Śrī Hari-nāma

by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura
(translated by Swami B.V. Giri)

There is no other way to cross over the overwhelming ocean of material existence without the mercy of the Supreme Lord. Although the jīvas are superior to matter, they are by nature weak and dependent upon Bhagavān who is the jīva’s controller, protector and deliverer. The jīva is finite consciousness (anu-caitanya) and is subservient to, and the servant of, Bhagavān, the Infinite Consciousness (parama-caitanya). That Infinite Consciousness, Bhagavān, is the shelter for all the jīvās. This material world is created by māyā. The jīva’s position in this mundane realm is only that of a criminal residing in prison. Due to his aversion to the Supreme, the jīva comes in connection with māyā. There is no other means of deliverance for the jīva apart than becoming attracted to the Supreme. Those jīvas who are averse to Bhagavān are bound by māyā. Those jīvas that take shelter of Bhagavān are liberated.

When, through sādhana, the bound jīvas attain the mercy of Bhagavān, they are able to cut the strong rope of māyā. After great deliberation, the great sages have described three types of sādhana, namely karma, jñāna and bhakti.

Different aspects of karma have been written about in the śāstra, such as varnāśrama-dharma (prescribed social duties), yajña (fire sacrifices), tapasyā (austerities), dāna (charity), vrata (vows), yoga (the yogic process) etc. The śāstra describes the results of these various types of karma. By analysing these different results, the following can be observed – heavenly enjoyment, enjoyment of happiness in this world of death, nullifying disease and engaging in great works are the main results. Apart from the result of engaging in great activities, it is to be understood that all the other results are illusory. Heavenly pleasures, happiness in this world, gaining opulence and other such accomplishments that the jīva may attain through karma, are all perishable. They are all destroyed by Bhagavān’s wheel of time. What to say of the bondage of māyā being destroyed by these results, after some time, in connection with one’s mundane tendencies, one’s bondage to māyā becomes stronger. The result may be that we attain an opportunity to perform higher activities, but if we don’t engage in those higher activities, it becomes meaningless. As is it is stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavata:

dharmaḥ svanuṣṭhitaḥ puṁsāṁ viṣvaksena-kathāsu yaḥ
notpādayed yadi ratiṁ śrama eva hi kevalam *

*“If the occupational duties of a man do not create attraction for topics about the Supreme then they simply a wasted endeavour.” (Bhāg.1.2.8)

The fundamental purpose of dharma in varṇāśrama is this – through both his worldly and bodily activities and in accordance with his intrinsic nature, a man’s physical livelihood in this world can be performed with ease. When this happens, there is plenty of opportunity to discuss hari-kathā. But if a person carefully observes varṇāśrama-dharma, but attains no attachment to hari-kathā, even while engaged in service to Hari, his engagement in dharma is simply a futile endeavour. Through karma, one cannot cross over the ocean of material life with any certainty. I have explained this in brief.

The practice of jñāna has been portrayed as a sādhana for the jīvas to attain a higher destination. The result of jñāna is ātma-śuddhi (self-purification). Taking refuge in matter, the jīva forgets that the ātmā is something beyond the mundane world, and wanders on the path of karma. Through the practice of jñāna, one becomes aware that, “I am not matter! I am cit-vastu (a spiritual subject).” This type of jñāna is naturally called naiṣkarmya (inaction). This is because the eternal nature of the spiritual entity is to taste transcendence (cid-āsvādana) which doesn’t start with this type of jñāna. At this stage, one is ātmārāma (satisfied in the self). But when spiritual activities begin in the form of relishing transcendence, then there is no more inaction. For this reason, Nārada has said:

naiṣkarmyam apy acyuta-bhāva-varjitaṁ
na śobhate jñānam alaṁ nirañjanam*

* “Jñāna even though free from karma, is not so wonderful if devoid of a conception of Acyuta (the Infallible Lord). What is the use of niṣkarmakarma (activities without personal desires) when it is not offered to Him?” (Bhāg. 1.5.12)

Pure knowledge in the form of inaction, without any feelings towards Acyuta, is unattractive. If that is so, then what happens? The Bhāgavata says:

ātmārāmāś ca munayo nirgranthā apy urukrame
kurvanty ahaitukīṁ bhaktim itthaṁ-bhūta-guṇo hariḥ*

*“Those sages who are ātmārāma (who take pleasure in the ātmā), who are free of all types of material bondage, perform pure bhakti to Urukrama (Kṛṣṇa, whose activities are glorious) because they are attracted to the qualities of Hari.” (Bhāg. 1.7.10)

The Supreme Consciousness Hari, has one unusual quality. He attracts all those who are liberated from matter and self-satisfied, and engages them in devotion unto Him.

