 11th offense which is the root cause of all other offenses) while we are on our “japa walk”.
Prabhupada said that if you go for first class you will get second class. But if you go for second class you will get fifth class. So why not aim for first class – in this case sitting while chanting? Why not try to make that the first priority? There is no reason to make excuses and justifying, preaching and practicing a lower standard as if it was as good as the higher standard.
As devotees we need to carefully consider the quality of our devotional service. Do we want to keep a lower standard all our lives risking not to go back to Godhead? Do we want to train new devotees to think that a lower standard is just as good as the highest standard? We also have to ask ourselves: “What do new devotees think, when they see senior devotees practicing and promoting a lower standard and claiming it to be just as good as the highest standard? New devotees can become discouraged when they realize senior devotees are not serious in their devotional practice and they might consider finding a better place to learn about devotional philosophy, culture and practice. If we would like to offer good devotional training, we must take chanting most seriously.
It is not a cheap thing.