B.R. Sridhara Maharaj sat on the roof of his quarters in Navadvipa. The now very old sadhu was in a very contemplative mood, and to approach him in this state disturbed me. He motioned that I should sit in front of him, so I timidly went and sat down on a grass mat. There was no one to be seen anywhere. "There are many things to see from up here by which we can remember Caitanya," His Holiness said. "This Ganges, this forest, the temples, His favorite tree, banana. What do you want?" "Can you explain how, if the name is a spiritual thing, how are we all chanting it?" I asked, feeling very foolish. After some silence he began to say, "Nitai Caitanya, Nitai Caitanya," and then began:
"It cannot be uttered by a material tongue, nor can a material ear hear the name. He [the name] is adhoksaja, [beyond experimental knowledge], having reserved the right of not being exposed to organic senses. All the experience, knowledge and memories that we have are gleaned with the help of mundane senses. Our tongue is comprised mostly of earth and water elements; the nerve endings extending to all parts of the body carry charges of electricity, also a material element. If an object is too far away, it is not touchable, seeable, tastable, etc.; if an object is too close, it is also imperceptable; we can't see our own tilaka mark or eye make-up. When the senses are extended by microscopes and telescopes, these instruments have more range, but are still limited to the material sphere. The telescope cannot penetrate the outermost covering of the universe; the microscope lens is composed of atoms and therefore cannot see the atom or anything smaller than the atom. Likewise, the system of mental speculation is also inefficient to perceive the spiritual element. Mind is a material element whose density is very slight. (Bhagavad-gita, 7.4) Higher abstractions are no more spiritual than hard rocks. There is a common belief that by extending the potency of the mind we can conceive of the infinite, but this process is defective. If the infinite can be confined in a limited mind, then it is not infinite. I don't even know how many hairs are on my own head. Mental speculators grind their brains over abstract aphorisms of Zen and Upanisads and think that by their own power they can achieve something like infinity. The result is mental masturbation. The mind explodes and dies of exhaustion. And the reaction is deplorable: total forgetfulness of the self and the infinite.
"There are channels by which the infinite descends. He is all power, glory, beauty, knowledge, wealth and renunciation. He is dominant, all-extending, free, and autocratic. The infinite cannot be contained in a limited sphere, but if He is really infinite then He has the power of making Himself known in all His fullness to the finite mind. When, out of His own perogative, He takes the initiative and reveals Himself to the devotee, there is actual perception of Godhead, self realization, transcendental revelation. By the channel of transcendental sound He comes, by vibrating the spiritual tongue of the pure devotees representing Him to the world. The spiritual element vibrates the spiritual tongues of the sat-guru's audience, which have hitherto never been vibrated.
"Sat-gurudeva utters Hare Krsna. Our material ears hear some sound that resembles the transcendental name of Krsna, our eardrum moves the liquid of the inner ear, half water and half air, which vibrates the ethereal element and touches our mind. At this point, soul has still been untouched, and there has been no genuine spiritual experience. By hearing with the mind's impressions, we enjoy the sound of the cymbals, the beat of the chant, the pleasant company and effect of listening and hearing. But it doesn't stop here. Piercing the mind, the original sound uttered by guru moves our intellect, and we consider the Krsna conscious philosophy. For millions of years, sages chanted this on the banks of many holy rivers. Ideas flood everywhere about the possible effects of the mantra. This, while being quite blissful, is not spiritual revelation in the true sense. Beyond the intelligence is the spiritual element soul, myself. That sound, having cut through all my senses including the mind and intellect, now vibrates the finest sentiments of my own real existence. This is the perception of the holy name on the spiritual plane with my spiritual ear. Then, the soul inspired, recapitulates, sending vibration back into the intelligence, mind, etc., out to my external tongue and we say, 'Hare Krsna.' That Hare Krsna is He. And we dance in ecstasy.
"Sounds, sounds, sounds," His Holiness repeated slowly. "Sounds, catch hold of the sounds. Seize the sound waves traveling within the ether, and your happiness is assured in spiritual life. One rsi has explained in his sutra that massive epidemics are due to contamination of the ether by impure sound. When the lawyers and pleaders in court begin to tell lies in the name of justice, these sound vibrations contaminate the ether, which in turn contaminates the air and water which people breathe and drink, and epidemic is the result. When four-headed Brahma creates the universe, the seed ingredient is sound, 'OM.' And from that 'om' the gayatri-mantra is born. In this sound, the fourteen planetary galaxies sprout like whorls of spiraling stars and planets, with the sun situated in the very center of the universe. Each planetary system is composed of a different sound uttered by Lord Brahma. Each galaxy provides the infinite jivas with their particular spheres of karma (action), dharma (religious functions), artha(economic development), kama (sensual enjoyment and suffering), and moksa (facility of liberation). It is the function of Brahma to provide these different galaxies and planets according to the sinful and meritorious deeds of the innumerable. Lord Brahma utters a different sound for each planetary system and his engineer, Sri Visvakarma, creates the planets according to those sounds. The subtle elements and gross elements are distributed in this way. In our planet, the predominating elements are earth and water. In other worlds, only water is found. On the sun, fire is the prominent element. If a spiritual individual, under the effects of illusion, or maya, wishes to end his gross existence, he may enter a planet of air, ether, mind or intelligence and live as a ghost.
