Our Progress in Life is Gauged by Our Chanting
Lecture by HH Nirañjana Swami
I am very happy to be back in Moscow after six months. It’s hard to believe it’s already been six months since the last time I was here. One realization I am getting a lot is how fast time goes. Doesn’t seem very long ago that I was sitting here giving a class, but it’s already been six months.
As we all know from various understandings of Kṛṣṇa consciousness philosophy, our life is going to move just like this also. Sometimes when we realize how quickly our life is passing by, we begin to analyze: “Where am I going?” These are good thoughts, “Where am I going? What direction am I moving towards?”, because as we know, everybody by nature has to have some goal, some aspiration in life. Sometimes we get caught up in immediate goals, and sometimes even we hear an expression: “I am just taking it from day to day.” It is very common in America. I know that people often times will say like that when you ask them how they are doing. “Well, I am just taking it day by day.” Their goal is simply to make it to the next day. And usually ‘just to make it to the next day’ means ‘just so I can survive’. If I’ve survived to the next day, at least the next day I can have my goal for the following day.
But as we know, by practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness and by chanting the Holy Name, we are supposed to establish higher goals than that. Time is passing by very quickly, our lives are passing by very quickly, and we should actually feel that we are making some progress towards real goal in life. vāsudeva-parā gatiḥ [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.28-29]: The Supreme Lord Vāsudeva, He is parā gatiḥ, He is the supreme goal. In so many places in Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa says, “Those who make Me the goal of their life and worship me in devotional service, they will come to Me.”
We have to be moving in the right direction if we actually want to utilize this life to its full potential. I’ve been speaking a lot these last several days about the Holy Name and how we should actually think of our own progress in life in relationship to the Holy Name. Because just as we say, Kṛṣṇa is the supreme goal of life, that means that the Holy Name is also the supreme goal of life, because Kṛṣṇa and the Holy Name are identical.
Srila Rupa Goswami says that although there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and His Holy Name, still Krsna’s name is more merciful than Krsna because offenses to Krsna can be forgiven by chanting His names. (Namastaka 6)
But what are the circumstances by which one can be forgiven for his offence to the Holy Name? It’s all simply based on one’s attitude towards the Holy Name.
What is one’s attitude? Why does one chant the Holy Name? One of the differences between nāma-ābhāsa and nāma-aparādha is that on the platform of nāma-ābhāsa one is trying to become free from his offences. That’s a very fundamental difference between nāma-ābhāsa and nāma-aparādha.
It’s also said that one who chants on the platform of nāma-ābhāsa commits offences due to weaknesses of heart (hṛdaya-daurbalyaṁ) and ignorance. If out of foolishness or bewilderment one chants the Holy Name of the Lord and still commits some offences, then the Lord takes his attitude into consideration. Because person in ignorance just doesn’t know better; and a person who is weak in heart, it is not that he is utilizing the Holy Name to fulfill some other motivations and some other purpose.
Just like Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura describes the difference between chāyā-nāma-ābhāsa and pratibimba-nāma-ābhāsa: chāyā means ‘shadow’, and pratibimba means ‘reflection’. Actually, there are three definitions of ābhāsa.
First is kānti which means ‘light’. An effulgent object gives light and creates shadow; similarly, the Holy Name of the Lord is self-effulgent, but It also creates shadow. And the shadow which is referred to as chāyā-nāma-ābhāsa is when the person, either out of bewilderment or foolishness, chants the Holy Name of the Lord (with offences), but he is trying to become free from his offences.
But pratibimba-nāma-ābhāsa means that a person is very much attached either to bhoga (sense gratification), or to liberation. He is so much attached that he wants to use the Holy Name of the Lord to fulfill his materialistic goals. His goal is not Kṛṣṇa! His goal is either liberation, like the impersonalist (who may also chant Hare Kṛṣṇa), or he may simply want some material gain. Therefore the word pratibimba is used and it means ‘reflection’.
Just like the sun may come through the clouds after burning through the clouds, and we may see reflection of the light on the water, but reflection is all distorted. Similarly, the pure Holy Name is reflected on the materialistic mentality. That materialistic mentality means that one wants to engage the Holy Name of the Lord to fulfill his own material goals. It’s described that one of the effects of chanting the Holy Name of the Lord is that one can become peaceful, can become free from anxiety. So person may think, “Now I can fulfill my material goals and I don’t have to worry about being in anxiety. I’ll chant Hare Kṛṣṇa without having to worry to be in anxiety in fulfillment of these desires!”
His goals are all in the material world. If his goal is not Kṛṣṇa – Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says that such a person can never get love of Godhead, can never chant śuddha-nāma, pure Holy Name of the Lord! He says that only by some great fortune, either by the mercy of a great, powerful Vaiṣṇava devotee of the Lord, or by the mercy of the Lord, can one who chants with this mentality ever come to the platform of pure love of Godhead. He says, “But it’s very rare.”
But chāyā-nāma-ābhāsa means ‘shadow’. A person who chants on the platform of chāyā-nāma-ābhāsa is not motivated to fulfill his materialistic goals. He is just weak, and out of weakness he commits offences to the Holy Name, but he wants to become free from these offences. Therefore, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says that if one wants to get off this platform of nāma-aparādha, there are three things required.
