“Rupa Goswami Prabhupada says that Krsna’s name, form, qualities, and eternal associates everything about Him – is not mundane, but purely spiritual. It cannot be perceived by our gross senses. Simply by vibrating the sound krsna, our tongues cannot produce Krsna, our noses cannot catch the transcendental fragrance of His body, our eyes cannot have a vision of His beautiful figure which is supramental. This is true not only for our physical senses, but for the mind also. Our minds cannot conceive of Krsna. He is transcendental and supramental. His existence transcends all the knowledge in our possession.”
If it is to be effective, the sound of the holy name of Krsna must have a divine quality. The holy name of Krsna which is infinite can do away with everything undesirable within us; but the name must be invested with a real spiritual conception. It must not be a mere physical imitation produced only by the help of the lip and tongue. That sound is not the holy name. If it is to be genuine, the holy name of Krsna, Hari, Visnu, or Narayana must be vaikuntha-nama: it should have spiritual existence, divine backing. That principle is all in all in vibrating the holy name.
We are concerned with sound vibration that has spiritual depth. The physical imitation of the holy name is not the name proper; it is not sabda brahma, divine sound. Only imitation sound may come from the plane of mundane conception. The holy name of Krsna means divine sound; it must have some spiritual background. Something spiritual must be distributed through the physical sound. In the case of a capsule of medicine, the capsule is not the medicine; the medicine is within. Externally, one capsule may look like another, but within one capsule there may be medicine and within another there may be cyanide. The capsule itself is not the medicine. So it is not the sound of Krsna’s name that is Krsna: Krsna is within the sound. The holy name must be surcharged with the proper spirit, not any mundane sentiment.
Even the followers of the impersonal Sankara school have faith that the name is not confined within the jurisdiction of physical sound. They consider it to be within the mental plane, within the plane of sattva guna. Unfortunately they think that the holy name is the product of maya, or misconception, and so they conclude that the names of Hari, Krsna, Kali, and Siva are all one and the same. The Ramakrishna Mission and the Sankara school both preach in that way. But that conception also has its origin in the plane of misunderstanding.
The divine sound of the pure name (suddha-nama) must have its origin beyond the area of misconception or maya. The extent of maya is up to the highest planet in the material world, Satyaloka. Beyond Satyaloka is the Viraja river and the world of consciousness, Brahmaloka, and then the spiritual sky, Paravyoma. The pure name of Krsna must have its origin in Paravyoma, the spiritual sky. And if we are to examine it further, the holy name of Krsna really comes from the most original plane of all existence: Vraja, Goloka. According to this understanding, the sound must have its origin in the highest plane of the spiritual world in Vrndavana if it is to be considered the genuine Krsna name.
The mere physical sound is not the holy name of Krsna. A true conception of the holy name is necessary, not only to free us from this world of misconception, but also for the attainment of service to Krsna in Vrndavana. Only that true name of Krsna which has its origin in the plane of Vrndavana can lift us up and take us there.
Otherwise, although the spirit is within the name, if the sound we vibrate is based on any other conception, it may only take us to that layer of conception. This is quite scientific; it is not unreasonable. The mere word krsna is not the holy name. What is important is the meaning of that sound and the depth of meaning, the deep conception of the meaning of the name. That is everything – it is all-important in serving our purpose.
There’s a nice story that illustrates this point. When our spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, was a young boy, both he and his father, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, went to visit the holy place of Kulinagrama, which is located in the Hooghly district near Calcutta. Kulinagrama was a village where the great devotee Haridasa Thakura, as well as other famous Vaisnavas, used to live, and was the home of four generations of devotees.
They went to visit that ancient holy place, and just on the outskirts of Kulinagrama, as they were entering the village, they passed by an old temple. Suddenly a man came out of the temple and humbly asked them, “Please stay the night here. In the morning you may enter the village and take darsana of all the places there.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura and our guru maharaja, who at that time was a young boy, stayed the night in that temple house.
