śrī hari-vāsare hari-kīrtana-vidhāna
nṛtya ārambhilā prabhu jagatera prāṇa
puṇyavanta śrīvāsa-aṅgane śubhārambha
uṭhilô kīrtana-dhvani ‘gopāla’‘govinda’
Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata (Madhya-khaṇḍa 8.138, 139)
This is the instruction of the scriptures, that one should perform hari-kīrtana on Hari-vasāra (Ekādaśī tithi), the day accepted by Śrī Hari as His own. To set an example, Śrīman Gaurahari inaugurated the auspicious saṅkīrtana movement in Śrīvāsa-aṅgana, the most virtuous courtyard of Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura, on the day of Ekādaśī. The sounds of the most auspicious names of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, such as ‘Gopāla’, ‘Govinda’ and others, reverberated there. Hearing these melodious sounds, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the life and soul of all living beings, began dancing in ecstasy.
The superiority of nāma-saṅkīrtana
There are different types of hari-kīrtana, namely kīrtana of Hari’s nāma (names), rūpa (form), guṇa (qualities), līlā (pastimes), dhāma (abode), parikāras (associates), and vaiśiṣṭhya (special features). Yet, Śrī Gaurahari induced everyone to sing Hari’s nāma-kīrtana, chanting ‘Gopāla,’ ‘Govinda,’ and other names. Why has Śrī Gaurahari chosen to perform only nāma saṅkīrtana and not kīrtana of any other features of Śrī Hari? The reason has been given by one of his closest associates, Śrīla Sanātana Gosvami:
kṛṣṇasya nānā-vidha-kīrtaneṣu tan-nāma-saṅkīrtanam eva mukhyam
Among the many types of kīrtana of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, His nāma saṅkīrtana is foremost.
The reason for this is that nāma and nāmī, the name and the possessor of that name, are non-different. The following analogy helps us understand this fact.
The limitations of the material sound
This material world is made up of five elements, namely earth, water, fire, air and ether. The qualities of these elements are smell, taste, form, touch and sound, respectively. Sound is the subtlest among these five qualities, and no one can stop it from traveling anywhere within the material world. For example, once during the war between India and Pakistan, a nightly curfew and blackout was imposed across India. I was staying at the Chandigarh branch of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha at that time, and we were prohibited to light even a candle in an open area. Despite these restrictions on electricity, my godbrother Bhakti Prasāda Purī Maharāja was still able to hear the news of the war on his radio. In this way, sound cannot be stopped nor banned.
In this world, subtle beings or objects lord over and control gross beings or objects. It is for this reason that sound rules over the whole world and controls every object (vastu). All transactions—such as sales and purchases of land—and all communications—whether done face to face or from a distance via technology—take place through the medium of sound alone. However, the sound of this world is simply a manifestation of Bhagavān’s external potency (aparā-śakti), and it is therefore unable to enter Vaikuṇṭha, the spiritual world. This sound can travel and thereby exercise control only within this material world, or, at most, within the boundaries of the fourteen planetary systems, but not beyond.
The extraordinary specialties of śabda-brahma
Beyond this material sound, there exists another type of sound called śabda-brahma, which is the manifestation of Bhagavān in the form of sound. This śabda-brahma is the sound of Vaikuṇṭha, and is the subtlest of all the objects in that realm. The name ‘Kṛṣṇa’ is the subtlest of all transcendental sounds. In Kaṭhopaniṣad (1.2.20), Kṛṣṇa is described as being aṇor anīyān, or subtler than the subtlest. Kṛṣṇa is the subtlest personality, and the sound of His name is the subtlest transcendental sound. Thus, kṛṣṇa-nāma is most powerful and able to control everything.
The ordinary sound of this material world is lifeless, whereas śabda-brahma possesses consciousness. Material sound requires a medium, whether personal or mechanical, to be transported from one place to another, but śabda-brahma is so powerful that it can travel by its own independent will. Material sound is devoid of form, whereas śabda-brahma has an extremely beautiful transcendental form.
Every word of śabda-brahma possesses its own independent form. Kṛṣṇa-nāma also has a very beautiful form (svarūpa); It has ears, a nose, a mouth, eyes, feet, arms, a head and so on. It eats, walks, engages in mutual exchanges, rests, gives pleasure and also tastes happiness, and devotees therefore refer to kṛṣṇa-nāma as a personality: Śrī Nāma Prabhu. With this understanding, one of our guru-vargas, Śrī Bhagavān dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja of Kālanā, used to serve Śrī Nāma Prabhu as one would a Deity (vigraha) by offering bhoga, offering pūjā, putting Him to sleep and so forth. These are only some of the many reasons why kṛṣṇa-nāma is non-different from Śrī Kṛṣṇa. By hearing these truths, we can understand the superiority of kṛṣṇa-nāma and why śrī kṛṣṇa-nāma-saṅkīrtana is foremost among all the forms of kīrtana.
