The All-Powerful Names Of God
Lord Chaitanya’s Eight Teachings of Siksastaka
by Satyaraja Dasa
namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-shaktis
tatrarpita niyamitah smarane na kalah
etadrishi tava kripa bhagavan mamapi
durdaivam idrisham ihajani nanuragah
O my Lord, Your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have hundreds and millions of names, like Krishna and Govinda. In these transcendental names You have invested all Your transcendental energies, and there are no hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach You by chanting Your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.”
This verse begins with an affirmation of the fact that everything can be gotten from the holy name, since the holy name is herein revealed to be nondifferent from the Lord’s own nature. Lord Chaitanya expresses this by saying nija-sarva-shaktih: all of the Lord’s potencies exist in His holy name. In other words, the Lord and His name are nondifferent. That is the nature of absolute phenomena.
We, on the other hand, are accustomed to relative phenomena, and so we cannot conceive of an object and its name being nondifferent. In the relative world a name is just a symbol, an abstract representation. If I think of water, for example, the thought alone cannot quench my thirst. The substance water and the word water are two completely different phenomena. I can chant “water, water, water” until I’m blue in the face, but my thirst will not go away. That is the nature of the relative world.
The Absolute realm is just the opposite. There, a name and the thing it represents are identical. If I chant “Krishna, Krishna, Krishna,” I’m actually in contact with Him.
This principle was explained in complex theological terminology by the disciples of Lord Chaitanya known as the six Goswamis of Vrindavana. They called it nama-naminor- advaita, which means, “the nondifference between the named one and the name.” Jiva Goswami went so far as to say, bhagavat svarupam eva nama, or “the name is the essence of the Lord.” In fact, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught that the holy name is a type of avatar, varna-rupenavataro ‘yam: “the Lord in the form of syllables.”
If you study the Judaeo-Christian tradition, you will find that this principle was understood in ancient times. For example, there is great instruction in “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” Not only is this encouragement for chanting God’s name, but the word hallowed didn’t always mean what it means today. Today it means “sacred.” We say that the name of God is sacred. But originally the word hallowed meant “whole.” The name of God was considered complete. So “hallowed be Thy name” meant that God’s name was complete in itself, or full of God’s own potency, as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says.
This is true of all genuinely spiritual sound vibrations. It is a nonsectarian principle. Therefore, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says namnam akari bahudha: there are various kinds of names for the Lord. They are not restricted to Sanskrit or Bengali. Any name that describes God is totally spiritual and is thus nondifferent from His very essence. The names Krishna and Govinda are particularly special names, referring to God’s highest and original feature in the divine kingdom, in the spiritual world. For this reason, Prabhu-pada, the translator of this verse, has used these two names as prime examples. But all genuine names of God are accepted. Therefore it is said that He has hundreds and millions of names.
All religious traditions teach this principle and encourage adherents to chant God’s names, even if, in practice, the instruction is hardly followed. In fact, all religions emphasize the chanting process as the prime means for developing God consciousness. For example, King David, of the Bible, preached: “From the rising of the sun until its setting, the Lord’s name is to be praised.” (Psalms 113:3) Saint Paul said, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) In this way, the potency of the name is endorsed even in the Western religious traditions.
Not only can it be said that there are diverse names through which one can approach the Lord, but there are no hard and fast rules for chanting these names. No niyamitah, or “restrictions,” and no special time, kalah, as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says. Anytime. Anywhere. You see, certain Vedic mantras, and certain prayers within other religious traditions as well, have definite rules about chanting them, according to time, place, and circumstance. But the name of God is special and is to be chanted constantly, as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu again confirms in the next verse: kirtaniyah sada harih, which means that one should always chant the Lord’s name. This command is also in the Bible: “Pray ceaselessly.” (Thessalonians 5:17). Not vain repetition—the Bible warns us about that. But pure, sincere chanting, or prayerful chanting. Calling out to God with love and devotion. There are no rules and regulations to restrict that. That is beyond legislation. It is from the heart. Therefore, taking the position of the perfect devotee, teaching us how to pray in the proper mood, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu thanks the Lord for showing us this mercy in relation to the holy name.
