Our spiritual practice should nourish us, it should supply us with a taste that is better than the taste that material activities and sense gratification provide us with. When our spiritual practice lacks this taste, the temptation of material life which then allures us with a seemingly greater taste is always close to us. And at that time we are in danger. However, if we can find taste in our spiritual practice we are safe on the spiritual platform.
The chanting of the Holy Names is recommended as the main practice in the present time period, the age of Kali. Thus we need to find out how we can actually experience superior, spiritual taste from it. Sometimes, I provoke my audience by saying, “You have not chanted in this kirtan.” “What? Didn’t you hear the good vibration?”, I can then read off some of their faces. What I mean is something else – a way of chanting recommended by the Vedic scriptures. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is expressed it like this: “The Vedic mantra pranava is the bow, the pure living entity himself is the arrow, and the target is the Supreme Being.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 7.15.42) Srila Prabhupada clarifies the meaning of the mystical language of this verse which carries a very deep message for everyone who wants to do proper kirtana: “[The living entity] takes the arrow of his purified life, and with the help of the bow—the transcendental chanting of pranava, or the Hare Krsna mantra – he throws himself toward the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”(purport to the same verse) When an archer shoots an arrow he needs to take aim, make an effort to pull the string and then let the arrow go. While chanting Hare Krsna you have to perform the same three practices: Take aim: the first thing you have to do when you sit down to chant is to direct your practice towards Lord Krsna. If you chant without any focus and simply sing and for the most part follow your thoughts, you will miss the goal. This is I believe the foremost reason why many devotees do not obtain significant realization when they do kirtana – they just relax. A lack of taking aim. So don’t chant mindlessly or mechanically. How do you take aim? You must become aware: “I’m sitting in the temple, we’re glorifying Krsna, it’s meant for His pleasure.” Here is a very nice verse that you can read or meditate on to tune yourself into a devotional attitude: “One is immediately freed from the clutches of maya if he seriously and sincerely says, ‘My dear Lord Krsna, although I have forgotten You for so many long years in the material world, today I am surrendering unto You. I am Your sincere and serious servant. Please engage me in Your service.’” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 22.33). It also helps to sit in front of the deities or a picture of Radha and Krsna.
The second rule is to make an effort. Just as an archer must make the effort to pull the string, you need to make the effort of consciously hearing your own chanting – one mantra at a time. When Srila Prabhupada was once asked how we can chant most effectively he answered: “Just try to listen to yourself chant sincerely”. Because we repeat the same mantra again and again, the mind has the tendency to switch off. Therefore we do need to make an effort as we chant. This is very important, because we do not want to switch off when being with Krsna. You have to hear own your sound, not the sound of the group when you sit in the kirtana, but your own chanting. It is your own offering to Krsna, it’s your own entering into the proximity of the Holy Name and you can’t do this if you are not present. So this is the effort: “You have to chant with your tongue, and you hear the sound, that’s all.” (Srila Prabhupada on a morning walk in Honolulu, Feb. 3, 1975)
The third rule is to ‘let go’. When you chant you have to let go of everything else and just surrender unto Krsna and then let the Holy Name act. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura asks the question “Whose prayer does Krsna hear?” and he gives the answer, “The prayer of one who submits unconditionally to the sixfold path of surrender.” In other words, if you don’t really mean it, if you don’t put your heart where you put your words, then the Lord doesn’t hear it. But He is only a sincere prayer away if you really turn to Him without any pretense. Krsna is immediately responsive to such kind of prayer, immediately. So when you chant, surrender: “Here I am, I’m Your’s. I’m doing this for Your pleasure.” Let go of any other plan or agenda. You are now there for Krsna, it is your personal time with God.