The following is a transcription of a discourse delivered by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Cessnock, Australia, on February 25, 2002
Śrīpāda Āśrama Mahārāja: In Brisbane you were discussing nāmābhāsa (a glimpse of the light of the holy name before its full light is perfectly visible), but there is still some confusion amongst the devotees. By chanting nāmābhāsa, will all prārabdha (sinful reactions from which one is suffering at the present) and aprārabdha-karma (potential suffering) go away?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: You should know that there are so many kinds of nāmābhāsa. Not all types of nāmābhāsa are the same; chāyā-nāmābhāsa (a semblance of the pure name obscured by ignorance and anarthas, like the sun, covered by clouds, which does not manifest its full brilliance) and pratibimba-nāmābhāsa are not the same. All sins will not go away by pratibimba-nāmābhāsa (a Māyāvādī may chant like this), but they will go away by chāyā-nāmābhāsa (endeavouring to chant for bhakti).
Śrīpāda Āśrama Mahārāja: When Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja came, and the hippies were chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa, they were not Māyāvādīs; they were ignorant and innocent. Can this type of chanting be said to be chāyā-nāmābhāsa?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes.
Śrīpāda Āśrama Mahārāja: Will all sinful activities go away by that chanting?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes, but when will they go? At once, or gradually? When a rope* is burned by fire, its form is still there. Calling his son whose name was Nārāyaṇa, Ajāmila** repeatedly chanted nāmābhāsa: “Oh, Nārāyaṇa come, Oh, Nārāyaṇa come, Oh, Nārāyaṇa come.” He did this up until the last day of his life, and his sinful reactions were like burnt rope.
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura has explained that his first nāmābhāsa was enough to burn his past sins, but he repeatedly did so and therefore his chanting was like a sādhana. Although he was not aware of the results of such chanting, all his offences, sins: prārabdha (reactions that have already fructified), aprārabdha (reactions not yet fructified), kūṭa (reactions lying dormant), and avidyā (ignorance, the cause of sin) were gone.
Śrīpāda Āśrama Mahārāja: With the first nāmābhāsa?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: With the first, or by gradually doing so, all his sins, prārabdha, aprārabdha, and kūṭa were all gone. He never realized this until he saw that his death had been stopped because at that time he heard the dialogue of the Viṣṇudūtas and the Yamadūtas. Hearing very minutely from them the glories of chanting the holy name, he thought, “Oh, they have glorified Nārāyaṇa and His kīrtana. They are my Gurus.” He wanted to touch their feet, but they disappeared before he could do so. At that time he realized, “I’ve chanted, and the fruit is that my death has been stopped. I should now chant the pure mantra.”
He then went to Haridvāra and practised, I don’t know for how many months or years. At that time it was Satya-yuga, so it may have been thousands and thousands of years. In the course of time, he developed love for Paravyoma (Vaikuṇṭha) Nārāyaṇa, and he was totally purified. The Viṣṇudūtas came again at that time. They checked to see if something was still lacking, but they saw that his work towards full purification had now been completed and they took him back with them to Vaikuṇṭha.
We see that the Viṣṇudūtas also came to Dhruva at the time of his death, but he said to them, “Where is my mother?” He had some attachment, and that is why he was stopped from going to Vaikuṇṭha, and instead went to Dhruvaloka, which is the Viṣṇuloka here in this universe. He was not fully liberated like Ajāmila. Ajāmila went to Vaikuṇṭha and Dhruva was stopped in this universe and went to Hariloka. Don’t doubt this.
madhura-madharam etan maṅgalāṁ maṅgalānāṁ
sakala-nigama-vallī sat-phalaṁ cit-svarūpam
sakṛd api parigītaṁ śraddhayā helayā vā
bhṛgu-vara! nara-mātraṁ tārayet kṛṣṇanāma
[Kṛṣṇa-nāma is the sweetest of the sweet and the most auspicious of all that is auspicious. It is the flourishing creeper and eternal, fully-ripened fruit of all the Vedas, and the embodiment of knowledge, cit-śakti. O best of the Bhṛgu dynasty! If someone chants the holy name only once without offence, be it with faith or indifference (helā), he is immediately delivered from this ocean of birth and death!]
(Śrī Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 11.234)
Even one name is enough. Sakṛd api parigītaṁ śraddhayā. If one chants with śraddhā, honour and faith, and even if one chants helāya, without it, in other words, if he chants nāmābhāsa, even that nāmābhāsa will cross all sinful reactions.