Therefore, karma gives the initial opportunity to engage in spirituality and jñāna relinquishes its nature of inactivity. Only then can karma and jñāna be said to have connection to bhakti-sādhana. In and of themselves, they are not accepted as limbs of sādhana. Therefore, only bhakti can be said to be sādhana. Sometimes, when karma and jñāna take refuge of bhakti, they are considered as sādhana, but bhakti is naturally sādhana. Thus, in the Eleventh Canto it is stated:

na sādhayati māṁ yogo na sāṅkhyaṁ dharma uddhava
na svādhyāyas tapas tyāgo yathā bhaktir mamorjitā
(Bhāg. 11.14.20)

“O Uddhava! Karma-yoga, sāṅkhya-yoga, varṇāśrama-dharma study of the Vedas, austerities or renunciation cannot please Me. But only intense bhakti can actually please Me.”

There is no other way to attain the pleasure of Bhagavān except for bhakti. There are nine kinds of sādhana-bhakti beginning with śravaṇa, kīrtana etc. Amongst them, śravaṇa, kīrtana and smaraṇa are the primary limbs of sādhana. Bhagavān’s name, form, qualities and pastimes (nāma, guṇa, rūpa and līlā) – these are the four objectives of śravaṇa, kīrtana and smaraṇa. Amongst these, nāma is the prime source for everything else. Therefore, hari-nāma is at the root of all worship. This is supported in the śāstra:

harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā*

* “Only the name of Hari, the name of Hari, the name of Hari – there is no other way, no other way, no other way in the age of Kali. There is no other way.” (Bṛhan-Nāradīya-Purāna 3.8.126)

In the age of Kali, there is no other way for the jīva except hari-nāma. From the words ‘in the age of Kali’, this is to be understood – in all ages, other than hari-nāma, the jīva has no way. Specifically, during the age of Kali, when various other mantras and sādhanas have become difficult to perform, only hari-nāma alone is reliable because it is more powerful than all other processes. In relation to what sort of substance is hari-nāma, the Padma-Purāṇa states

nāma cintāmaṇiḥ kṛṣṇaś caitanya-rasa-vigrahaḥ
pūrṇaḥ śuddho nitya-mukto’bhinnatvān nāma-nāminoḥ*

* “The name of of Kṛṣṇa is a touchstone. It is the form of conscious rasa. It is complete, pure, and eternally liberated. The Name and the Named are non-different.”

In his purport to this śloka, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has written:

ekam eva sac-cid-ānanda-rasādi-rūpaṁ
tattvaṁ dvidhāvirbhūtam ity arthaḥ

Śrī-kṛṣṇa-tattva is the non-dual form of sacchidānanda (eternity, cognisance, and bliss). He has appeared in two forms, namely as nāmī, the form of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and as nāma, the Name of Śrī Kṛṣṇa.”

