By Héctor Rosario, PhD
As followers of Srila Prabhupada we all know his prescription to chant a minimum daily quota of 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna mahamantra. This is the minimum standard that he set for his followers and which all ISKCON devotees accept. This standard is actually based on the traditional Gaudiya Vaisnava minimum standard set by Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Of course, that standard is 100,000 names of Krishna daily, roughly equivalent to 64 rounds of Hare Krishna japa, according to Bhaktivinoda Thakura and other acaryas. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, echoing Lord Caitanya, considered those who could not adhere to this minimum standard to be fallen. ISKCON being a preaching movement and its members largely coming from western backgrounds meant that devotees found it difficult to adopt the traditional minimum standard of 64 rounds when Srila Prabhupada requested his disciples to do so. Therefore out of his causeless mercy Srila Prabhupada reduced the minimum number to a mere 16. The purpose of this essay is not to disparage that decision but instead is meant to enliven those who wish to increase their attachment for the holy names by, on an individual basis, going beyond the minimum standard.
“Purity is the force,” as Srila Prabhupada taught us. The more we chant the more we purify ourselves. The more pure we are the more effective our preaching will be, and the more any material problems and attachments will disappear. We believe that as more and more devotees increase their chanting, without neglecting other devotional duties, the result will be a stronger and purer ISKCON. Especially, if the leaders take this to heart, we may witness tremendous changes in our preaching efforts. We know of at least one sannyasi that is very supportive of increasing our chanting. He regularly holds japa retreats where he encourages his disciples to chant 64 rounds during special periods as a way to deepen their relationship with Krishna. ISKCON will certainly benefit from such initiatives. After all, as Bhaktivinoda Thakura teaches us, “Name is the means, Name is the end.”
Nevertheless, a doubt usually arises in the minds of many devotees: Is fixing the minimum number of rounds one chants beyond 16 going against Srila Prabhupada’s instructions? Let us read and reflect upon Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s and Srila Prabhupada’s words.
Sri Caitanya-bhagavata, Antya Khanda 9.121
prabhu bale jana lakshesvara bali kare
prati-dina laksha-nama ye grahana kare
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said: “Do you know who is a laksesvara? He is someone who chants one laksa or 100,000 holy names everyday.”
Purport by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada:
sri gaurasundera balibena jini pratidina laksha-nama grahana karibena, tanharai grihe bhagavan sevita hana
Sri Gaurasundera spoke as follows, “The Supreme Personality of Godhead accepts service only in the home of those who chant one hundred thousand names daily.”
bhagavan tanharai nikate bhoga-dravyadi grahana karena
The Lord accepts foodstuffs and other ingredients only from such personalities.
jini laksha-nama grahana karena na, tahara nikate haite bhagavan naivedya svikara-dvara seva-saubhagya pradana karena na
Those who don’t chant 100,000 names daily are never awarded the great fortune of rendering service to the Lord by offering Him naivedya (bhoga). This is because the Lord never accepts their offerings.
bhagavad-bhakta matrei pratyaha laksha-nama grahana karibena natuva vividha visaye asakta haiya bhagavad-seva karite asamartha haibena
The Lord continued, “Those who consider themselves devotees of the Lord must compulsorily chant 100,000 names of Krishna everyday otherwise they will gradually but surely become attached to varieties of sense-objects and thus become incapable to rendering any kind of service to the Lord.”
tajjanyai sri caitanyadevera asrita sakalai nyuna kalpe laksha-nama grahana kariya thakena. natuva gaurasunderera udeshya pradatta naivedya tini grahana karibena na.
Therefore all the devotees who have taken shelter of Lord Chaitanyadeva perform the chanting of a minimum of 100,000 names of Krishna daily as their first and primary duty. Because they know that if they don’t do so then Lord Gaurasundera will never accept the very bhoga (naivedya) which they cook for Him daily.
Sri Caitanya-bhagavata, Antya Khanda 9.122
se janera nama ami bali lakshesvara
tatha bhiksha amara na yai anya ghara
Lord Gauranga continued, “I call such a person a laksheshvara. I only accept meals in such a person’s house. I never go anywhere else.”
Purport by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada:
sri caitanya bhaktagana abhaktera sahita sambhashana karena na. jini bhaktivyatita karma, jnana o anyabhilashara kathaya pradatta tahara sahita bandhutva karibe na.
