The origin, nature, effect and practice of the holy name.
I was teaching my sister the benefits of chanting the holy names of Krsna, but she was doubtful. “What is going to happen just by repeating some words?” she asked. I had no answer. Later, I pondered over this subject and after referring to the writings of our acaryas, I got a deeper insight and understanding about the holy name or divine sound.
Nature of the Spiritual Sound Vibration
It’s a great wonder how a combination of letters produced by the vibration of sense organs when heard can bring about a transformation of the heart. This effect may appear occult to some readers. The difficulty in understanding the mysterious, miraculous transformational effect of divine sound on the higher dimensional reality within the self is simply because of our own ignorance of the truth about the sound. But this mystery can be resolved if we understand the source and nature of that sound, which the scriptures declare to be capable of uncovering the pure consciousness of the soul.
Spiritual sound vibration is fundamentally different from the material sound vibration which is just a physical phenomenon occurring in the universe. Technically speaking, it is just a compression and rarefaction of air molecules, a mere traveling wave, which is an oscillation of pressure.
We can consider sound to be a representative of the actual object, because the sound produced while speaking of an object gives an idea of the description of the object. However, the material sound is different from the actual object; just the utterance of the material sound does not invoke the presence of the object. A thirsty man will not be able to quench his thirst just by uttering the words “water..water..water.” He would have to actually drink the substance water to quench his thirst.
The spiritual sound vibration is not just a sensation stimulated in the organs of hearing by air molecules. The holy name of Krsna is a special incarnation of God and is non-different from God Himself. As confirmed in the verse from Padma Purana:
nama cintamanih Krsnas
purnah suddho nitya-mukto
“The holy name of Krsna is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krsna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. Krsna’s name is complete, and it is the form of all transcendental mellows. It is not a material name under any condition, and it is no less powerful than Krsna Himself. Since Krsna’s name is not contaminated by the material qualities, there is no question of its being involved with maya. Krsna’s name is always liberated and spiritual; it is never condi-tioned by the laws of material nature. This is because the name of Krsna and Krsna Himself are identical.”
Spiritual sound, thus being non-different from the object, it can invoke the presence of the object fully.
While in an interaction with a friend over the telephone we can get a feeling of a few attributes of the person, in short we can experience his personality. But because the potency of the material sound is limited, the other attributes of the person are not made explicit through the telephone.
Spiritual sound, in contrast with the material sound, has all the potencies of God invested in it. Therefore, it can reveal the Personality of Godhead fully to the hearer.
Lord Caitanya prayed in His Siksastaka (2), namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-saktis tatrarpita niyamitah smarane na kalah: “O my Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, in Your holy name there is all good fortune for the living entity, and therefore You have many names, such as Krsna and Govinda, by which You expand Yourself. You have invested all your potencies in those names, and there are no hard and fast rules for chanting them.”
Source of the Holy Name
Divine sound and material sound apparently seem to have the same source of origin that is, our sense organs. But the origin of the divine sound goes beyond the material senses; it cannot be produced simply by moving the lips and tongue.
The great Vaisnava poet Narottama dasa thakura has sung, golokera prema-dhana, hari-nama-sankirtana: “That the transcendental sound of the holy name of the Lord has its origin in the spiritual world.”
As poignantly stated by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati thakura, “The pure name of Krsna is not lip-deep but heart-deep. Ultimately, it goes beyond the heart and reaches the land of Krsna. When Krsna comes down, the name comes through the heart and moves the lips and tongue.” That vibration is the holy name of Krsna, that vibration is the divine sound vibration.
Even though the divine sound is spiritual, when it comes in the material world it acts through the material laws, which is through the phenomenon in which physical sound is produced, but it is never contaminated by material nature; it is eternally liberated. There is a great difference between the physical sound and the divine sound. Even though they both appear apparently similar, their difference can indeed be easily found by their effect on us.
Reflecting upon this point, I could see the difficulty faced by my sister in appreciating the holy name because she was equating spiritual sound with material sound. Ignorance of the potency of the holy name, its nature and origin makes us look at the holy name with a material vision.
