From a conversation with Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja at the Devānanda Gauḍīya Maṭha in Navadvīpa during the Gaura Pūrṇimā festival, March 15, 1997 (Pinnacle of Devotion, 2nd edition)
Devotee: Who is Bhakti-devī, the personification of devotion?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: She is svarūpa-śakti, Śrīmatī Rādhikā. When Her components samvit and hlādinī* combine together, the essence is called bhakti-śakti.
Vidyā-vadhū-jīvanam.** Kṛṣṇa Himself, or the holy name Himself, is like the husband or the lover. And who is the loved one? Śrīmatī Rādhikā is the beloved of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Prema-bhakti is Śrīmatī Rādhikā Herself, and one of Her expansions is Bhakti-devī. Bhakti-devī has form and attributes, and she is full of mercy. Like Śrī Kṛṣṇa, she is independent. She can make Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa dance, she can manifest Them in our heart, and she can also make us dance. She can engage us in the service of Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.
nāma cintāmaṇiḥ kṛṣṇaś
pūrṇaḥ śuddho nitya-mukto
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 17.133)
The holy name of Kṛṣṇa is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Kṛṣṇa Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. Kṛṣṇa’s name 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 Kṛṣṇa Himself. Since Kṛṣṇa’s name is not contaminated by the material qualities, there is no question of its being involved with māyā. Kṛṣṇa’s name is always liberated and spiritual. Because the name of Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa Himself are identical, His name is never conditioned by the laws of material nature.
Devotee: On one hand, śāstra states that if we chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra in the association of non-devotees, the pure holy name will not manifest to us. But this verse says: “pūrṇaḥ śuddho nitya-mukto ‘bhinnatvān nāma-nāminoḥ – The holy name of God and God Himself are equally perfect, complete, uncontaminated, and eternal.” So, when a person with anarthas and committing offences chants the holy name, is the name coming but covered by clouds of anarthas? Or is there no name at all?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: It will be nāmāparādha or nāmābhāsa.*** Kabhu nāmābhāsa sadāya nāmāparādha. By one’s constant chanting, all anarthas will disappear from one’s heart, and śuddha-nāma (the pure name) will appear there. The sādhaka will then have realization of Kṛṣṇa Himself. Kṛṣṇa will come to him at this time.
Devotee: Someone may say that when one is chanting nāmāparādha or nāmābhāsa, nāma (Kṛṣṇa Himself, who is nondifferent from His name) is present, but covered.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: No.
Devotee: But it is said that nāma (the holy name) is pūrṇaḥ-śuddho, always pure.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Nāma is always pure; this is correct. But we have no conception of the pure name. Our level of attainment depends on how and why we are chanting or calling the holy name. If you are not pure, nāma will not come. The result of nāmāparādha will be material position, reputation, wealth, and the fulfilment of otherworldly desires.
Devotee: But I have heard that a shadow (nāmābhāsa) is only there due to the presence of the sun (śuddha-nāma), and it is only due to clouds (anarthas) that one cannot see the sun.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: With this logic, one can say that the clouds are the sun. Similarly, if you are a nāmābhāsī or a nāmāparādhī, you may think, “Oh, this is nāma.” But it is not nāma; it is a cloud. In fact, it may even be darkness. Neither one is nāma. “Nāmākṣara bahir haya baṭe nāma nāhi haya**** – If one chants offensively, it is not nāma at all. It is merely worldly syllables that sound like the real name.” Just as imitation gold is not gold, so what appears as the holy name chanted with offences is not actually the holy name.
Devotee: If one is careful not to commit offences, can he achieve śuddha-nāma simply by hearing the sound vibration of the holy name? Is that not sufficient?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: It is possible only if one receives the unconditional mercy of guru, or any realized devotee, or Gaurāṅga, or Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. With such mercy, śuddha-nāma is easily realized. Otherwise, attaining it is very difficult.
There are two kinds of mercy: the mercy of a bhakta and the mercy of Bhagavān. For us to receive the mercy to chant śuddha-nāma, the bhakta must be fully-realized, like Nārada, Śukadeva Gosvāmī, or Śrīla Rūpa and Sanātana Gosvāmīs. Otherwise, by our practice alone it is not possible to attain śuddha-nāma. The only way to attain it is to always weep for Their mercy, and to take their shelter in the real sense. Having come to Gaura-dhāma, Navadvīpa, there is hope for us. At the same time, we will have to always hanker for Kṛṣṇa to arrange that we have the association of a pure Vaiṣṇava. Then, by that association, the pure name will very easily come.
There are many austerities in performing Navadvīpa parikramā. The hot sun shines on our head, and the earth and dust are also very hot. Many devotees, who usually remain in their home, who are not accustomed to these kinds of austerities, do this parikramā – walking not just one mile, but up to forty miles in the blazing heat. They perspire, their faces turn red, their feet burn, their heads burn, and there is insufficient water. Sometimes the road is so hot that their feet blister.
When Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu sees that even in this stage they are performing such austerities, His heart melts and He is bound to bestow His mercy. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu will say, “Oh, you have so much attachment for this dhāma.” Surely They will give Their mercy. I have seen with my own eyes that devotees are so hot and tired that they cannot even smile. But still they continue their parikramā, chanting harināma-kīrtana with the Deity of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu on a palanquin, and a party of thousands of devotees. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is bound to give His mercy by bestowing upon them kṛṣṇa-prema – either in this life or in a future life.
If there is śraddhā, advancement will come despite the presence of anarthas. We may have millions of anarthas, and we may be committing many offences unknowingly as well, but if we have śraddhā, they will gradually disappear.
Śraddhā is of two kinds: śuddha-śraddhā (pure faith) and laukikī-śraddhā (faith which is based on custom or tradition). Everything depends on śraddhā. There is śuddha-śraddhā or pāramārthika-śraddhā (spiritual or transcendental faith), and there is an abhāsa (semblance) of that. Abhāsa is of two kinds: pratibimbābhāsa (reflection) and chāyābhāsa (shadow). Pratibimbābhāsa is not good; chāyābhāsa is somewhat better.
What is śuddha-śraddhā? It is the full faith that by serving Śrī Kṛṣṇa, doing parikramā, chanting the holy name, and serving gurudeva and the Vaiṣṇavas, one’s life will surely be successful. The progress of one with deep śraddhā will not be hindered by anarthas. But that śraddhā must be pure. If we do parikramā to fulfil a worldly desire, that śraddhā is not pure.
What is the symptom of pāramārthika-śraddhā? One will think, “I may be cut to pieces, but I will never give up chanting the holy name or performing devotional activities. Never.”
Devotee: On one hand, I have heard it said that nāmābhāsa and nāmāparādha are nāmākṣara (syllables), and this is supported by the verse:
na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau
svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ
No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, quality and pastimes of Śrī Kṛṣṇa through his materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, quality and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him.
This verse says that the material tongue and senses cannot touch the holy name. But, on the other hand, there is the verse:
nāma cintāmaṇiḥ kṛṣṇaś
pūrṇaḥ śuddho nitya-mukto
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 17.133)
The name is pūrṇa-śuddha; it is always pure. Some people say that when persons perform harināma, nāma is present even if the chanters are Māyāvādīs who chant nāmāparādha. They say a cloud of anarthas or aparādhas obscures pure nāma and therefore respect should be given to nāma, but one should not stay in that māyāvādī association and receive its poisonous effects.
The name is present wherever someone is chanting. So, if one has the desire to chant, nāma will appear on his tongue, even though there is some aparādha or anartha?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: No. If someone is chanting with aparādhas or anarthas, Kṛṣṇa does not appear to that person. Śuddha-nāma is Kṛṣṇa Himself. “abhinnatvān nāma-nāminoḥ – Kṛṣṇa’s name and Kṛṣṇa Himself are not separate.” When śuddha-sattva comes, it descends from Goloka Vraja into our hearts when our hearts are free from anarthas and aparādhas. More specifically, śuddha-sattva always resides in the hearts of the associates of Kṛṣṇa. From their hearts it comes into our hearts. Śuddha-sattva is the essence of hlādinī and samvit combined, and śuddha-nāma appears with the descent of śuddha-sattva into our hearts. Only at that time will the holy name and the possessor of the name be perceived as one and the same.
There are two stages prior to śuddha-nāma, which are nāmābhāsa and nāmāparādha. Nāmaparāda is not nāma, but nāmākṣara (simply mundane syllables that sound like nāma). It occurs or appears when the chanter has some śraddhā, but his heart is still full of anarthas. Regarding nāmābhāsa, as described in Jaiva-dharma by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and in Harināma-cintāmaṇi by Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura, there are two types. These two types are pratibimba-nāmābhāsa and chāyā-nāmābhāsa.
First try to understand pratibimba-nāmābhāsa. The sun is present in the sky. It is millions of miles from the Earth, but its reflection is seen in a waterpot. Similarly, the real holy name is situated millions of miles away. What we experience is only a reflection (pratibimba), and that reflection is not the same as the pure name.
Devotee: So, if nāmābhāsa is a reflection, then where is śuddha-nāma?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Nāma is śuddha-citta sūrya. It is in the heart of pure devotees and also in Goloka Vṛndāvana. From there the reflection is coming.
Sometimes, third-class devotees (kaniṣṭhā-adhikārīs) mistake this pratibimba to be Kṛṣṇa, but it is not. The reflection of the sun is not the sun itself, and pratibimba-nāmābhāsa is not śuddha-nāma.
