Let’s explore one of the sweetest, but also most powerful, secrets of meditation: chanting! Do you have a guitar a harmonium, or a keyboard at home? Or else, do you have an Ananda chanting CD? Because what you will be reading is meant to inspire you to get your voice moving right away, more than ever. As the poet Goethe said: “Grey, dear friend, is all theory, but the golden tree of Life springs ever green.”
Swami Kriyananda writes:
The secret of meditation is…
singing to God,
out loud or silently,
to awaken devotion in the heart.
The Highest Goal
Let’s set our meditative goal on the highest level: we meditate to find God. Meditation, in fact, was defined by Yogananda as “concentration only to know God.”
What, then, is necessary to know Him? Yogananda answers us clearly: “When will you find God? When all your desires for other things are finished. When you realize that the only thing worth having is Him. When every thought, every feeling is drenched with the love of God.”
How to do that? How can we truly drench all our being, all our thoughts and feelings, with the love of God? It is obviously not an easy task, but one of a lifetime (possibly of many). All of us are at some stage of development toward this fully love-drenched heart.
Swami Kriyananda was a marvelous inspiration: he often started to cry even when he talked about Divine Mother, let alone sing to Her! His heart was truly in love with God.
Love is the Fuel
Love is a powerful motor. What can ever stop us when our heart really loves something? Nothing. What has a stronger impact on our determination than love? Nothing. And what can stimulate our will and enthusiasm more than love? Yet again, nothing! Love also empowers our meditation: it is like a divine fuel. Equipped with it, nothing will be able to stop our inner elevation. “Love is a liberating power,” Swami Kriyananda writes.
In fact, why is it hard for many of us to concentrate deeply in our meditation? Because it lacks the magic fuel of love. Isn’t it true that without love, our concentration during meditation lacks vitality? That our mind ends up wandering all around? On the contrary, if we love something, it is hard not to concentrate on it. Love, in other words, is a central key for our concentration and meditation. In the cinema, for example, if we love the film, everyone suddenly becomes a perfect yogi: completely absorbed and concentrated.
Love conquers God! Yogananda puts it this way: “You have to make God break His vow of silence; then He will speak. That is what makes it difficult to know Him. It requires devotional perseverance. How many years I secretly cried for God!”
He adds: “You must sit and pray and cry and churn the ether with your yearning until all space is aflame with your devotion. Until you don’t know time at all. Those who pray with the watch-consciousness never get anything. That is why I follow no routine. I go by my Spirit within. God must come first. No matter what comes, it must be secondary. God first! The wise ones say, ‘Thou art more tempting than temptation.’ What joy, what Love He brings! Every second of your life is a romance with God. Ecstasy after ecstasy. Union with God through devotion (Bhakti), and law–this is the path for you. There is nothing more sacred and fulfilling than devotion to God. Because you call Him your own and there is nothing you consider your own, except Him.”
How to do it?
So the crucial question for us all is this: “How can I reach there? How can I increase my inner passion when I sit in my daily meditation? How can I, even only a little bit, ‘churn the ether’ with my heart?”
In the West it seems especially difficult, as we have been raised in a culture which mostly values the intellect, practicality, and will-power, even in women. Who taught us an “unsophisticated devotion”? Easily therefore our heart is in a state which Yogananda describes as a “wet matchstick,” unable to light any fire.
But that can change! Fortunately there is the magic secret of chanting. Gradually it will dry up our “wet matchstick.” Chanting naturally inflames the heart. Not immediately, but slowly, song for song, chant for chant, over the months and years.
Alone Or In a Group?
“You must make love to God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul,” Yogananda taught. Making love to God during chanting and meditation is obviously a very intimate and private thing, usually done alone. However, also group chanting has a special power, provided that people sing not only to have fun, but sincerely express their love for the Divine. Something tangible then may permeate the air. The Infinite loves singing, it seems. In fact Yogananda confirms: “God loves the gentle songs coming from our hearts.”
How Many Chants?
“The more the better” is not the way to go. “The fewer the deeper,” is better. It is therefore best to pick just one chant, or two, those which inspire us most, and sing them over and over, making them more and more your own. This will deeply spiritualize these songs for us. Swami Kriyananda did precisely that: he always sang the same one or two chants, nothing else, year after year. But it was real chanting: he often cried as he sang.
One can feel his heart well on one of his recordings, Kriyananda Chants Yogananda. Listen carefully, until the end. Tune into his deep devotion.
For Those Not Used to Chanting…
Personally I had a hard time chanting, having grown up as a rational philosopher. Swami Kriyananda from my beginning at Ananda advised me to sing, to join the choir. Could it be that his invitation is meant also for you, if you too are not yet used to singing?
In that case, when you start to chant, at first you might feel a little uneasy, almost as if you were limping awkwardly in a new and unknown terrain: “It’s not me.” But once you get into it, you may love it, discovering a precious secret of meditation. Chanting is half the battle, Yogananda taught.
