The holy name is all there is

Chanting is exactly like the simple method of inhaling and exhaling. Although it seems like a very simple act, it is nevertheless the essence of the whole thing. Without that inhaling and exhaling, none of the other activities can take place. We also understand that no one simply inhales and exhales, but all the other activities are supportive of the inhaling and exhaling.

July 8-9, 2003, Redwood, California

After Srimad-Bhagavatam was spoken by Shukadeva Gosvami to King Parikshit, and just moments before the King was about to be bitten by the snake bird and give up his body, the King’s mother, Uttara, quickly came to him, and said, “You know, I’m a woman, and I just couldn’t get all that. I couldn’t really understand the whole Bhagavatam , because I’m a woman, and women are less philosophically and intellectually inclined. Please could you quickly summarize the whole thing for me?” King Parikshit answered, “I don’t have much time, but okay, I’ll try to summarize it.”

That summary is called Brihad Bhagavatamrita, and it was written in two parts. The first part describes how Narada Muni went from one devotee to another, praising each one, “Oh, you’re the best devotee of Krishna, because….” To Arjuna he said, “Krishna drove your chariot, and He spoke Bhagavad-gita to you,” and Arjuna said, “Oh no, no, no, I’m not at all a good devotee. Actually, the real devotee is Lord Shiva. He’s the really great devotee.” Whereupon Narada went to Lord Shiva, praising him, and Lord Shiva said, “No, no, no, you are mistaken. I’m not at all a good devotee. The good devotee is Lord Brahma.” Narada went on and on like that, until he reached the topmost devotees, the Gopis.

The second part is about a small cowherd boy whose name was Gopa Kumar. He could not read or write. He was just a very simple cowherd boy, wandering in Vrindavan, and he met a saintly person who gave him a special mantra. But before the spiritual master could give Gopa Kumar the meaning of the mantra, the spiritual master disappeared.

So Gopa Kumar wandered around Vrindavan and began chanting the mantra. As he chanted it, all kinds of spiritual realization took place, and he also went higher and higher, until finally he came back to Krishnaloka, where he and Krishna saw one another from far away, and they started running toward one another. Krishna said, “Where have you been all these years? I’ve missed you so much.” And Gopa Kumar also said, “Oh, I’ve been looking for You everywhere, and I couldn’t find You.”

At the very beginning of the book, Sanatana Gosvami makes certain invocations for auspiciousness. One of the things he says in the very beginning is:

All glories, all glories to Lord Murari in the form of His all-ecstatic name. If any living being puts aside such tasks as meditation, ritual worship, and social duties, and even once takes the holy name, the name will grant him liberation. That holy name is the source of eternal pleasure, and it is my very life and ornament.

Sanatana Gosvami was one of the six Gosvamis. Sanatana and Rupa Gosvamis were brothers. They were sent by Lord Chaitanya to discover the lost places of Krishna and to write books on the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. In that connection this book came to be written.

Sanatana’s point is that you can put everything else aside and chant the holy name, and you will be secure. In the commentary he says:

Among the various practices of devotional service, the most important is the chanting of the holy name of the Lord. Chanting the Lord’s name is ananda rupam, pure bliss, it makes ecstasy rise in the heart. Chanting the holy name is also ananda rupam in the sense that it is the essence of ecstasy, and makes everything it touches ecstatic. In this verse, the author again repeats the exclamation jayate, indicating that harinama, the name of the Lord, is the greatest manifestation of the Supreme Lord’s attractiveness and mercy. One who realizes the value of harinama will choose to rely on chanting harinama rather than any other kind of spiritual effort. Performing prescribed duties within the varnashrama system is very troublesome.

Sanatana is saying these are very troublesome things, following all these rules and regulations of varnashrama dharma.

Persons who have lost interest in the ritual duties of varnashrama dharma cultivate yogic meditation, either for impersonal perfection, or as a means of devotional service. But in either case, that too is very troublesome, because it involves the difficulty of subduing the mind and senses. Worship of the deity of the Lord is also troublesome, because the worshiper must purify all the items to be offered, and his own body and heart as well. And also troublesome are the other devotional practices such as hearing, which can be correctly performed only after one fulfills difficult prerequisites, such as finding a suitable qualified Vaishnava to hear from.

Therefore, putting aside concern about success in these methods, an intelligent devotee will simply focus his attention on harinama, and thus he will easily achieve the result of all the above spiritual methods. Devahuti, the mother of Lord Kapila, confirms this in a prayer to her son:

‘O how glorious are those whose tongues are chanting Your holy name. Even if born in the family of dog-eaters, such persons are worshippable. Persons who chant the holy name of Your Lordship must have executed all kinds of austerities, fire sacrifices and achieved all the good manners of the Aryans to be chanting the holy name of Your Lordship. They must have bathed at holy places of pilgrimage, studied the Vedas, and fulfilled everything required.’