The fundamental principle of this is that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is sarva-śaktimān (the Possessor of all potencies). As He is the Puruṣa (Supreme Enjoyer), all manifestations from the Possessor of all potencies are only the manifestations of His potency. Although the Supreme Enjoyer is the shelter of the potency, the potency reveals Him to others. The form of Kṛṣṇa manifests through the potency’s influence over vision (darśana) and the name of Kṛṣṇa is communicated through the potency’s influence over appellations (āhvaya). Thus, kṛṣṇa-nāma is like a touchstone; it is Kṛṣṇa Himself (kṛṣṇa-svarūpa) and is the form of conscious rasa (caitanya-rasa-vigraha). The Holy Name is naturally pure and complete at all times, which means that it does not depend upon the grammatical construction found in mantras such as ‘kṛṣṇāya’ ‘nārāyaṇāya’ etc. Just by chanting kṛṣṇa-nāma, then divine mellows for Kṛṣṇa (kṛṣṇa-rasa) on the spiritual platform suddenly arise. The Holy Name is always pure which means that it is not comparable to mundane syllables which depend upon matter. The Holy Name is only consciousness and rasa. The Holy Name is always liberated and thus, eternally liberated; it can never be produced by matter. Only one who has tasted nāma-rasa is able to understand this explanation. Those who impose mundanity upon the Holy Name, who are themselves incapable of relishing its conscious rasa, cannot attain love (for the Holy Name) upon hearing this explanation. One may say that at all times, the Holy Name we chant is dependent upon material syllables, thus at this point the Holy Name should be considered to be a substance born from matter, and therefore it cannot be said to be eternal. In order to dispel this atheistic argument, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has written:

ataḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāmādi na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ*

* “Thus, the Name etc. of Śrī Kṛṣṇa cannot be grasped by the mundane senses. The manifest themselves upon the tongue and other senses that are eager to engage in His service.” (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Eastern Wave, 2.234)

The material senses perceive material substances. Kṛṣṇa’s-name. form etc. are divine and can never be perceived by material senses. Thus, that Name which appears on the tongue is only the ātmā’s transcendental bliss and simply manifests to the senses in order to experience that bliss. However, at the time when the devotee’s transcendental tongue utters kṛṣṇa-nāma, the Supreme Truth (parama-tattva) appears upon the material tongue and begins to dance. Just as in mundane rasas the senses are pervaded when one laughs due to happiness, cries due to affection and dances due to love, in transcendental mellows, śrī kṛṣṇa-nāma-rasa pervades all the way to the tongue. Kṛṣṇa-nāma does not appear on the material tongue. The Holy Name at the time of sādhana is a shadow (abhāsa), it is not the actual Holy Name. This reflection is known as nāmābhāsa. By nāmābhāsa and by gradually following the rules and regulations, the jīva will acquire a taste for the Holy Name. This is understood by considering the lives of Vālmīki and Ajāmila.

The jīva has no taste for the Holy Name due to offences. For one who chants kṛṣṇa-nāma and is free from offences, that transcendental hari-nāma, which is caitanya-rasa-vigraha (the form of conscious rasa), arises within his heart. When the divine Holy Name appears, the heart becomes joyful, tears stream from the eyes and sāttvika-vikāra (transformations of divine ecstasy) are apparent. Therefore, the Bhāgavata has said:

tad aśma-sāraṁ hṛdayaṁ batedaṁ
yad-gṛhyamāṇair hari-nāma-dheyaiḥ
na vikriyetātha yadā vikāro
netre jalaṁ gātra-ruheṣu harṣaḥ *

* “Indeed, that heart is made of iron which does not transform upon chanting hari-nāma with concentration, even though tears may come from the eyes and hair may stand on end.” (Bhāg. 2.3.24)

When the jīva chants hari-nāma, then he definitely experiences a transformation within his heart, tears stream out of his eyes and his bodily hairs stand on end. If one chants kṛṣṇa-nāma and such transformations do not occur, one’s heart has become hard due to offences.

The absolute duty of a sādhaka is to chant hari-nāma without offence. Therefore, in order to avoid such offences, it is important to know the ten types of offences in relation to hari-nāma that are mentioned in the śāstra. They are:

  1. Criticising devotees (sādhu-nindā).
  2. Considering Śiva and other demigods to be independent of Bhagavān.
  3. Disrespecting the guru (gurvvajñā).
  4. Criticizing the bona fide śāstra (sac-chāstra-nindana).
  5. Consider the glories of hari-nāma to be an exaggeration.
  6. Considering the meanings of hari-nāma to be the product of imagination.
  7. Engaging in vice on the strength of the Holy Name.
  8. Considering the Holy Name to be equal to other pious material activities (śubha-karma).
  9. To give instructions about hari-nāma to faithless persons.
  10. To have no faith in the glories of the Holy Name even after hearing about them.