Swami Kriyananda explains the power of chanting in his own sublime way: “Words are thoughts crystallized. Melodies are the resonance of the heart’s aspirations. Harmonies deepen the emotional power of those aspirations. And rhythms ground those aspirations in the present. Combining thought, melody, and rhythm in a spiritual discipline can provide a powerful force for awakening.” (From Awaken to Superconsciousness)
The Art and Science of Chanting
Singing from the heart is both an art and a science. Nobody can teach us the art: that terrain we need to explore by ourselves. But the technique we can learn, as given by Yogananda. In his book Cosmic Chants (1938) he explains it:
“The five states in chanting are conscious chanting aloud – whisper chanting – mental chanting – subconscious chanting — superconscious chanting. Subconscious chanting becomes automatic with internal consciousness only, when the mind automatically repeats a chant in the background of thought and activity…. Each devotee should set aside a regular time for singing these songs. Chant first aloud, then whisperingly, then mentally. A group, gathered together in the name of God can take one of these chants, singing it together loudly, with piano or organ accompaniment, then more slowly, then singing in a whisper without any accompaniment, and finally mentally only, In this way deep God-perception can be reached singly or together.”
Swami Kriyananda expands on these stages of chanting:
“Loud chanting does have its place. It is good at the start of meditation…to command attention from our own minds. For loud chanting creates a magnetic flow. Like a mighty river, it can dissolve the eddies of thought and feeling that meander idly along the banks of the mind. Like a magnetic military leader, it commands attention from your thought-soldiers and fires them with zeal.”
“Once you’ve got their attention, chant more softly, more inwardly. Direct your energy upward, now, from the heart to the Spiritual Eye.”
“Once your conscious mind is wholly engaged in chanting, bring it down into the subconscious by whispering. While chanting in the subconscious, offer the chant there, too, up to superconsciousness at the point between the eyebrows, until you feel your entire being vibrating with the words, the melody, and the rhythm.”
“At last, chant only mentally, at the point between the eyebrows. Let your absorption lift you into superconsciousness. Once it does so, and once you receive a divine response, you will have spiritualized the chant. From then on, any time you sing the chant it will quickly carry you again to superconsciousness as if on a magic carpet.”
Then mediate, with your heart aflame. Concentrate on the heart quality. Quality is more important than quantity. When the heart leaves your meditation, you may chant again, adding another drop of love: many drops do make the sea!
Here are some crucial guidelines for our chanting (quotes by Swami Kriyananda):
Chant With a Clear Purpose in Mind
“The art of chanting correctly is, first, to practice it with full awareness of its inner purpose. That purpose is not to awaken sentiments or to stir up the emotions. It is to focus the heart’s feelings and raise them toward superconsciousness.”
Fill the Chant With Your Heart
“To repeat a chant mechanically, in a singsong manner, has virtually no spiritual value.” Our heart must sing, even more than our voice.
Let Your Chanting Be a Prayer
“Spiritual chanting is heartfelt prayer, deepened by the dimension of music and by the building power of repetition. Repetition is not for the purpose of getting the Lord’s attention: It is to deepen the intensity of one’s own prayer.”
In Daily life
Chanting can also be brought into our daily life: “To spiritualize a chant, keep it rotating in the mind – for days at a time, if necessary: not only in meditation, but as you go about your daily activities. This practice is also called japa…. Try incorporating chants and japa into your daily spiritual practices. You will soon discover why Yogananda said, ‘Chanting is half the battle.’”
Which Chants to Use?
Of course you may create your own chant, if your heart calls you to do so. However, Yogananda recommended to especially use his Cosmic Chants, as they are permeated with powerful spiritual vibrations. He chanted each of them until he was in God-communion, spiritualizing them consciously. The subtle fact is that a chant, just like a house, absorbs vibrations. Each Cosmic Chants is a vibrational bridge on which we can walk toward the Infinite. Swami Kriyananda once explained: “My chants too are spiritualized, simply to a lesser degree.”
What about Indian chants? Sanskrit chants and mantras are powerful, beautiful, and highly inspiring for many seekers. You may follow your own inspiration and chose whatever touches and uplifts your heart most. Devotees of Yogananda of course are advised to tune into their Guru also through his chants. Devotees of another Master should follow his/her way of chanting.
Maybe Learn to Play the Harmonium?
Are you ready to chant, to inflame your heart, but don’t play an instrument? In that case, why don’t you learn to play the harmonium? The Harmonium Handbook, by Satyaki Kraig Brockschmidt, may help you:
On YouTube you can find short classes on how to play Yogananda’s Cosmic Chants on the harmonium.
A Little Workshop
Now lets take one of Yogananda’s beautiful Cosmic Chants, “I Have Made Thee Polestar of My Life,” and sing it together with Swami Kriyananda (from the CD, Oh God Beautiful). Your task is to consciously fill it with your heart’s energy, making it flow up to the Divine Presence.
Then, if possible, take your own harmonium or guitar, or use an Ananda-CD, and try to “churn the ether” with your personal chanting. Try to explore the various stages: loud, softer, whisper, mental. Don’t worry if you aren’t a great singer, if you don’t sing in tune, or if you don’t find your voice very attractive: “God watches the heart.” Sing and love God. Sing to His listening presence.
Then meditate. Feel the new quality.
In conclusion, Yogananda tells us (again from his book Cosmic Chants):
“One who repeats these Spiritualized Songs or Cosmic Chants with ever-increasing devotion will find a more direct way to contact God than by the repetition of songs which are the outcome of blind sentiment and not of God-communion. These chants properly repeated will bring God-communion and ecstatic joy, and through these the healing of body, mind and soul.”
May God-joy fill you, happy chanting,