Just after nightfall, as they were resting, Bhaktivinoda Thakura experienced something unusual. He found that brickbats were being thrown about from different directions. He thought, “How is this happening and why? Who would throw big brickbats like this?” Then he had some apprehension that there might be ghosts living there, creating disturbances. He began loudly chanting the Hare Krsna mahamantra. After some time, the disturbance disappeared, and Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta passed the rest of the night there peacefully. In the morning, they entered the village and began visiting different holy places. After some time, one of the local gentlemen noticed them and said, “You entered our village early this morning. Where do you come from? And where did you spend the night?” Bhaktivinoda Thakura explained, “We stayed in that temple just outside the village there.” One of them said, “Oh! How could you stay there? So many ghosts live there and throw stones and bricks at anyone who passes by that place at night. How could you stay there?” Then Bhaktivinoda Thakura said, “Yes, you are right. But when I found such a disturbance there, I began to loudly chant the Hare Krsna mahamantra, and subsequently the problem disappeared.” The men of the village then asked Bhaktivinoda, “Who are you, and where are you coming from?”
Then they came to know that he was Bhaktivinoda Thakura. They had already heard of him, and some of them had read his books. They welcomed the two of them, and showed them all the holy places they had not yet seen. At one point, they said to Bhaktivinoda Thakura, “The gentleman who was formerly the priest of that temple was transformed into a ghost after his departure. Since that time, we have regularly seen the disturbances caused by that ghost. Why did he become a ghost? As the priest of that temple, he used to regularly chant the holy name of Krsna. We are witness to that fact; we have all heard him. Why was he turned into a ghost? We cannot understand this. Please explain.”
Bhaktivinoda Thakura told them that the priest must have only repeated the syllables of the name, the nama-aksara. What he was producing was only a mayik sound, a physical, lip-deep sound. It did not have the spiritual essence; the life of the name was absent when he was chanting. It was nama-aparadha, offensive chanting. Bhaktivinoda asked them, “What was his character?” They said, “He was not a good man. He committed many sinful acts. That we know. But we can’t deny the fact that he used to chant the name of the Lord almost always. How could he become a ghost?”
Bhaktivinoda Thakura explained that the physical sound of the name is not the name proper. The priest had been committing offenses to the holy name (nama-aparadha), and as a result became a ghost. They asked, “Then how can he be released from that wretched condition?” Bhaktivinoda said, “If he meets a bona fide sadhu who has a genuine connection with Krsna, and he hears the real name, or the proper explanation of Bhagavad-gita or Srimad-Bhagavatam from his lips, then he may be released from his ghostly condition. It is mentioned in the scriptures that this is the only way to become free from the entanglement of material nature.” After this discussion, Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati left Kulinagrama.
From that day on, all the troubles caused by the ghost at the temple in Kulinagrama ceased. The villagers were astonished. One of them said: “That priest who had become a ghost must have been released from his ghostly condition after hearing the holy name chanted by Bhaktivinoda Thakura. When the trouble began, Bhaktivinoda loudly chanted the name, and gradually, by hearing the holy name of Krsna from his holy lips, that suppressed soul has been liberated from his condition as a ghost.”
After that, many people journeyed to see Bhaktivinoda Thakura. They would tell him, “We are confident that you are a great Vaisnava – after hearing the holy name of Krsna from your lips, a ghost has been released.” This story was published in the newspapers, and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada used to recount this story of his own experience with Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
The point is that simply the external sound of the name is not the real name. The most important thing is the spiritual realization backing the name – that is the real name. Otherwise, a tape recorder can pronounce that holy name of Krsna. Even a parrot can pronounce the name – but the physical sound is not the thing itself. In the background there must be spiritual truth, which is conscious. That super-knowledge is beyond the knowledge of this mundane plane.