Śabda-brahma should be increasingly chanted
Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has written in his Śrī Harināmāmṛta-vyākaraṇa that one of the objectives of vyākaraṇa (grammar) is to reduce the number of mātrās (intra-syllabic vowel symbols) without losing the meaning of the sentence. When scholars are able to reduce the number of mātrās, they experience a happiness equivalent to that of being blessed with a son. However, such an achievement is praiseworthy only with respect to the sounds of this material world, and not śabda-brahma:
vaikuṇṭha-nāma-grahaṇam aśeṣāgha-haraṁ viduḥ
Here, grahaṇam, or ‘accepting’, implies ‘chanting.’ When chanted, the name that originates in Vaikuṇṭha (śabda-brahma) has the power to free one of unlimited sins. Being part and parcel of Bhagavān, who is the embodiment of bliss (ānanda), the constitution of the jīva is also that of bliss. Therefore, it is only when this śabda-brahma is constantly chanted that all dirt is cleansed from the citta (heart) and one experiences the everlasting bliss of being established in knowledge of one’s true self. With the objective of chanting vaikuṇṭha-nāma in ever-increasing quantities, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has identified nouns belonging to the masculine gender (pu-liṅga) as kṛṣṇa nouns, nouns belonging to the feminine gender (strī-liṅga) as lakṣmī nouns, and the neutral gender (kliṇg-liṅga) as brahma nouns. Moreover, vowels, which are completely independent letters, have been referred to as sarveśvara (Lord of all Lords), while consonants, which are dependent on the vowels, are referred to as viṣṇu-jana, or devotees, because devotees are dependent on Viṣṇu.
Only the name ‘Kṛṣṇa’ completely expresses the attributes of the Supreme Lord
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda used to say that although in the worldly thesaurus, names such as Kṛṣṇa, Rāma and Balarāma are given as the synonyms of vaikuṇṭha-nāma, according to the spiritual thesaurus, the only synonym for the name ‘Kṛṣṇa’ is the word kṛṣṇa itself. Only kṛṣṇa-nāma correctly and most perfectly expresses the attributes of the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa; such expression can never be achieved through any other word.
Śrī Nāma Prabhu is not our slave
Śrī Nāma Prabhu, like the Lord Himself, is supremely independent, unlimitedly merciful, all powerful and offers total fearlessness to anyone who takes shelter of Him. He is the most superior entity, and we are the most fallen. It is impossible to chant the holy name on our own, as Śrī Nāma Prabhu is not under our control. We can only pray to Him, “O, Śrī Nāma Prabhu! We have heard from the kīrtana of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura that you appear on the tongue of devotees who chant your name purely:
nārada muni, bājāya vīṇā rādhikā-ramaṇa-nāme
nāma amani, udita haya, bhakata-gīta-sāme
Gītāvalī, Śrī Nāmāṣṭaka (8.1)
“A deep desire appeared in the heart of Nārada Muni for the name ‘Rādhikā-ramaṇa’ to manifest on his tongue. While he was deeply absorbed in thinking this way, his fingers played the notes on his vīṇā, which chanted ‘Rādhikā-ramaṇa.’ By hearing that vaikuṇṭḥa-nāma, Rādhikā-ramaṇa Śrī Kṛṣṇa understood his desire and immediately appeared on his tongue.
“O Śrī Nāma Prabhu! Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmīpāda has similarly mentioned in his Śrī Kṛṣṇa-nāmāṣṭakam (8), ‘sphura me rasane rasena sadā—please always manifest on my tongue.’ I am praying to you now in the same mood.”
If śabda-brahma Śrī Nāma Prabhu, who is totally independent by nature, bestows His causeless mercy and appears on our tongue, then our lives will become blessed, and thus blissful.
ataḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāmādi na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ
Śrī Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.234)
All the transcendental objects that belong to Vaikuṇṭha, such as Kṛṣṇa’s nāma, rūpa, guṇa, līlā, dhāma, parikāras and vaiśiṣtya, can never be perceived by a conditioned soul through his material senses. However, they naturally become manifest of their own accord to the senses—the tongue, ears, nose, skin, eyes and so forth—of a person who is sevonmukha, or, in other words, a person in whom the desire to serve Śrī Kṛṣṇa and His devotees has arisen.
