“Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also confirmed that in this age of Kali, Krishna has descended in the form of sound vibration. Sound is one of the forms which the Lord takes. Therefore it is stated that there is no difference between Krishna and His name.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, Ch 6)
The tradition of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveals that sound is the key to attaining freedom, the gateway to eternal life, wherein the soul perpetually retains a special body type that is immune to loss, heartache, pain, misery and an ultimate dissolution. The individual spiritual spark, the essence of life, is eternal, but its present form of body is not; such is the nature of matter. The separated energy of the Supreme Absolute Truth, material nature, which also goes by the name of maya, or that which is not Brahman or pure spirit, brings about illusion, attachment and wanderings in search of an Absolute Truth, an entity of bliss and happiness that does not have any defects. Irrespective of any accompanying processes adopted, hearing the sound of the Absolute Truth, in any form, whether outwardly through a song or inwardly within the mind, serves as the most potent method of self-realization.
Even in areas not seemingly related to spiritual life and religion, the production of sound remains the superior method of information transfer. A great example is seen with the markup language used to render a web page. With the advent of the internet, information can now be passed to millions of people spread across thousands of miles within an instant. Though the underlying technology has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception, at the core of any web page is still the HTML code, or hypertext markup language. In normal circumstances, if you have messages or ideas that you want to communicate to many people where speaking is not an option, you put the words of your message down on paper or you have them typed or printed. With the internet, the same information can still be typed out, but the presentation can be enhanced through formatting using HTML code.
HTML is probably the simplest of all the programming languages to learn, as it is not tied down to specific rules. For programs written in other languages, if errors are made or if certain rules are violated, the program execution will halt; thus requiring a fix by the programmer. HTML is more liberal in this sense, as errors in coding can still result in some type of output displayed to the page viewer. At the same time, an error becomes more difficult to diagnose, as the presentation can vary drastically if the rules of the language are violated. The central programming unit of HTML is the tag. Tags are considered markup language because they don’t appear in the visual output. Say for example that we want to insert a paragraph into our output page. Normally we would just type the words that we would need and save them in a file. But internet browsers must know to treat this paragraph differently than other text, i.e. they must separate the text and indent it properly. By enclosing the relevant text within paragraph tags, “<p>…</p>”, the rendering agent can properly identify the input and thus know how to format the output. The actual text of the tags doesn’t appear in the final display to the end-user.
Similarly, if we want a specific word to have a different color or appearance, the font tag can be used, “<font></font>.” Again, since the tag is markup language, its text will not appear in the output. The markup is simply a signal to the program to render text in a specific way. This simple, yet powerful tool of programming actually provides insight into how words themselves operate. The written word is no different than the spoken word, as the key aspect of the communication remains the sound vibration. When we hear information from others, the specific sounds represent people, places, emotions, things and actions. The written word is just the visual representation of the same sound vibrations. Therefore we can think of alphabet characters as their own form of markup language, as their visual representations have no bearing on the information that is presented. When we see a specific word typed out or written, the brain performs processing similar to that of a web browser. The written word is a markup signaling what type of sound vibration should be produced within the mind. In this way we see that sound vibrations remain at the forefront of all communication transfer.
Not surprisingly, this key component of information exchange is well accounted for in the Vedas. In fact, all important Vedic information is passed down through sound vibrations, which make up various hymns, poems and songs. Even the most celebrated and widely read Vedic texts, such as the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana and Upanishads, are all written in poetry style format, allowing them to be sung out loud. Since sound forms the functional unit of information transfer, it represents our ticket to real freedom. The name of the Supreme Absolute Truth, which is nothing more than the sound vibration representation of God, immediately evokes memories of His forms, attributes and pastimes. The name even awakens consciousness of the Lord’s other names; thereby creating a recursive element to transcendental sound. When one’s consciousness is always fixed on these four aspects of the Divine, who as an eternal object is always worthy of worship, association with maya, or that which is not personally God, ceases. When the pure consciousness remains active up until the time of death, liberation from the cycle of birth and death is achieved.
“Whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
In addition to the debates relating to whose religion is legitimate and whose isn’t, there is always competition amongst advocates of the different processes for salvation. One person says it is best to simply sit quietly all day and avoid the damaging attachments that come from worldly life. Another person says that performing mystic yoga, wherein the effects of the senses are mitigated through gymnastics postures and breathing exercises, is the way to go. And still another group is wholly dedicated to the ritualistic sacrifice, wherein worshipers attend massive gatherings on a periodic basis, either weekly or daily, and perform their worship in the company of friends and family.
