[Advaita-l] Power of Names of God -(Was "What does 'Hare Krishna' mean?")

V. Krishnamurthy profvk at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 17 20:29:35 CDT 2003

Power of  Names of God

For those who are not in a position to read or recite a
stotra, Hindu tradition has provided innumerable bhajans,
set to captivating tunes, particularly suitable for being
sung in chorus  by a congregation. In these bhajans, a
variety of God’s several names are repetitively strung
together in a melody and rhythm and usually with a refrain,
that are so delightfully musical that one is carried into
ecstasy even by simply listening to them. This tradition of
musical devotion came into prominence all over India mainly
after the revival of the Bhakti movement in the 15th and
16th centuries. The unceasing repetition of the classic
chant ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare;
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare’  by traditional
bhajan singers as well as by the members of the
contemporary Krishna Consciousness movement is one such.
One might have wondered how these devotees could even dance
in ecstasy singing this bhajan. In fact they maintain that
the worship of the Lord with song and dance must be done by
the devotees as a daily duty.

Question: When the Vedas prescribe costly and difficult
sacrifices for man’s salvation, how can mere praise of the
Lord, or just repetition of His names, which costs no
money, substitute for them?

The very ease with which one can practise nAma-sankIrtana
(= perfect singing of names of God. ‘nAma’: names ;
‘kIrtana’: singing or reciting; ‘sankIrtana’: singing with
perfection) is a factor in its favour. It is highly
recommended by every Hindu scripture for many reasons. It
is the only mode open  to all, irrespective of caste,
creed, sex, status of enlightenment, state of mind or any
other distinction.  It does no harm to others. It is not
conditioned by time; any time is good enough. It is not
conditioned by place; there is no rule which says, you have
to do kirtana only here and not there. There is no
ritualistic requirement. The recitation of names can purify
you both internally and externally and take you to the
highest level of attainment, namely, moksha itself.

Question: How can mere words and repetition of words have
so much power?

Yes, mere words and repetitions of words do have great
power. First, let us consider a simple explanation. Those
who rely totally on the limited laws of science and reason
may argue that words are, after all, just sound and cannot
be expected to cleanse or correct the mind of man. But a
word is not just a sound. Kalidasa, in the very first
shloka of his Raghuvamsam, very expressively brings out the
identity between vAk (word uttered) and artha (its meaning,
significance) by comparing it to the intertwining between
the male  and  female forms in the ardha-nArIshvara
representation of Shiva. When we say ‘table’ the
four-legged piece of furniture instantaneously appears as
mental picture. You cannot think of one without the other.
People are sitting quietly in, say, a meeting. Somebody
calls, ‘Snake!’. Will the calm continue? Just the word
‘snake’ magically destroys it. One might be sitting before
a plateful of delicacies, but if somebody nearby speaks of
something dirty or disgusting, one is repelled by the food.
The mere sound of words creates so strong a reaction. 

Sri Sathya Sai Baba tells an unforgettable story that
illustrates this.  A certain officer was inspecting the
work of a teacher in a school. The officer who had a hearty
contempt for ‘mere talk’ asked the teacher, “How can you
ever hope to transform the nature of these children by the
words you utter? Show them by deeds: act, don’t speak!” The
teacher protested and argued that words do have a profound
effect on the mind. The argument continued for some time
and the teacher was desperately looking for some way of
carrying home his point. At last he resolved on a plan. He
said to one of his pupils: ‘Look here, catch hold of this
officer by the neck and push him out of the room.’ Hearing
this, the inspector flew into a rage and started berating
the teacher. The teacher said, ‘Sir, I only made some
sounds shaped into a few words. No one pushed you or hit
you or even touched you. It was all mere sound. But see how
it has enraged you. It was all mere sound. Words, sir, do
help in modifying character and shaping nature. They have
vast power.’

And Sathya Sai Baba continues to explain: “When words
referring to worldly situations have such an electric
transforming effect on the mind of man, certainly words
conveying spiritual and elevated meaning will help in
cleansing and correcting the mind of man . When we filter
the air with harshness, we become harsh in nature, when we
fill the atmosphere with hatred, we too have perforce to
breathe that air and we are hated in return. When we
saturate the air with sounds full of reverence, humilty,
love, courage, self-confidence and tolerance, we benefit
from those qualities ourselves. The heart is the film  and
the mind is the lens. Turn the lens toward the world and a
worldly picture will fall on the heart. Turn it towards God
and it will transmit pictures of the Divine”. 

