Bhagavān has innumerable names, which all have inherent potency in them. Yet not all names have equal potency. The Name of Kṛṣṇa is supreme. Therefore, hearing and singing Kṛṣṇa’s names is most beneficial and effective, and thus constitutes one of the most important parts of bhakti in Gaudīya sampradāya. Moreover, hearing from the mouth of a great devotee is most powerful. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains this in Anuccheda 262 of Bhakti Sandarbha. He also stresses the importance of hearing Śrimad Bhagavata Purāṇa. Below I render the original text and my comments on it.
The Hierarchy of Importance in regard to Hearing
Regarding hearing, the following [hierarchy of importance] should be considered: To hear about the names, forms, qualities, līlās, and associates of Bhagavān to any extent is supremely beneficial. Superior to this is to hear the sacred works brought forth (āvirbhāvita) by mahat devotees. When these compositions are then sung by a realized devotee (mahat-kīrtyamānam), the benefit is greater still. To hear Śrīmad Bhāgavata is superior even to this, and better yet when sung by a mahat devotee.
In addition, the prescription to hear repeatedly is to be enacted specifically in regard to the names, forms, qualities, and līlās of one’s own cherished form of Bhagavān (nījābhīṣṭa), as indicated in this verse: “One should worship the Supreme Puruṣa [Bhagavān] in the form that is according to one’s longing” (SB 11.3.48). Furthermore, such hearing should be received from the mouth of a greatly realized devotee (mahānubhāva) who shares the same internal devotional predilection (savāsanā).
To hear specifically about the names, forms, qualities, and līlās of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, out of all the various manifestations of Bhagavān, occurs only by supreme fortune because He is Bhagavān in His most original complete essential being. The same conclusion applies in regard to other sādhanas of bhakti, such as singing and remembering. Among the narrations of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, whichever ones a practitioner personally sings at present should be sung as mahat devotees, such as Śrī Śukadeva, previously did, by adopting the manner and devotional mood established by them.
We have thus explained the practice of hearing (śravaṇam). This precedes the practices of singing and remembering because without first hearing, one cannot have knowledge of these other practices. In particular, if the fortune to hear directly the narrations sung by a mahat devotee has not yet presented itself, then only should one personally sing them on one’s own (pṛthak), because hearing [the names and so on of Śrī Kṛṣṇa] is the primary process. Consequently, the following statement and comment are relevant in this regard:
tad-vāg-visargo janatāgha-viplavo yasmin prati-ślokam abaddhavaty api
nāmāny anantasya yaśo’ṅkitāni yat śṛṇvanti gāyanti gṛṇanti sādhavaḥ
[On the other hand,] that linguistic composition, in which each verse, even though grammatically or poetically defective, contains the names that are imprinted with the glory of the limitless One [Bhagavān], destroys the sins of humanity, since these are the names that saintly devotees hear, recite, and sing. (SB 1.5.11)
Śrīdhara Svāmī comments: “The pronoun yat, ‘which,’means ‘which names’ (yāni nāmāni). If a speaker is present, the sādhus will hear the names of Bhagavān uttered by him; if an audience is present, they will recite these names for the benefit of the listeners; and if neither speaker nor audience is present, they will sing by themselves.”
Kīrtanam Is the Best Form of Atonement
We will now discuss the practice of kīrtana, or singing the glories of Bhagavān. In this regard, the order in which the names, forms, and so on are to be sung is understood to be the same as previously delineated in the case of hearing [i.e. name, form, qualities and pastimes]. An example of singing the names of Bhagavān is found in this statement of the Viṣṇudūtas to the Yamadūtas:
sarveṣām apy aghavatām idam eva suniṣkṛtam
nāma-vyāharaṇaṁ viṣṇor yatas tad-viṣayā matiḥ
For sinners of all types, uttering the name of Bhagavān Viṣṇu is indeed the only perfect means of atonement, because Viṣṇu’s attention (mati) is thereby drawn toward the utterer. (SB 6.2.10)
Śrīdhara Svāmī comments: “The words idam eva suniṣkṛtam mean ‘this alone [i.e., the utterance of the name] is the best form of atonement’ (śreṣṭhaṁ prāyaścitam). The reason for this is that when a person utters Viṣṇu’s name, Viṣṇu’s attention (mati) is drawn toward him (tad-viṣayā), the utterer of the name (nāmoccāraka-puruṣa), and Viṣṇu thinks, ‘This person is My very own (madīya), and as such, he is to be protected by Me in every way.’”