But just because the Lord is merciful enough to give us an unlimited variety of names, and to excuse us for offenses, informing us that there are no hard and fast rules for this chanting, we should not become exploitative. We should not abuse His kindness by chanting in an insincere way. No. We should be respectful, grateful, and humble—always anxious to become more and more sincere or adept in our chanting. We should always remember that despite the Lord’s kindness, we are still so fallen that we continue to have no taste for the name. Lord Chaitanya, taking our position, teaches us exactly what our perceptions should be about our own relationship with the holy name. He says, durdaivam idrisham ihajani nanuragah: “It is my great misfortune that I was born without any attraction or attachment for the holy name.” Any questions?
Question: If chanting is an inherent feature of the soul—if it is natural to call out to God in love and devotion—why do we have no attraction? Why, as Lord Chaitanya says, do we not have any natural attachment to the chanting?
Satyaraja Dasa: That’s a very good question. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu answered it in His first verse: We’ve accumulated dust—conditioning—on the mirror of the consciousness. So we have no taste, or rather, we’ve developed perverted tastes, so to speak. We’ve developed attraction and attachment for things of this world, and we’ve lost, or let us say, we’ve covered our natural attraction and attachment for things of the spirit, at least to the degree that we are conditioned.
You see, externally it may appear as though our taste for chanting develops gradually, that it is an acquired taste. But actually it is our original taste, the taste of the soul. It is our current personality that is actually acquired—it is unnatural.
In this connection, the etymology of the word “personality” is interesting. It’s traced back to the root personna, which originally referred to the mask that an actor wore during a dramatic performance. It wasn’t his real identity. It was a part he played. Similarly we’ve developed materialistic personalities, colored by the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. And when we finally purify ourselves through certain reliable prescribed austerities, chief of which is the chanting of the holy name, we begin to remember our original personality. We begin to remember who we were before we adopted our external personna. That’s called self-realization.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great saint in Lord Chaitanya’s line, has commented on this verse, directly answering your question. He says that there are basically four obstacles to our attraction and attachment to the holy name. First, he points to svarupa-bhrama, or one’s “mistaken identity.” As soon as we are born into this world, we identify with the body and mind, totally oblivious of our real identity as the soul within. Still, an honest person will admit, “I don’t know where I came from. I don’t know where I’m going. Since this is true, I’ve got a deep suspicion that I don’t even really know who I am now.” [Laughter.] If a person can admit this much, that’s a good beginning for spiritual life.
Next, Bhaktivinoda mentions asad-trishna, or “evil propensities.” Because of our conditioning, we become selfish. Where there is self, there is selfinterest. That’s natural. But the more covered we get, the more our sense of self-interest becomes exaggerated, and we develop an exploitative mentality, especially if we are conditioned by a preponderance of passion and ignorance. These are the evil propensities that tend to make our heart very hard, and we then have no patience for chanting the holy name. We develop an aversion for supplicating some distant “Supreme Being,” and we lose whatever spiritual taste we may have had. Or the taste becomes covered, as I have mentioned earlier.
Hridaya-durbalya, or “weakness of heart,” the third obstacle mentioned by Bhaktivinoda, is closely related to the principle of evil propensities. It takes strength to overcome one’s conditioning, which is deep-rooted. And one must purify one’s consciousness before one can even really understand why it is ultimately in one’s own self-interest to become free from the misconceptions associated with mundane existence.
The fourth and final obstacle mentioned by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in this connection is aparadha, or “offenses.” I’ve made a list of the ten major offenses, and these can be circulated so you can get some idea.
You can see that it is a great science. And, in answer to your question, the Gaudiya Vaishnavas have an elaborate theology about why the conditioned living entity may feel he has no taste for the holy name.
