Is Chanting Necessary?


I often hear the phrase, "chanting is half the battle", from Swamiji and other devotees, as well as in Yogananda's writtings. I come from a Catholic background and hymns and singing in church was something that turned me off to the chuch and did not inspire or uplift me. I prefer solitude rather than community when it comes to spiritual practice and I do not enjoy kirtan or chanting.I develop my devotion by meditation, and practicing the presence. What do you make of this and is this a problem?

—Samuel, USA


Dear Samuel,

I’m glad that your devotion is deepening with meditation and practicing of the presence. Isn’t it amazing how many spiritual tools we have: Meditation, yoga, chanting, energization, affirmation, japa, diet, pranayama, healing prayer, just to name a few!

Each of us will resonate differently with each of these, and many of us will certainly have issues with at least one of them. Thankfully, Yogananda said that we would make great spiritual progress if we were able to practice fully just a portion of these.

I can understand your history with music – hymn singing in our church was never terribly inspirational to me, because no one ever explained to me how I could get the most out of it, or the depths of inspiration to be plumbed.

Chanting first comes to us as an auditory experience, and I think if you were to experience it on the deeper inspirational level, you’d have a better connection with it. For instance, eating something that is ‘good for you’ doesn’t have any appeal until you feel for yourself its benefits. Doing yoga postures just for the physical stretching may not be appealing until you can feel inside the changes in your energy. The seeming bore of sitting still in meditation turns many people away, ignorant of the fact that it can be a most powerful experience.

Yogananda writes that ‘sound is the most powerful force in the universe’. This is due in part because music is vibration, and we are vibrations of energy at our smallest atomic level. But not only does sound affect us on the physical plane, but it also is able to bring us into resonance on our astral and causal bodies with the presence of God in the form of joy, peace, love, deep calmness, and wisdom. For music has the ability to hold inspiration of all kinds, and by listening and singing, we can start to vibrate with the Divine response that Yogananda experienced as he experienced with his chants.

I would be remiss if I didn’t try to guide you in a deeper experience of chanting. If you would like to experience the deepest that chanting has to offer, try this:

Choose a chant to listen to (I’ve included a recording of I Am the Bubble in my recent blog, Chanting Is Half the Battle)

Bring yourself into a calm, dispassionate place that agrees to look unbiased upon the upcoming experience, avoiding the temptation to think ‘this isn’t going to work!’ Disregard any previous experiences and bring yourself into the now.

As you begin to listen to the chant, go deeper than just the auditory experience. Let your mind travel inward, calming the breath. Ask Divine Mother to help you in your receptivity on this deeper level, and practice the presence.

Bring your awareness to any minute change in your energy, your feelings, your consciousness. Take whatever glimmer may be there, and begin to expand it, relaxing into it as you exhale each breath. Give yourself permission to enjoy (you’d be surprised how many of us have issues with this!), and then begin to lift your energy and experience up to the spiritual eye, offering it up to the Divine from which it came, making a dynamic circuit of energy and consciousness.

After the chant, sit for a few minutes and take stock: has there been any change in your consciousness, your devotion? Would it be easier to meditate now, after listening or chanting?

May God bless you on your efforts!

In joyful service, David