By showing a lack of faith in sādhus and criticising the saintly character of such mahājanas one commits an offence to hari-nāma. Thus, those who take shelter of the Holy Name must completely give up the tendency to criticize Vaiṣṇavas. If there is any doubt about the activities of a Vaiṣṇava, one should try to inquire about their intentions instead of immediately criticizing them. Therefore, it is an absolute necessity to have faith in the sādhus.

Considering Śiva and other demigods to be independent of Bhagavān is counted amongst the offences to harināma. Bhagavat-tattva is one without a second. Śiva and the other demigods have no existence separate from Bhagavān. If one shows respect to Śiva and other demigods as

guṇāvatāras or as Bhagavān’s devotees, one will no longer have the idea that they are independent of Him. Those who consider Mahādeva (Śiva) to be an independent and separate demigod and worship him along with Viṣṇu, do not acknowledge the existence of Mahādeva’s true greatness. Thus, such persons become offenders to both Viṣṇu and Śiva. Those who take shelter of hari-nāma should totally abandon such a notion that the demigods are independent.

To disrespect the guru is an offence to the holy name. He from whom bhagavat-tattva is understood is Bhagavān’s dearmost who has appeared in the form of the ācārya. By having resolute devotion to him, one attains unshakable faith in hari-nāma.

Criticizing bona fide śāstra must be stopped. The timeless Veda-śāstra and the smṛti-śāstra that follow them – it is possible to learn about bhāgavata-dharma from these, and offending these śāstras is an offence to hari-nāma. Throughout the Vedas and other śāstra, the glories of hari-nāma are described. It is stated:

vede rāmāyaṇe caiva puraṇe bhārate tathā
ādāv ante ca madhye ca hariḥ sarvatra gīyate*

* “Throughout the Vedas, the Rāmāyaṇa, the Purāṇas, and the Mahābhārata, in the beginning, the end, and in the middle, only Hari, is described.” (Hari-vaṁśa 3.132.95)

If one criticises bona fide śāstra, how can one develop attachment for hari-nāma?

Many think that the glories of hari-nāma described in the Vedas and other śāstra is only exaggeration. Only offenders to the Holy Name have such a mentality. For such people, hari-nāma produces no results. Those who are extremely unfortunate think that the statements of the śruti describing the results of chanting hari-nāma and the statements of the śruti promising the results of karma-kāṇḍa are the same, just so people will develop a taste for such activities – those who are fortunate never believe this.

etan nirvidyamānānām icchatām akuto-bhayam
yogināṁ nṛpa nirṇītaṁ harer namānukīrtanam

Hari-nāma-kīrtana has been ascertained to be the sole duty of those renounced yogīs who desire to be fearless. Those who have such faith in hari-nāma can achieve its result.” (Bhāg.2.1.11)

Many do not understand the difference between nāmābhāsa and nāma and think that nāma is simply a combination of syllables, therefore, even without faith, if one chants the Holy Name etc. there will be a result. They give the history of Ajāmila and quotes from śāstra such as, sāṅketya pārihāsya vā.*

* This quote is from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 6.2.14:

sāṅketyaṁ pārihāsyaṁ vā stobhaṁ helanam eva vā
vaikuṇṭha-nāma-grahaṇam aśeṣāgha-haraṁ viduḥ

“Unlimited reactions to immoral activities are destroyed if one chants the Holy Name indirectly (saṅketa), jokingly (pārihāsa), disrespectfully (stobha), or neglectfully (hela). This is known by the wise.”

It was previously stated that the Holy Name is caitanya-rasa (conscious rasa) and is not perceivable by the senses. Consequently, if one does not take shelter of the Holy Name without offences, it will never be possible to attain the results of chanting the Holy Name. The result of chanting the Holy Name by persons with no faith is that they may later chant the Name with faith. Thus, those who misinterpret the Holy Name thinking that it is composed of mundane syllables, explaining it as a part of karma-kāṇḍa, are extremely antagonistic and offenders to the Holy Name. Vaiṣṇavas should endeavour to give up this offence to the Holy Name.

