“Those who have chanted Shri Rama’s holy name, keeping it on the tongue, have become auspicious and most happy. But those who are lazy about chanting will meet with destruction sooner or later, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 12)
rāma nāma japi jīha' jana bhae sukṛta sukhamāli |
tulasī ihā' jo ālasī gayo āju kī kāli ||
The Vaishnava, the devotee of Lord Vishnu and His other personal expansions, humbly begs everyone to take to chanting the Lord’s holy names. Not bearing any similarity to a car salesman or the solicitor asking for donations for some personal benefit, the Vaishnava simply wants others to be happy, to find real auspiciousness and to have all of their desires, the real wants of the heart, satisfied. In this respect, there is no time to lose, as at any minute, either today or tomorrow, all-devouring death can come and take everything away. Therefore the saints unhesitatingly put forth their assertion that reciting the holy names is the only pathway towards eternal freedom. The name should be chanted immediately, with the utmost urgency. Those who are lazy in this respect lose their opportunity for success and thus invite unpleasant situations to arrive in the very near future.
”Why chant a specific name over others that are out there? Can’t I just go to church? Isn’t it good enough to simply believe in God?” Chanting the holy names is so fervently recommended because of the effect it has on consciousness. The secret well known to the Vedic seers is that it is our mindset which actually determines our future fortunes, not any specific actions that we undertake. We can eat right, exercise and abide by all the rules assigned by higher authorities, but death can still come at any moment. Moreover, success in important ventures isn’t guaranteed, despite the strongest and most dedicated effort applied. Auspiciousness and peace of mind arrive only through purifying the consciousness, a force which is steered by the incessant flow of desires. In the immature stage, the individual, who is a spirit soul at the core, is driven to think that by satisfying every desire, eventually the tidal wave of emotions and hankerings will cease. Yet just the opposite occurs, as the more attachments and objects of enjoyment we have, the more seeds of misery and distress are planted.
Faced with this dilemma, the mind’s focus shifts to the other side of the pendulum, the viewpoint which sees renunciation as the pathway to happiness. All the objects acquired then get relinquished and the attachments formed severed, with the hope that maybe desires will finally cease. But when left to sit in an empty room with no one around, the mind has no source of pleasure. Indeed, activity and free-will are concomitant with the soul’s existence, as the spiritual spark desires happiness more than anything. One man may love the nature around him and the opportunities it brings for sense gratification, while another hates life around him with every fiber of his being, but in either case the desire for ananda, or true bliss, is there.
In the absence of a purification of consciousness, the pendulum will constantly swing between enjoyment and renunciation, bhoga and tyaga. Even when religion is accepted, the aim still typically falls into one of these two extremes; hence the reason for the interest in spirituality today being at an all-time low. Renunciation and enjoyment are already present even without adhering to any spiritual dictates, so what is the point to accepting religion then? Those who put forth their dogmatic insistence can be pacified by a simple profession of faith, an acknowledgment that their way of spirituality is correct. “Oh, I’m going to hell if I don’t believe in such and such person? Okay, I believe in him now. Satisfied?”
Simply pledging allegiance to a spiritual personality or attending ritualistic ceremonies on a regular basis won’t bring about a permanent shift in consciousness. The fever known as desire will not subside in any way, so the rivers of hankerings rushing into the ocean that is the mind will continue to pulse, causing the distressed individual to perpetually toggle between enjoyment and renunciation, essentially leaving the perplexed seeker of happiness in the same position from which they started. For any religious practice to be successful and bona fide, it must directly attack consciousness, rooting out the bad elements and leaving the mind free to contemplate happy thoughts, pleasurable experiences and personalities which can be remembered at any time and at any place.
The Vaishnava, he whose consciousness has been purified through activities in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, declares that the simplest and most effective way to attain salvation is to chant the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Krishna refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His Shyamasundara form, and Rama refers to the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, Shri Ramachandra. The Vaishnavas don’t uniformly accept one name for the Lord, but the commonality in their beliefs is that one should find the holy name that best suits them, a sound vibration that is authorized and non-different from the original form of Godhead, and chant that to their hearts’ content.
The sectarian follower, the sentimentalist, and the atheist may not be fully sold on the idea that the holy name is unique and powerful. “It’s obvious that the success of chanting is in the meditation and the controlling of desire that results. As such, why can’t I just chant any name or word?” As individual spirit souls possessing freedom of activity, any engagement can be adopted, including the chanting of names that have no relation to the personal form of Godhead. Indeed, this disregard for the personal nature of spirit represents the most egregious flaw in the way religion is practiced around the world. It is not that non-Vedic systems of spirituality are incorrect or illegitimate; they just fail to describe the full pleasure stage, where the form of the original man in the sky is identified, honored, contemplated on, chanted and worshiped. After all, the key to worshiping is remembering, focusing the mind on something that is the source of pleasure. If the attributes, forms, qualities and pastimes of the entity being worshiped aren’t identified, the mind is more prone to worshiping ordinary people, such as celebrities and politicians. It is seen that when there is an absence of a worshipable object such as children or a spouse, a dog or cat is purchased and brought home. The loving propensity is so strong that man will explicitly find an outlet for the endless supply of love that resides within the heart.
