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In Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Jaiva Dharma Chapter 23, the intricacies of the mprocess of chanting the maha-mantra
The saintly babaji said, “The Supreme Personality of Godhead has tow kinds of names: 1. mukhya (primary) and 2. gauna (secondary). Names that show His relation to the material creation and the material modes of nature are all secondary names. ‘Shrishti-karta’ (the creator of the material world), ‘Jagat-pata’ (the maintainer of the material world), ‘Vishva-niyanta’ (the controller of the material world, ‘Vishva-palaka’ (the protector of the material world), and ‘Paramatma’ (the Supersoul present everywhere in the material world) are examples of some of these many secondary names. Some other names, although beyond the touch of the material modes of nature, are also counted among these secondary names. ‘Brahma’ (Brahman) is an example of these names. When they are chanted, these secondary names bring many different kinds of benefits, but they do not directly or quickly bring the highest spiritual benefit i.e. pure love of God. The names that describe the Lord as He is manifested in the spiritual world, which is beyond material time and space, and where time is manifested as an eternal present (nitya-vartamana) are names that are all spiritual and primary. ‘Narayana’, ‘Vasudeva’, ‘Janardana’, ‘Hrishikesha’, ‘Hari’, ‘Acyuta’, ‘Govinda’, ‘Gopala’, ‘Rama’, ‘Gauranga’, ‘Nitai’, etc. are examples of these primary names. All these primary names are identical with the form of the Supreme Lord Himself, and therefore they exist in the eternal present in the spiritual world. Attracted by devotional service, these holy names dance on the tongues of certain very fortunate souls in the material world. These names have no connection at all with the material world. When It descends to the material world, the holy name of the Lord, which has all the Lord’s powers, destroys the illusions of maya. The individual souls in the material world have the holy name of Lord Hari as their only friend. They have no other true friend.
Vijaya-kumara: O master, the Hare Krishna maha-mantra is spiritual. I have faith in that truth. However, so that my faith may be free from doubts I need to understand how it is that the maha-mantra, which is a series of syllables, is spiritual. Please be merciful and explain.
Babaji: The scriptures (Padma Purana) declare: “The maha-mantra is transcendentally blissful, It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krishna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. The Hare Krishna maha-mantra 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 Krishna Himself. Since the maha-mantra is not contaminated by the material qualities, there is no question of its being involved with maya. the maha-mantra is always liberated and spiritual. It is never conditioned by the laws of material nature. This is because the maha-mantra and Krishna Himself are identical.”
Vijaya-kumara: How can a mantra, which is after all a series of syllables, be different from other sounds in this material world?
Babaji: The Hare Krishna maha-mantra does not take its birth in the material world. Only when one is situated in his original spiritual body which is dormant in the individual soul, who is a tiny particle of spirit, is one eligible to pronounce the pure maha-mantra. The material senses of a soul imprisoned in Maya’s world have no power to pronounce the pure maha-mantra. However, by the mercy of the Lord’s hladini-shakti, such a soul can be situated in his original form. Then the Hare Krishna maha-mantra will appear before him. By the mercy of the pure chanting, the mantra enters the devotee’s thinking process, and then descends to the tongue if the tongue is purified by devotional service. On that tongue the maha-mantra dances. The maha-mantra is not a series of material syllables. It only seems to be material syllables when it dances on a tongue made of matter. That is the secret of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
Vijaya-kumara: What is the path of chanting the maha-mantra?
Babaji: Using tulasi beads, or, in the absence of beads, counting on your fingers, and carefully avoiding the ten offenses, you should always chant the maha-mantra. By chanting the maha-mantra purely one attains prema (pure love of God). The purpose of counting is to know whether or not the number of names chanted is gradually increasing. Tulasi is very dear to Lord Hari, therefore touching tulasi beads as one chants the maha-mantra brings a better result. When one chants one should meditate that the maha-mantra is not different from the transcendental form of Lord Krishna Himself.
Vijaya-kumara: O master, there are nine processes of devotional service, and sixty four categories of devotional activities. If one constantly chants the maha-mantra, which is only one of the activities of devotional service, how will one find time to perform any other devotional activity?
Babaji: What is the difficulty? The sixty four devotional activities are actually included within the nine devotional processes. One may worship the Deity of the Lord, or one may chant the maha-mantra in a solitary place. One can practice the nine processes of devotional service in any situation. In the presence of the Deity one can purely hear, chant, remember, and in other ways serve the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. All these activities may be counted together as devotion to the holy name. If one has no opportunity to see the deity, one may remember the Deity and in this way in the presence of the Deity one may practice the nine devotional activities beginning with hearing and chanting the maha-mantra. If in the past one has performed many pious deeds, then he will naturally yearn to chant the maha-mantra. By constantly chanting the maha-mantra one automatically performs all the activities of different limbs of devotional service. Of the nine processes of devotional service beginning with hearing and chanting, chanting the maha-mantra is the most powerful. If one can taste bliss by chanting the maha-mantra, that is enough. It is not that one must perform every devotional activity.