"The individual jiva is also endowed with a particle of creative power. And the ordinary individual as well creates his tiny sphere of influence by sound. Some jivas' spheres of influence are no bigger than their own craniums, and some jivas have influence over a community, a nation, or even a whole planet. The beauty and harmony of their particular spheres of influence depends on the quality of sound they produce.
"When one nation tries to conquer another nation, the first points to capture are the radio stations, the newspapers, the journals the lines of communication. By sending out its manifesto by sound, the government can move the former leaders from their posts and capture the country. Then, also by sound, the new government becomes established. If there should be any defect in that sound, then the whole thing is ruined. That is why there is so much alteration in the world situation. The sound of all these jivasis, to quote the Bible, 'Babel.' Nonsensical sounds are entering and contaminating the ether, the air, the water, and the very molecular structure of each and every person, place and thing.
"A person's mind is composed of two functions, technically termed sankalpa and vikalpa. Sankalpa means the mind's desire to join thoughts into concepts, theories and tableaus of theories. Vikalpa is the mind's function of rejecting thoughts, simplifying and limiting experiences which are gathered through the sense s of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Both functions are controlled by sound. Here is an experiment: Close your eyes. When I repeat a number, you will see the number flash before your mind like a cash register. One… Three… Seven… Four… The processes of sankalpa and vikalpa respectively make the thoughts come and go. This is a very simple form of the mind's process. On a more complicated scale, there is the very risky business of intentionally invading the sound waves with defective sound. The lines of communication are filled with impure sound from the earliest of schoolbooks to the most advanced so-called philosophy. The White House filibusters are another excellent example of intentional pollution of sound channels. If we were to infuse spiritual sound into the ether, saturate the ether with the transcendental sound vibration of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, themantra would purify, enlighten and saturate every being with its potencies.
"In Lord Caitanya's eight verses, which comprise the final message of all spiritual instructions, the first verse gives five effects of the transcendental sound of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, as follows:
"Ceto-darpana-marjanam. It wipes the material dust from the mirror of our mind. The mind is like the intermediate connecting medium between the spirit and that material external covering called the body. The soul has no material activity. When covered by maya, or illusion, the soul remains dormant in a state of suspended animation. The magnitude of the soul is so great, however, that it infuses consciousness on all sides. Through the mediurn of the mind, the senses act and we 'know' things. If this 'glass,' the mind, is put out of focus by the external nature, we suffer confusion, pain, disease, and death. Yes, death is a state of mind only, as the soul has no death. By the mind we mistakenly think 'O! I'm dying!' 'I'm drowning!' 'I'm giving birth!' 'I'm sick!' etc. When the mind is cleansed by the mahamantra, the mind is forcibly purified. All the material concoctions, which are the cause of our suffering, are forcibly murdered, starved to death. They thrive on material sense pleasures. Flooding the mind with transcendental sound is just like stepping on the pin of a bomb: All those misconceptions of material suffering and enjoyment are shattered, murdered, and the material mind is conquered wholly, leaving no enemies behind. The mind then reflects the spiritual knowledge, quality and energy of the soul itself.
"Bhava-maha-davagni-nirvapanam. The fire of conditional life is thus extinguished. Nirvana, which most people are trying to understand from Buddhist texts, means extinguishing the fire of material existence. This body has been burning from the very beginning of time by the process of digestion. Biologists all declare that the body is a burning organism, giving off heat, water vapor and carbon dioxide. After seventy or more years, our body is consumed by that smouldering digestive fire, and we move into another body, only to burn up that one too. It is like chain smoking: with the lit end of the cigarette you light up a fresh cigarette, and on and on. By the potency of the transcendental sound, the cause of that fire is extinguished.
"Sreyah-kairava-candrikavitaranam vidyavadhujivanam. The transcendental sound then spreads the light of benedictions, peaceful suggestions and fearlessness, and no more anxieties invade the mind. We approach the world after coming out of the womb with many deep-rooted fears: Is there safety? Is there happiness? Is there peace? The answer is the basic seed. Om in this case means one big spiritual yes. Om, yes a positive answer. Simply by negating the mind, the questions of the soul are not satisfied; something positive must be given. The mahamantra floods the mind with suggestions of the truth.
