Kindling One’s Devotion with Chanting


If enlightenment is reached because of intense personal effort in meditation, why is singing the praises of the Lord given so much importance? Why cannot meditation suffice? Does God need us to sing his paeans? Is his ego so fragile? Buddha never spoke of God but yet reached the highest state any man can. Why should one technique of meditation differ so much from another? If Truth is god and truth is found by being still what is the need for chanting, songs and the romance with God? I

—poorvi, India


Dear Poorvi,

Can you imagine intense inner effort in meditation without your heart being involved? Anything we do in life, any work, any project, if our heart is not really there, our efforts will be relatively weak. Love is one of the greatest stimulators of will power. Intense effort only through cold will-power lacks a potent motor: the heart’s devotion for the goal. If on the other hand your heart deeply desires your goal, who can ever stop you?

Singing to God is one of the best ways to stimulate that devotion. But of course we all have different natures, and need to respect that. For some seekers singing simply doesn’t work, but still: they too need to kindle in their heart a strong fervor, a fire and intensity, if they want to succeed in meditation. Some seekers stimulate that ardent heart energy in other ways, maybe by inspired readings, by cosmic thinking, or by heartfelt service. But if their heart remains cold, if there is no “desire-fire,” their meditation will simply get stuck at some point.

Enlightenment, Yogananda teaches, does not come only by intense personal effort, but by a mixture of self-effort and grace. Grace is invited by love and devotion.

You are right, God does not need our praise. It is us who need to stimulate our love for Him, or for the Infinite, or for Nirvana. Buddha’s heart was certainly on fire for his goal. (By the way: Yogananda says that Buddha actually did speak about God, but he emphasized self-effort because that was the need of his time. Later his descendants cancelled God.)

The idea in chanting is to stimulate a lot of upward inner energy. But many bhaktis (devotional devotees) stop there. Yogananda instead taught to chant intensely and then take the devotional fervor into focused meditative stillness: the longing becomes completely inward. To such focused love the Lord responds. By the way, “Truth is God” (as you write) sounds a bit thin. “Truth” seems abstract, nothing that responds to us personally. The God about which Yogananda spoke is impersonal, but also very personal. He responds to love, He interacts, He even has a sense of humor. He is too big to be only galactically impersonal. He is also a close Mother and Father.

I used to be a meditating atheist. Fine. But once the heart experiences even a little bit of love from God, how much richer and more colorful the spiritual path becomes. If you pray and you get a little tangible answer, your devotion is automatically stimulated. Then singing comes naturally, at least to me.

Yes, some teachers don’t teach devotion or chanting at all. We respect all sincere paths. But for Yogananda “chanting is half the battle.” What he essentially meant, I think, is: “Upward love is half the battle.” The other half is a powerful technique.

How you stimulate the upward love is up to you.

In divine friendship, jayadev