The devotees of Lord Sri Caitanya never talk with such non-devotees. They never do friendship with those who are engaged in the cultivation of karma, jnana or other desires which are devoid of bhakti.
pratyah laksha-nama grahana na karile patita vyaktiganera visaya-bhoga pravritti vriddhi paya, takhana ara tahara sri gaurasunderarera seva karite pare na
Those who don’t accept this vow of chanting 100,000 names daily, fall down even more although they were fallen in the first place. Thus their propensity for enjoying the senses
and sense-objects continually and steadily increases and ultimately they are not able to render any kind of service even to the most merciful Lord Gaurasundera.
lakshesvara vyatita gaura-bhaktira adarsa gaudiyajana kehai svikara karena na
This is the precise reason why the real Gaudiya-bhaktas do not accept any other ideal in Gaura-bhakti except the process of chanting 100,000 names of the mahamantra daily.
adhapatita va adhapete gana eka-matra bhajana-sabda-vacya sri-nama-bhajane vimukhata-vasata laksha-nama grahana karibara parivarte anya bhajanera chalana korena, taddvara tahadera kona mangala haya na.
Those spiritual aspirants who are already fallen or will fall down from spiritual life in the future are averse to this sole means of deliverance called nama-bhajana, which is the worship of the sound incarnation of God in the form of chanting 100,000 names of the Holy Names daily. Coming under the sway of their averseness to chant laksha-nama daily, they duplicitously invent other means of devotional service to justify their not chanting 100,000 names daily but it is to be clearly understood that by this action they will not achieve anything auspicious in their spiritual life.
Instruction of Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Caitanya-bhagavata, Madhya Khanda 23.77
prabhu bole kahilan ei maha-mantra
iha japa giya sabe koriya nirbandha
Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “Please hear this Hare Krishna mahamantra.. Everyone please chant this mahamantra daily in nirbandha. Then you will surely achieve all perfection.”
(Note: This is the meaning of ‘nirbandha’ applied to the mahamantra by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in Hari-nama-cintamani.)
caribara mala phirile eka grantha haya. eka grantha niyama kariya kramasah vriddhi karite karite 16 granthe eka laksha nama nirbandha haibe
4 malas (rounds) is equal to 1 grantha
16 granthas is equal to 1 nirbandha
1 nirbandha of the mahamantra is equal to 100,000 names of the Lord
(Note: 16 granthas is equal to 64 rounds of the mahamantra.)
Now, you may ask, but Srila Prabhupada instructed us to only chant 16 rounds. Why should we change that standard? Actually, we are not asking to change the institutional standard from 16 to 64 rounds. Our suggestion is simply that, on an individual basis, devotees should consider increasing their minimum daily vow of 16 to a higher number of rounds. At the very least we can avoid criticizing or belittling those who are attached to chanting more than 16 rounds. In fact, it is inspiring and refreshing to know that there are some devotees in ISKCON already chanting at least 64 rounds daily. The following quotes from Srila Prabhupada seem to fully support our position of raising the minimum of rounds from 16 to 64 on a voluntary basis.
Morning Walk, May 14, 1975, Perth:
Devotee (1): Srila Prabhupada, how can the position be reconciled if in Krishna consciousness one of the two, the husband or the wife, wants to enjoy sense gratification, but the other does not? Should there be separation then?
Prabhupada: No… They should be trained up. Sense enjoyment means not advanced in Krishna consciousness. As soon as one is advancing in Krishna consciousness, his sense enjoyment spirit will be reduced. That is the test. Bhaktih pareshanubhavo viraktir anyatra ca [SB 11.2.42]. The test is, how you are advancing in Krishna consciousness is the proportionate diminishing of sense enjoyment. That is the test. Just like cure of the disease means diminishing the fever, temperature. This is the test.
Devotee (1): What if that (material) fever is not being diminished?
Prabhupada: Then he should try to chant Hare Krishna mantra, instead of sixteen rounds, sixty-four rounds. That is the way. Sixteen rounds is the minimum. Otherwise Haridasa Thakura was 300,000. So you have to increase. That is the only remedy. If one has got determination, he will make progress without any trouble. That determination is very difficult, that determination, “I must be Krishna conscious fully.” That determination. Dridha-vratah.