Śyāmarāṇī dāsī: Gurudeva, you were talking about the people who were ignorantly or innocently chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa when our Prabhupāda came to America, and then you started talking about the ‘burnt rope.’ You didn’t finish; what is their situation?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: In Srimad-Bhagavatam, first chapter, second śloka, it is written:
dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavo ’tra paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ
vedyaṁ vāstavam atra vastu śivadaṁ tāpa-trayonmūlanam
śrīmad-bhāgavate mahā-muni-kṛte kiṁ vā parair īśvaraḥ
sadyo hṛdy avarudhyate ’tra kṛtibhiḥ śuśrūṣubhis tat-kṣaṇāt
[Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated, this Bhāgavata Purāṇa propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. Such truth uproots the threefold miseries. This beautiful Bhāgavatam, compiled by the great sage Vyāsadeva [in his maturity], is sufficient in itself for God realization. What is the need of any other scripture? As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of Bhāgavatam, by this culture of knowledge the Supreme Lord is established within his heart.]
Sadyo hṛdy avarudhyate ’tra kṛtibhiḥ śuśrūṣubhis tat-kṣaṇāt. What is the meaning of tat-kṣaṇāt?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Immediately. What is the meaning here? One may be full of anarthas, but he now begins to hear the hari-kathā in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Others are hearing with taste and śraddhā, but they are not in Goloka Vṛndāvana. Why not? The word tat-kṣaṇāt is therefore used properly here. You have been in this world for unlimited time, and if you are now on the path to perfection, if you are now on the way, this is tat-kṣaṇāt. In comparison to unlimited time, if in a year, or two years, or two births, one becomes purified, that is tat-kṣaṇāt. Try to reconcile this.
Vrajanātha dāsa: The example is also given that when you take out the plug of a fan, it’s still running, but it will stop very soon.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes. If you will stop peddling on a cycle, it will continue to move for a short time. The driver of a train steps on the breaks, and the train continues to go for two miles, three miles, or four miles. Still, it has ‘stopped,’ and thus there is no harm in using the word tat-kṣaṇāt.
Rādhānātha dāsa: Many hippies were chanting harināma. Some were chanting nāmābhāsa and some were not chanting nāmābhāsa. I have one doubt. The Yamadūtas –
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Don’t doubt. This is your lack. Don’t doubt.
Rādhānātha dāsa: The Yamadūtas had never seen this before.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: The Yamadūtas can do wrong, but not the Viṣṇudūtas.
Rādhānātha dāsa: Up ’till the time the Yamadūtas came to take Ajāmila, they had never heard of this situation before. So nāmābhāsa must be very rare.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: No, it is not rare. Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Nityānanda Prabhu came for this. Those who do not commit any offences to Vaiṣṇavas (the first of the ten nāmāparādhas) will do nāmābhāsa. Somehow they are on the way, and very soon, in so many births, they will become pure. Don’t doubt this; what has been written in [the] śāstras is correct.
Rādhānātha dāsa: Nāmābhāsa cannot destroy aparādhas?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes, gradually. If one chants nāmābhāsa continually, he will not commit aparādha. If you fall down on the earth, you can stand up by taking shelter of the same earth. Similarly, if you have done anything wrong or committed many offences, if you chant again, with repentance.
Come with strong, full belief, don’t have any doubt, and always respect Vaiṣṇavas.
The following is an excerpt from Sermons of the Guardian of Devotion Volume I by Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Mahārāja (bvmlu.org/SBRSM/books)
In the narrative of Ajāmila, we also find mention of the atonement of the ‘elephant’s bath’:
kvacin nivartate ’bhadrāt
kvacic carati tat punaḥ
prāyaścittam atho ’pārthaṁ
[Sometimes one who is very alert so as not to commit sinful acts is victimized by sinful life again. I therefore consider this process of repeated sinning and atoning to be useless. It is like the bathing of an elephant, for an elephant cleanses itself by taking a full bath, but then throws dust over its head and body as soon as it returns to the land.]
“Sometimes a person refrains from sin, but in time he again commits the same kind of sin. Therefore, I consider atonement (in the line of karma–kāṇḍa, or in the calculation of worldly deeds) to be as futile as an elephant’s bath. (The elephant is habituated to immediately rolling about in the dust after taking a dip in the river.)”