Māyāvādīs and others like them also chant nāma. They see that the śuddha-bhaktas are chanting and receiving great honour, so they think, “We should chant like this, and then mukti (impersonal liberation) will be easily available.” They do not acknowledge the form or attributes of Kṛṣṇa or any of His manifestations. Rather, they think they can chant kalpanā-nāma (an imaginary name with imaginary attributes), and ultimately they will realize the qualityless God. Their nāma is called pratibimba-nāmābhāsa. The real name is not present.
The second type of nāmābhāsa is chāyā-nāmābhāsa (shadow-nāmābhāsa). Please deeply hear this analogy. In the final hours of the night, at 4-5 a.m., the darkness in the eastern direction begins to decrease. Neither the sun nor its rays have risen, and there is yet no light, but there is a mild dissipation of darkness. This is the abhāsa of the sun, which will soon rise. The sun itself will not rise immediately; that will take one hour. We are seeing something which is still not the sun. We are just about to see the sun, but we have not seen it yet. This is chāyā-nāmābhāsa; it is nearer to seeing the sun than the reflection, but it is not the sun.
Chāyā-nāmābhāsa can give mukti and wealth. It can also give dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa. It can also give the path to Vaikuṇṭha, as shown in the example of Ajāmila*****, but it cannot give kṛṣṇa-prema.
In the lower part of the Vaikuṇṭha region, there is the impersonal realm called Brahma-loka, where one gets sāyujya-mukti (annihilation of the self). There are also four higher kinds of liberation: sārūpya (to have the same bodily features as the Lord), sāmīpya (to associate with the Lord), sālokya (to live on the same planet as the Lord) and sārṣṭi (to have opulence equal to that of the Lord). All these four are available by chanting chāyā-nāmābhāsa. This is because those who chant chāyā-nāmābhāsa have faith that Kṛṣṇa has form, attributes, and power. By continually chanting even chāyā-nāmābhāsa, and not committing aparādha, pure nāma will come quickly.
Chāyā-nāmābhāsa itself, however, is also not the real name. When not even a part of the sun is visible but one can clearly see some dim glimmer of light, this is called abhāsa. So, in both stages of nāmābhāsa (pratibimba and chāyā), the sun cannot be seen; the pure name is not there.
The type of nāmābhāsa a person chants depends on his śraddhā. If one’s śraddhā is pratibimbha-śraddhābhāsa, his chanting of nāma will be pratibimba-nāmābhāsa, and it will give him the results of his Māyāvāda conception.
If one’s śraddhā is chāyā-śraddhābhāsa, then his chanting of nāma will be chāyā-nāmābhāsa. The name chanted in chāyā-nāmābhāsa by one who receives very high-class sādhu-saṅga will one day turn into the pure name, just as one hour after brāhma-muhūrta, if there are no clouds in the sky (or in other words no nāmāparādha), the sun will automatically be seen. In śuddha-nāma, there are no anarthas or aparādhas.
Because the sun is practically unlimited, it is not possible for it to be covered by clouds. Rather, the clouds and fog cover our eyes. In the same way, anarthas and aparādhas cover the soul’s śraddhā, so much so that even if he chants for millions of births, he will not attain kṛṣṇa-prema. “Koṭi koṭi janme kare yādi śravaṇa kīrtana, tabuta na pāya kṛṣṇa pade prema dhana – If one commits offences to the holy name, he will not achieve the desired goal, which is kṛṣṇa-prema.” Due to the presence of clouds, the sun will not be seen.
When we see the abhāsa of light (not the rays of the sun, but an abhāsa or reflection of the rays) during brāhma-muhūrta, we know that soon the sun will rise. This is chāyā-abhāsa. Again, pratibimba-abhāsa is when there is neither the presence of direct sun, nor is there any ray; there is only the sun’s reflection. In the same way, there is no real kṛṣṇa-nāma.
Devotee: How does pratibimba come about? Why would one chant pratibimba?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: This occurs when one has no sādhu-saṅga or guru. Or, even if he has a bona fide guru, he may not have the saṅga of that guru. Or if he has a third-class bogus guru who has no real knowledge, the disciple will not be able to receive śuddha-nāma nor will he be able to have all the siddhāntas clearly explained. Such a chanter can only do pratibimba-nāmābhāsa.
Devotee: Someone may say that Kṛṣṇa is absolute, so His reflection, which is also Him, is also absolute.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes, just as the sun is also its sunlight, but at night we do not perceive the sun. In the morning, light is seen coming from the sun’s rays. The sun is always giving light and heat, but at night it is not seen. Similarly, Śrī Kṛṣṇa is absolute, but our anarthas, aparādhas, and ignorance, which are like clouds, fog, and night, block our vision like a wall.
Devotee: But nāma is always pure.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: That is true, but our nāma is not nāma, although we may think it is. I gave two examples.