This understanding is confirmed by Rupa Goswami Prabhu in his verse:
na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
sevonmukhe hi jihvadau
svayam eva sphuraty adah
He says that Krsna’s name, form, qualities, and eternal associates everything about Him – is not mundane, but purely spiritual. It cannot be perceived by our gross senses. Simply by vibrating the sound krsna, our tongues cannot produce Krsna, our noses cannot catch the transcendental fragrance of His body, our eyes cannot have a vision of His beautiful figure which is supramental. This is true not only for our physical senses, but for the mind also. Our minds cannot conceive of Krsna. He is transcendental and supramental. His existence transcends all the knowledge in our possession.
We cannot be the subject and make Krsna our object. He is the subject. He exists beyond both the atma and paramatma. We should never forget that. We should always be mindful of the plane in which He exists. As finite souls we are tatastha jivas – the marginal potency of the Lord. The tiny soul can think and know only those things which are more gross than himself. But in trying to know that which is more subtle than himself, he is helpless. A connection with that higher spiritual realm is only possible when the higher area wants to bring the lower up into that plane. Therefore, to understand Him is possible only through surrender (sevonmukhe hi jihvadau).
If we can accept the current of surrender – if we can die as we are and surrender our innermost self at His disposal – His will can easily carry us up to the spiritual platform. Our soul will become as a blade of grass in that current, and so be carried up into the center of the infinite. It is not that we can enter there and walk proudly as we do here in this gross material world. Here we walk on our feet, but there we shall walk with our heads. Only by the Lord’s grace upon our heads can we attract that plane to take us up.
Everything there is qualitatively higher than our own existence. The substance of that divine realm, the atmosphere, the air, the ether – everything there – is higher than any value we might have. Only those with a sincere spirit of service may be allowed to enter there. And there they will be taken to the highest position of divine love by the residents of that plane, who are venerable, generous, affectionate, and filled with good wishes. We have as our prospect the chance to go there, but always as a matter of grace – and never as a matter of right. We must accept this creed from the beginning. Still, the atmosphere there is so happy and loving that no one there feels any distinction between slave and master. A slave there has no sense of being a slave. Everyone is family. Having attained the state of divine slavery, one should consider: “I am a slave – the generosity of Krsna and His eternal associates is my wealth. ” But by the power of Yogamaya, those who are taken up into that plane forget that they are slaves. That is the greatness and magnanimity of that atmosphere where love is intensely flowing. It is really by their love and not by our own fortune that we may somehow gain entrance into that high and noble land.
But to realize this we must realize the spiritual position of Krsna’s name, form, and eternal associates. Krsna’s name is not material. We cannot capture the name of Krsna simply by vibrating the syllables of the name with our tongue. Ravana wanted to capture Sitadevi and thought that he had done so. But the fact was that he could not even touch the holy body of Sitadevi.
What Ravana captured was only a mundane representation of Sitadevi, a material double, an imitation which was like a statue of Sitadevi. Sitadevi herself is another thing; she is not made of flesh and blood. For a person here in this world, Sitadevi and her divine plane is not at all approachable. A mundane person cannot see, feel, or enter that plane – what to speak of the possibility of snatching Sitadevi and taking her away. The scriptures have explained that Sita’s capture was all show. Ravana was cheated. Of course, the apparent kidnapping of Sita by Ravana was done to serve some purpose, to teach something to the people of this mundane world. But in the real sense, no Ravana can come in connection with any of the eternal associates of the Lord who are living in Vaikuntha. In the same way, no mundane person can touch the Vaikuntha Name simply by imitating its sound. Recently I was asked about a young boy who had been killed in an accident. I was told that he shouted the name of Krsna at the time of death. I was asked “What was his destination?” I explained that whether one is young or old in the plane of flesh and blood is no qualification for spiritual attainment. One’s mentality must be examined. According to the particular time and place and the conception of the person involved, that sound may be the genuine name, or it may be namabhasa, the shadow of the real name.
