"O Vishnu! It is only by the grace of Thy Name that we are capable of offering hymns to Thee. So we should adore and pray to Thy NAMA alone." (Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Nama-bhajana)
Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the celebrated Vaishnava saint whose ardent desire was that men and women of every philosophical, ethnic and religious background join together and regularly worship the Lord through the chanting of the holy name, is herein offering his thanks and heartfelt obeisances for being able to act upon his love for the Supreme Lord lying within the heart. As the essence of individuality and the spark of life within an otherwise dull body composed of gross elements, the soul is beaming with potential for service driven by a level of affection it doesn’t even know exists. When the beneficiary of service is readily identified, when His forms, pastimes and attributes are regularly remembered through simple but powerful sound vibrations representing the same features, the emotional satisfaction that results is unmatched. The nucleus of such service is the holy name, without which there would be no chance of experiencing the reality of a sublime existence that comes with sharanagati, or full surrender.
It doesn’t matter where you go or what the current makeup of society is, there will always be those who are insistent on their specific dogmas, spiritual or otherwise. Some are fixed to their scientific advancements, trying to find new ways to disprove the seemingly obtuse and nonbelievable justifications provided by the religionists pertaining to the workings of nature. Indeed, with each new discovery comes a perceived further cracking of the armor of religion that is so despised by the scientist who has taken shelter of mentally concocted ideas. First there was the discovery of the roundness of the earth, and then its rotation and revolution. After this, it was discovered that if we fly up to where most people think heaven is, there are only clouds, and above that there is outer space. Visual evidenced also proved that since the globe is a sphere, there is really no such thing as a higher or lower; everything is relative to the orientation of the observer. In this way the scientists believe that through their space exploration all the myths of the numerous religious traditions have been exposed.
Of course, no tangible information about creation is forthcoming even with all these advancements. Just theories are posited relating to chemicals randomly colliding and springing forth the tremendously complex material nature, which has important aspects that function on a regular basis. The movements of the collection of material elements are so organized that they can be studied in depth to the point that important activities are predicted. Nature is so exact that the discipline of science is itself an indication of the intelligently designed material universe. Along with the notion of chemicals randomly colliding at some point in the past, there is the theory of evolution, with the species gradually getting stronger due to need. Again, there is a glaring omission, as the fact that strength and fitness are subjective measurements is not accounted for at all. As an example, a rich man having great wealth and material possessions is considered stronger and more fit under the non-theistic mentality, but in actuality he has every opportunity to suffer misery and heartache. The constant worries about maintaining a large business establishment and protecting valuable possessions from greedy competitors and the all-powerful government are absent in those who live a peaceful, albeit less opulent, lifestyle. In addition, an extended life, which is another purported indication of positive evolution, cannot be correctly considered a sign of fitness, as quality of life is a relative measurement. A long lifetime spent in misery would have to be considered inferior to a shorter duration of life spent in fixed felicity. In this way the initial judgments of fitness are invalidated, thereby causing the entire evolution theory to fall flat on its face.
Despite the rational objections raised to these theories, the scientists will wholeheartedly stand firm. Indeed, if someone should logically challenge prevailing theories such as manmade global warming, the detractors will be tarred and feathered in public and be labeled as lunatics or deniers. Along with the ardent followers of science, there are also those who remain insistent on their principles of faith. “Jesus Christ is the only God. All other worshiped figures are simply idols that cause the worshipers to fall down into hell…Praise be Allah, the only Lord. All others are doomed if they do not accept Him.” Why God would limit Himself to one personality and why the requirement to surrender out of fear and panic are questions not addressed by such mentalities. When competing viewpoints are presented, there is only more anger and entrenchment of the positions developed off of blind faith and sentimentalism.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide the most complete information on these topics. The reason “perfect” knowledge cannot be had is that there is a basic difference between the Supreme Lord, who is the original Being, the cause of all causes, and His numerous sparks of energy, who are individual, autonomous forces similar in quality to the Supreme Spirit. There can only be one God, as there can only be one original cause. The fact that the human mind cannot think beyond the limits of time and space immediately indicates a deficiency. With the Supreme Lord, however, there are no flaws. Therefore only He has full knowledge.
If God is superior and we are inferior, how are we supposed to act? Why are we on earth, and how do we know who God is anyway? The names of the Lord clear up all of these questions. From the disposition between the two entities comes an ideal relationship, one that the individual souls are naturally inclined towards adopting. The servant becomes glorified and takes on their true nature when they act in the service of the superior entity without motivation and without interruption. Lest anyone think this suggests slavery, the service mentality is already evidenced in every activity. The child serves the parents, the parents the grandparents, the wife the husband, the husband the wife, the CEO the shareholders, the businessman the customer, the politician the constituents, etc. In every sphere of life there is this server-and-served paradigm. Even the most selfish individuals are simply serving their own senses.