I have done something sinful, and if I follow that by an opposite practice as atonement (karma-prāyaścitta), the sin is absolved. But the next moment I will compulsively commit that sin again. By jñāna-prāyaścitta we may gain a somewhat more permanent abstention from sinful activity.
śamena ca damena ca
yamena niyamena vā
kṣipanty aghaṁ mahad api
[To concentrate the mind, one must observe a life of celibacy and not fall down. One must undergo the austerity of voluntarily giving up sense enjoyment. One must then control the mind and senses, give charity, be truthful, clean and nonviolent, follow the regulative principles and regularly chant the holy name of the Lord. Thus a sober and faithful person who knows the religious principles is temporarily purified of all sins performed with his body, words and mind. These sins are like the dried leaves of creepers beneath a bamboo tree, which may be burned by fire although their roots remain to grow again at the first opportunity.]
“Austerity or one-pointed attention, exclusive celibacy, subjugation of the internal and external senses, charity, truthful speech, cleanliness, sensual discipline (yama) headed by nonviolence, mental regulation (niyama) headed by regular utterance or concentration on mantras – by the strength of such practices, faithful liberationists (jñānīs) who know the mysteries of religion drive away even the most grievous sins committed in thought, word, or deed, as bamboo clusters are destroyed by fire.”
The landscape may be clear for a whole year, but next year with the coming of the rainy season, many shrubs will inevitably sprout again. But the type of purity we shall attain when coming in connection with the service of Vāsudeva, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, is of eternal factor and peculiarly purest nature. We cannot hope to attain this by any other method than our submission to, and acceptance of, the service of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, Reality the Beautiful.
kecit kevalayā bhaktyā
aghaṁ dhunvanti kārtsnyena
nīhāram iva bhāskaraḥ
[Only a rare person who has adopted complete, unalloyed devotional service to Kṛṣṇa can uproot the weeds of sinful actions with no possibility that they will revive. He can do this simply by discharging devotional service, just as the sun can immediately dissipate fog by its rays.]
“But most rarely, the devotee who is cent-per-cent absorbed in the service of Lord Vāsudeva annihilates all sins at the root by his practice of exclusive devotion which is indifferent to the above-mentioned practices of austerity, etc. As the sun completely destroys a mountain of snow, the exclusive devotees absorbed in the service of Vāsudeva are also similarly able to totally uproot sin by the strength of their devotion, that is, even without exerting themselves.”
Such peace can never be found anywhere else. Our proper understanding and adjustment with the highest centre will give us such peace and freedom from anxiety of all types that cannot be achieved by any artificial methods which are devoid of understanding of the highest centre.
tapasvino dāna-parā yaśasvino
manasvino mantra-vidaḥ sumaṅgalāḥ
kṣemaṁ na vindanti vinā yad-arpaṇaṁ
tasmai subhadra-śravase namo namaḥ
[Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the all-auspicious Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa again and again because the great learned sages, the great performers of charity, the great workers of distinction, the great philosophers and mystics, the great chanters of the Vedic hymns and the great followers of Vedic principles cannot achieve any fruitful result without dedication of such great qualities to the service of the Lord.]
“I offer my repeated obeisances unto the Supreme Lord, who is all-famous as the Supreme Good. Without offering their actions unto Him, neither the liberationists (jñānīs) who are dedicated to austerities, nor the charitable worldly workers (karmis), nor the world-famous, nor the performers of Aśvamedha sacrifices, nor the sages or yogīs, nor persons dedicated to chanting mantras, nor persons of virtuous behaviour – none of them can attain any auspiciousness in life.”
The following is an excerpt from the book Śuddha-Nāma Bhajana, Chanting the Pure Name by Śrīla Gaura Govinda Svāmī Mahārāja, published by Tattva Vicara Publications (Tvpbooks.com)
Similarly, before the rising of the pure name, nāmābhāsa comes. And when nāmābhāsa comes, all sinful reactions go away and mukti, liberation, comes and all prārabdha-karma is destroyed. Disease, roga, comes as a reaction to your sinful activities. Nāmābhāse sarva-roga haya nivāraṇa (Hari-nāma Cintāmaṇi 3.30).