Vijaya-kumara: What does ‘to always chant the maha-mantra’ mean?
Babaji: Aside for the time when one sleeps and other basic bodily activities, one should chant the maha-mantra throughout the day and night. That is called constant chanting of the maha-mantra. One can chant the maha-mantra in any place, at any time, or in any situation. There are no restrictions.
Vijaya-kumara: Please describe to us the pure Hare Krishna maha-mantra and all other things we should know.
Babaji: When the maha-mantra appears in a person who has full faith and who practices unalloyed devotional service, that is said to be the ‘true holy name of Lord Krishna’. When the maha-mantra appears in any other situation the chanting is either ‘namabhasa’ (a glimpse of the holy name) or ‘namaparadha’ (the holy name chanted with offenses).
Vijaya-kumara: O master, should we call the maha-mantra the goal (sadhya) or the means (sadhan) to attain the goal?
Babaji: When a devotee practices sadhan-bhakti, his chanting of the maha-mantra may be said to be the means for attaining the goal (sadhan). However, when one practices bhava-bhakti or prema-bhakti, his chanting of the maha-mantra is said to be the goal (sadhya) itself. In this way the mantra appears according to the devotees’ stage of spiritual advancement.
Vijaya-kumara: Is Lord Krishna really not different from the maha-mantra? Or is this not really true?
Babaji: There is not the slightest difference. However, there is one secret difference: The maha-mantra is more merciful that Lord Krishna Himself. If one commits an offense to Him, Lord Krishna will not forgive. But if one commits an offense to Lord Krishna, or even the maha-mantra Itself, then the maha-mantra will be merciful and forgive. One should thus carefully understand the ten offenses in the chanting of the maha-mantra. Carefully avoiding these offenses, one should chant the maha-mantra. Why should one avoid them? A person who is not free from offenses cannot chant the ma ha-mantra purely.
Jaiva Dharma, Chapter 24:
Babaji: To understand the maha-mantra you should first understand three things: 1. nama (the pure chanting of the maha-mantra), 2. namabhasa (the reflection of the maha-mantra) and 3. namaparadha (offenses to the maha-mantra). Now I will explain about namabhasa. The reflection of the maha-mantra is called ‘namabhasa’.
Vijaya-kumara: What kind of reflection is it, and how many kinds of reflection are there?
Babaji: The word ‘abhasa’ has three definitions: 1. kanti (light), 2. chaya (shadow) and 3. pratibimba (reflection). An effulgent object manifests light and also creates shadows. In this way the sun of the maha-mantra manifests as nama-chaya (the shadow of the holy name) and nama-pratibimba (the reflection of the holy name). The wise speak of ‘bhakty-abhasa’ (the partial presence of devotional service), ‘bhavabhasa’ (the partial presence of ecstatic love of God), ‘namabhasa’ (the partial presence of the holy name), and ‘vaishnavabhasa’ (being a Vaishnava in part). Each of these ‘abhasas’ is divided into two aspects: ‘pratibimba’ (reflection) and ‘chaya’ (shadow).
Vijaya-kumara: How are bhakty-abhasa, bhavabhasa, namabhasa, and vaishnavabhasa related to each other?
Babaji: A Vaishnava chants the hare Krishna maha-mantra. If he chants the maha-mantra with bhakty-abhasa, then the maha-mantra manifests before him as namabhasa, and he himself is a Vaishnavabhasa. The words bhava and bhakti refer to the same thing. They are called by different names because one is contracted and the other expanded.
Vijaya-kumara: In what condition of life is one a Vaishnavabhasa?
Babaji: In Shrimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.47) it is said: “A prakrta, or materialistic devotee does not purposefully study the shastra and try to understand the actual standard of pure devotional service. Consequently he does not show proper respect to advanced devotees. He may, however, follow the regulative principles learned from his spiritual master or from his family who worships the Deity. He is to be considered on the material platform, although he is trying to advance in devotional service. Such a person is a bhakta-praya (neophyte devotee), or bhaktabhasa, for he is a little enlightened by Vaishnava philosophy."