He says that one has to associate with more advanced devotees of the Lord and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa in their association. And one has to try to remove himself from all distracting elements, both externally and internally. He tries to remove himself from distracting elements internally by trying to become free from his anarthas, and he tries to remove himself from external distractions by controlling his environment where he chants Hare Kṛṣṇa.
The day before yesterday we were speaking about devotional service performed on the platform of niṣṭhā. We were speaking about the verse:
tṛṇād api su-nīcena
taror api sahiṣṇunā
kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura describes that this verse corresponds to a person who is on the platform of nistitha-bhakti. And what are the characteristics of nistitha-bhakti? As described by Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, there are five anarthas that one has to overcome in order to be situated in the platform of nistitha-bhakti.
The first is laya (sleep), which is the tendency to fall asleep in increasing levels from the platform of kīrtana, śravaṇa and smaraṇaṁ. Because in kīrtana we may not fall asleep so easily – although it happens. Sometimes you see devotees who do the step called the ‘tree’. [Devotees laugh] Prabhupāda taught us the ‘Swami step’ but sometimes the devotees perform the ‘tree step’. Tree is just firmly rooted. But then śravaṇaṁ (hearing) has a greater tendency to fall asleep. And then, of course, smaraṇaṁ (perfect control of the mind) has even greater tendency to fall asleep. That’s the first (laya, or sleep).
The second is called vikṣepa which means ‘distraction’. That means the tendency to be distracted while performing kīrtana, or performing japa. Example is given, just like sometimes people may, instead of chanting in the association of so many devotees, they may chant some other place where they can go back and forth and talk to each other. They are easily distracted towards something else.
But Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura also says that one has to actually remove himself from distractions externally. In another words, we shouldn’t chant in a place which is going to remind us of so many things that we have to do.
It may be very subtle. We may sit in a room and we may just see our notebook where we keep track of all the things that we are going to do for the day. As soon as we look at that notebook we start thinking about all the things that we have to do for the day. Just immediately! Sometimes devotees will chant with notebook right in front of them, and just look at the notebook waiting for something to come up. [Devotees laugh] The excuse they usually use is that, “If I have my notebook I can write it down and I can forget about it.” But just by having it there, immediately the tendency is that we start thinking, “Let’s see what nectar comes up from my meditation about it.”
Or sometimes devotees sit in front of the computer. There is no question of meditation on the Holy Name in these circumstances.
Or devotees chant while they are driving sometimes. It’s a bad habit. Devotees who are driving, they always ask, “Can I chant my japa while I am driving?” I tell them, “You can certainly chant Hare Kṛṣṇa while you’re driving, but you can’t count it as your japa.” [Devotees laugh] So many distractions! How can one completely commit himself to chanting the Holy Name?!
One is actually supposed to make progress in chanting the Holy Name. Certainly, in these first stages in chanting the Holy Name we have to listen, listen, listen. Prabhupāda says it is very, very important – just listen to the Holy Name. By attentive listening to the Holy Name, the mind is supposed to gradually become controlled and cleared, and when the mind is actually controlled and cleared, then what begins to manifest is a particular form of one’s worshipable Lord. That form may not always be manifested in the mind, but it begins to manifest in a clear mind. Or we may meditate on a particular form of the Deity. We may meditate on Dayal-Nitāi–Śacī-Suta, and meditate on Their form. Or we can chant in front of the Deity and look at Their form.
But these are the types of impressions that are supposed to begin manifest in the mind, because as Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura explains, that by chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord then comes the form, and the qualities, and then the pastimes of the Lord. And then everything is revealed, even one’s eternal relationship with the Lord is revealed by the chanting the Holy Name.
If the Holy Name of the Lord is non-different than the Lord, then certainly one has the relationship with the Holy Name. Everything is there. Actually, the goal that we should be looking for as we are making progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, is how much attachment we’re actually developing towards the Holy Name of the Lord. This is the actual goal of our chanting!
As Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura describes in “Dayāl-Nitāi-Caitanya” bhajan, “Without affection to the Holy Name of the Lord one’s life is useless.” This is the actual goal of our chanting. So, we should at least know what is the goal of the chanting, and while chanting the Holy Name of the Lord, we should be thinking about making progress to that goal. That is one of the fundamental differences between nāma-ābhāsa and nāma-aparādha. Certainly on the platform of nāma-ābhāsa one does not get the pure Holy Name of the Lord, but gradually one becomes free from offences.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura explains that in verse of Padma Purāṇa, [Svarga-kāṇḍa 48-49]:
nama-aparadha-yuktanam namany eva haranty agham
avisranta-prayuktani tany evartha-karani ca
The chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord is meant for those who are committing offences, because in the beginning, even though one may be chanting with offences, gradually he will become free from offences.
