The first principle in devotional service is to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra (maha means “great”; mantra means “sound that liberates the mind from ignorance”):
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
You can chant these holy names of the Lord anywhere and at any time, but it is best to set a specific time of the day to regularly chant. Early morning hours are ideal.
The chanting can be done in two ways: singing the mantra, called kirtana (usually done in a group), and saying the mantra to oneself, called japa (which literally means “to speak softly”). Concentrate on hearing the sound of the holy names. As you chant, pronounce the names clearly and distinctly, addressing Krishna in a prayerful mood. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the sound of the Lord’s names. Chanting is a prayer to Krishna that means “O energy of the Lord [Hare], O all-attractive Lord [Krishna], O Supreme Enjoyer [Rama], please engage me in Your service.” The more attentively and sincerely you chant these names of God, the more spiritual progress you will make.
Since God is all-powerful and all-merciful, He has kindly made it very easy for us to chant His names, and He has also invested all His powers in them. Therefore, the names of God and God Himself are identical. This means that when we chant the holy names of Krishna and Räma we are directly associating with God and being purified. Therefore, we should always try to chant with devotion and reverence. The Vedic literature states that Lord Krishna is personally dancing on your tongue when you chant His holy name.
When you chant alone, it is best to chant on japa beads. This not only helps you fix your attention on the holy name, but it also helps you count the number of times you chant the mantra daily. Each strand of japa beads contains 108 small beads and one large bead, the head bead. Begin on a bead next to the head bead and gently roll it between the thumb and middle finger of your right hand as you chant the full Hare Krishna mantra. Then move to the next bead and repeat the process. In this way, chant on each of the 108 beads until you reach the head bead again. This is one round of japa. Then, without chanting on the head bead, reverse the beads and start your second round on the last bead you chanted on.
Initiated devotees vow before the spiritual master to chant at least sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra daily. But even if you can chant only one round a day, the principle is that once you commit yourself to chanting that round, you should try to complete it every day without fail. When you feel you can chant more, then increase the minimum number of rounds you chant each day—but don’t fall below that number. You can chant more than your fixed number, but you should maintain a set minimum each day. (Please note that the beads are sacred and therefore should never touch the ground or be put in an unclean place. To keep your beads clean, it’s best to carry them in a special bead bag.)
Aside from chanting japa, you can also sing the Lord’s holy names in kirtana. While you can perform kirtana individually, it is generally performed with others. A melodious kirtana with family or friends is sure to enliven everyone. ISKCON devotees use traditional melodies and instruments, especially in the temple, but you can chant to any melody and use any musical instruments to accompany your chanting.
As LordChaitanya said, “There are no hard and fast rules for chanting Hare Krishna.” One thing you might want to do, however, is order some kéi