The word ‘sraddha’ (faith) in the above verse means ‘sraddhabhasa’ (the partial presence of faith). And why not? When faith is directed to the Lord alone and not to the Lord’s devotees, such faith is called chaya (shadow) or pratibimba (reflection). That is the faith of ordinary materialist people. It is not the spiritual faith of pure devotional service. Because a bhaktabhasa (a person who is partially a devotee) has faith and worship that are material (prakrta) in nature, a bhaktabhasa devotee is also called a ‘prakrita-bhakta’ or a ‘Vaishnavabhasa’. Lord Mahaprabhu said that Hiranya-Govardhana was a ‘Vaishnava-praya’. The word ‘Vaishnava-praya’ means a person who, wearing beads, tilaka markings and other things, looks like a true Vaishnava, although his chanting of the maha-mantra is only namabhasa. Such a person is not a true or pure (suddha) Vaishnava.
Vijaya-kumara: If an impersonalist (who has no faith in Krishna form and pastimes and considers that the Absolute Truth in impersonal in the ultimate sense) accepts the various outward markings of a Vaishnava and chants the maha-mantra, is he then a Vaishnavabhasa?
Babaji: No. They cannot be called ‘Vaishnavabhasa’. They are offenders. They consider themselves one with God instead of trying to serve Him. They should be called ‘Vaishnavaparadhi’ (offenders to the Vaishnavas). They who take shelter of pratibimba-namabhasa (the reflection of the maha-mantra) and pratibimba-bhavabhasa (the reflection of ecstatic love for the Lord) may be called Vaishnavabhasa. But it is not right to call the great offenders by the name ‘Vaishnava’. They should be called something else.
Vijaya-kumara: O master, please explain more clearly the nature of the pure chanting of the maha-mantra, so we may understand it better.
Babaji: When a person who chants the mantra is ‘anyabhilasita-sunya’ (free of all material desires), ‘jnana-karmady-anavrta’ (free of impersonalism and fruitive work), and ‘anukulya-bhava’ (favorable to Lord Krishna), then his chanting is pure chanting of the maha-mantra. Here the word ‘anyabhilasa’ does not refer to the desire to taste the transcendental bliss that comes when the spiritual maha-mantra when openly manifested. ‘anyabhilasa’ here refers to the desire to attain impersonal liberation or freedom from sins as the result of one’s chanting of the maha-mantra. If these desires are present, then one’s chanting of the mantra will not be pure. If one is not free from the desire to enjoy the so-called benefits obtained by jnana (impersonal speculation) and karma (fruitive work), then his chanting of the maha-mantra will not be pure either. If one throws far away all feelings of enmity toward the Lord, and maintains only favorable emotions directed to the Lord, then one's chanting of the mantra will be pure. This way you can see that when one’s chanting is free of namaparadha (offenses to the maha-mantra) and namabhasa (the partial manifestation of the maha-mantra), then his chanting is suddha-nama (the pure chanting of the maha-mantra), Lord Gaurachandra, the purifier of the Kali-yuga has described this pure chanting in the following words: “One should chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street. One should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the maha-mantra constantly."
Vijaya-kumara: O master, how are namabhasa and namaparadha different?
Babaji: Namabhasa is not suddha-nama (the pure chanting of the maha-mantra). In one circumstance the chanting of the maha-mantra is called ‘namabhasa’ and in another circumstance it is called ‘namaparadha’. When out of bewilderment and foolishness one does not chant the maha-mantra purely, his chanting is called ‘namabhasa’. On the other hand, when a rascal impersonalist who yearns to attain impersonal liberation chants the maha-mantra, or when a hedonist who yearns after material pleasures chants the maha-mantra, their impure chanting is called ‘namaparadha’ (offense to the maha-mantra). I have already described to you the ten offenses. If a sincere non-duplicitous person out of ignorance commits these offenses, his chanting is namabhasa. This should be understood: As long as one’s chanting is namabhasa and does not have the nature of namaparadha, then one may hope that one day he will rise above namabhasa and attain suddha-nama (the pure chanting of the maha-mantra). As long as one is in the stage of namaparadha it will not be easy for m to chant the maha-mantra purely. I have already explained how one becomes free from namaparadha (offenses to the maha-mantra). Aside from that, there is no other method by which one can attain auspiciousness.
Vijaya-kumara: What should a person whose chanting is namabhasa do to turn his namabhasa chanting into suddha-nama (the pure chanting of the maha-mantra)?