Now on to the third verse:
trinad api sunicena
taror iva sahishnuna
kirtaniyah sada hari
“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.”
Here Chaitanya Mahaprabhu continues on the theme of humility. He ended the last verse by bemoaning His lack of taste for the holy name. A devotee will naturally develop such humility. In the third verse, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says that one must chant in a state of amanina: without being even slightly proud and arrogant. That’s no easy accomplishment. But that’s what it takes to enter into the mysteries of the holy name.
We must consider ourselves trinad api sunicena, “more down-trodden than the lowly grass.” And we must have taror iva sahishnuna—the full tolerance of a tree. Even if you hit a tree or treat it disrespectfully, it will still give you all the shade you want. It tolerates scorching heat and driving rain. Most of all, despite any inconvenience, it still gives shelter to others. That’s the main thing that one can learn from a tree.
Of course, it may be said that a tree has no choice and we do. But the tenor of this verse is that one must put oneself in that mood of selflessness: “I’m not so special.” Only if we feel ourselves to be in this lowly condition will we be ready to offer manadena, or respect to all living beings. That’s the mood of a devotee. Now, someone may say that this is too self-effacing. A devotee may lose self-esteem, integrity. And how can one be a productive person—or even serve the Lord, for that matter—if one is feeling oneself to be in a terrible, lowly position?
We should understand that we have to follow Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mood in a practical way. If I have a severe ego problem and feel totally useless, so much so that I can’t do any tangible service or even chant, I’d do well to take pride in being an aspiring devotee of Krishna. Because Krishna, God, is the greatest, that’s really a great position.
By recognizing that I’ve found the path of God consciousness in this life, I should be genuinely happy and grateful. I certainly shouldn’t be so self-indulgent that I spend all my time worrying about how useless I am.
Truth be told, though, people don’t generally suffer from this problem. People tend to lean in the other direction. We generally think we’re God’s gift to creation. This type of ego problem is much more prominent. In fact, religious or “spiritual” people, too—in some cases, religious people especially—can be guilty of a “holier than thou” attitude. So, to compensate, we’re asked to go in the other direction: “You’re puffed-up; you think you’re so great. So now try and realize how small you actually are!”
And in fact we are tiny. Out of all the countless universes, we’re in one small universe. Out of all the planets and stars in this universe, we’re on one particular planet. Given the limited dimensions of this planet, there are many countries. And of all those countries, I’m in one. This country is made up of many states, and those states of many cities. Of all these cities, I am in one particular city. In this city, there are many neighborhoods, and of them all, I’m in one particular neighborhood. In my neighborhood, there are many streets; I’m on only one street. Then, on this street there are many houses and apartment buildings. I happen to be in one particular apartment building. In this building there are many apartments of all shapes and sizes. I’m in one of them. And even in my one apartment, there are numerous living beings, such as insects and microbes. I’m one living being among all of these living beings. And I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m so important.”
So if we’re a little introspective, a little contemplative, we’ll see our miniscule place in the universe. It’s humbling. If we think about God’s greatness, especially, we’ll realize how small we actually are. And there are definite advantages to realizing our tiny position. We don’t become the loser. Think about it. To be more tolerant than a tree … hmmm. That would be quite useful. How often we lose our temper or get angry about petty little things. If we can develop tolerance, we can rise beyond these problems. If you think about it, most of our problems come from having an inflated conception of who we are. Just imagine. If we were genuinely humble, then we would not get angry every time something didn’t go our way. And we would be sincerely grateful every time it did.
If we could attain this level, we would have a peaceful mind and we could chant the holy name without any disturbance. Or as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says, kirtaniyah sada harih—we could chant constantly. Why? Because our mind would be free. Mantra means “mind freedom,” or “mind release.” So to properly chant a mantra one must have a free mind. Actually, there are two sides: one must have a basically free mind to at least begin chanting; otherwise one won’t even want to start. And then by chanting, one’s mind can go further, attaining new heights of freedom, spiritual freedom. This is alluded to in this verse.