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1. Gaining the Proper Conception of the Holy Name
All holy scriptures, and all the great souls of the past and present, emphatically stress that the holy name is non-different from krishna. Although outwardly a mere combination of letters, it is an especially merciful manifestation of krishna descending from the spiritual world. Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains that the holy name is our first encounter with krishna in this material world, and thus, like krishna, the holy name reserves the ultimate right to be revealed or not. Impersonalists or materialists may chant the holy name as well, but since the Supreme Lord is not present in such chanting, their sound vibration, although carrying the syllables of the holy name, is devoid of power. Their chanting is imbued with the desire for liberation and for sense gratification. They consider the holy name to be material. These people may receive some secondary benefits from chanting, but since the holy name withholds krishna from them, they will never obtain the real treasure of spiritual life, namely krishna-prema, pure love of krishna. Therefore it is so important to have the proper conception of the chanting of the holy name. Srlla Prabhupada explains in this connection:
They may chant, but they must understand that there is a way how the chanting process will be more effective. That they must know. Chanting is open. Anyone can chant, but they must know it, that "If I chant in the proper process, then it will be effective." There is one word by Bhaktivinoda Thakura, namaksara bahir haya nama nahi haya: "Simply the alphabets are coming, but that is not nama". Namaksara, Hare krishna, the alphabets, are coming out, but it is not the holy name.1
The "proper process" by which the holy name exhibits its full efficacy is to chant with the right understanding (sambandha-jnana). What is the right understanding of the Hare krishna maha-mantral This is again explained by Srlla Prabhupada: The word Hara is the form of addressing the energy of the Lord, and the words krishna and Rama are forms of addressing the Lord Himself. Both krishna and Rama mean the supreme pleasure, and Hara is the supreme pleasure energy of the Lord, changed to Hare (Hah-ray) in the vocative. The supreme pleasure energy of the Lord helps us to reach the Lord.
These three words, namely Hara, krishna and Rama, are the transcendental seeds of the maha-mantra. The chanting is a spiritual call for the Lord and His energy, to give protection to the conditioned soul. This chanting is exactly like the genuine cry of a child for its mother's presence. Mother Hara helps the devotee achieve the Lord Father's grace, and the Lord reveals Himself to the devotee who chants this mantra}
In a letter to a disciple, Srlla Prabhupada summed up the meaning of the Hare krishna maha-mantra in a way which he often used in his lectures. He wrote:
Oh Hare, Oh Radharanl! Oh krishna! Please engage me in Your serv¬ice so that I can get relief from the service of maya?
Chanting aims at nothing less than a revelation of the Supreme Person Himself. When the chanter has come to this understanding, he will establish in his life a golden throne for the holy name and worship it as the most precious and valuable jewel. Then there will be no space left for inattention and offenses. This esoteric point makes the chanting of the Hare krishna maha-mantra an open secret. It is open in the sense of being accessible to everyone—but a proper understanding is absolutely necessary to reach love of Radha and krishna. With a false understanding and false motivation one will not obtain the highest benefit of chanting. As a pill-capsule exerts its effect only if filled with the proper medicine, chanting can be effective only with the proper understanding.
The holy name, like krishna, reveals Himself according to the desires of His devotees. In this connection, Lord Brahma prays to krishna: You are so merciful to Your devotees that You manifest Yourself in the particular eternal form of transcendence in which they always think of You.1
Srlla Prabhupada comments:
The statement here that the Lord manifests Himself before the devotee in the form in which the devotee likes to worship Him indicates that the Lord becomes subordinate to the desire of the devc* tee so much so that He manifests His particular form as the devotee demands. This demand of the devotee is satisfied by the Lord because He is pliable in terms of the transcendental loving service of the devotee. This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gitai2 ye yatha mam prapadyante tarns tathaiva bhajdmy aham. This can mean that a materialist, who chants Hare krishna with a material understanding, gets his material desires fulfilled. According to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the impersonalists' chanting of Hare krishna will vanish in the impersonal brahman effulgence, which emanates from the transcendental body of the Supreme Lord. Their chanting is not pleasing to krishna, but painful—so it gets absorbed before it reaches the Lord. If someone is serious to get love of Godhead and return to the original spiritual world, Goloka Vrndavana, he must chant with the right understanding: Without knowing its meaning, one will not attain the goal intended by chanting that specific mantra.3
Thus, chanting depends on proper understanding and intention. Otherwise one will chant with the lips but not with the heart, and the holy name does not really appear. However, one should not be discouraged by these statements. Even while not on the highest level, the holy name still will gradually reveal its transcendental strength if chanted with the correct understanding.
The holy name is compared to a wonderful flower. At the beginning, it is present as a mere bud, but then gradually, and steadily, it develops to its full-blossomed stage. Just as a bud transforms into an attractive flower with fascinating petals, the sweet Syamasundara form of krishna in Goloka Vrndavana will be revealed to the serious chanter. When the bud starts to open, the chanter will be captivated by the sixty-four transcendental qualities of krishna,1 which emerge from the blossoming flower of the holy name like an irresistable fragrance. Finally, when the holy name has fully blossomed, krishna's eternal pastimes will be revealed to the chanter.