Therefore, because Bhagavān’s name belongs to His constitutional nature (svarūpa), it is naturally the cause of absorption in Him (tadīya-āveṣa). As such, hearing even a single part [or syllable] of Bhagavān’s name induces love (prīti) in the foremost devotees of Bhagavān (parama-bhāgavatas), as confirmed by Śrī Śiva in the Rāmāṣṭottara-śata-nāma-stotra from the Uttara-khaṇḍa of Padma Purāṇa:
rakārādīni nāmāni śṛṇvato devi jāyate
prītir me manaso nityaṁ rāma-nāma-viśaṅkyā
O Goddess [Pārvatī], whenever I hear any name beginning with the letter ‘r’, love is awakened in my heart every single time, because I suspect that it may be the name of Rāma. (PP 6.254.21)
Such being the case, to characterize the name merely as something that destroys sins does not at all touch its true significance.
Commentary by Satytanarayana Dasa
Hearing Bhāgavata Purāṇa from the mouth of a great devotee is supremely beneficial. This is confirmed by the Bhāgavata-mahātmya from the Uttara-khaṇḍa of Padma Purāṇa (chapters 193-198). There, the story is told of a ghost who was released from his spectral body after hearing the Purāṇa for seven days. At the end of the week’s recitation, Kṛṣṇa appeared and carried the Purāṇa’s reciter to His abode along with the entire audience. A materialistic individual is comparable to a person possessed by the ghost of material desires, kāma. The verses of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa act like a magical incantation to exorcise this ghost and lead the person to the healthy life of prema.
The names of Bhagavān are innumerable. The practitioner should regularly hear and sing the specific name of his or her own cherished form of Bhagavān (nījābhīṣṭa). Of all the names of Bhagavān, “Kṛṣṇa” is the most potent, because He is Bhagavān in His most original and complete form. Kṛṣṇa Himself proclaims, “O Arjuna, of all My names, ‘Kṛṣṇa’ is preeminent” (Prabhāsa Purāṇa, cited in Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha 82). And as Kṛṣṇa includes and contains all other forms of Bhagavān within His essential being, so too does His name embody the power of all other names of Bhagavān. This is implied in the following statement from Brahmāṇda Purāṇa:
The benefit awarded by thrice reciting the divine thousand names of Viṣṇu is attained simply by uttering Kṛṣṇa’s name just once. (Brahmāṇda Purāṇa 236.19)
As in the case of hearing (śravaṇa), the sequence to be followed in the practice of kīrtana is to first sing Bhagavān’s name, followed in order by His form, qualities, associates, and līlās. Furthermore, it is recommended that kīrtana should be of those devotional songs or verses that were composed and sung by mahat devotees. At present, there are many devotional songs written by professional poets and singers. Listening to them or singing them is not recommended, because the sentiments they contain are tainted with the poet’s own subjective projections.
Of all the names of Bhagavān, kīrtana of Kṛṣṇa’s name is supremely beneficial. And kīrtana of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra is most highly esteemed because it was chanted by Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya and His mahat devotees. If the opportunity to hear from a great devotee has not yet presented itself, one should perform kīrtana on one’s own. In this case, the practice should be undertaken with the awareness that kīrtana of these names was enacted in the past by great devotees. One should perform kīrtana as a follower of one’s guru-paramparā and not independently.
If one is in love with a boy or girl and sees another person on the street who resembles them in gait, hairstyle, or other physical features, then at once, one becomes naturally absorbed in thoughts of the beloved. Accordingly, if one hears someone calling another person whose name begins with the same letters as one’s lover’s name, one would be reminded of her or him. Great devotees such as Śiva become absorbed in contemplation of Bhagavān even if they hear just the first syllable of His name. Indeed, Bhagavān’s attention is also drawn to the utterer of His name, even if it is sounded incidentally.
A glaring example of the power of the name is found in the story of Draupadī from Mahābhārata. When Duḥśāsana tried to strip her naked by pulling off her sārī, she pleaded to Bhīṣma and other leaders of the Kauravas to put an end to this grave injustice. But nobody came to her rescue. Finally, in desperation, she called out the name of Kṛṣṇa, who immediately appeared there in the form of an inexhaustible garment to keep her covered and foil Duḥśāsana’s evil attempt. Later on, Kṛṣṇa said:
govinda iti cukrośa kṛṣṇā māṁ dūravāsinam
ṛṇam etata pravṛddhaṁ me hṛdayāṇ nāpasarpati
While I was far away in Dvārakā, Draupadī cried My name, “O Govinda.” I am thereby deeply indebted to her, who never strays from My heart. (Mahābhārata)
Such is the power of the name. If you come across a famous person but do not recognize him, you would not even take notice of him. But if someone tells you his name or who he is, you would immediately become attentive. This means that the name is more influential than the person himself.
Because the name has such potency to draw the attention of great devotees and even of Bhagavān Himself, then to describe the name merely as that which removes the sins of a chanter does not at all do justice to its glory. Removal of sins can be accomplished even by a mere semblance of the name, nāmābhāsa, as is known from the story of Ajāmila (SB 6.2.14, 18).
This is how karma works. If you do something wrong – especially an offense, you cannot hide. You can do it in a cowardly manner so no one knows. But wherever you go, it will follow you behind your back.
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