What to chant?

Chant a word, phrase or a few lines which appeal to your heart. The chant can be religious or non religious. You can choose a chant from your own religion. Better to choose a chant with an ancient tradition behind it. It will have a power of its own, having been repeated by millions of people in the past. If you have no religious belief, choose a non-religious chant like “calm-ing” , “so-ham” spoken slowly (1). The benefits will be equally good. Our initial interest is only in the sound of the words, not their meaning or images related to them.

I chose the following chant of 4 lines which I liked since my childhood. I have been using it since 1998. I do not attach any significance to the meaning of these words. I keep on repeating them, simply because I like their sounds. I get a good feeling when I chant these lines. This chant has 4 lines but contains only 3 different words, in many combinations.

Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

I liked these guidelines given by the great spiritual teacher late Eknath Easwaran (2). You should retain your chosen chant till the last moment of your life. The reason being that the repetition of same set of words on a regular basis gives the mind a remarkable comfort, captures it effectively and thus shields it from unwanted thoughts. More importantly, the chant will come into the mind by itself, after some months of practice. It will keep the mind comfortably engaged in all its idle and disturbed conditions. Hence choose it carefully now. Once chosen, do not ever change it. Under exceptional circumstances, you may change it only once in the life time.

When to chant?

Chant your chosen words or chant silently in your mind, all the time, just like you feel the coolness of breath – any place, any time, in any posture, even while walking, running, exercising with weights and even in the bathroom. Aim at chanting continuously (5). If the mind wanders, bring it back to your chant without feeling frustrated. Gradually, chanting will become a habit, happening by itself without your conscious intention.

Try to combine the feeling of coolness of in-breath and chanting. Each of them will reinforce the practice of the other.

Do not introduce any rules into this practice, just as you have no rules for feeling your breath. Chant whenever you remember about it. No minimum or maximum limits for repetition. Every repetition will add to your chant balance in your chant bank, enhancing its grip on your mind.

You can also use the fingers to reinforce the power of chanting(3).

How does it help?

This practice engages the mind in a comforting manner, reduce its wandering and obsession with negative thoughts. It soothes the mind because you chose a chant that pleases you. The advantage of silent chanting is that you can engage the mind on lot more occasions. You can chant even when you are not breathing, for example, when you are drinking water, you can not breath but you can silently repeat your chant!

Practicing chanting plugs the time gaps that occur during the breath feeling practice, during which stressful thoughts jump into the mind and disturb its peace. Gradually, your mind gets used to your favorite chant and enjoys it. After some months of practice, your mind will be chanting by itself whenever it becomes idle or stressed, just like the heart beating and the lungs breathing all the time without your intention or initiative.

We can symbolically think of the combined effect of ‘feeling the breath’ and ‘chanting’ this way. Imagine a person in an open area in the summer season with mosquitoes swarming around his face and biting him. Also, imagine that the person has no arms and is not able shoo away the mosquitoes. How miserable will she be? Now, imagine she miraculously gets back one of her hands. She will feel greatly relieved, being able to shoo away the mosquitoes. Next, imagine she gets the second hand as well. She can now shoo away all the mosquitoes and feel greatly comforted, empowered and confident.

Similarly, the person who does not practice any technique to replace stressful thoughts, feels helpless and miserable. When she starts practicing focusing on breathing, she feels relieved to some extent. When she starts chanting along with feeling the breath, she will feel tremendously relieved because she can then avoid unwanted stressful thoughts and replace them with the soothing chant words.

Finally, after some months of practice, when breath feeling and chanting come into the mind on their own, it will be a great blessing. The relief and comfort one feels are unbelievable!

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(1) There are different opinions on how to chant. In this page I described the style that proved to be practical for me as a non-religious beginner. For making the practice more suitable for a beginner I combine the chanting with the breathing cycles. Some great teachers like Eknath Esswaran strongly advise otherwise.

(2). Please study, experiment and make your own choice. And don’t be afraid to adopt an entirely new modification that works for you.

‘So-Ham’ chanting: While breathing in silently chant ‘Sooooo…’ as long as long as the in-breath lasts. When the out-breath begins, silently chant ‘Hammmm….’ and keep this going, as long as the out-breath lasts.

‘Calm-ing’ chanting: Breathing in, feel the coolness inside the nose. During the out-breath, silently chant ‘Calm-ing’. Extend the sound of this word as long as the out-breath lasts.

(2) Mantrams recommended by late Eknath Easwaran from various religious traditions with wonderful guidelines. I benefited enormously by reading his books. He has been my unseen Guru.

(3) Chanting using the fingers: This is like using a traditional prayer beads. Instead of the beads, we can use the finger modes. I use the Segment mode (4). Place the tip of the thumb at one segment at a time, feel the coolness during the in-breath, and chant while breathing out. If the chant is long, split the chant conveniently depending on the length of the exhale and chant a part of it. Experiment and create your own style of practice.

(4) Segment mode

(5) Here is how I practice chanting while walking: Every time a foot touches the ground, I silently chant a syllable of the chant.

Right foot touches the ground  – ‘Hare’.
Left foot touches the ground     – ‘Rama’
Right foot touches the ground  – ‘Hare’
Left foot touches the ground     – ‘Rama’

Right foot touches                       – ‘Rama’
Left foot touches                          – ‘Rama’
Right foot touches                       – ‘Hare’
Left foot touches                          – ‘Hare’

Right foot touches                       – ‘Hare’
Left foot touches                          – ‘Krishna’
Right foot touches                       – ‘Hare’
Left foot touches                          – ‘Krishna’

Right foot touches                       – ‘Krishna’
Left foot touches                          – ‘Krishna’
Right foot touches                       – ‘Hare’
Left foot touches                          – ‘Hare’

The same pattern continues as long as I walk. This has become a spontaneous habit whenever I walk at a stretch like in the parking lot, walking for exercise etc. The moment I begin walking, the syllables of the chant automatically come to my mind.

I practice in a similar manner climbing or descending the steps.

Parent page: Complementary practices

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