Question: It is recommended that one who chants with offenses should continue chanting to become free from those offenses. Does this mean that one should continue chanting with offenses or with nāmābhāsa?
Answer: No. Why should one chant with offenses? Chant the name and avoid offenses. And why chant nāmābhāsa? Just chant the name. I think there is some confusion about nāma, nāmābhāsa, and nāmāparādha.
Some practitioners think that when people chant in the beginning stage, they chant nāmāparādha. After making progress and avoiding offenses, they chant nāmābhāsa mixed with nāmāparādha. When, by the mercy of their guru, they realize that they are servants of Kṛṣṇa and become free of offenses, they chant the pure name, which grants Kṛṣṇa-prema.
To have clear understanding, we should know the difference between nāma and nāmābhāsa. A devotee chants nāma as part of his or her sadhana. Sādhanā is always done consciously and with purposeful intent. Nāmābhāsa is not a stage of sadhana as it is not chanted consciously. Therefore, if one is chanting nāma as part of one’s sādhanā, then it is not considered nāmābhāsa.
An ābhāsa is an act of devotion done incidentally. For example, when Ajāmila called his son, whose name was Nārāyaṇa, that was nāmābhāsa because his intention was to call his son, not Bhagavān Nārāyaṇa. Ajāmila’s calling out was not a purposeful act of devotion or part of sādhanā.
Concerning nāmāparādha, no one chants the Lord’s name as sādhanā with an intention to offend the Lord. One simply chants the Lord’s name and may commit aparādha, either while chanting or at another time. Therefore, there is no possibility that nāmāparādha or nāmābhāsa are stages of nāma sādhanā.
If one chants “Kṛṣṇa” or the Lord’s name directly, referring to Him, then he or she is chanting nāma. But if one chants the words “Kṛṣṇa”, “Rāma”, or so on, referring to some other person than the Lord, that is nāmābhāsa. Incidental chanting of the holy name of God while referring to someone else with the same name is called nāmābhāsa. Nāmābhāsa is also possible when the Lord’s name is part of another name. The English word “diorama” includes the word “rāma”, although it does not refer to Lord Rāma. This chanting of “Rāma” as part of “diorama” is another instance of nāmābhāsa.
Thus, when people chant the Lord’s name, such as the mahāmantra, they chant nāma and not nāmābhāsa or nāmāparādha, regardless of what stage of bhakti they are on. The name is always the name and it is always pure. It is only the chanter who is impure. As long as the chanter is impure, the holy name does not reveal its full potency. It is not that the name chanted by a neophyte is nāmāparādha, or that by chanting nāmāparādha, one gradually comes to the level of chanting nāmābhāsa and finally to the pure name.
If it were true that everyone chants nāmāparādha in the beginning, then no one would ever advance beyond that stage. Rather, everyone would eventually fall down due to nāmāparādha. But this is not the case. Therefore, such an understanding is improper.
Furthermore, if one chants the mahāmantra, how can that be nāmābhāsa? He is calling Kṛṣṇa’s name, not someone else’s name. For a sādhaka, the name is always the name. The only obstacles are the offenses against the name. As one becomes clear of offenses, the name manifests its potency to the chanter.
Offenses are like a cloud that covers our vision of the sun. Similarly, offenses obscure the full radiance of the name from our vision. The name is always pure and full of potency, but offenses act like a barrier around us. They obstruct our vision of the name. This is the same principle that impedes our realization of Kṛṣṇa. Although Kṛṣṇa is present everywhere, we don’t see Him because of our nondevotional attitude. If we become devotees in the true sense, we can feel His presence always.
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