When Gandhi was shot, he cried, “Rama! Rama!” He was shot in the chest, and his spectacles were thrown into the street. Within half an hour he passed away, but he pronounced the words “Rama! Rama!” He was on his way to deliver a religious lecture, but his mentality was full of thoughts of national progress, so in his case, the vibration of the name may have worked in the plane of nation-building. To understand a person’s destination at the time of death, we must ask, “What was his mentality?“
Sometimes chanting the name may result in namabhasa – the shadow of the name. Whether or not it is suddha nama, the genuine name, depends on the mental system of the person chanting the name. It depends on his relation towards Krsna, his intention.
A few days before Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu took sannyasa, He was chanting “gopi, gopi, gopi!” Hearing this, a tantric brahmana came to give some advice to the Lord. “Pandit,” he said, “You are a scholar; You know the scriptures. Still, You are chanting the name gopi, gopi? What benefit will You get from that? The scriptures say that if You chant the name of Krsna, You may get some benefit. You will find this in many places in the scriptures, especially in the Puranas. Why then do You chant gopi, gopi?”
Angered at the brahmana’s ignorance, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in the mood of a follower of the gopis, picked up a stick and began to rebuke him. “You have come from the enemy camp to convert us into followers of Krsna?” He ran after the brahmana to beat him with His stick. In this example, we find that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was chanting “gopi, gopi” and neglecting the name of Krsna. Apparently He was advised to take the name of Krsna and became enraged – but what is the underlying thought there?
If we are to understand the effect of someone’s chanting of the holy name, we must examine his underlying purpose. Sometimes his chanting may have some effect, but not always. Still, Jiva Goswami mentions the following example as evidence that the holy name may have some effect even if one is unaware of its full meaning. Once, a wild boar attacked a Mohammedan, and the Mohammedan cried, “Harama! Harama!” Harama means “that abominable hog!” On the other hand, Ha Rama means “the Lord,” who has allowed a hog to attack me. Somehow, Lord Rama was invoked, and the holy name had a divine influence on the Mohammedan, who attained liberation.
Another example given in the scriptures is that of Valmiki. Before becoming a saint, the sage Valmiki was a dacoit. But the great saint Narada had a plan to benefit him. Narada thought, “This person is the most notorious and heinous dacoit I have ever seen. Let me experiment with him to see the potency of the holy name. I shall ask him to chant the holy name of Rama.” He tried, but Valmiki could not pronounce the holy name of Rama. Then Narada told him to chant mara – the word for “murder” – instead. The dacoit said, “Yes, I can do this. This is just the opposite of the name of Rama.” He began to chant “mara-mara-mara-mara-rama-rama-rama-rama.” In this way, after some time, mara became rama. Valmiki began to chant the name of Rama, and gradually his mental attitude changed. So it is possible for the name to have an effect on someone even if he has no proper conception of its meaning. This is called namabhasa: the shadow of the name. It can effect liberation. But a real devotee is not interested in liberation. He wants to enter the domain of divine service.
The sound and its effect depends upon the attitude we accept, and the quality we can conceive, because the actual vaikuntha nama is infinite. In that plane, the divine name is equal to the substance named. When the sound aspect is one and the same with the original aspect of the thing, that is vaikuntha nama. Here in this world, a blind man’s name may be Padmalocan – lotus-eyed – but really he may be blind. The name and the figure may be entirely different. But in Vaikuntha, in the infinite world, the name and the named are one and the same. Yet to experience the vaikuntha nama, one must avoid both nama aparadha, offenses to the holy name, and namabhasa, the shadow of the holy name. By namabhasa, we get some relief from this worldly bondage, and by nama aparadha, we become entangled in this mayik world. But the ordinary physical sound cannot represent the real name, which is supernatural.
It is said that one name of Krsna can remove more ignorance and sin than a man has the power to commit. But what is the quality of that one name? We may chant the physical name of Krsna so many times without getting the result of even one real name. There is a great difference between the ordinary sound of the name, the superficial mayik name, and the pure name. The pure name is one and the same with Krsna, but that descends down to our level only by His grace. We cannot vibrate it simply by dint of our moving our tongue and our lips. The pure name of Krsna is not lip deep, but heart deep. And it ultimately goes beyond the heart and reaches the land of Krsna. When Krsna comes down, the name Krsna comes through the heart and moves the lips and tongue. That vibration is the holy name of Krsna, krsna nama.