“A living entity, by constitution, has the propensity to be attached to something. We see that if someone has no object of attachment, if he has no children, he transfers his attachment to cats and dogs. This indicates that the propensity for attachment cannot be stopped; rather, it must be utilized for the best purpose.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 10)
The practice of chanting the holy names of the Lord as passed down by the Vaishnavas is meant to tap into that reservoir of spiritual energy, allowing the heart to be set free. In any other service engagement, the loving aspect is checked to some degree. Either there is a beginning motivation, wherein a specific reward is sought after, or there is a stage of interruption, wherein the loving bond is relinquished. If the dog passes away, the outward exhibitions of love cease. When there is divorce, the sworn allegiance of faith dissolves. These interruptions alone prove that simply chanting any word or name is not enough to permanently alter consciousness for the better.
The chanting process focusing on the names of Vishnu has been authorized by the holy saints of the Vedic tradition, who initially got their impetus for action from the Supreme Lord Himself, who through many Vedic texts has instituted the processes and regulations that give the individual souls the opportunity to love Him to their hearts’ content. Goswami Tulsidas, in the above referenced passage from his Dohavali, very nicely illustrates the dichotomy between those who chant the names of Lord Rama and those who don’t. There is even some humor in this verse, as an expression similar to that of “sooner or later” is used by the poet. Those who chant the name of Rama with their tongue get all auspiciousness, or sukrita, and every type of happiness, sukhamali. But for one who is lazy in chanting, they will be gone either today or tomorrow. “Gone” in this sense means finished, dead, off to another world, etc.
So, is Tulsidas suggesting that one chant Rama’s name or be forced to suffer the consequences? Actually, the negative reactions are already there. If we fail to take a shower in the morning, we will be dirty and not presentable for the rest of the day. If we fail to eat on time, we will be hungry. If we don’t show up for our final exams, we will fail the courses we are taking. No matter how hard we tried previously, if key activities are neglected, the negative reactions will arrive and be severe in potency. The human form of life presents the greatest opportunity for the purification of consciousness, as one who is wholly aware of the sweet, transcendental and merciful form of the Personality of Godhead never has to take birth again. This cognizance is specifically measured at the time of death, when the moments of life flash before our eyes. If there is still a desire for enjoyment or dry renunciation, a commensurate body is prepared for the next life. This isn’t a punishment or some way of God getting His revenge. These are the workings of nature, which are completely fair and unbiased.
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)
With the swinging pendulum of material existence, not only are thoughts constantly changing, but so are the body types the souls are placed into. Therefore the human form of body, which has the greatest potential for the advancement of consciousness, represents the way out, the ticket to eternal freedom. Every second of every day brings renewed opportunity for the purification of consciousness. Therefore if one is lazy about adopting the methods that lead to true freedom in the spiritual sky, wherein the soul gets a permanent spiritual body after death, there is every chance of meeting with destruction. Death can come at any time, so if we fail to make strides towards the ultimate destination, param gatim, there is every chance of having to start over in another body. And there is no guarantee that the next life will be in a human form. Those who are addicted to illicit sex are kindly placed into a dog’s or monkey’s body in the next life, where the desires can be met fully. Those who want nothingness, an end to activity, are similarly rewarded with a merging into a spiritual energy, a place where individuality is nonexistent.
Since none of these situations bring true ananda, there is really no benefit derived. But by chanting Rama’s name, there is every chance at auspiciousness. After all, what better result could there be than a proper shift in consciousness? Everything that we could ever want also comes with the chanting process. If we are worried that chanting alone will not solve our problems related to health, family, money, success, etc., there needn’t be any concern. Rama is the Supreme Lord, so why would He ever abandon those who are linked to Him in consciousness? The true yogis are those who always keep their minds fixed on the lotus feet of the Lord, thinking of His pleasure at every minute. The link is not active in only one direction. If there is love and affection shown from the inferior party, the superior entity, the Supreme Loveable Object in the spiritual sky, will reciprocate by ensuring that the conditions for the execution of such sublime service remain always favorable, in any type of body.
The uniqueness of devotional service is that in the most mature stage it can continue uninterrupted and unmotivated. The chanting process has passed all quality control tests, so one needn’t fear that they are somehow abandoning their current religion or family tradition by chanting the names of the Lord. A change in religious affiliation is not required in the least bit, as adherence to pure bhakti actually brings a greater appreciation for all aspects of life. The same God that was previously understood to be mean, vengeful and an old man soon gets seen in the proper light, with all darkness dispelled. Seeing past the transcendental effulgence beaming off of His gigantic body, the devotee understands God’s position as the sweetest and kindest entity the world has ever known. With the eyes fixed on such a beautiful form, what need is there for any hankering, be it for enjoyment or renunciation?
If we take to chanting, there is no loss, as even saying Rama’s name just once brings tremendous credits, pious merits which never diminish. Even if we aren’t successful in completely purifying our consciousness in the present life, we get to start again in the next life from where we left off. This benefit is only available to the yogis associated with bhakti, as any other endeavor brings a total loss of effort if not completed successfully. If we chant the name of just anything, there is no personal connection with Supreme Spirit. As such, if we have to quit the present body either today or tomorrow, nothing has been done to alter consciousness. Yet, by adhering to the recommendations of the Vaishnavas like Tulsidas, there is every chance at success, even with just the slightest effort. The tongue, as the most powerful agent for change, can bring the individual soul trapped in an endless cycle of misery the eternal freedom and happiness it so desperately craves. Knowing the true power behind the chanting process, it is not surprising therefore to see the urgency with which the saints preach and why they humbly beseech every single man, woman and child to take to bhakti. Possessing this unique level of kindness, their true greatness can never be properly measured. The only way to repay them is to abide by their most fervent desire, that we chant the holy name of the Lord as often as possible, starting today.