How does one get off the platform from nāma-aparādha to nāma-ābhāsa, and gradually come to the platform of śuddha-nāma? He has to chant with the attitude of “what is the goal of this chanting?!” Even though he may be committing offences while chanting, he has to be thinking, “I want to become free from these offences!” That attitude enables one to make progress in chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord. Just that attitude alone!
So, everything is there in the chanting of the Holy Name. Actually, the Holy Name of the Lord is our life! All our devotional service is meant to be performed in relationship to the Holy Name! All our progress in life is meant to be gauged according to our relationship with the Holy Name! Śrīla Prabhupāda taught us that we are actually servants of the Holy Name of the Lord. We render service to the Holy Name by chanting the Holy Name of the Lord and by distributing the glories of the Holy Name of the Lord.
Of course, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura also explains that this all depends upon one’s faith in the Holy Name of the Lord as well. He said that faith in the Holy Name of the Lord is the preliminary requirement for advancing. The nāma-aparādha, nāma-ābhāsa and śuddha-nāma, they are also different gradations of one’s faith in the Holy Name.
We’ve often times given the example that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura also gives in Harināma Cintāmaṇi, that the Spiritual Master should not initiate somebody into the Holy Name of the Lord who has no faith in the Holy Name. He says that one of the meanings of the ninth offence to the Holy Name of the Lord is to preach the glories of the Holy Name of the Lord to the faithless; it means to initiate someone who has no faith in the Holy Name.
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says, it’s just like if you throw pearls before the swine, the swine will simply walk all over it with its feet. And if you give a monkey very nice clothing, monkey will simple rip it up. Similarly, if one initiates one into the chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord, but if that person has no faith in chanting, that person will commit offences to the Holy Name. He is an aparādhi, he commits offences to the Holy Name of the Lord. No faith!
But also, what happens is, if he commits offences then one who actually gives the Holy Name of the Lord, initiates him, he also becomes dragged down by those offences. He gives the example: it’s just like sometimes a person may think, “Well, I want to be initiated into the Holy Name of the Lord, because if I get initiated then I can get all kinds of respect, and if I can get all kinds of respect then I can get all kinds of service. People will serve me because I will be recognized amongst everyone else. I can extract some service in that way.” He thinks, “All my bad reputation from the past can immediately be reversed, and now I’ll get a good reputation.” Or, he thinks, “Yes, now I’ll be able to really enjoy materially!”
He is an offender to the Holy Name of the Lord, because he has no faith in the actual purpose of the chanting! Therefore, the duty of the preacher of the Holy Name is to render service to the Holy Name by spreading the glories of the Holy Name of the Lord. And by spreading the glories, he is supposed to create faith!
First, one has to preach the glories of the Holy Name of the Lord, and by their preaching to the others, their faith will actually also increase. “Yes, I want to take the Holy Name of the Lord, because I want to make Kṛṣṇa the goal of my life!” And then, such person has faith that by receiving the Holy Name of the Lord, he’ll actually be able to attain Kṛṣṇa as the goal of his life! That faith must be there!
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says that faithful chanting, śraddhā, means that one must be convinced that all of one’s duties in life are automatically fulfilled simply by chanting the Holy Name of the Lord. And all of one’s pious activities will be completed by chanting the Holy Name of the Lord.
Therefore, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that the most important instruction – the most important instruction – given by the Spiritual Master, is to chant the Holy Name of the Lord. There is no other instruction which is as important as that instruction! All the profound secrets of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and devotional service can be revealed through faithful chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord!
But, we actually have to chant with this attitude, this intention, “Yes! I want to become free from these offences!” And we should judge, as the time is passing, we should see how much progress am I making in chanting? And if we think, “Actually, I am not making any progress,” then as Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says, one has to seek out the association of devotees who are making progress in chanting! Without that association it is very difficult to come to that platform of nāma-ābhāsa, to come from platform nāma-aparādha to nāma-ābhāsa.
Because by that association, gradually what happens is that the secrets of the Holy Name of the Lord can become gradually revealed. One begins to think more seriously about his chanting of the Holy Name. He begins to think, “What am I trying to accomplish by this chanting?” The devotee who thinks like that will always have the impetus to chant his rounds every day, because he understands what the goal is. And he knows that – although he may be traversing slowly – at least he knows, he has a purpose for chanting.
By repeat offences to the Holy Name of the Lord, one loses his taste for chanting. Such devotee doesn’t associate with the devotees for the purpose of increasing his attraction for chanting, and by those offences, gradually he may give up the chanting the Holy Name of the Lord. There is no purpose! “Why am I chanting? There are so many more important things to do than chanting! No time to chant! So many more important things to do!” Then, what happens is that one falls into the materialistic conception of life.
Actually, we wanted to speak about this verse tṛṇād api su-nīcena taror iva sahiṣṇunā, in relationship to the Holy Name. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura says that this verse from Śikṣāṣṭakam is the siddha-praṇālī for Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. Siddha-praṇālī. Praṇālī means ‘the means by which one can attain siddha, or perfection’. And he also says that this verse is solely intended to teach us how to chant without offences.
But, it’s time for āratika, and we’ll speak about this verse tomorrow. Hare Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Prabhupāda ki Jaya!