When Krsna in the form of sound descends from the transcendental world into the heart, and from the heart, controlling every aspect of the nervous system, comes to the lips and begins dancing there, that is krsna nama. The initiative is in the transcendental world. That sound is not produced from the physical plane. The spiritual sound has to come down into this plane; He can come down, but we cannot so easily go up there. He is the Supersubject; we are an object to Him. We cannot interfere with His independence. Only by the negative power of surrender can we attract the Supreme Positive to come down to our level.
And so the holy name is not a production of our senses. It can be realized only 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 serving nature. Then He can influence this element and produce transcendental sound and dance within the mundane plane. That is the holy name, the vaikuntha nama, the real name of Krsna. We cannot produce it with our lips. The sound we create with our physical or mental production is not Krsna. He is independent from whatever sound we may produce, and yet, because He controls everything, He can appear anywhere, in any form, in any plane, in any sound.
And this is confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (4.6). Krsna says, “When I come here by the power of My internal potency, I remove the external potency’s influence and appear anywhere and everywhere.” The mundane wave is forced back, just as a plane rides in the sky and pushes back the influence of air and wind as it forcibly passes. By removing the influence of the material waves, He appears within this world by the strength of His own force. The Lord says, “I have My own potency, and by the power of that potency, I remove this gross material energy. And so I live and move here in this world.” The laws of material nature cannot apply to Him. He has special power. And with the help of that special power, He subdues the laws of material nature and comes here. He does whatever He wants with His own potency. Wherever He goes, the laws of material nature withdraw from that place and give Him His way. In this way, He can appear within the realm of sound as the holy name. The real importance of the name is not to be found merely in the arrangement of its syllables, but in the deep meaning within that divine sound. Some scholars argue that in the Kali-santarana Upanisad, Lord Brahma says that the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is properly pronounced only when the name of Rama precedes the name of Krsna: “Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare/ Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare.”
In the Kali-santarana Upanisad, the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is given in that way. But to say that the name of Rama must precede the name of Krsna in the mantra is a superficial understanding. It is said that because it comes from the Upanisads, the Hare Krsna mantra is a Vedic mantra, and therefore, because the ordinary people may not have any entrance into Vedic mantras, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu readjusted this mantra by reversing the order of the words. In that way, it is said, the concern that it is a Vedic mantra is thereby canceled, and so Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu gave it to all without breaching the injunctions of the Vedas. Some devotees in Uttar Pradesh who have great affection for Sri Caitanyadeva like to give this opinion.
But our faith is that the mentioning of “Hare Rama” first is only superficial. It concerns the idea that since the Rama avatara appeared first and the Krsna avatara afterwards, the name of Rama, “Hare Rama,” should come first in the maha-mantra. A deeper reading will consider that when two similar things are connected together, the priority will be ordered not on the basis of historical precedent, but in consideration of the most highly developed conception. The holy name of Krsna is higher than the holy name of Rama. This is mentioned in the Puranas: three names of Rama equal one name of Krsna. The name of Krsna is superior to the name of Rama. Where the two are connected together, the first position should be given to the one that is superior. Therefore, the name of Krsna must come first in the maha-mantra.
This is one point. Another point is that within the eternal plane, everything is moving in a cyclic order. In an eternal cycle, which is first and which is next cannot be ascertained, and so, in the eternal plane of lila, it cannot be determined whether Krsna is before Rama or Rama is before Krsna. So from that consideration also, since the names of Krsna and Rama are eternal and unrelated to any historical event, we may begin the mantra from any place.