Devotee: We cannot say we chant impure nāma. Nāma is always pure. It is my heart which is not pure.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: When we take nāmāparādha and nāmābhāsa as the name, it is like pointing into the air and saying, “This light is the sun.” What is it really? The sun may be absolute, it may be present in the sky, but what we are pointing to is not the sun.
Devotee: Even if one is chanting millions of holy names, is it only through the mercy of guru that he can have pure nāma?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: It is by the mercy of Śrī Kṛṣṇa and the śuddha-bhakta or pure devotee. What you are telling, what you are understanding, what you are thinking is the holy name – that nāma is not the holy name. A lightbulb is not the sun. Those who have no superior sādhu-saṅga, whose hearts are not pure, who have not received the mercy of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and who do not have the help of a guru will not be able to chant this pure name. It is only words from a dictionary. Nāma is present.****** When nāma illuminates Himself in our heart, then it is understood that Kṛṣṇa has come. Then we will not be able to check our tongue or our mind from chanting continuously, automatically, day and night, as Caitanya Mahāprabhu did. At that time it may be said that we are chanting the pure holy name.
Devotee: Gurudeva, at that time does one see Śrī Kṛṣṇa?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: One śuddha-kṛṣṇa-nāma will give prema, and then we can see Him.
Devotee: When we chant pure nāma, will Śrī Kṛṣṇa appear before us?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: We cannot make Śrī Kṛṣṇa appear by our chanting endeavour. Kṛṣṇa Himself will appear on our tongue and dance there when we chant śuddha-nāma. With faith, we should try to chant at least nāmābhāsa.
Those who do not read the books of our Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ācāryas like Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura will not be able to explain this vividly. If disciples are only crying, “Guru, guru, guru,” they will not understand this principle. If one thinks he should only know his own guru, and that there is no need to know Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, our Gurudeva Śrīla Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Mahārāja, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, or Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī in order to know Kṛṣṇa, this is offensive thinking.
Devotee: One must weep for the mercy of guru and Vaiṣṇavas in order to be able to chant the pure name. But as conditioned souls, proud and full of anarthas and aparādhas, how do we develop a mood of weeping for the mercy of the Lord?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: By always serving śuddha-guru, śuddha-vaiṣṇavas, śuddha-nāma, and engaging in devotional practices, in no time you will be a pure devotee. Do not give time for anarthas and aparādhas. In other words, we should be so engaged that we do not have time to dwell on past anarthas and aparādhas, nor should we have time to involve ourselves in committing new ones.
With a mood of service to śrī guru, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and the Vaiṣṇavas, and with an understanding that Kṛṣṇa’s name is Kṛṣṇa Himself, one should serve them by chanting day and night. If we serve and hear from those who are chanting śuddha-nāma, our chanting of nāmābhāsa will go away and the pure name will appear for us.
* “The transcendental potency by which He (Kṛṣṇa) knows Himself and causes others to know Him is called samvit. The transcendental potency by which He possesses transcendental bliss and causes His devotees to have bliss is called hlādinī” (Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi-līlā 62, purport).
** Vidyā-vadhū-jīvanam (from Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s Śikṣāṣṭakam) means ‘the life and soul of the bride, in the form of transcendental knowledge.’
*** “Mukti, freedom from all sinful reactions, is obtained even by nāmābhāsa, or a glimpse of the light of the holy name before its full light is perfectly visible. The nāmābhāsa stage is between that of nāmāparādha, or chanting of the holy name with offences, and pure chanting. There are three stages in chanting the holy name of the Lord. In the first stage, one commits ten kinds of offences while chanting. In the next stage, nāmābhāsa, the offences have almost stopped, and one is coming to the platform of pure chanting. In the third stage, when one chants the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra without offences, his dormant love for Kṛṣṇa immediately awakens. This is the perfection” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 5.24.20, purport).
**** “Prema-pumartho mahan. That is wanted. There is one word by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura: ‘Nāmākṣara bahir haya nāma nāhi haya – simply the alphabets are coming, but that is not nāma.’ Nāmākṣara, Hare Kṛṣṇa, the alphabets are coming out, but it is not the holy name” (Room conversation with Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja. Māyāpura, 25 February 1977).
***** After Ajāmila saw the Viṣṇudūtas he went to Haridvāra, performed bhakti and then attained Vaikuṇṭha. So chāyā-nāmābhāsa gives a chance for good association (like the Viṣṇudūtas).
****** Our ācāryas like Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura and others petition the Lord for His mercy in their prayers begging for the holy name. For example, in the song Jīva-jāgo, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura writes, “Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda fell at the lotus feet of Lord Gaurāṅga, and after begging for the holy name he received that mahā-mantra.” In the song Emona Durmati, Srila Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura prays, “O Lord, I am falling at the soles of Your feet, weeping and weeping for the holy name”.
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