Then, in the next verse from the Vishnu Purana:

‘What was accomplished in the Krita Age by meditation, in the Treta Age by ritual sacrifice, in the Dvapara Age by worship of the deity of the Lord is accomplished in Kali Yuga by loud chanting of the holy name of the Lord.’

A doubting person may question the ease of such success by harinama. One might earn religious credit, economic success and material enjoyment by harinama, he might say, but liberation is something else. Liberation can be gained by only those who are spiritually fit. At best, devotees who chant the holy name with perfect faith and devotion may achieve liberation through long practice. Srila Sanatana Gosvami refutes this doubt, declaring that if any living being even once chants the Lord’s holy name, even unintentionally or in ridicule, in jest, or in material distress, the holy name will surely grace that person with liberation. This chanting may be performed without true realization. It may be a mere reflection or shadow, nama bhasya, but still it will result in liberation. Srimad-Bhagavatam confirms this again and again.

‘One is easily relieved of all sinful reactions by chanting the holy name of the Lord and chanting of His qualities and activities. This is the only process recommended for relief from sinful reactions. Even if one chants the holy name of the Lord with improper pronunciation, one will achieve relief from material bondage if one chants without offense. Ajamila, for example, was extremely sinful, but while dying he merely chanted the holy name, and although calling for his son, he achieved complete liberation, because he remembered the name of Narayana.’

Another verse from the Bhagavatam:

‘It is amazing that even a person beyond the jurisdiction of the four castes, in other words an untouchable, is immediately relieved of bondage of material existence if he utters the holy name of the Lord even once. By hearing the holy name of Your Lordship only once, even chandalas or dog-eaters or worse—men of the lowest class-are freed from material contamination.’

And another verse from the Skanda Purana:

‘O best of the Brighu Dynasty, the holy name of Krishna is the sweetest of the sweet, and the most auspicious of the auspicious. It is the transcendental fruit of all the Vedas, and is purely spiritual. Whoever chants it but once, whether with faith or with contempt, is liberated.’

Although we normally think of chanting as being the business of the tongue, all of one’s conscious faculties can be engaged in harinama. The mind can contemplate the syllables of the Lord’s name and their meaning, and the external senses can interact with harinama, each in their own way. Speech and hearing obviously are involved in harinama, but the sense of touch can also feel the name written in sacred clay on one’s body. The eyes can see the name written in various places. The hands and legs can work to carry a banner inscribed with the holy name, and so on. At the end of this verse, Sanatana describes his own relationship with harinama. It is everything to him. Nothing else is important for him. Harinama is the nectar of immortality, the happiness of true liberation countless times greater than the satisfaction of impersonal mukti. Harinama is also greater than the bliss of Vaikuntha. It is sweeter than all other attractive things. It is Sanatana Gosvami’s very life and only ornament, the unlimited reservoir of auspiciousness, the entire focus of his attention.

Sometimes people hear these statements and think, “Oh, this is an exaggeration. Just by chanting Hare Krishna you can be liberated and all other auspicious things come, even if a person is not learned or qualified, or even if he makes offenses?” They dismiss it as exaggeration, like the school teacher saying, “You can become president of the United States, because we have all freedom in America, and even the most ordinary person can become a president,” and the students think, “Yeah, yeah, sure.” But it’s not exaggeration. It is actually a fact.

This morning I was thinking about chanting the holy name. We get up and chant the holy name, and generally it requires some determination and effort, some sacrifice. I thought it’s exactly like a person who has in one way or another lost his ability to walk, and then has to go for some treatment at a rehabilitation (rehabilitation=re + abilitate) center. Every day for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, he is put into a very rigorous routine, and is forced to start using his legs again. At first it is very painful, very awkward, and it seems practically hopeless. But this treatment goes on for some time, maybe some years even, and at some point, he actually regains his original, natural walking capacity. The walking capacity exists. It’s our natural condition to walk, to run and jump. Almost all people do it, but occasionally there is someone who falls into a situation where he cannot walk, and has to accept some therapy. That therapy is called sadhana. The therapy itself is not the aim. The aim is to regain his natural walking potency. The aim is not just to become good at the therapy, starting out with one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening and gradually extending it to two or three hours. The real aim is to regain his free, natural walking power.

Similarly, when we come to Krishna consciousness, we’re told to chant the holy name and rise up in the morning, and so forth. But chanting the holy name is the most important thing. We kind of do it, sort of dutifully, but it’s a burden for us, because we’d rather do other things. However, the fact is that the holy name is the natural, everyday, eternal condition of the soul. He’s chanting all the time, exactly as my body is always breathing. In my case, some days ago I stopped breathing, so immediately they applied electric shockers and pressed my chest to bring that breathing pattern back, not just for an hour or two, but continuously. It’s very, very important, because without breathing, we cannot live.

Chanting is like breathing, continuous, constant. The vibration of the holy name is our natural consciousness. Krishna and the living entities are always together, never separate. The separateness is just imaginary. We are always with Krishna at all times. When we sleep, we dream we are in another circumstance, but when we wake up, we see we are at home. So by practicing chanting the holy name, we get a glimpse that we are part and parcel of Krishna, and we find that we cannot stop chanting, just as we cannot stop breathing.