When you attain the nāmābhāsa stage, your prārabdha-karma, your past karmic reactions, are destroyed. There is no more disease. All disease is finished. No more going to the doctor to get medicine.
enechi auṣadhi māyā nāśibāra lāgi’
harināma-mahāmantra lao tumi māgi’
(Jīva Jāgô, Verse 4)
[“I have brought the medicine that will destroy [the disease of] māyā. Take these holy names, I beg you!”]
Mahāprabhu said, “I have come with the unfailing medicine: the hari-nāma mahā-mantra.” It is the unfailing medicine. The doctor’s medicine may fail but this medicine will never fail if you have firm faith in it. If you have firm faith, it is unfailing, but if you lack faith, it will fail and you will commit aparādha.
It completely annihilates māyā. There will be no prārabdha-karma, no karmic reaction. No more roga, disease. All diseases are cured. Finished! There will be no disease if you have such unfailing medicine with you:
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa, kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma, rāma rāma hare hare
sakala āśaṅkā nāmābhāse dūra haya
nāmābhāsī sarvāriṣṭa haite śānti pāya
(Hari-nāma Cintāmaṇi 3.31)
You go to an astrologer and tell him, “O astrologer, bad days have come to me. There are all evil stars and planets in my horoscope.” Then the astrologer may say, “One very bad period has come for you. The bad planet Rāhu has come. It is very bad! You will die!” Death is coming soon to you, but if you chant hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare, hare hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare and if by chanting you attain the nāmābhāsa stage, then all your prārabdha-karma will be destroyed. This evil planet, graha, cannot do any harm to you. So no more death! No more death! You should have died but now you are surviving. What happened to you? Because you took shelter of the holy name, all your prārabdha-karma was destroyed. No more ill effects. Finished!
Why are you going to an astrologer saying, “Can you look at my horoscope? What good and bad is coming to me?” There is no need! No need! It is gone! You might have died but you are surviving. How is it possible? What happened? I have taken shelter of the holy name:
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa, kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma, rāma rāma hare hare
This is the result of nāmābhāsa: all anarthas are destroyed.
yakṣa, rakṣa, bhūta, preta, graha-samudaya
nāmābhāse sakala anartha dūre yāya
(Hari-nāma Cintāmaṇi 3.32)
All evil stars and planets, ghosts, rākṣasas and pretas will go away. One may be going to hell but he will be saved because all his anarthas are destroyed.
The example was Ajāmila. He was going to hell but he did not go to hell because all his prārabdha-karma was destroyed. He did not die, his lifespan increased and enhanced. This is the result of nāmābhāsa. Nāmābhāsa produced such a result, so what to speak of the pure name, śuddha-nāma.
The following is an excerpt from a discourse delivered by Śrīla Gaura Govinda Svāmī Mahārāja in Bhubaneswar, India, on March 23, 1994
When you attain the nāmābhāsa stage your prārabdha-karma is destroyed. Yes. Do you follow? In Mahāprabhu’s līlā you’ll find [the story of] Subuddhi Rāya. Subuddhi Rāya drank some water from a Mohammedan’s house. A Mohammedan, a cow killer and a beef eater. Such a sinful act. [He thought,] “Oh, I committed a sin. What type of atonement do I have to perform to become free from the sinful reaction?” He approached the paṇḍitas at Kāśī. He said to paṇḍitas at Kāśī, “I have committed a sinful act. [I drank some water from a Mohammedan.] What is the atonement for it?” The paṇḍitas turned over the pages of their śāstra and said, “You will have to drink very hot ghee, this is the atonement for this sinful act. Then you will become free from the reaction of the sin” He thought, “What? Very hot ghee? If I drink very hot ghee I’ll die!” So he didn’t do it. He waited. When Mahāprabhu came [to Kāśī], he went to Mahāprabhu and asked, “Mahāprabhu, I did this pāpa (sin). I approached the paṇḍitas at Kāśī. They advised me to drink very hot ghee. This is the atonement for it. [But I didn’t do it.]” Mahāprabhu said, “This is not a proper atonement. This is known as karma-prāyaścitta.” Three types of prāyaścitta are there. Materialistic persons approach the paṇḍitas. They have committed some sinful acts. Bad planets have come. Saturn and Rāhu. Soon they’ll die. They approach the paṇḍitas, “Oh paṇḍita mahāśaya what should I do? Evil planets have come.” (Then the paṇḍita may say,) “You should offer pūjā to those planets. Śani-pūjā and Rāhu-pūjā.” So the paṇḍitas