Srila Prabhupada kindly left us the “only remedy” to reduce the spirit of sense enjoyment, which is the cause of falldowns and other problems. He says that we must have determination and increase the number of rounds to 64 daily to be able to lower the fever of lust and cure the material disease, the worst enemies in the development of our devotional service.
Letter to: Indira (Iris Mendoza), Ekayani (Esther Mendoza), San Francisco,
17 December, 1967
I am very glad to learn you are chanting 48 rounds. Actually it is all right that one should chant 64 rounds, even 16 rounds, so if one is able to chant more than 16 rounds up to 64, it is very good. You fix up your rounds. Try to increase it but never decrease it.
Srila Prabhupada is encouraging his disciples to chant more rounds. However, it should be done wisely and seriously. The key is that once you resolve to fix the number of rounds you must never decrease it.
Letter to: Hamsaduta, Hawaii, 23 March, 1969
Yes, it is very good if you can chant 64 rounds; this is very nice if you can do it.
Srila Prabhupada again approves of chanting more rounds provided that the devotee can do it. Notice the conditional statement: If you can chant 64 rounds, then it is very good. If you cannot, then we cannot conclude anything from this statement: it might or might not be good. But the point is that if one can do it, then that would be “very nice” in the eyes of Srila Prabhupada.
Letter to: Bhaktijana, Los Angeles, 12/2/1968:
I shall advise you again to chant always, increasing the counting, namely, 16 rounds is generally prescribed, but for the time being you can stop all other activities and increase the chanting to 64 rounds.
Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.24.70 purport:
That is the instruction given by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu in His Shikshashtaka 3. Kirtaniyah sada harih: [Cc. Adi 17.31] “The holy name of the Lord should be chanted twenty-four hours daily.” Therefore in this Krishna consciousness movement we request the devotees to chant at least sixteen rounds on their beads daily. Actually one has to chant twenty-four hours daily, just like Thakura Haridasa, who was chanting the Hare Krishna mantra three hundred thousand times daily. Indeed, he had no other business.
Notice that Srila Prabhupada says to chant at least 16 rounds. He has no objection to raising the minimum, as will be further shown by the following quotes.
Sri Caitanya-caritamrita Antya-lila 3.137 purport:
Surrender is the ultimate instruction of the Bhagavad-gita, but for one who cannot surrender to the lotus feet of Krishna, it is better to chant the Hare Krishna mantra constantly, under the instruction of Haridasa Thakura.
In our Krishna consciousness movement we are teaching our followers to chant the Hare Krishna mantra continuously on beads. Even those who are not accustomed to this practice are advised to chant at least sixteen rounds on their beads so that they may be trained.[…] Sada means “always.” Haridasa Thakura says, nirantara nama lao: “Chant the Hare Krishna mantra without stopping.” […] One’s real duty is to surrender to the lotus feet of Krishna, but if one is unable to do so, he should adopt this process, as introduced by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His most confidential servant, Namacarya Srila Haridasa Thakura. This is the way to achieve success in Krishna consciousness.
The Nectar of Devotion, Vrindavana, 20/10/1972:
Just like we have asked our students to finish sixteen rounds chanting minimum. Sixteen rounds is nothing. In Vrindavana there are many devotees, they chant 120 rounds. Like that. So sixteen rounds is the minimum. Because I know in the Western countries it is difficult job to finish 64 rounds or 120 rounds, like that. Minimum sixteen rounds. That must be finished.
Letter to Purusottama, Mumbai, 23/10/1973:
Because we have got many duties, [text missing] …ve minimized the amount to 16 rounds, otherwise [text missing] …minimum is 64 rounds, but Western people cannot [text missing] …this. So 16 rounds must be executed.
Nectar of Instruction, Verse 5, purport:
The Krishna consciousness movement prescribes sixteen rounds daily because people in the Western countries cannot concentrate for long periods while chanting on beads. Therefore the minimum number of rounds is prescribed. However, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura used to say that unless one chants at least sixty-four rounds of japa, he is considered fallen. According to his calculation, practically every one of us is fallen, but because we are trying to serve the Supreme Lord with all seriousness and without duplicity, we can expect the mercy of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is famous as patita-pavana, the deliverer of the fallen.