Activities in service are driven by the inconceivably large potential for love found within the soul. It is seen that sometimes select people perform miraculous feats and show levels of dedication that are amazing. For example, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote around one hundred books, essays, poems and commentaries during his time on earth in the latter part of the 19th century. This level of production is itself amazing, but the fact that he was working and maintaining a family at the same time is cause for an even greater level of appreciation. How was one man able to do this? Obviously he was empowered by the Supreme Lord to preach the gospel of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, so he was given special abilities. Nevertheless, we can have all the talent in the world and still never tap into it. Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s love for God is what drove his activities. Since the beneficiary was the most worthy recipient of the loving attitude of the soul, the full potential for service manifested in the devotee.
From the acharya’s example, we see that instead of stopping our activities altogether or finding even more avenues for sense gratification, the way to truly tap into our reservoir of love is to purify our service mentality. Even the scientist is acting on his penchant for service, though his efforts are directed towards the wrong area. The more the challenge is mounted against the Supreme Lord and His authority, the longer the individual remains ignorant of their loving connection to Him. The longer the forgetfulness of the Supreme Spirit and His eternal worthiness of worship continues, the longer the sincere soul is shut out from enjoying the divine pastimes found in the spiritual world. Indeed, the fuel of the engine of reincarnation is forgetfulness of the Supreme Being.
The one element that ties everything together is the holy name. In the Vedic tradition the original form of Godhead is described as “Krishna”, which means “one who is all attractive”. Since God is naturally smarter than everyone else, it would stand to reason that He would also be able to attract more people to take up His service than any other entity. Since He has full and simultaneous possession of the qualities of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation, another of His names is Bhagavan. The name “Vishnu”, which means all-pervading, speaks both to God’s localized aspect residing within the hearts of every life form and also His four-handed form living in the spiritual land of Vaikuntha. Lord Vishnu is also the unifying link between all the different Vaishnava groups. A Vaishnava is a devotee of Vishnu, and depending on the specific tradition, the followers will either worship Shri Krishna, Lord Rama, or Vishnu as the original form of Godhead. Since these forms are all different manifestations or expansions of the original being, God, there is really no difference between the worshipers, save for maybe the specific transcendental mellow enjoyed.
Identifying the need to worship God is one thing, but actually carrying out service to Him is another. The holy name again proves to be helpful. The transcendental sound vibrations representing the Supreme Lord are non-different from Him. As such, whoever is fortunate enough to break free from the illusory effects of material nature and sincerely adopt a chanting regimen whose foundation is the recitation of mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, will feel the mood of transcendental bliss at all times. The holy name is like the picture that reminds us of a better time, when we were with our friends and family. The holy name is like the song that takes us back to a time when we enjoyed certain experiences. The holy name is like the future plan which brings excitement and anticipation. Indeed, the holy name is everything because it is Vishnu Himself.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura, as a sincere and pure devotee, very much appreciated the holy name because he knew that without the transcendental sound vibrations found within the sacred hymns and songs of the Vedas, taking up bhajana, or devotion, would become all the more difficult. And why is that? We can see for ourselves the effects material nature has on those who are not God conscious. It is the mentality of the individual that determines their happiness and the level at which they are tapping into their potential for service. Even in spiritual disciplines where the existence of God is wholly acknowledged, since regular recitation of His name is avoided or there is simply a shortage of descriptive names to identify His innumerable transcendental features, the worshipers are left to take shelter of maya when not engaged in explicit worship. Visiting a church or temple once a week is beneficial, but the mind never takes any rest. Even while sleeping the thoughts of the individual continue. Therefore there must be a tangible outlet for service through purification of thoughts at all times. Otherwise, that which is not personally God, maya, will take hold and lure the sincere person into adopting a service mentality that views material objects and senses as the ideal beneficiaries.
If God is great, why not chant His names all the time? For those clinging firmly to their dogmatic insistence, there is no requirement to specifically chant Vishnu’s names. If they truly love their specific object of worship, they can chant whatever holy names they know of in the same way. The key is to remain God conscious at all times, a disposition which automatically brings about all other good qualities like peacefulness, self-control, kindness, tolerance, and respect for other forms of life. Saying that you love God and then mercilessly killing His innocent children in the form of cows, pigs and chickens is not really an indication of God consciousness. Saying that a specific person is the savior and then blowing up innocent women and children as a way to preach your message reveals that God and His nature are not understood by you in any meaningful way. Allegiance to the Supreme Lord must be maintained through constant loving service, either outwardly or at least within the mind. The holy name allows for this condition to be met. In many spiritual circles the form of the Lord is denied; hence the name is removed as well. Therefore the worship that follows cannot be considered first class, as it fails to fully tap into the reservoir of transcendental love that exists in the worshipers.
The holy name is God Himself, so the more the devotees take to chanting it, the more they will realize the glories of the person it addresses and the benefits of connecting with Him. When cognition of Vishnu’s pastimes, forms and activities awakens through recitation of the holy name, the mind is given even more topics to contemplate, worship and get excited over. Vishnu’s activities never cease; they are always taking place in some universe or another. Therefore we don’t even need to just focus on the past, as there are endless future opportunities for service awaiting those who sincerely desire the association of the most loveable object, the singular entity who is everyone’s best friend. Thanks to the holy name, reuniting with that friend is made a whole lot easier.