Accessing the Divine Nature
The transcendental or the spiritual sound vibration can come to the material plane, but we cannot go to the transcendental plane on our own. The Bhakti-rasamRta-sindhu says, the transcendental nature of the holy name can be realized only when we become spiritually saturated with service to the Lord. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati thakura proclaimed, “The divine name or the holy name of Krsna is only realized when we approach Him with a very intense serving attitude. At that time, Krsna Himself may come down by His grace, being attracted by our pure serving nature.” Only Krsna by His own sweet will can influence the material elements and produce the transcendental sound and dance on the tongue.
Being finite in nature, we cannot capture the infinite Lord Krsna on our tongue. Only when we please Krsna with our state of consciousness, free from anarthas and aparadhas and our heart filled with devotion, may we be able to attract Krsna. Then the svarupa-sakti, which is the internal spiritual potency of the Lord, descends upon such a soul and enables him to purely chant the divine name.
The holy name of Krsna, the real name of Krsna, is non-different from Krsna. Because the infinite has descended into the finite domain of our tongue, our only tongue may be insufficient to contain the holy name. Hence Rupa Goswami in his highest state of devotional ecstasy prayed:
tunde tandavini ratim vitanute tundavali-labdhaye
karna-kroda-kadambini ghatayate karnarbudebhyah sprham
cetah-prangana-sangini vijayate sarvendriyanam krtim
no jane janita kiyadbhir amrtaih krsneti varna-dvayi
“I do not know how much nectar the two syllables ‘KRs-na’ have produced. When the holy name of Krsna is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the holy name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert.”
Selfless Love attracts the Supremely Independent Lord
The sound we create with our physical tongue without any spiritual essence in the background is not Krsna, that sound of Krsna’s name is not Krsna.
Bhaktivinoda thakura has said, namaksara bahir haya nama nahi haya: “Simply the letters of the alphabet are coming, but that is not the holy name.”
We cannot capture Krsna by repeating some sounds that are a mere semblance of His original name. Yet because He is the supreme controller, He can appear anywhere, in any form, through anything, at any circumstance, and at any time.” Lord Nrsimhadeva appeared through a pillar to protect His devotee Prahlada. Hence Krsna can appear even through the sound vibration if we have the proper means to attract Him: bhagavat-prema, love of God.
Names are given to God based on His activities and the name Krsna is the prime name of all names given to God. The Hare Krsna maha-mantra, recommended by Lord Sri Caitanya Himself for the deliverance of the people of this age, is a bona fide and authoritative mantra passed down through parampara. It is the most suitable and required mantra to be chanted for this age, and it can restore the consciousness to its original state.
The way to attain love of Godhead is by following the process of devotional service, through which the conditioned soul is transformed to a pure soul.
As material sound awakens the consciousness from deep sleep and dreaming to wakefulness, so spiritual sound lifts consciousness from matter and mind to the self’s eternal connection to Krsna. However, the divine nature of the spiritual sound or holy name will remain forever a mystery to those who approach it only empirically or intellectually. It can be realized only when we approach it with a very intense service attitude.
Later I shared my findings about the divine sound with my sister. It sounded reasonable to her. “At desperate times,” she said, “when I chant the holy names, I get the strength to face difficult situations. In such times we desperately seek the shelter of God, but when things are easy and routine we tend to become mechanical; we don’t feel the need to take shelter.”
There I remembered Srila Prabhupada’s words: “One should chant the holy name of Krsna like a baby crying for his mother.” That will attract Krsna’s attention towards us.
By chanting with humility and an urgent desire for purification, simultaneously developing a genuine service attitude without false ego, we are opening our hearts to Krsna to enter from His supreme abode of Goloka.
Even though chanting externally appears to be a mere process of repeating some words, for a genuine chanter, the holy name, non-different from Krsna Himself, destroys the ignorance within the self just as the rising sun removes the darkness. It brings the consciousness back to its original constitutional nature of identifying itself as the servant of the servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna.
Praveen Shanmugam is studying in the final year of B. Tech dual degree program in the department of Industrial Engineering in IIT Kharagpur.