Answer by HH Romapada Swami
Question: Can you kindly explain what are the potential realizations in each stage of chanting i.e. nama-aparadha, nama-abhasa, and suddha-nama? Is there any positive realization (that which is favorable to Krishna consciousness) for a person in nama-aparadha stage? In other words, how can one know that one is progressing from one stage to another?
Answer: The Holy Name is like a touchstone, it can grant all desirable objects to the chanter. We know from Hari Nama Cintamani that even one who chants the Holy Name unintentionally, inattentively, jokingly or derisively, can get delivered from material existence. Such chanting is considered as “namabhasa” or a faint shadow of the Holy Name - even this shadow of the Holy Name is so powerful that it can grant all auspiciousness, up to liberation, if chanted without offense.
But chanting will not be very soon fruitful if done to facilitate sinning or if one commits any of the other ten offenses such as blaspheming the devotees etc. The holy name is so powerful that It still acts, but when one utters the holy name with offenses, its action will be delayed.
The types of Namabhasa chanting mentioned above, like that of Ajamila or Sisupala, are without real understanding or faith in Krishna. For instance, Ajamila was calling the name of Narayana unintentionally, and thus there was no question of any offense in his chanting. Such namabhasa are on the lower border of the Nama-abhasa stage.
On the other hand, if one has genuine faith in Krishna and takes up the chanting, even though anarthas are present, that stage is known as “Sraddha namabhasa”. If even namabhasa without faith can grant liberation, faithful chanting is so much more powerful. Such faithful chanting can absolve one of all sins, destroys the effects of Kali yuga and can grant all the desirable goals of dharma-artha-kama-moksha. Harinama Cintamani states that one can go ‘up to the border of Vaikuntha planets by this chanting.’ However, when one commits offenses, the effect is delayed. Furthermore, the highest goal, viz. love of Godhead cannot be attained by namabhasa chanting. Pure love of Godhead, Krishna-prema can be attained only through chanting the pure Name. By accumulation of namabhasa, however, one eventually gains faith to accept the path of pure devotional service and by following the path, it gradually brings one to the stage of pure chanting.
Sraddha-namabhasa is the clearing stage of chanting - the symptom of one who is on this stage is that they strive towards chanting the pure name, by constant practice and by carefully striving to avoid the offenses. Sraddha-namabhasa can clear away anarthas and aparadhas (offenses) very quickly and the devotee becomes steady.
One continues to chant in the namabhasa stage as long as one is not firmly established in understanding the transcendental nature of Holy Name. In other words, the mist of ignorance, anarthas and aparadhas — which are the causes of namabhasa, like clouds obstructing one’s vision of the sun-like Holy Name - all these are present as long as the living entity does not have clear understanding of the nature of Holy Name, of oneself, of material nature and their mutual relationship (sambandha-jnana). A sincere and faithful chanter can dissipate these clouds by taking shelter of a bona fide spiritual master, who is established in pure chanting of the Holy Name. The spiritual master instructs the serious student in proper sambandha-jnana and in the sadhana practice of culturing the Holy Name, which is abhideya-jnana. By sincerely serving the spiritual master and faithfully following his instructions regarding chanting the Holy Name, the cloud-like anarthas, aparadhas and ignorance are dissipated and thus one can quickly come to the stage of pure chanting, shuddha-nama. At this stage, the pure Holy Name manifests on the tongue of the chanter. One begins to actually relish chanting the Holy Name and pure love of Krishna quickly manifests.
There may be many anarthas or aparadhas generated out of ignorance or weakness of heart during the namabhasa stage, but they are cleared by continuing to chant faithfully under proper guidance. However, if one does not seek or accept transcendental knowledge of sambandha, one continues on the namabhasa platform, and the effect of chanting is limited.
Alternatively, if one deliberately holds on to misconceptions about the Holy Name despite opportunities to get pure faith, considering the chanting to be a means to some higher end, due to one’s duplicity or mayavada misconceptions, such chanting will not lead to purification but could end in further offenses, despite chanting for a long time. Generally this is the effect of the chanting by mayavadis, for they consider Krsna and His Holy Name to be temporary or imaginary, and are thus offenders against the Name. The Holy Name is a desire tree and may grant their desire for impersonal merging into the Brahman effulgence, but a devotee considers this is as a misfortune worse than hell.
Vishvanatha Cakravarti Thakur indicates in “Madhurya Kadambini” two yardsticks for measuring one’s progress towards steadiness in bhakti — the intensity in effort and the ease of chanting. Whether there is intensification or slackening in hearing and chanting and following the rules of sadhana as laid down by the spiritual master - this is a good indicator of whether we are becoming free from anarthas and progressing towards pure chanting. He also charts out in detail the different stages of anartha-nivritti, including becoming free from different stages of inattention during chanting (sleep or inertia, distraction, indifference), as well as freedom from tendency towards bad-habits, attraction for sense-gratification etc; we can judge our progress based on the progressive ease with which we are able to overcome these obstacles. Conversely, as long as there is difficulty in absorption and inability to relish the chanting, we can take it as an indication, as Lord Caitanya expresses in His Siksastakam prayers, that it is due to committing one or more offenses.