Babaji: Only by associating with pure devotees one quickly becomes attracted to pure devotional service. When the maha-mantra dances on the tongue of such a person, that chanting is suddha-nama (pure chanting of the maha-mantra). However, such a person must scrupulously avoid the association of persons whose chanting is namaparadha. And why not? If he associates with them, he will not be able to chant the maha-mantra purely. Association with saintly devotees is the only way for the individual soul to attain auspiciousness. For this reason Lord Gaurachandra, who is the master of our lives, taught Sanatana Goswami that association with saintly devotees is the root cause from which devotional service grows. When one associates with saintly devotees and avoids the association of non devotees, he will be able to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra properly.
Vijaya-kumara: O master, does this mean that if a man does not renounce the association of his wife he will not be able to chant the holy name purely?
Babaji: If one is a renunciant, one should renounce complete association with the opposite sex. When a householder Vaishnava associates with his wife and he lives Vaishnava household life in an unattached way, that is not what is meant here by ‘association with the opposite sex’. When a man has a material attachment to a woman or a woman has a material attachment to a man, that is what is meant here by ‘association with the opposite sex’. A householder may remain in family life, and remaining free from material attachment he should chant the maha-mantra purely and attain the final goal of life.
Vijaya-kumara: Please explain what benefit namabhasa brings and what benefit it does not bring?
Babaji: Sense pleasures (bhukti), liberation (mukti) and the eighteen yogic perfections (and everything in creation upto Krishna-prema) are included among the benefits namabhasa brings. However, pure love for Lord Krishna (krishna-prema) which is the highest goal of life, is not granted by namabhasa. If a person whose chanting is on the level of namabhasa associates with a pure devotee (suddha-bhakta), then the chanter can come to the level of a madhyama-Vaishnava (intermediate devotee). From that status he can become further elevated, attain pure devotion, chant the maha-mantra purely, and finally attain pure love for Lord Krishna (krishna-prema).
[There are four kinds of namabhasa as described in the Bhagavatam 6.2.14: “One who chants the maha-mantra of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins, even if he chants indirectly (to indicate something else or sanketa), jokingly (parihasya), derisively (stobha), or even neglectfully (hela). This is accepted by all the learned scholars of the scriptures.]
Vijaya-kumara: O master, in this world there are many devotees who are on the platform of Vaishnavabhasa. They have the outward marks of a Vaishnava and they diligently chant the maha-mantra although their chanting is on the level of namabhasa. Even though they chant, after many days they still do not attain pure love for Lord Krishna. Why is that?
Babaji: The reason is confidential. It is this: Persons on the level of bhakty-abhasa (a glimpse of devotional service) are certainly eligible to eventually attain pure devotional service. However, if such persons mistakenly think impure persons, persons who do not have unalloyed devotion to the Lord, to be great saints, and if by this bad association they eventually associate with impersonalists and other offenders, by that bad association they also become offenders to the pure Vaishnavas. In this way their path of gradual spiritual advancement becomes checked. Thus by bad association they come to accept the doctrines of the impersonalists or other offenders. In this way they wander far away from pure devotional service and eventually they become offenders. However, if, because of past pious deeds they are able to shun bad association and remain in the association of good devotees, then they eventually will become pure Vaishnavas.
Vijaya-kumara: O master, what result is obtained by namaparadha (offenses to the holy name)?
Babaji: Even if they were multiplied millions of time, the five sins would not equal an offense to the maha-mantra. You can very easily see the result reaped by offending the holy name. (Namaparadha is verily the greastest sin in creation)
Vijaya-kumara: O master, a person who offends the maha-mantra certainly reaps an inauspicious result. Still, does he not also obtain a good result because he has spoken the syllables of the maha-mantra?
Babaji: The maha-mantra fulfills the chanter’s desires, whatever they are. However, to the offensive chanter the maha-mantra will not get pure love for Lord Krishna (krishna-prema). Eventually the offensive chanter must taste the result of his offenses. However, a person who, although he commits offenses to the maha-mantra, regularly chants the holy name will attain the result of his chanting. After some time his chanting will become a great transcendental pious deed. As that transcendental pious deed grows greater and greater, he will attain the association of saintly devotees who devotedly chant the maha-mantra in a pure way. Thus by always chanting the maha-mantra, the offender eventually becomes free of his offenses to the maha-mantra. By following this path even impersonalists gradually become sincere devotees of Lord Hari.
Vijaya-kumara: By chanting the maha-mantra only once a person is freed from all sins. Why, then should one chant the name always?
Babaji: Offenders to the maha-mantra have hearts and activities that are always impure. They are naturally averse to the Lord. They are never attracted to saintly persons, holy objects, or holy activities. They are naturally attracted to evil persons, evil theories, and evil deeds. However, constant chanting of the maha-mantra turns them away from evil persons and evil deeds. Free from bad association, they come to chant the maha-mantra purely. The mantra then gives them the strength to proceed on the spiritual path.