Therefore, the conclusion is that if we truly wish to chant the transcendental vaikuṇṭha-nāma, we must first become sevonmukha; we must call out for the mercy of Śrī Nāma Prabhu with all humility and sincerity, with a desire to attain the service of Śrī Bhagavān in His transcendental abode. Also, we must give up our bhogonmukha-vṛtti (inclination toward material enjoyment). In other words, we must abandon calling out the names of Śrī Bhagavān with the objective to fulfill our desires for material sense gratification. We must give up the wicked conception that Śrī Nāma Prabhu is under our control, and instead surrender ourselves completely, by which we will gradually increase our inclination to serve Śrī Nāma Prabhu more and more.
The beggar’s fortune
There was once a beggar who was unable to eat properly, even after a full day of collecting alms. One day while walking alone through the forest, he saw many pieces of iron lying on the ground unattended. He looked cautiously in all directions and found no one nearby. Without wasting a moment, he enthusiastically collected the iron pieces. He kept some in a tied piece of cloth he carried on his head, filled his shoulder bags to full capacity, carried as many as he could in his bare hands and moved on. Although he was carrying such a heavy load, he did not feel the slightest discomfort. In fact, he considered himself extremely fortunate.
The most natural way of losing attachment for inferior objects is by possessing superior objects
After walking a short distance, the beggar saw many copper pieces on the ground. He immediately discarded all the iron pieces he was carrying, knowing them to be of no significant value in the presence of so much copper. He filled his head cloth and shoulder bags with those copper pieces and, collecting as many pieces as he could in his bare hands, started walking. Further down the road, he then found brass, silver and gold, successively. Being well aware of the comparative values of the materials, he discarded each previous metal and collected the new, more valuable metal.
Bewilderment is the result of a lack of experience
When he walked further still, he saw separate heaps of many different types of precious jewels. These jewels were sūryakānta-maṇi, a jewel that brightens up one’s home like the rays of the sun; candrakānta-maṇi, a jewel that is a source of freshness comparable to the splendorous calm of moonlight; nīlakānta-maṇi, a jewel that emits shining blue rays and fills the surrounding area with a blue hue that reaches far and wide; sparśa-maṇi, a jewel that converts any metal it touches into gold; and śyāmantaka-maṇi, a jewel that daily yields kilograms of gold.
The beggar was completely bewildered by seeing these different types of jewels in one place, and he considered he was perhaps dreaming, had stumbled into a foreign country, or had somehow been transported to one of the heavenly planets. Although he had heard about these precious jewels, he was unable to decide whether to keep the gold or throw it all away and pick up the jewels lying in front of him.
One’s duty when experiencing bewilderment
The beggar was unsure whether the jewels were real or fake. He considered that if he were to take the jewels and they would turn out to be fake, he would not only have lost the gold, but he would also be left with worthless stones. Although those jewels were highly precious, he doubted their authenticity because he was unable to assess their values. If a jeweler had been present with him, he could have rightly assessed, beyond a doubt, the true value of all the different jewels, as well as their correct uses and respective market demands.
One must be alert when bewildered
It is worth mentioning here that not all jewelers have the same level of proficiency or character. Due to their varying abilities and intentions, different jewelers may assign drastically different values to the same jewel. For their own personal gain, some cheating jewelers knowingly assign a lower value to a highly precious gem and then buy that gem at their concocted price, while others assign an inflated value to their own gems and sell those gems to an ignorant client for an exorbitant fee.
Fifty years ago in Hyderabad, an owner of a sweet shop named Āgrā Sweets purchased an old house. During the excavation and renovation of that house, a worker found a diamond in the ground, but because he lacked knowledge about diamonds, he considered it something with which children would play. For this reason, he gave the diamond to the owner of the house and said, “I found this. If you want, you can take it for your children.” The owner gave the worker ten rupees as a reward and took the diamond from him. The worker was very pleased, and praised the owner for his kind-heartedness. The owner took the diamond to a jeweler, who valued it to be worth one lākha (one hundred thousand) rupees. The owner of the house was very intelligent; he did not sell the diamond in Hyderabad, but took it to Bangalore to have it appraised during a business trip. The jeweler in Bangalore valued the diamond to be worth three lākha rupees. Still, he did not sell it, but instead took it to Mumbai, where it was valued to be worth ten lākha rupees.
From the above anecdote, we can clearly see that although the same diamond was assessed by three different professional jewelers, they each gave different appraisals. The first reason for this discrepancy is the difference in their respective proficiencies in assessing the true value of the diamond. The second reason is their greed to make a greater profit by falsely appraising the diamond at a lower price.