But above these considerations, our sampradaya has given another, higher consideration. A deeper understanding will reveal that the Hare Krsna mantra is not at all concerned with rama lila. In the name of Rama within the Hare Krsna mantra, the Gaudiya Vaisnavas will find Radha-ramana Rama. That means “Krsna, who gives pleasure (raman) to Srimati Radharani.” In our conception, the Hare Krsna mantra is wholesale Krsna consciousness, not Rama consciousness. Sri Caitanya’s highest conception of things is always svayam bhagavan, krsna lila, radha-govinda lila. That is the real purpose of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s advent and teachings. In that consideration, the Hare Krsna mantra does not mention the rama lila of Ayodhya at all. There is no connection with that in the highest conception of the Hare Krsna mantra.
And the inner conception of the mantra is responsible for our spiritual attainment. When one pronounces the name Rama, if he means Dasarathi Rama, his attraction will take him there, to Ayodhya; if he means Parasurama, he will be attracted to another place. And if Rama means Radha-ramana Rama, he will go to Goloka. The inner conception of the devotee will guide him to his destination.
My original name was Ramendra Candra. When I was given initiation, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura gave me the name Ramendra Sundara. I asked him, “What is the meaning of Ramendra?” He told me, “In our consideration, Rama does not mean Dasarathi Rama or Lord Ramacandra, the son of King Dasaratha. It means Radha-ramana Rama – Krsna, the lover of Radharani.”
The name “Hare” may also mean different things according to one’s conception. That the meaning of the word Hare in the mantra is taken to mean Radharani is also determined according to the spiritual development or qualification (adhikara) of the chanter. When one is firmly established in conceiving of Radha-Krsna in the background of everything – when one finds svayam-rupa, the original form of Godhead, underlying all sorts of conceptions of all things good – then only will he find that sort of meaning and nothing else.
For beginners, the word “Hare” in the Hare Krsna mantra can be conceived to mean Hari. That is one meaning. It may also mean Nrsimhadeva. And just as “Rama” can mean Dasarathi Rama, “Krsna” may refer to different types of Krsna. There is also a Krsna in Vaikuntha, where the vaibhavas, or extensions of the Lord, number twenty-four. In Vaikuntha, first there is Narayana, and then four extensions: Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. Each of these four has five agents, making twenty-four in all. One of these is the Krsna of Vaikuntha. Then there is the Krsna of Dvaraka and the Krsna of Mathura.
In this way there are various conceptions of Krsna. But the highest conception of Krsna is Krsna in Vrndavana: Radha-Govinda. When one cannot remove himself from that plane, he will conceive of divinity only as Hari-Hara. He will see nothing else but Radha-Krsna. Those who are completely and perfectly installed in madhura-rasa – who have the highest kind of divine vision – cannot come down from that plane. If they do, it is only for the interest of Radha-Govinda. In that case, the devotee may go anywhere, but his real interest is under lock and key in Vrndavana. Only on behalf of the service of Radha- Govinda will a devotee leave Vrndavana.
For those who are followers of the Vrndavana line, “Hare” in the Hare Krsna mantra can only mean Hara: Srimati Radharani. Hara means “Radha, who can even snatch the attention of Krsna, Hari.” The word harana means “to steal. ” One who can steal the mind of He who is most expert in stealing – who can steal even the mind of Krsna – She is Hara. Stealing in its highest capacity is shown by Radharani. And “Krsna” means “He who is most attractive in the absolute sense.” They are both represented in the mantra.
The followers of the rupanuga sampradaya can never deviate from that consciousness in their chanting of the maha-mantra. And with this conception, they go on with the service of Hari-Hara, Radha-Krsna. They absorb themselves in radha dasyam. They cannot think of anything else but that. And once having fully attained that plane, they can never come down from that level, from the interest of Radha- Krsna. They cannot allow themselves to be out of that circle.
That is the position of our highest aspiration, and according to a devotee’s adhikara, or spiritual qualification, that sort of meaning will awaken in one’s mind. It will be awakened, discovered by sadhana. At that time the covering of the heart will be removed and divine love will spontaneously spring up from the fountain of the heart as the inner function of the soul.