The Importance of Nāma Kīrtana – 1

Babaji in LA Janmastami 2010In the 7th Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Śrī Prahlāda speaks two verses to his demoniac father Hiraṇyakaśipu, which, in brief, contain the essence of the primary forms of bhakti. In the following we will discuss an explanation of these verses based on the commentary of Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī.

    śrī-prahlāda uvāca

    śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ
    smaraṇaṁ pāda-sevanam
    arcanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁ
    sakhyam ātma-nivedanam

    iti puṁsārpitā viṣṇau
    bhaktiś cen nava-lakṣaṇā
    kriyeta bhagavaty addhā
    tan manyedhītam uttamam

    (SB 7.5.23-24)

“Hearing about Viṣṇu, singing His glories, remembering Him, serving His feet, worshiping Him, offering obeisances and prayers, and serving Him in the mood of a pure servant, serving Him in the mood of an intimate friend, and offering one’s very self unto Him — anyone who offers himself to Viṣṇu by performing these nine facets of devotion has reached the pinnacle of all studies, in my opinion.”

Nine Limbs of Bhakti

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī defines each of the nine limbs of devotion enumerated here.

Hearing (śravaṇam) entails putting one’s ears into contact with words that describe Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s name, form, attributes, and his divine sports with his associates (līlā). Jīva Gosvāmī specifies that the sequence properly begins hearing Krishna’s name and ends with hearing Kṛṣṇa’s līla. He explains that the same order must also be followed in chanting (kīrtanam) and recollection (smaranam).

Singing or chanting His glories (kīrtanam) similarly means causing ones tongue to vibrate words describing Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s name, form, attributes, and his divine sports with his associates (līlā).
Remembrance or recollection (smaranam) means thinking about Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s name, form, attributes, and associates or līlā. Pāda-sevanam (lit., “service to the feet”) refers to performing humble service for Kṛṣṇa’s deity, like cooking, making garlands, sweeping the temple, etc. Worship (arcanam) refers to worshiping Kṛṣṇa’s deity on the altar, with arati and so on. Offering obeisances (vandanam) means bowing down in front of the deity. Servitude (dāsyam) means to identify oneself as a servant of Kṛṣṇa. Friendship (sakhyam) means to think of Kṛṣṇa’s welfare, in the mood of a friend. Finally, self-surrender (ātma-nivedanam) means to completely submit one’s whole body-mind complex and the pure self to Kṛṣṇa.

By using the word uttama, Śrī Prahlāda implies that there are three types of “educated people.” The best type (uttama) performs these nine aspects of devotion directly to Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa (bhagavaty addhā), and only for His satisfaction, not to gain something selfish in dharma, artha, kāma, or mokṣa. One’s education is middling (madhyama) if he performs such devotions with vested interests or neglects these nine primary devotions in favor of indirect devotion through yoga, jñāna and karma. One’s education is uselessly poor (kanistha) if one does not engage in any devotion towards Viṣṇu at all.

The definition of pure devotion is given in Gopāla Tāpanī Upaniṣad:

Bhakti is service to Kṛṣṇa by giving up all attachments to any object in this world or to any material destination in the next life, and by fixing the mind on Kṛṣṇa. This bhakti is also called naiṣkarmya.”

It is not necessary to execute all these nine facets of bhakti. One can attain perfection (prema bhakti) even by practicing only one of them, or by practicing some combination of them, according to ones natural faith and preferences. That one can perform these practices according to personal choice is evident from sage Āvirhotra’s recommendation to worship the particular form of Bhagavān one prefers (mūrtyābhimatayātmanaḥ, SB 11.3.48).

When Prahlāda enumerates nine limbs of devotion, he does not limit bhakti to only these nine limbs. Rather, his intention in specifying these nine is that nothing outside the path of bhakti should be executed and not the processes of other paths. There are other limbs of bhakti, but they can be categorized as subparts of these nine categories.

Proper Sequence

Although one can attain perfection by following any limb of devotion, in any order, still, as briefly mentioned earlier, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī specifies that bhakti is most effective if śravaṇam, kīrtanam and smaranam are executed in a specific sequence.