said, “You will have to drink very hot ghee.” But Mahāprabhu said, “No, this is not real atonement. This is known as karma-prāyaścitta.” Three types of prāyaścitta are there, karma-prāyaścitta, jñāna-prāyaścitta and bhakti-prāyaścitta. This is karma-prāyaścitta. One has done some karma, the result is a karmic reaction, and one does another karma to remove the reaction. This type of atonement is prescribed in the karma–kāṇḍa. It is not real atonement. It is like kuñjara-śaucavat [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.1.10]. It is like the bathing of an elephant. An elephant’s body is dirty. It enters a river or lake and cleanses itself by taking a bath. As soon as it comes out of the river or lake, it throws dirt over its body. What is the value of taking a bath? Kuñjara-śaucavat. Karma-prāyaścitta is like that. The sinful reaction to pāpa may be temporarily removed, but again one will commit pāpa. Like the elephant again throws dirt over its body, that is not real atonement. Better than that is jñāna-prāyaścitta. One who does jñāna-prāyaścitta becomes very repentant. [He becomes very serious,] “I will never commit a sinful act again.” [He may not be committing any sinful act, but the root is still there.] An example is vaṁśānala (a bamboo forest fire). He never commits any sinful act therefore there will be no sinful reaction, but the root is not destroyed. Somehow if a fire is started in a dense bamboo forest everything is burnt to ashes (there is nothing left on the surface). Jñāna-prāyaścitta is like that. But the root is in the earth. It is not burnt. When the rain falls, it sprouts again. By jñāna-prāyaścitta the root is not destroyed. The reaction may be destroyed but the root is avidyā. Avidyā, ignorance or nescience is the root of pāpa. That is not destroyed by jñāna-prāyaścitta. It is not a proper prāyaścitta. Again one commits [pāpa]. Bhakti-prāyaścitta is the only prāyaścitta. Mahāprabhu said bhakti-prāyaścitta is the only prāyaścitta. That destroys the root, avidyā. There will be no sprouting at all. Mahāprabhu said to chant hare kṛṣṇa and completely surrender unto the holy name:
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa, kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma, rāma rāma hare hare
If you attain the nāmābhāsa stage, all your karmic reactions, sinful reactions, are destroyed. Your prārabdha-karma is destroyed. Yes. That is the proper prāyaścitta. When you chant the pure name, you achieve kṛṣṇa-prema, you attain Kṛṣṇa. You’ll go back home, back to Godhead. You’ll attain the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa and be with Kṛṣṇa. That is the proper prāyaścitta, atonement. Completely surrender unto Kṛṣṇa, the holy name. That is what is hinted at here. Thereby your destiny is completely changed. Only Kṛṣṇa can change it, otherwise destiny is very powerful and nobody can change it.
* Note from the editor: Kṛṣṇa personally takes over one’s karma. He gives one more prārabdha-karma to get one to the point where one can attain śuddha-bhakti.
** The following is an excerpt from The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.1 Summary by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja Prabhupāda
Ajāmila was a resident of Kānyakubja (the modern Kanauj). He was trained by his parents to become a perfect brāhmaṇa by studying the Vedas and following the regulative principles, but because of his past, this youthful brāhmaṇa was somehow attracted by a prostitute, and because of her association he became most fallen and abandoned all regulative principles. Ajāmila begot in the womb of the prostitute ten sons, the last of whom was called Nārāyaṇa. At the time of Ajāmila’s death, when the order carriers of Yamarāja came to take him, he loudly called the name Nārāyaṇa in fear because he was attached to his youngest son. Thus he remembered the original Nārāyaṇa, Lord Viṣṇu. Although he did not chant the holy name of Nārāyaṇa completely offencelessly, it acted nevertheless. As soon as he chanted the holy name of Nārāyaṇa, the order carriers of Lord Viṣṇu immediately appeared on the scene. A discussion ensued between the order carriers of Lord Viṣṇu and those of Yamarāja, and by hearing that discussion Ajāmila was liberated. He could then understand the bad effect of fruitive activities and could also understand how exalted is the process of devotional service.
Source: Purebhakti.com and sbnmcd.org/All_mp3
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Unless indicated differently, all verse translations and quotes are from the books by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja Prabhupāda (Vedabase.com)