"Anandambudhi-varddhanam pratipadam purnamrtasvadanam. A full draught of an ocean of blissful nectar is served to the soul, who has been thirsty from time immemorial.
"Sarvatma-snapanam param, vijayate sri-krsna-sankirtanam. This point has a twofold meaning, one external and one internal. Sarvatman means all jivas. The holy name bathes all souls with spiritual bliss, knowledge and love. The transcendental sound completely overcomes the soul with His sublime potencies. But atman has many meanings, as given by Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Atman means the supreme absolute truth, the body, the mind, the intelligence, endeavor, conviction and nature. By uttering the pure sound of mahamantra one invades the very cause of everything that exists. The mind, body and soul, and even nature itself can be changed into transcendental nature by one exclamation of Hare Krsna. Capture the sound waves which are the cause of every item of existence and saturate them with Hare Krsna. The result will be the total transformation of energy. An asrama, temple, and all the paraphernalia in them are all divine. The environment in which we live in the asrama is not the same as the one in which we were born. It is 'there,' it is Goloka, and the more we progress in our sadhana the more He will reveal Himself to us.
"One of the supreme forces in the descent of the Hare Krsna mantra, Jayadeva Gosvami, jagat-guru, has written a beautiful verse in description of this process: "O Hari Nama, You enter my ear and touch my heart, and tears flow from my eyes and fall to the ground; making soft clay, my footprints are left for my successors to follow my way."
"It must be noted that if the guru is bogus, then that name will not touch the spiritual spark within the coverings of mind and body. It may sound the same, but it is not just as milk and whitewash look the same, but they are altogether different.
"Now many such artificial gurus are about, and this fact is, as it were, camouflaging the genuine devotees. If someone finds a treasure beneath a tree and marks the tree with his initials and then comes back to find every tree marked with the same initials, he is unable to recall the original tree.
''The original sentiments invoked by the name are concentrated, blissful recollections of the pastimes of Krsna. These sentiments are in all souls and are five in number: the neutral sentiment, the serving sentiment, the sentiment of friendship, parental sentiment, and the sentiment of intimate love. Krsna is called akhila-rasamrta-sindhu, the ocean of all transcendental sentiment. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, ye yatha mam prapadyante, tams tathaiva bhajamy aham: "I reciprocate all the different services rendered within the sphere of these different sentiments, or rasas." Krsna uses the neutral devotees, who do not take active engagement in His interest, at His own sweet time and liking. If He wants to play the flute He picks it up, and He sets it down when He likes. To His servants, He is the noble master. In this relationship there is more facility to please the master, to bring His food, His favorite clothing. Yet there is still some hindrance, since He may tell the servant to be gone, and the servant must obey out of duty. The friendship rasa has two stages. The first stage is friendship with feeling of respect and reverence. Arjuna has this type of friendly relationship with Krsna. He begs forgiveness from Krsna for unknowingly calling Him in jest or for associating with Him without bowing down, etc. When the friendship is more developed, the respect and honorable formalities disappear. Jumping on Krsna's shoulders, wrestling and playing as though Krsna were their equal, Sudama, Sridama and the other cowherd boys revel in endless sports. Sometimes they even consider Krsna their inferior: 'Oh, Krsna; He's the youngest one of us. He's also the lightest. We can all overcome Him in wrestling, so go lightly with Him.' As sugar cane juice is concentrated into molasses and then into crystal, so also the friendly rasa, with added feelings, develops into parental affection. 'Krsna is my son,' says Mother Yasoda. 'I must always look after His needs and protection. If I don't see Him for even five minutes I get so scared. I see huge trees falling on Him and horrible demons capturing Him. Oh, there You are! Why do You scare Your mother like that? Always stay in my presence, I can't stand to have You out of sight.' Even punishment of the beloved is seen in this intimate relationship.
"As concentrated sugar becomes rock candy, so the parental exchange of rasas condenses into conjugal love, in which there is complete dedication to the desires of Krsna, with no tinge of desire for one's own pleasure. 'I am Yours' complete unconditional surrender. 'If you trample my body underfoot or embrace me fondly, for Your pleasure I am happy. If You want to throw me into hell and keep me far from Your company, I am prepared to go. If You forget me, I cannot forget You; You are always my beloved.'"
By this time His Holiness had become exhausted. After forty years of lecturing previous to the use of microphones, his voice had become very thin. We were only one inch apart, face to face.
Just then the loud gong began to toll in crescendo, reaching four loud blasts and reverberating into silence.
"Go down now. It's time for aratrika. Could you follow my words?"
"Yes," I said.
"Did you like it?"
"That's all right. Go down now."