The primary sequence:

1. śravaṇam
2. kīrtanam
3. smaranam

Within each, there is a secondary sequence:

1. Kṛṣṇa’s name (nāma)
2. His form (rūpa)
3. His qualities (guṇa)
4. His associates (parikara) and their līlā.

Hearing Kṛṣṇa’s name (nāma śravaṇam) is necessarily first, because it purifies the internal senses, thus granting them the capacity to hear about the form of Bhagavān (rūpa śravaṇam). When one thus internally envisions His form, one can effectively hear about His qualities (guṇa śravaṇam). Having apprehended His qualities and form, one can effectively hear about Bhagavān in relation to His associates (parikara śravaṇam), after which one can effectively hear the nāma, rūpa, guṇa, and parikara of Bhagavān interacting in His līlās (līlā śravaṇam).

The proper sequence of all practices is:

1. Nāma śravaṇam
2. Nāma kīrtanam
3. Nāma smaranam
4. Rūpa śravaṇam
5. Rūpa kīrtanam
6. Rūpa smaranam
7. Guṇa śravaṇam
8. Guṇa kīrtanam
9. Guṇa smaranam
10. Parikara śravaṇam
11. Parikara kīrtanam
12. Parikara smaranam
13. Līlā śravaṇam
14. Līlā kīrtanam
15. Līlā smaranam

Thus, the foundation is nāma śravaṇam and the culmination is līlā smaranam. If one’s heart has become pure by hearing and chanting the names of the Lord, one can then engage in nāma smaranam, while still continuing to engage in nāma kīrtanam. In this way, the preceding practice remains and supports the succeeding practice.

Hear From Whom?

It is best to hear (śravaṇam) from great devotees of the Lord. Such śravaṇam is supremely pleasing to the devotees who have attained taste (ruci). It is only by supreme fortune that one gets the opportunity to hear the name etc. of Śrī Kṛṣṇa from the mouth of a great devotee (mahābhāgavata).

Also, one is very fortunate to hear about any form of Bhagavān, but to hear about Śrī Kṛṣṇa is supreme fortune because He is the original Bhagavān. Thus, to hear about Śrī Kṛṣṇa from His great devotee is the ultimate good fortune.

The best subject to hear is Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. This is because the words of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam are revealed by Krsna Himself and have been recited by Krsna’s great devotee, Śukadeva Gosvāmī. Thus the words of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam have a very special potency to inspire devotion and give a vision of Bhagavān. Moreover, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is very relishable because it consists of supreme rasa:

    nigama-kalpa-taror galitaṁ phalaṁ
    śuka-mukhād amṛta-drava-saṁyutam
    pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam ā-layaṁ
    muhur aho rasikā bhuvi bhāvukāḥ

“O you devotees who are able to relish divine taste (rasikās) and who are able to experience transcendental states of awareness and love (bhāvukās), drink again and again—up to liberation and beyond—the divine rasa known as Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, the mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literature. Being fully ripened and overflowing with immortal nectar, it descended unbroken upon the earth, issuing from the lips of Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī.” (SB 1.1.3.)

Babaji in LA, Janmastami 2010

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Comments ( 5 )
  1. scooty ram

    Pranam
    Thank you for enumerating the core aspects of chanting based on commentaries of acharyas.

    In the sloka that is being commented upon, the uttama word is applied to the process and along with it vishnu is mentioned. However in the lines below it is mentioned “Also, one is very fortunate to hear about any form of Bhagavān, but to hear about Śrī Kṛṣṇa is supreme fortune because He is the original Bhagavān. Thus, to hear about Śrī Kṛṣṇa from His great devotee is the ultimate good fortune.”

    Should we understand that this word vishnu in the verse applies to Shri Krishna and not any other form as per paribhasa sutra verse (Krishnas tu bhagavan svayam)? Has Sri Jiva goswami explicitly mentioned this as well in these particular verses?

