An innovative new website, Chantnow.com, was offered to Srila Prabhupada on Radhastami, September 9th, and aims to revolutionize online outreach for ISKCON.
The site’s goals are to 1) Make Krishna consciousness relevant, relatable and easy to understand for someone who doesn’t know anything about it. 2) Provide a systematic course that they can follow. And 3) Do all this in a framework where devotees are interacting with them and helping them along the way.
Run by Pancharatna Das and a small team of six devotees, chantnow.com is a project of GBC effort ISKCON Online.
“The idea came when Gopal Bhatta Prabhu and I saw little online in the form of systematic education in Krishna consciousness for a completely new audience,” Pancharatna says. “For instance I couldn’t even find any videos that showed how to chant Hare Krishna without using beads – which someone new to mantra meditation is unlikely to be able to pick up at their local Wal-Mart. So we wanted to give an introduction to chanting and the Maha-mantra that had none of these assumptions, and was really easy for people to get into.”
Chantnow.com is targeted to the four categories of people Lord Krishna Himself lists in the Bhagavad-gita who approach Him. Slightly adjusted in the context of today, these are: 1) Those who are looking for relief from stress, anxiety, and the pressures of this world; 2) Those looking for personal development; 3) Those looking for spiritual wisdom and truth; and 4) Those who are simply curious.
The site is centered around the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, Pancharatna explains, because it is easily accessible and is the core of bhakti practice.
Chantnow offers two self-paced courses made up-of pre-recorded videos with young, relatable devotee teachers. The first is a fresh introduction, wherein people receive an email or text message link to a three-minute video each day for seven days. Every day, they practice a little guided chanting without beads.
The second course is a more in-depth eighteen lesson program. For this, students are asked to purchase a “Japa Meditation Kit” from chantnow.com’s own store including a beadbag, beads, counter beads and a maha-mantra card. There will also soon be a video showing how to make your own set of beads with readily available materials in your local area.
Students work their way up from chanting for four or five minutes, up to about twenty minutes. They are taken all the way to the point of understanding the fundamentals of bhakti-yoga and what it means to go deeply with the maha-mantra.
“Finally for those who do begin to practice, our third course is on sadhana and gets into more esoteric topics such as who is Lord Chaitanya and the importance of taking shelter of a guru,” Pancharatna explains.
Throughout the courses, along with the videos there are additional written materials, quizzes to test students’ knowledge, and a forum where they can ask questions and interact. There are also downloadable kirtans, kirtan videos, regular articles, and downloadable sacred art to create your own sacred space for meditation.
Eventually, chantnow.com will be able to connect students with live events in their area. “We are working on identifying appropriate venues such as the Mantra House in Los Angeles, the Harmony Collective in Ypsilanti Michigan, the Mantra Lounge in London England, and Govinda’s Kirtan and Mantra night in Sydney Australia,” Pancharatna says. “Their events follow roughly the same formula as Sunday Feasts – chanting, kirtan, a talk, prasadam – but they’re not in temples and the environment is very neutral.”
He adds that Chantnow.com staff will actually introduce students to devotees running these programs, so that when they go, there will be a personal connection and someone to meet them.
Chantnow.com also aims to give devotees doing outreach, such as book distributors, a place where they can confidently direct the people they meet; knowing they will receive Krishna consciousness in an easily digestible way.
“In the future we’ll also have live chat and an entire online community that will nurture, cultivate and support people who want to learn about Krishna,” Pancharatna says. “So unlike, unfortunately, some of our centers, where someone might show up and not find anyone to talk to or feel out of place, we will ensure people will feel comfortable and immediately be able to interact.”
During the book distribution marathon this December, Chantnow.com will provide devotees with bookmarks that they can hand out, and an app or contact card for people to fill out with their details should they want to take the Chantnow course.
Pancharatna hastens to add that Chantnow.com is there to serve ISKCON centers, not to encroach. “We want to serve the devotees and be partners,” he says. “We will keep the book distributor involved in the person’s process to the degree that they want to remain involved, and also direct people to the center they’re connected with.”
So far about thirty people have signed up for the Chantnow.com course, while a major social media advertising campaign will spread the word globally. There’s also a plan to make the site available in Russian and in Spanish, as well as to build a separate site specifically for India.
“I’ve studied ISKCON’s status on the Internet as well as the power of the Internet and how other people are harnessing it, and I see that we’ve been missing out,” Pancharatna says. “People are searching for more online, but they’re not finding us in a way that’s relatable and relevant to them.
“Srila Prabhupada wrote to me in May 1974, ‘The world is most sorely in need of education in Krsna Consciousness, but due to the ignorance of the age they are not interested in knowledge of the self. So if by labeling the bottle in some way more to attract them we are still able to teach Krsna Consciousness, let us do it.’ Today that means the Internet, social media, and online courses. So I am very excited to be doing this project.
“And this is just the beginning.”
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For more information, pleasecontact Pancharatna@chantnow.com.[ chanting ] [ japa ] [ mahamantra ] [ meditation ]