Chanting on sacred beads: our link with Krishna and the Vaishnavas
I’ve been having fun with our new online ‘virtual temple’ for members of the congregation here in Britain. Of course, being online anyone in the world can take advantage of it, but so far we’ve had our little virtual temple filled with devotees from various parts of the UK. For me it’s an exciting new forum, although I’m aware that technologically speaking, linking up various members of a forum online with voice and visuals has been available for some years.
Those who have a web camera can choose to participate by allowing themselves to be both seen and heard chanting japa during their morning meditation period. And other members can click to see them too. And that means you can see and hear everyone around the country chanting their rounds on their japa beads. It’s quite a sight for those who’ve never had the chance to chant in a temple during the early morning hours, and the sound, of course, is wonderful.
There’s nothing quite like the cacophony of Vaishnavas all chanting japa at the same time, in the same place. It’s different from a kirtan which is musical, when everyone chants in unison to the same melody. The sound of japa has been compared to the droning of bees in a hive, or the dawn chorus of many birds just before the sun rises.
Japa is the collective audible outpouring of sincere spiritual hearts struggling to make their spiritual union with the Supreme Soul, Krishna. Through the transformative power of the maha-mantra we rise above the flickering mind and attain the level of Vaikuntha, that place beyond all problems.
To begin the day with japa is the true spirit of carpe deum, as we truly ‘seize the day’ and offer it back to the Person to whom it belongs. Dedicating our mornings in this way means that we can see everything that happens that day in the light of the Absolute Truth.
And if japa was not enough there then comes the class. I have been giving classes alternately with my godbrother Tribhangananda Das. He has been speaking on the life of Narada Muni and I’ve been discussing the story of Sati, the wife of Lord Shiva, found in the fourth canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. At first, I found it difficult to give a talk by speaking directly at the webcam. I am used to seeing the audience and feeding off their responses to what I’ve said. If they look bored I’ll tell a story; and if they nod in agreement with a point I’ve made I will know that they are appreciating what I’ve said. With a webcam there is no response at all, except that I can see if they leave the room. And they are all far too polite to do that – so far.
The discussions after class have been lively – members write their questions and I speak the answers – and I think that the novelty of having a live Bhagavatam class delivered straight to their home has interested some of our devotees sufficiently to attend regularly. The force behind this innovation, Antardwipa Das up in the Midlands town of Leicester, is delighted with the response so far. I think our greatest audience yet has been around 18 members, but now that out glitches have been dealt with and protocols established it looks all set to grow. Japa begins at 6.00 UK time and class is at 7.15. Welcome to the virtual temple.