I also wanted to read something from Bhaktisiddhanta’s Harmonist, where he also speaks about the essential potential and exclusive nature of the holy name:

Nowadays the importance of a religion is calculated by the numerical strength of its professed followers. This is the ordinary reason why a religion is always very particular that its followers should use its distinctive ceremonials and external marks. It is a common enough sentiment that impels even cultured persons to be conscientiously opposed to open compliance with the rituals of a creed that is not their own. Not that a rational person does really object too much to the forms and methods of the other creed, or cherishes any decidedly more convinced sentiment in favor of his own professed cult. But nevertheless, the sentiment is there in a very effective form.

There is nothing very extraordinary, rationally speaking, in the chanting of Hare Krishna in the company of bonafide devotees.

In other words, chanting Hare Krishna is not necessarily rational.

It is the simplest conceivable form of worship in which a number of persons can fully join in. It is possible to induce other people to join in the function by substituting the names Allah and Jesus in place of Krishna. But even so, there are not a few persons who, although they put up with much in their own religion that is regarded as conventional, will refuse to repeat a new name, and declare it as nothing short of being a silly performance instead of the being the highest religion.

He said that people generally think of chanting the holy name as being something silly and not at all rational.

The name of Krishna on the lips of the Supreme Lord had the power of making all persons who heard realize the Truth of whom they had been told by the scriptures. This was a most marvelous experience. In this Iron Age it is only the name “Krishna” appearing on the lips of a bonafide sadhu who can lift the conditioned soul to the plane of the Absolute. As a matter of fact, even the scriptures also can only faintly express the Personality of Godhead. The mere study of the scriptures can convey no full knowledge of the Absolute as a substantive entity, but the name Krishna has power to put a person on the Absolute plane and endow the words of the revealed scriptures with their living meaning.

On the plane of the Absolute, all entities serve Godhead in an infinite variety of forms that run harmoniously into instead of clashing against one another. The vision of a person who once hears the name of Krishna undergoes this marvelous change. He can only then really believe in Godhead, because he understands and sees whom he is to serve. He becomes, in the substantive sense, a bonafide
theist or Vaishnava.”

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur talked about the holy name in the same way in other writings. And there are many other quotations, especially in the sixth Canto [Srimad-Bhagavatam. Generally, when we read these things, they appear incidental. We come upon them and think, “Well, this is a cliché, or this is an exaggeration to induce people to chant, but actually we have to perform penances and austerity and become knowledgeable and perform other very difficult and onerous activities to realize Krishna consciousness. Simply chanting the name is very nice for newcomers and simpletons, but more advanced persons perform deity worship, we make sacrifices, we fast, we can quote scriptures.”

Actually, however, it’s just the reverse. Chanting is exactly like the simple method of inhaling and exhaling. Although it seems like a very simple act, it is nevertheless the essence of the whole thing. Without that inhaling and exhaling, none of the other activities can take place. We also understand that no one simply inhales and exhales, but all the other activities are supportive of the inhaling and exhaling.

Similarly in the case of the heart… I just recently had a heart attack. When a person’s heart stops, the medics and doctors will do practically anything to get it to go again, including breaking my ribs and jolting with high charges of electricity and putting tubes in the mouth and in other places. They will do anything to make the heart begin thumping again. And the reason is because it is essential. It is absolutely essential, and all the other things support it. If the heart is moving, then the man is moving, he’s talking, eating, sleeping, and doing all the other things. But it isn’t those activities that make the heart beat. It’s actually the presence of the soul that gives the heart its beat and consequently all the other activities meaningful relationship.

Similarly, in Krishna consciousness there are many activities. We have deity worship, we observe Ekadasi, we read shastra, we sell books, we refrain from four sinful activities. But all these things are there to support one thing: the chanting of the holy name of Krishna.

Ajamila, whose story is told in Srimad-Bhagavatam, was extremely sinful throughout his life, but in the last instance he uttered the name of Krishna, and everything was adjusted in his favor. We tend to forget that. We tend to do everything except chant the holy name, because we think other things are very important, but actually it’s just the reverse.

Although Srila Prabhupada wrote many books, he one day asked me, “So why did I write all these books?” I said, “So we can know the philosophy, learn the philosophy.” He said, “No, the purpose of all these books is to convince you to chant the holy name of Krishna.”

I want to read again the last verse of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, because it’s such a nice verse:

namah sankirtasnam yasya sarva papa pranasanam
paranamo dukhahasah manas tam namine hari param

The concluding verse of the Srimad-Bhagavatam says:

Krishna’s holy name can relieve us of all undesirable sinfulness, all filthy characteristics, and all miseries. Let us all bow down to Him. Uttering this verse, the Srimad-Bhagavatam stops. That great treatise becomes silent.

Hare Krishna.

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