THE BIBLE TEACHES CHANTING
By Stephen Knapp
The Old Testament, which is also extremely important in Christianity, teaches many of the same principles of spiritual development as found in the Vedic system. We can especially find these similarities in the processes of bhakti-yoga, mantra-yoga, and sankirtana (the congregational singing of the holy names of the Lord). The teachings in the Bible about the holiness of the name of God and the need to congregationally sing God’s name and praises are quite evident. This applies as much to the essential Jewish forms of worship and meditation as it does to the Christian, and almost every other religious tradition. Yet, as we go through these verses that explain the need to do this as outlined in the Bible, we will find that they do not provide the reasons for it, the way it uplifts our consciousness, how it gives us the means to tune into the spiritual dimension or to reach God, or that it is a prime process to be used for our meditation in this age. To further our understanding in this way, we need to consult the Vedic explanations as found in the Puranas and Sutras, and the teachings of the realized sages who follow the Vedic system. Some of this I have also supplied in my books or some of the many articles I have written and included on my web site.
In one of the foremost prayers in the Bible, it is said, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” The value and holiness of the name of God, as well as being the primary way to meditate on Him, is stressed throughout the Bible. Many verses instructing people to sing praises to God and sing His holy name are found therein. Even in the books of Moses we find evidence of this: “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously.” (Exodus 15.1) Furthermore, after delivering the ten commandments, Moses told his people:
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might… Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; Him shalt thou serve, and to Him shalt thou cleave, and swear by His name. He is thy praise, and He is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen. (Deuteronomy 6.4-5, 10.20-21)
Thus, we find that Moses also set forth the basic principles for people to follow that were the same as those found in bhakti-yoga: that one should love and serve God completely and take shelter of Him through the process of singing praises to Him. Not only that, but one should also chant and tell others about the holy name of God just as Moses did, as stated in the following verses: “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass: Because I will publish the name of the Lord: ascribe ye greatness unto our God.” (Deuteronomy 32.2-3)
Further quotes can be given which show a similar sentiment. The fact of the matter is that the Old Testament, although describing the process within the context of Judaism, is full of the same essential teachings as found in the Vedic literature. Therefore, there is no surprise to find the following verses from various parts of the Bible which state that one should sing songs unto the Lord and praise His holy name: “Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise unto the Lord God of Israel.” (Book of Judges) “Therefore I will give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and I will sing praises unto Thy name.” (Samuel II 22.50)
“Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, and with sound of the cornet, and with trumpets, and with cymbals, making a noise with psalteries and harps.” (I Chronicles 15.28) This description certainly sounds like a typical chanting (kirtana) party as you would find in the temples of holy cities in India where you see devotees singing the holy names and songs about the pastimes of the Lord with the accompaniment of hand cymbals and drums. And the following verses sound exactly like some of the Vedic quotes that are included in my article on mantra-yoga and chanting Hare Krishna. This indicates that chanting the holy names of the Supreme is definately the process for this age of quarrel and confusion, called Kali-yuga in the Vedic texts, regardless of what culture or tradition with which you affiliate:
“Then on that day David delivered first this psalm, to thank the Lord, into the hand of Asaph and his brethren. Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon His name, make known His deeds among the people. Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him, talk yet of all His wondrous works. Glory ye in His holy name; let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. Seek the Lord and His strength, seek His face continually. (I Chronicles 16.7-11). . . Sing unto the Lord, all the earth; shew forth from day to day His salvation. Declare His glory among the heathen; His marvelous works among all nations. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised: He also is to be feared above all gods.” (I Chronicles 16.23-25)
“And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshipping the Lord. And the Levites, of the children of the Kohathites, and of the children of the Korhites, stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with a loud voice on high. And when he [Jehoshaphat] had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord: for His mercy endureth forever.” (II Chronicles 20.18-21)
“And he [Hezekiah] set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet; for so was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets. And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priest with the trumpets. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David King of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves and worshipped. Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praises unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped.” (II Chronicles 29.25-30)
There was also the prophecy given by Isaiah who said: “And in that day shall ye say, Praise the Lord, call upon His name, declare His doings among the people, make mention that His name is exalted. Sing unto the Lord; for He hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth.” (Isaiah 12.4-5)
Another quote given in Isaiah (42.10-12) concerning the fact that everyone in the world should declare the Lord’s glories was the following:
“Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth, ye that go to the sea, and all that is therein: the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord, and declare His praise in the islands.”
The Psalms of David put special attention on chanting the holy names of God, and practically instructs how congregational chanting should be performed.
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King. . . O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.” (Psalms 98.4-6,47.1)
“Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in His sanctuary: praise Him in the firmament of His power. Praise Him for His mighty acts: praise Him according to His excellent greatness. Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet: praise Him with the psaltery and harp. Praise Him with the timbrel and dance: praise Him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise Him upon the loud cymbals: praise Him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let everything that breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.” (Psalms 150.1-6)
The Bible also indicates that as one continues to engage in this process, one becomes more and more fixed in understanding God; one’s faith continually increases, as mentioned:
“My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto Thee among the nations. For Thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and Thy truth unto the clouds. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let Thy glory be above all the earth.” (Psalms 57.7-11)
It is also established that if one expects to be successful in one’s search for God, the Absolute Truth, one must relentlessly engage in chanting God’s names and glories: “O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon His names: make known His deeds among the people. Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him: talk ye of all His wondrous works. Glory ye in His holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. Seek the Lord, and His strength: seek His face evermore.” (Psalms 105.1-4) And also the following: “Praise the Lord, O my soul. While I live I will praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. (Psalms 146.1). . . And they that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee.” (Psalms 9.10)
As one advances in one’s self-realization and in one’s faith in praising God, one will naturally feel much happiness and joy in doing so, according to the Psalms:
“Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness: To the end that my glory may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent. O my God, I will give thanks unto Thee forever. (Psalms 30.4,11-12). . . Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing. (Psalms 100.1-2). . . I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my Being. My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord. (Psalms 104.33-34). . . Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely. (Psalms 147.1). . . It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O most high. (Psalms 92.1). . . Praise ye the Lord. Praise, O ye servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the Lord’s name is to be praised.” (Psalms 113.1-3)
In The Revelations of St. John it is pointed out that only those who have perfected this path of chanting the Lord’s holy names are the ones who will enter the kingdom of God, and the people of all nations are expected to join in this process of glorifying the Supreme.
