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What are the Benefits of Kirtan?

What are the Benefits of Kirtan?

Kirtan people experience:

• Inner peace

• Happiness

• Opening of the heart with feelings of love and compassion

• Connection with the Divine and other kirtan participants

• On occasion, goose bumps and tears as the heart jumps with joy

 

There are three authorities from which to understand the benefits of kirtan:
1. Personal experience

2. Academic research findings

3. The authority of Vedic-yoga texts.

 

Personal experience:
Most kirtan authorities share that the benefits of kirtan cannot be explained in words, it has to be experienced in order to be understood. How do you explain the taste of a mango to someone who has never tasted these fruits? You can intellectualise over the taste by saying its something like a cross between a peach, pineapple, and an orange, but until a person tastes a mango, they can never really know it’s flavour. The same is with the experience of kirtan – you have to experience it to know what it is. Sacinandana Swami put it eloquently when he wrote: “Words can show us the direction in which to look for the kirtan-experience, but only when you sit down, move towards your inner space, and then sing out, will you start to know what kirtan really is. Because at that time your soul will rise up and start to dance…”
Another thing is that different people will experience kirtan differently. Some people might immediately love it, like meeting a long lost friend or returning home after a long time away. Others might take a little while to get used to an unfamiliar experience. Additionally, kirtan can often sound raw and unpolished. Hence, some might find the mango a little green – immature and therefore unpalatable. But in India, people love green mangos (eaten with salt and chilli powder pickled) as much as they love ripe mangos. They can also discern between different varieties of mangos – some are sweeter and others have a slightly bitter taste, others stringy, and others are more or less firm. Similarly, a kirtan connoisseur can discern and appreciate different varieties and flavours of kirtan.

When the lead chanter and the group participants are sincere and sing from the heart with devotion – there is nothing in the world that has the power to move and uplift  like kirtan. When we look back on oury life, our happiest, most blissful moments, were all in kirtan.
Academic research findings:
In the past several years, with the increasing awareness and appreciation of kirtan in the Western yoga community, it has also come to attract the attention of academic researchers. In the USA, Black and Vaugn made kirtan the focus of their Masters theses (respectively in music and psychology), while Cooke made it the focus of her PhD in music. Each of these qualitative studies involved interviews with kirtan participants. Interestingly, three similar themes emerged relating to the benefits of kirtan. In each study it was found that kirtan:
1. Induces a powerful sense of connection with the Divine.

2. Induces trance like meditative states of altered consciousness, including feeling of spiritual upliftment that last long after the kirtan event has concluded.

3. Opens the heart, allowing greater connection and community amongst other kirtan participants, even those of diverse backgrounds and traditions.

The teachings of the Vedic-yoga texts

Interestingly, study of the Vedic-yoga texts reveals similar themes, but describes the benefits of kirtan at a deeper level. This is a level that is not consciously perceptible to the senses. My analysis of the Vedic-yoga texts unveils five themes:

1. The first benefit is that kirtan chanting destroys negativity. The Yoga Sutras (1.27-31) state that chanting om destroys “disease, procrastination, laziness, doubt, pain, nervousness, and lamentation”. According to the Vedic-yoga tradition, such negative conditions as disease, and mental distress are the result of deeper negative psychological impressions from unwholesome actions performed even in previous lifetimes – bad karma. Therefore, the more important benefit of kirtan is that it destroys the seeds of negativity waiting to sprout as the result of negative karma from previous lifetimes. In this regard, the Brhad-vishnu Purana goes as far as saying that chanting one holy name destroys more negative karma than a person is able to commit. It is natural that when a person is free from the burden of negativity they will be peaceful and happy. This leads us to…
2. The second benefit is that it awakens blissfulness or natural joy within the heart. Arjuna declares in the Bhakgavad-gita (11.36), “the world becomes joyful upon hearing your name”.
3. The third benefit of kirtan is that it is easy to perform. The Skanda Purana states that chanting the name of Hari (a name of the Divine which means one who takes away all distress) just once, guarantees liberation. Because it is easy, it is also described as the most practical method for attaining spiritual perfection, particularly in this age, hence…
4. The fourth benefit is that it is described as the topmost spiritual process. The Srimad Bhagavatam describes kirtan as the “ultimate spiritual practice” (6.3.22) and as the “doubtless and fearless way of success” (2.1.11) in any endeavour – spiritual or material. Similarly, Bhagavad-gita (10.25) describes it as the topmost form of sacrifice.
5. Finally, the fifth benefit of kirtan is that it creates Divine connection, which is the greatest of all benefits. This connection transpires both as the experience of Divine presence and as the awakening loving affection. Regarding the experience of Divine presence, Krishna tells Narada in the Padma Purana; “My dear Narada, actually I do not reside in my abode, Vaikuntha, nor do I reside in the heart of the yogis, but I reside in that place where devotees sing my holy names”.
The loving affection that awakens in the heart during kirtan is mutual both for the chanter and the Divine. The chanter comes to love the Divine, as Arjuna tells Krishna in in the Bhagavad-gita (10.25) that when people hear Your name “everyone becomes attached to you”. Likewise, the Divine comes to loves the chanter ever more. In this regard Krishna declares in the Adi Purana, “When a person chants My name, whether out of devotion or indifference, then the chanters name will remain forever in My heart. I will never forget such a soul”.