A jewel that renders all other jewels worthless
Every single thing in this world and the fourteen planetary systems, including all the above-mentioned jewels, is by nature jaḍa (without consciousness). There is, however, one very special, precious jewel in front of which all jewels of the mundane world appear as insignificant and abominable as stool. This special jewel is kṛṣṇa-nāma-cintāmaṇi, the wish-fulfilling jewel of the names of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and it is the very embodiment of conscious, transcendental mellows:
nāma cintāmaṇiḥ kṛṣṇaś
The glories of kṛṣṇa-nāma are understood respective to one’s qualification
Only the self-realized, pure devotees, who have completely realized the potency of the transcendental objects of Vaikuṇṭha, can describe the real glories of this most magnificent jewel of kṛṣṇa-nāma. Some very fortunate persons, by virtue of their accumulated sukṛti (spiritual merit) from either this lifetime or previous lifetimes, obtain the opportunity to hear the glories of the pure name (śuddha-nāma) from the lips of these very dear associates of Bhagavān. Still, it is not certain that such fortunate souls will be able to understand, accept or realize the transcendental significance of this śuddha-nāma to the same extent as those self-realized souls. Each practitioner will realize it differently, according to his own qualification, capacity and intelligence.
The realizations of the unqualified
Kṛṣṇa-nāma is the transcendental wish-fulfilling jewel that fulfills every wish upon that wish’s expression; the entirety of one’s desires are fulfilled immediately upon chanting this holy name. Sometimes, people who have successfully realized certain trivial, material results of chanting kṛṣṇa-nāma think they have fully realized the true transcendental potency of this most glorious name.
Once, all the wells of a place called Devaghar had dried up due to a severe drought. All the residents were so desperate for water that they engaged the local priests to perform a fire sacrifice to induce rain, but their attempts went in vain. In desperation, a group of Marwari ladies assembled and performed kīrtana of the mahā-mantra—hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare, hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare—while playing drums and other instruments. After some time, it started raining. Since then, the villagers perform mahā-mantra kīrtana whenever there is a lack of precipitation during the rainy season, but they do not feel the need to perform kīrtana at other times. Is this the real glory of kṛṣṇa-nāma?
At another place, Rāṇāghāṭa, there was a wholesale merchant. Because his customers were delayed in making their due payments, he was unable to pay his creditors, who insisted on immediate payment. The merchant was in a very difficult situation, and seeing no other solution, he organized the performance of mahā-mantra kīrtana for eight praharas (twenty-four hours). Shortly after the kīrtana, his customers made their payments and he was able to pay his creditors on time. This merchant would later narrate this incident repeatedly, claiming very proudly that he had personally witnessed the true glories of kṛṣṇa-nāma. But this claim is simply illusion. Such trivial results can be obtained by the mere chanting of nāma aparādha, or the chanting of harināma while committing offenses, whether knowingly or unknowingly. If such trivial results are considered glorious, what then can be said of the glories of chanting harināma offenselessly in a mood of complete surrender?
It is not guaranteed that one will realize the true value of an object, however precious it may be, by simply acquiring it. For example, after the death of Hari Singh, the king of Kashmir, his son and daughter-in-law took most of his belongings to their house, except for one old chest that was filled with apparently useless things. They locked the chest and left it at the deceased king’s palace. The chest remained untouched for a long time, until the later Chief Minister of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, ordered the lock on the chest opened and all the contents taken out. Among the contents, they found such a unique and precious jewel that no jeweler in India was able to assess its value. A jeweler was brought specially from France, and when he declared the value of the jewel to be around five hundred crore, everyone was taken aback in great disbelief.
The Sikhs claimed that the jewel belonged to their king, Ranjeet Singh; the people of Kashmir said that the jewel belonged to them; and the Indian government asserted that the jewel was a national asset, and therefore they were its rightful owners.
The true value of kṛṣṇa-nāma is realized by sādhu-saṅga
While this jewel of Kashmir lay in a chest for a long time, all were unaware of its immense value. In the same way, we are completely ignorant of the glories of kṛṣṇa-nāma. Even if great personalities were to inform us of its glories, it would not be enough to inspire us to consider it our very life and soul. We will have to first earn the qualification to consider this nāma-cintāmaṇi our most cherished possession. In this regard, Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s intimate associate Śrīla Jagadānanda Paṇḍita has written:
ĵadi kôribe kṛṣṇa-nāma sādhu-saṅga kara
bhukti-mukti-siddhi-vāñchā dūre parihara
If you desire to chant kṛṣṇa-nāma, remain in association of pure devotees and reject all desires for senses enjoyment, liberation and mystic perfections.
‘sādhu-saṅge kṛṣṇa-nāme’—ei mātra cāi saṁsāra jinite āra kona vastu nā.
Desire only to remain in the association of pure devotees and chant kṛṣṇa-nāma. Besides this, there is no other way to conquer the cycle of birth and death in this material world.