There is another explanation, an esoteric one, for the
efficacy of nAma-sankIrtana. It is a natural outpouring of
sentiments from the heart and leads to a communion between
God and Man. During nAma-sankIrtanas a charmed circle of
sound is produced and a strange sense of the greatness of
God and the essential unity of man creeps into the soul. 
With the successive awakening of each of the six yogic
chakras in the human body, there are corresponding changes
in one’s body, emotions, mind and degree of consciousness.
The progressive expansion of consciousness yields an
increase of knowledge about oneself and a deepening
awareness of the self-luminant Resident of the body,
namely, the Atman.  

The Kundalini shakti, which sleeps as it were at the
MulAdhAra chakra can be made by yoga practices to wake up,
evolve and travel upwards through the sushumnA nADi.  While
it does so it is imperceptible to the senses. But every day
it expresses itself, in every one of us, in all our
activities. Particularly the expression of it in the form
of the human voice is known as the manifestation of
nAda-brahman, the Sound Absolute. Thus in the perfection of
the human voice the primeval energy comes to prominence
through the words, sentences, and mantras we utter. We do
not realise, in our ignorance, that it is the Absolute
Supreme that is expressing itself through our voice and
that the satisfaction we derive in saying whatever we say
is only an iota of that Infinite Bliss which is in us.  If
only we could recite the names of God unendingly, it would
take us towards an identity with the nAda brahman at every
step.  A bhajan of the several names of the Infinite Being
(like the Hare Krishna mantra) creates the necessary
vibrations, starting from the MulAdhAra-chakra. An
unceasing nAma-sankIrtan cleanses the crust of vAsanAs that
has accumulated over several births, and thus paves the way
for the stored-up Kundalini energy to get tuned to the
frequency of the Infinite Energy in the Cosmos.

The recitation of the names should come from the heart, not
just from the lips or the tongue. It must be a spontaneous
manifestation of inner conviction and ecstasy. Such intense
yearning for God  purifies oneself as well as those around.
Life is full of sorrow, beset with fear and despair. The
only way one strengthens oneself to meet hard times is to
contact the source of all strength and bliss, namely the
Infinite God. This is the way to overcome the evil in us,
lay low the ‘pashu’ (beast) in us and instal the
‘pashu-pati’ (Lord of all beings) in our hearts. 

In reciting the names, however, one should not be guilty of
offences to the Name. Such offences will more than offset
the benefits of nAma-smaraNa. One should not insult or
speak ill of others, since every one is divine. No
distinction should be made between different names or forms
of God, though one may have some tastes in the matter
–which, mostly is because of one’s background of evolution,
not only in this birth, but in all previous births. The
Divine Name should be looked upon as supreme  truth and not
as mere eulogy.  

It is true that the repetition of God’s names will absolve
one of all sins, but on that account one should not use the
name as a cloak for the commission of sins. The cultivation
of the five basic virtues, namely, Purity, Self-Control,
Detachment, Truth and Non-violence, should not be
neglected. One should not behave in a way which is devoid
of love; one should not be governed by the conceits of ‘I’
and ‘Mine’. The fundamental principle of nAma-snaraNa and
nAma-sankIrtana is shraddhA (faith and conviction). Love
of, and exclusive devotion to, the Lord, is necessary. When
one does such a nAma-smaraNa it becomes a yajna in itself.
The Lord Himself says in the Gita: ‘Of all yajnas I am the
japa-yajna’.  The theme of nAma-smaraNa or a bhajan or a
japa should be that the one Supreme Almighty, who is spoken
of by different names, is the subtlest of things ever
experienced, though hard to analyse or apprehend by
ordinary commonsense and, therefore, every name of His
should take us to Him, if the intrinsic value thereof. 

PraNAms to all seekers of Truth

Prof. V. Krishnamurthy
My website on Science and Spirituality is http://www.geocities.com/profvk/
You can  access my book on Gems from the Ocean of Hindu Thought Vision and Practice,  and my father R. Visvanatha Sastri's manuscripts from the site.

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