So you can see, the benefits of kirtan described in the Vedic-yoga texts is similar to those people explain from their personal experience, but it goes further by describing benefits at a level that is beyond the purview of our limited sensory perception.

For example, while people describe that kirtan relieves distress and induces a state of peace. The Vedic-yoga texts reveal, however, that the effects of kirtan destroy negative karma even from previous lives that is yet un-manifest.
Similarly, while people describe a felt sense of spiritual connection. The yoga texts reveal that this connection is mutual and reciprocated by the Divine, who “will never forget” the name of the person who chants the holy name.

Chaitanya is the personality who 500 years ago, revolutionised spirituality in India by promoting kirtan as the easiest and most practical path to enlightenment. He wrote eight stanzas of spiritual instruction called the Shikshastakam. The first of these stanzas summarises the teachings of the Vedic-yoga texts by describing seven benefits to chanting similar those described above. These are that kirtan:
1. Cleanses the heart of all sinful impressions and desires

2. Destroys all suffering by ending the cycle of birth and death

3. Awakens all auspiciousness and good fortune

4. Reveals knowledge of ones true spiritual nature and relationship with the Divine

5. Awakens the highest bliss

6. Delivers the nectar of immortality

7. Allows one to share the highest Divine love by purifying one of all selfish desires for personal pleasure.

  

Excerpt from The Perfection of Yoga, an edited series of lectures on the sixth chapter of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada:

In India there are sacred places where yogis go to meditate in solitude, as prescribed in Bhagavad-gita.

Traditionally, yoga cannot be executed in a public place, but insofar as kirtan—mantra-yoga, or the yoga of chanting the Hare Krishna mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—is concerned, the more people present, the better.

When Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was performing kirtan in India some five hundred years ago, He organized in each group sixteen people to lead the chanting, and thousands of people chanted with them.

very possible and actually easyThis participation in kirtan, in the public chanting of the names and glories of God, is very possible and is actually easy in this age; but as far as the meditational process of yoga is concerned, that is very difficult.

It is specifically stated in Bhagavad-gita that to perform meditational yoga one should go to a secluded and holy place. In other words, it is necessary to leave home. In this age of overpopulation it is not always possible to find a secluded place, but this is not necessary in bhakti-yoga.

In the bhakti-yoga system there are nine different processes: hearing, chanting, remembering, serving, worshiping the Deity in the temple, praying, carrying out orders, serving Krishna as a friend and sacrificing for Him.

Out of these, sravanam kirtanam, hearing and chanting, are considered the most important.

At a public kirtan one person can chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, while a group listens, and at the end of the mantra, the group can respond, and in this way there is a reciprocation of hearing and chanting.

This can easily be performed in one’s own home, with a small group of friends or with many people in a large public place.

One may attempt to practice meditational yoga in a large city or in a society, but one must understand that this is one’s own concoction and is not the method recommended in Bhagavad-gita.

Conclusion


In conclusion, analysis of people’s personal experience as well as the Vedic-yoga teachings reveals that kirtan offers wonderful material, emotional, and spiritual benefits – for body, mind, and spirit. Sometimes kirtan is compared to India’s legendary kalpa-vrksa “wish-tree”, which can grant wishes. So why limit our comparison of kirtan to a mango which must be experienced to know its flavour? A wish-tree can deliver pineapples, coconuts, and anything else you might desire.

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