Yet just as the sound vibration produced from markup language is the key component of information transfer, it also serves as the most powerful, fastest and stable link to the spiritual world. Consciousness is driven by the mind, which is capable of thinking at speeds faster than anything seen in the outer world. With the speed of the mind, one can travel thousands of miles in distance and hundreds of years into the past. In a similar manner, when the mind produces the sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth, it can travel immediately to the spiritual world, the land where time and space have no influence. As is so nicely pointed out by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the Bhagavad-gita, the spiritual sky is forever illuminated and doesn’t require any outside source of energy.
“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.6)
Due to the superior nature of the eternal realm, whoever can go there, either in mind or in body, will be forever benefitted. Gymnastics, meditation, breathing exercises and ritualistic worship can certainly help one break free of their bad habits developed over the course of many lifetimes in the temporary realm, but only through the sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth can the mind permanently remain connected to the supreme object of pleasure who, as the all-pervading witness, resides not only within the spiritual world, but inside the hearts of every living entity as well.
So which sound vibration should we produce? Does God have a name? How could He be limited in that way? The Vedas describe the Supreme Absolute Truth as having limitless attributes and features. He has no hands, legs, or arms, but He can run faster than anyone else and He can eat anything that is offered to Him. He has no eyes, but He can see all that is going on. His spiritual body parts are indescribable, and it is impossible for one to even begin to understand what Absolute power and strength are like. As such, the Vedas often describe the Absolute Truth as neti neti, “not this, not that.”
Faced with the neti neti problem, do the great Vedic seers, the saints who have understood the Truth by having an always active connection to the eternal realm, throw up their hands and spend their time doing nothing? Actually, the neti neti issue brings even greater impetus for serving. Though the Supreme Absolute Truth is considered indescribable, the Vedas and their followers try their best to identify some of His key attributes, features that, when understood, or at least acknowledged, can bring great pleasure to the wayward souls deluded by the pursuit of material perfection. Names like Rama, Narasimha, Achyuta, Keshava and Govinda accurately describe God’s different forms and features. Yet of all the names, Krishna is considered superior because it speaks to God’s all-attractive nature in His original form. Every person in this world is seeking some sort of pleasure. Wouldn’t it make sense then that the most powerful and original entity would be capable of attracting everyone? Indeed, even Krishna’s impersonal features, such as the brilliant light of Brahman and His separated energy of maya, are attractive to the individual sparks that emanate from Him. Thus it totally makes sense that Krishna’s personal feature would be all the more attractive.
The markup language of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, produces the most potent, sublime and enduring sound within the mind. Simply reading this sequence of words, which is known as the maha-mantra, can bring tremendous spiritual merits, or sukriti. The benefits are further enhanced upon constant and repetitious production of this most wonderful sound. When the tongue takes charge of producing the names of Krishna and Rama, the glories are spread to all those within audible range. The sound vibrations produced within the mind through reading the output of HTML can increase our knowledgebase of current events, politics, science and so many other things. But only the sound vibration of the Absolute Truth can put us in touch with our spiritual counterpart, that one entity who is wholly capable of accepting the service we are itching to provide. In any other area of endeavor, both the ability to provide service and the happiness that results are limited by time and the defects found in the performer and the beneficiary. Romantic love seems like it will last forever, but arguments often ensue even after years of being together. Service to our children eventually stops when the kids turn into adults. Service to our senses turns out to be the least rewarding, as eventually objects of enjoyment cease to bring pleasure.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.26)
Krishna is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure and our original object of worship, but since He is God, He is considered above the need for adoration and fame. How do we worship someone who is considered atmarama, or self-satisfied? Again, we can look to the Bhagavad-gita for the answer. Shri Krishna says that if anyone offers Him a leaf, flower, fruit or water with love and devotion, He gladly accepts it. Though He is in need of nothing, the Lord kindly accepts whatever we want to give Him. Even if we are not capable of offering Him anything tangible, simply reciting His name in a loving way is enough to catch His attention. The sound vibration of Hare Krishna ignites a shift in consciousness, leading to a mindset where all thoughts remain focused on pleasing Krishna and swimming in the ocean of nectar consisting of His transcendental forms and pastimes.
Since sound vibration is at the heart of information transfer, finding the superior sound to produce will naturally lead to the best result. Nothing can bring greater pleasure to the ears than the sounds representing Absolute Truth, bliss, knowledge, eternality and divine love. The teachings and methods prescribed by the Vedas, which are also known as the shrutis, or “that which is heard”, never become outdated. The supremacy of the hearing process stands the test of time. Irrespective of technological advancements, sound remains the key ingredient in knowledge acquisition. Just as markup language can be used to properly transfer important information to large masses of people from all walks of life, the written words of Vedic instruction and mantras aimed at glorifying and pleasing the Supreme Lord can help spread the message of eternal peace, love and devotion to everyone.