“And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads [like Vaishnava tilok]. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder; and as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? for Thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before Thee; for Thy judgements are made manifest.” (Revelations 14.1-3, 15.2-4)
However, those people who seriously take up this path are likely to be met with opposition since this world is filled with many who are faithless and have no attraction for the names of God. This may be unfortunate, but is not to be considered out of the ordinary. Therefore, Jesus warned his disciples, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Mark 13.13) But Christ also pointed out that this is a sign and test of one’s spiritual advancement. The more spiritual one becomes, the more they begin to leave the material world behind, and the more difficult it is for one to participate in the mundane affairs within materialistic society. As Jesus stated: “If the world hate you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15.18-19) But even if we may feel overwhelmed by such difficulties, or that we are all alone in this world with no one else to turn to, we can immediately be relieved simply by invoking or singing the name of God. By doing so we instantly come in contact with God’s presence. Or as Jesus explained it: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.20) This is the potency of the holy name, and is also further explained in the Vedic tradition.
In this way, many verses throughout the Bible, only a few of which are presented here, establish the chanting of the Lord’s names as an integral part of the early Judaic and Christian traditions. This is all very much in line with the ancient Vedic process of bhakti-yoga and mantra-yoga, which the Vedic texts fully describe in numerous verses. In fact, that is all that has been explained in this segment, using only the evidence as presented in the form of biblical references. Obviously, this means that, according to both the Eastern Vedic or Western Christian traditions, everyone should sing or chant the name of God as often as possible. However, the Bible does not clarify which name, so what name do we use? The following is an example of what we can learn by looking at other cultures, such as the Vedic culture, that are more complete in their philosophy and spiritual understanding.
THE NAMES OF GOD
God is called by many names, such as Jehovah, Allah, El Shaddai, Elohim, Adonai, Yahweh, Krishna, Govinda, Vishnu, and so on, according to particular traditions. Any bona fide name of God that one chants sincerely will help one attain spiritual emancipation, if for no other reason than it focuses one’s mind on the Supreme to some degree, depending on how clearly you fix your attention. However, some names of God are more direct in their descriptive power and in their relationship with the Supreme, while other names are nothing more than titles. For example, Allah simply means “Great One,” Adonai means “Lord,” Elohim means “The Almighty,” and some say that Jehovah is not a name at all but merely refers to the name. The word “God,” which can be traced back to the Sanskrit through the Old Teutonic language, simply means “to invoke” or “the object of worship.” We all know God is great and is the supreme object of worship, but the above names really do not explain much about God.
Some people call upon the name of Jesus Christ in their prayers. This is also very effective because the name Christ comes from the Greek word christos, which means the anointed one or messiah, and christos is the Greek version of the Sanskrit name Krista or Krishna, which is a direct name of God, which means the one who is all-attractive and who gives the greatest pleasure. In this way, we find a name of God that describes His nature and the means to help our understanding of who and what is God.
Also, the name Jesus is spelled Isus or Iesus in Latin, and Isa in Arabic. H. Spencer Lewis, in The Mystical Life of Jesus (p. 220), explains, “The i and j in the early Latin language were identical in form.” This means they were also interchangeable, so iesus can become Jesus. These names are linguistically connected with Isha, the Sanskrit root for Ishvara, which is the Vedic name for God meaning the Supreme Controller. Thus, even the name of Jesus has a Sanskrit derivative. And the name Krishna in some parts of India is pronounced as Krisn or Chrisn, or even Christ as in Bengal and Karnataka. Thus, the “n” and “t” are interchangeable according to region. Put the two words together and you have the name “Jesus Christ.” So no matter whether we call on “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Krista,” or “Krishna,” we are referring to the same Supreme Being.
As we learn in the Vedic texts, some names like Krishna, Vishnu, Govinda, or Rama are more direct and potent in addressing God and His energies and in reawakening our spiritual awareness. These names address the various qualities and pastimes of God, which are eternal and transcendental to material nature. In other words, these names are eternal spiritual vibrations which exist on the same spiritual platform as the Supreme. Thus, by always invoking the transcendental energy of God through the chanting of His holy names, one comes in contact with this eternal energy which works to spiritualize our consciousness. As our consciousness becomes more and more purified, we actually become more in tune with God and His spiritual energy. This continues to the point in which we actually reawaken our spiritual vision that allows us to understand exactly who and what we are. This is called spiritual or Self-realization. Thus, as it is instructed in the Vedic literature and also in the Bible, people should systematically chant and meditate on the spiritual names of God for spiritual perfection and liberation from material life and the repeated cycles of birth and death. In this way, through the Vedic instructions we have a more direct understanding of what to do.
For more instructions on this matter and the meaning and purpose of chanting the names of God, please see the following articles: “Shri Krishna”, “Meditation: A Short Course to Higher Consciousness”, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna: What’s so Special About Chanting Hare Krishna”, “Frequencies that can Kill, Heal, or Transcend,” and others.
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