    Also in general I have been having this question about bhakti and how bhakti ensures dharma is protected(pratyakshavagamam dharmyam). We have heard stories of chaste women (Mandodari on par with Sita) who were chaste even to a not so befitting husband. On similar notes, obedience to ones father is a dharma. How to understand Prahlad’s violation to following His own father’s words?

    Ofcourse we can say real father is Vishnu or real father is someone who teaches about vishnu or teaches about values of human life. Neverthless when we see chastity being applied to women married to not so qualified husbands, should we apply same rule to devotees whose fathers are atheistic? Has this topic been touched upon in this commentary as well?

    Infact SB echoes “SB 7.5.36: Although Prahlāda is only five years old, even at this young age he has given up his affectionate relationship with his father and mother. Therefore, he is certainly untrustworthy. Indeed, it is not at all believable that he will behave well toward Viṣṇu.”

    Please kindly clarify.
    Regards

  2. snd

    To reply to your first question about the meaning of the word Vishnu, the word Vishnu refers to all forms of Bhagavan. Thus it also refers to Krishna. Therefore, devotees of Krishna are also called Vaishnavas and not Karshnis. Jiva Gosvami stresses on its meaning as Krishna who is Svayam Bhagavan.

    As for the other question, there are two dharmas – dharma in general, which refers to varnasrama dharma, and parama dharma, referred to in SB 1.1.2, which is devotion to Bhagavan. The first is in relation to the physical body and thus varies from person to person. The other is the same for all. Out of these two dharmas, the second is superior and the first one is to aid the second. The real purpose of varnasrama dharma is to bring one to and assist one in one’s execution of parama dharma. Thus as long as the first one is in line with this service, it can be followed, but if it goes against the second one, then one should reject it.

    The stories of Mahabharata glorifying service to parents or husband are to stress the importance of the first dharma. If we cannot execute the first one, the possibility that we will execute the second is very dim. But these stories are not to be taken in an absolute sense, i.e. one should not execute the first dharma at the expense of the second one. That is the import of SB 1.1.2. This is depicted when Prahlada rejected his father in favor of devotion to Vishnu. This is also the significance of the charama sloka of Gita, 18.66.

    • scooty ram

      Thank you the help to make me understand on the word uttama with vishnu.

      Wrt the other question, you mentioned ” Out of these two dharmas, the second is superior and the first one is to aid the second….one should not execute the first dharma at the expense of the second one. .. If we cannot execute the first one, the possibility that we will execute the second is very dim.” From this I understand bhakti supports dharma to prevail.

      You also said “Thus as long as the first one is in line with this service, it can be followed, but if it goes against the second one, then one should reject it.” From this cant it be construed that certain dharmas are anti-bhakti? or in advaitic terms reject karma kanda totally.

      This is in total contrast to saying bhakti supports all dharmas.

      Also should the 1.1.2 be understood as rejecting the teachings of MBH?
      I think SB is written to re-iterate the teachings of MBH with the emphasis on the purpose/goal – hari tosanam. Therefore MBH is upabrahmanam for Poorva kanda and SB is upabrahmanam for Uttara kanda.

      Are you saying Carama sloka teaches giving up poorva kanda?

      Thank you once again for the help..

      Regards

    • malati Post author

      Here is Babaji’s reply:

      > This is in total contrast to saying bhakti supports all dharmas.

      Please try to use some common sense. If Hiranyakashipu is against Vishnu and bhakti, then how can bhakti support the dharma of being obedient to Hiranyakashipu? How can bhakti support something which goes against bhakti itself.

      > Also should the 1.1.2 be understood as rejecting the teachings of MBH?

      If it goes against parama dharma. Can you not see it in the verse itself ?

      > Are you saying Carama sloka teaches giving up poorva kanda?

      What is your understanding?
      Do you think it is propagating it?

  3. purushottam das

    therefore bhakit is for simple minded persons. crooked mind will always find some incongruent errors. i liked the division of nam, rupa, guna and lila combined with sravanam and so on. at the same time, nama is the basis for all bhakti. unless one develops taste for chanting, no amount of other services can benefit. therefore, thank you for starting naam svadhayay.

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