Srila Prabhupada on a Morning Walk, November 10, 1975, Bombay:
Lokanatha: Prabhupada, why we have chosen this sixteen as a number to chant the rounds?
Lokanatha: Why not less or more?
Prabhupada: We have fixed up sixteen?
Lokanatha: We are chanting sixteen.
Prabhupada: No. We say “Minimum sixteen.” Minimum.
Lokanatha: Why that sixteen minimum?
Prabhupada: If you can, sixteen thousand you can go. Sixteen rounds is the minimum. But if you are able to chant sixteen thousand rounds, that is welcome. We have got so much engagement. Still, we say, “We don’t find engagement.” This is our misfortune. Hare Krishna. Jaya. Haridasa Thakura was engaged in chanting and the prostitute came. She offered, “Let us enjoy.” “Yes, let me finish. Let me finish this chanting.” So much engagement, and still, we say, “No engagement.” He refused to have sex with a beautiful young girl because he had engagement. “First of all let me finish my engagement,” and we say we have no engagement. How unfortunate we are. [break] …says, kirtaniyah sada harih [Cc. Adi 17.31]. Twenty-four-hours engagement He has given, and we see there is no engagement.
Lokanatha: Some devotees have fixed different number than sixteen. Some are chanting twenty minimum or twenty-five.
Prabhupada: Yes. It should be increased.
Lokanatha: Is it recommended for our…
Prabhupada: But don’t decrease.. Don’t decrease; increase. Therefore one number is fixed. “At least this much I shall do.” That is sixteen rounds.
Lokanatha: But you are recommending sixteen as a minimum, and some devotees are choosing twenty as a minimum.
Prabhupada: So who forbids? Who says that “Don’t do it”?
Lokanatha: They can chant?
Prabhupada: Yes. That is wanted. But because you cannot do it, therefore we have fixed up this minimum. Sankhyata asankhyata Sankhyata means with vow, numerical strength. And asankhyata means there is no limit. [break]
Yasomatinandana: …are higher than any other activities or they are on the same platform? Any activities in Krishna consciousness… Is chanting the most exalted or…?
Prabhupada: Everything is exalted. Therefore there are nine processes. sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam pada-sevanam, arcanam vandanam dasyam [SB 7.5.23], so many. They are all exalted.
Yasomatinandana: So why is it recommended, chanting in this age particularly?
Prabhupada: Suppose if you have no temple, so you cannot perform arcana. So this is common, greatest common. It is not that because you have no temple, therefore your devotional service is stopped. There are other processes. You can do. Hare Krishna. Jaya..
Lokanatha: Prabhupada? If we chant more than sixteen rounds, so how can we know whether we are imitating Haridasa Thakura or following his footsteps?
Prabhupada: Imitation is also good. If you imitate Haridasa Thakura, that is also your great fortune, even if you imitate. [break] imitating, it does not mean you are condemned. Even if you imitate, that is also good. [break] If you have some other business and if you say, “Now I am imitating Haridasa Thakura, I cannot do it,” that is very bad. “I am busy in imitating Haridasa Thakura.” That is not good. That is very bad. [break]
Brahmananda: If the devotees are asked for service they say, “Oh, I have to chant.”
Prabhupada: “I am imitating.” Yes. “I am imitating Haridasa. This is my first business.” That is very bad.
Therefore the attitude is of the essence.
These exchanges suggest that if we are sincere about increasing our chanting then that is our “great fortune,” but if we just want to make an appearance of being a “big” devotee who has to chant rather than do service or preach, then that is “very bad.” The key is to fill our lives with Krishna consciousness and Krishna conscious activities by always remembering Lord Krishna and never forgetting Him. Chanting 32, 48, 64 or more rounds is an ideal way of accomplishing this goal.
We would suggest that devotees who want to increase their attachment to chanting not engage in making a show by broadcasting their increased practice. However, they should seek the association of like-minded devotees to gain strength in following their increased minimum daily vow.. As far as possible, we should not let the false ego get in the way of our sadhana, either by making a show of increased devotion or by having a condescending attitude toward those who are unable, for whatever reason, to increase their own chanting. Strictly following in our own private way and enthusiastically encouraging others to increase their attachment also, will lead to our quick advancement towards the goal of life, Krishna-prema. So, why don’t we chant (at least) one more round?
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.