Lord Caitanya describes the many blessings obtained by chanting the holy names of the Lord.

The first ve rse of Lord Caitanya’s Sikshastakam (“Eight Instructions”) describes the seven tongues of the flame of the sacrifice of chanting Krishna’s holy names. Lord Caitanya explains how seven stages of transcendental purification and elevation take place when we chant Hare Krishna.

Removing the Dust
7 stages of purification - Back to Godhead
Lord Caitanya begins, ceto-darpanamarjanam: the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord cleanses the mirror of our consciousness. Originally we are all pure Krishna conscious entities. The soul is part of the supreme soul, Krishna. Pure love of Krishna in ecstatic bliss is within the heart of every living being. The function of the mirror of our consciousness is to reflect the true identity and nature of our own self. When we look in the mirror, we do not expect to see someone else.

The soul is unlimitedly beautiful, because it is qualitatively one with Krishna, the supreme beauty. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that one spark of His beauty creates all the things in material existence that intoxicate us with illusory pleasure.

Still, the beauty of one infinitesimal jivatma (soul) within any species of life has more qualitative beauty and enchantment than all the things within the entire cosmic manifestation. We cannot even imagine the beauty of the soul.

When we look into the mirror of our consciousness, we are supposed to see the reflection of our self. But somehow our consciousness has been covered with layers and layers of dust that has accumulated birth after birth after birth. And so we cannot see who we are or what we are meant to be. All we see is that dust.

The dust is all of our selfish, egoistic desires to enjoy material existence. It is lust dust. We have so many aspirations for how we will enjoy. We are intoxicated by the illusory phantasmagoria of the socalled beautiful things of this world, which are compared to mirages. We chase after these mirages birth after birth, looking for happiness but finding no real satisfaction.

Unfulfilled, we often become angry and frustrated. Our selfish desires are not satisfied, so we want to blame someone or something. And we make so many offenses. If somehow or other we get a little bit of pleasure in the material world, we are dissatisfied. We want more and more. So we fall prey to greed, another species of dust.

Krishna explains that lust is just like fire. The more fuel you put in, the hungrier it becomes. The more you have, the more you become greedy for more. And if somehow or other someone has something you want or something more than what you want, then the dust of envy manifests. You become hateful of that person. You wish and pray that the person will lose everything and suffer. You become envious. “Why do you have those things? Why not me? I deserve them.”

And through all of this lust, anger, envywe become proud of whatever little we have; we think we are very great. And we’re in illusion, which drives us mad.

So our false ego, or our desire to enjoy, and all its byproducts and the reactions to our attempts to enjoy are the types of dust that cover the mirror of the soul.

Sometimes less intelligent people, frustrated in so many ways with dissatisfaction of all their pursuits in material life, take to a process of religion to be liberated by becoming God. That is another type of dust.

The first stage of chanting the holy names of the Lord is the removal of all this dust from the mirror of the mind.

Extinguishing the Fire

The next stage is bhava-mahadavagni- nirvapanam: chanting the holy names extinguishes the forest fire of material suffering. This world, Krishna says, is essentially a place of suffering. We are trying to be happy in a place of suffering. It is just like trying to be dry when you are submerged in the ocean. If you want to get dry, you have to get out of the ocean. So if you want to enjoy, you need to get out of this material existence.

All you have to do to get out of material existence is to want to get out. Chant and go back to Godhead. The only thing that keeps us here is our desire to stay here. And maya gives us these few tokens of happiness, just so we can feel, “Oh, I like it here. It’s worth all these miseries and sufferings, death after death. Just to get some nice food or touch some soft object or watch some television. It is worth it!” In this way maya keeps us in this miserable situation.

Material existence is compared to a burning forest fire. What can extinguish a burning forest fire? No fire brigade has any hope. Only by the power of God, when He sends rain showers, is it possible. The chanting of the holy names of Krishna is like that rainstorm. What is impossible for us to do individually or even collectively as human societyextinguish a forest fire can be done by Krishna’s mercy alone.

A fire millions of times greater and more intense than an uncontrollable forest fire is burning within our hearts. And the flames of that fire implicate us in the three miseries of material existence. The first is miseries of our own body and mind. The body has so many inconveniences and discomforts. Take disease, for example. One little creature enters your body and can causes so much misery. Then there are miseries of the mindanxiety, distress, lamentation, disappointment. So many tears flow from the eyes due to these miseries.

And there are miseries caused by others, such as our brothers and sisters, our families, our husbands or wives. Politicians, insectsso many other living beings create suffering for the conditioned soul.

Natural disturbances also create miseries. Too much heat, too much cold, too much rain, too little rain. In the material world too much or too little of anything and you suffer. Everything has to be just right for any relief or happiness. When there is a drought we pray for rain; when there is a flood we pray for drought. “Let the rain come. No, no, I changed my mind; let the rain stop.” When it is too hot we pray, “Let there be a nice breeze.” And then a frigid cyclone comes and“No, no, I changed my mind. I don’t want this breeze. Let it be hot.” The dualities of material existence are always there. Earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones.

These are all miseries of material nature.

In the second stage of chanting the holy name, Krishna’s mercy flows as a reciprocation, just like a rainstorm, completely extinguishing the blazing forest fire of material existence. We achieve freedom in the sense that we are forever delivered from all suffering from material existence.

The Benediction Moon

The next stage is sreyah-kairavacandrika- vitaranam. We have cleansed the mirror-heart of all the dirt of material attachment. We have extinguished the blazing forest fire of material existence, the cause of all miseries, and now our actual blissful spiritual nature begins to awaken.

Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu compares the holy name to a beautiful full moon. The holy name of Krishna is Krishna. The holy name radiates an oceanic quantity and quality of benedictions. As a night lotus blossoms in the light of the full moon, the soul blossoms in the rays of the holy name.

When the lotus is closed, its fragrance and beauty cannot be enjoyed. But when the lotus comes in contact with moonlight, it blossoms, and all of its fragrance and beauty are manifested to the world. When the holy name touches our hearts, it awakens the natural, beautiful loving qualities of our souls. And we realize our own spiritual existence in our relationship with Krishna. As that relationship develops, it manifests in five rasas, or spiritual tastes: in a neutral relationship with the Lord, as a servant of the Lord, as a friend of the Lord, as a parent of the Lord, or as a lover of the Lord.

Real Knowledge

The next stage Lord Caitanya describes is vidya-vadhu-jivanam. When the lotus of our soul blossoms, we gain real knowledge of who we are. We know that our real purpose is to surrender completely to the will of God. To the degree we surrender, we feel ecstasy. To the degree we are complacent or reluctant or we refuse to surrender to the will of Krishna, to the service of Krishna, we are cheating ourselves of the nectar of transcendental love, our eternal birthright. Complete surrender is the expression of knowledge of the true nature of our self, the soul.

In the material sense, surrender means to give up, against our will, and it is a miserable idea. When you are fighting a war, you want the other side to surrender. Nobody likes to surrender. It means you lose everything. In the spiritual sense, it is just the opposite.

Actually, you are surrendering at all times. It is just a question of whom you are surrendering to, because everyone is in a subordinate position in the material world. We have the independent free will to surrender to either Krishna’s spiritual energy or His material energy.

Every time you desire to see or taste or hear something material, you are surrendering to material nature. When we surren- As a night lotus blossoms in the light of the full moon, the soul blossoms in the rays of the holy name. der to maya, every time we surrender to any of our desires we plunge deeper and deeper into the blazing fire.

The only means to be free from the power of maya is to surrender to Krishna, the all-good, all-beautiful reservoir of all pleasure. Why are we reluctant to surrender to Krishna? Because we are habituated to surrendering to maya. To surrender to Krishna is the easiest, simplest, most natural thing. But we have become so unnatural in our thinking, feeling, and willing that it appears to be very difficult. Still, through the power of the holy nameas the dust of our heart becomes cleansed, as the forest fire of material existence and the suffering of our actions and reactions of sinful activities are extinguished, as the true knowledge in the lotus of our hearts becomes revealedsurrendering to Krishna becomes our very nature. Surrender means to love Krishna, to serve Krishna. The expression of love is to serve.

Expanding Ocean of Bliss

The next stage that Lord Caitanya explains is anandambuddhivardhanam: when we surrender to Krishna, when we agree within our heart to live in harmony with Him and be the servant of the servant of His servants, then by His grace He places us in an unlimited ocean of transcendental ecstasy. The happiness of this world is like a drop of water in the desert. But the happiness achieved through the chanting of the holy name is like being submerged in an ocean of nectar, an ocean of ecstasy.

The soul is longing for the unlimited ecstatic joy of reuniting with Krishna. Once we see the beauty of Krishna, then we are aware that the things of this world that charm our heart are insignificant, irrelevant. When we realize we are not this body, we know there is nothing so great about material pleasure. It has nothing to do with the soul and reality.

In our unpurified state, when we see a beautiful thing it is just some light entering into our eye, but it makes us crazy. Or some sound frequency enters our ears, and we get crazy. Something scrapes our tonguewhat is the tongue but a lump of flesh wiggling around? But when something touches its surface, we go mad. That is what material enjoyment is, and we take it so seriously.

But one little glimpse of the beauty and charm of Krishna will completely take our minds forever from this material existence. The supreme power of Krishna is not in creating the material world but in displaying His all-attractive beauty, which charms the hearts of all His living entities for all of eternity One drop of love for Krishna can conquer the entire universe in a second. All that power, all that beauty, all the love, and all the opulences are within His name. And when that name enters our heart, all aspirations and desires for anything but the service of that name cease to exist.

Purifying Pleasure

The next aspect of chanting is sarvatma-snapanam. Krishna conscious pleasure is very different from the pleasures of the material world. The pleasures of the material world pollute us. The more pleasure we get, the more our hearts are polluted with the misconception that we are the enjoyer. But the pleasure of Krishna consciousness purifies us. The more we are happy in Krishna consciousness, the more purified we become.

Enjoyment from chanting and hearing the names and glories of the Lord completely purifies our heart. Not even the seeds and weeds of material enjoyment are left. Sometimes when we cut down weeds, it appears that everything is safe. But the seeds are still in the ground, and it is just a matter of time before they grow again. The holy name has the power to completely purify us, to the extent that even the seeds of material desires cease to exist as we drown in the ocean of Krishna-bhakti and Krishna-prema.

Victory Over Illusion

The next stage Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu explains is param vijayate Sri-Krishna-Sankirtanam. Lord Caitanya says, “Go on with this sri-Krishna-sankirtana. Let it be victorious in all directions.” This is Lord Caitanya’s benediction: The holy name of the Lord, when chanted by sincere devotees, not only delivers the six previous wonderful blessings, but it spreads out and expands to create victory over illusion and throughout the world. Wherever the Lord’s sincere devotees chant the holy name, these seven effects will take place. The supreme ultimate victory is accomplished through the chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Radhanatha Swami, an ISKCON guru, is an ISKCON governing body commissioner with responsibilities in parts of India and the United States. He is based at ISKCON Chowpatty (Mumbai).