When I was growing up in Tel Aviv in the 70’s, we used to play outside a lot. There was a vacant lot across the street from our house that stayed empty, untouched, and quite wild for a few years. It was overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. My sister and I loved to go there and watch the ants building their homes, watch the ants slowly carrying food into the anthill. Sometimes we would try to help them with that.
We watched the weeds blossom and whither with the passing of the seasons.
One of our favorite things was observing snails. They seemed so mysterious and coy, hidden deep within their shells. To see a snail emerge from the depths of the shell, and watch that soft body move slowly, tentacles delicately waving, was the ultimate joy.
There’s a song in Hebrew that little kids sing to snails to coax them out of their shells (oblivious to the fact that snails actually have no ears or sense of hearing). If you sing it very quietly and sweetly, with sincerity, somehow, magically the snail will emerge.
Similarly, when we chant the divine names, we are calling out to something deep within ourselves, something hidden, in order to coax it out of hiding. That something is our true nature – our highest self.
The Maha Mantra (the great mantra) has been prescribed in yogic scriptures for those living in the Kali Yuga (the current age), as a way to destroy the negative aspects of ourselves and reveal the highest aspect.
HARE KRSNA HARE KRSNA
KRSNA KRSNA HARE HARE
HARE RAMA HARE RAMA
RAMA RAMA HARE HARE
— Kali Santarana Upanishad, 15th century.
“Chanting kirtan is the heart practice of yoga. When we are in love, our hearts are constantly calling out the name of our lover. Chanting is that calling.”—Krishna das