Having taken shelter of hari-nāma, many think, “We have found a remedy for all our sins.” With that belief they engage in various vices such as cheating, lying, illicit activities etc, then again chant hari-nāma to try and purify themselves of their misdemeanours. All such people are nāmāparādhīs. One who has taken shelter of hari-nāma and relished spiritual rasa is no longer attached to temporary mundane things. It is not possible for him to engage in immoral acts. Engaging in unrighteous activities again and again, and chanting the Holy Name is simply deception. This offence is extremely grave and should always be given up.

Many think that just as activities such as yajña, giving in charity and other acts of dharma, visiting holy places (tīrtha-yatra) and all such endeavours give auspiciousness, the Holy Name does likewise. Those who have such a mentality are nāmāparādhīs. The intrinsic nature of the Holy Name is always that of conscious rasa. All of the various activities of karma are purely material. Thus, they are categorically different to the Holy Name. Those who consider all these auspicious activities to be equal to the Holy Name, have not actually relished nāma-rasa. Just as there is a difference between diamonds and glass, there is an inherent similar difference between hari-nāma and the numerous activities of karma.

One who instructs faithless persons about hari-nāma is a nāmāparādhī. Just as casting pearls to a swine is a useless endeavour and is disrespectful to the pearls, similarly it is extremely inappropriate to give instructions on the Holy Name to a person in whom proper faith has not arisen yet. One should only engage in those activities by which the various jīvas will attain faith in hari-nāma. When there is faith, then instruction can be given. All those persons with guruabhimāna (the false pride of being gurus) instruct unfit people about hari-nāma, and such persons eventually fall down due to offences to the Name.

After hearing the glories of the Holy Name, if one does not have exclusive faith in the Name and does not abandon the shelter of other processes such as karma and jñāna, then he is a nāmāparādhī.

If one is not able to give up these ten types of offences to the Name, then hari-nāma will not appear.

Seeing the various miseries of the jīvas of this world, the deliverer of the people in the age of Kali, Śrī Śrī Mahāprabhu Caitanyadeva, with His heart moistened with mercy, gave these instructions:

tṛṇād api sunīcena taror api sahiṣṇunā
amāninā mānadena kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ
(Śikṣāṣṭaka 3)

“Considering oneself as lowly as a blade of grass and being as tolerant as a tree, without any personal pride and giving respect unto others, a jīva becomes qualified to chant hari-nāma-kīrtana.”

The main purport of this statement is that one should chant hari-nāma with purity. One who considers himself lower than all others, who never criticises sādhus, who does not show disrespect to Śiva and other demigods by having a separatist mentality, who does not disrespect the guru in any way, who does not offend the bona fide śāstra, who accepts the glories of hari-nāma, who does not create meanings for the Holy Name – in other words, through debates based upon dry jñāna, he does not speculate about meaning of the word ‘Hari’ based upon the philosophy of impersonal Brahman, he does not perform immoral acts on the strength of the Name, he does not establish the equality of hari-nāma with the different auspicious activities of karma, he does not create a mockery of the Holy Name by giving harināma to those without faith in the Name, and he does not disbelieve in the Name even slightly. He naturally gives up these ten offences to the Holy Name. if some people mock him or injure him, he is not against benefiting them. Even while performing all his worldly duties, he does not possess the pride of being the enjoyer or the doer. Considering himself to be a servant of the world, he is always dedicated to serving the world.

When hari-nāma is chanted by a qualified person, that Name from within the spiritual world pervades the surface of the heart like lightning, removing the darkness in the form of the transformations of māyā covering the jīvas of the world. Therefore, O great souls! Constantly chant hari-nāma-kīrtana without offence. There is no support for the jīvas except for hari-nāma. There is no shelter for the jīvas except for hari-nāma. While floating within this unassailable ocean of material existence, taking refuge in karma, jñāna etc. is extremely futile – like trying to cross over a vast ocean by holding onto a straw. By taking shelter of the great boat in the form of hari-nāma, one can cross beyond this insurmountable ocean.

śrī kṛṣṇārpaṇamastu (May this be an offering unto Śrī Kṛṣṇa)

The sweeper of the Marketplace of the Holy Name

The most fallen –

Śrī Kedarnātha Bhaktivinoda