Edited from a lecture given by Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda on the prayers and teachings of the great transcendental personality, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the foremost proponent of Bhakti yoga and the inaugurator of the worldwide kirtan movement.
Finding Real Strength and Shelter In The Holy Name
Lord Chaitanya prayed:
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, Govinda, etc. In these transcendental Names You have invested all Your transcendental energies. There are not even hard and fast rules for chanting these Names. O my Lord, out of Your 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.
So in this prayer by Lord Chaitanya, we have the Absolute Authority, the Supreme Person Himself, telling us that the way to come to know Him is not difficult. It’s very easy.
Sometimes people think spiritual life is very hard. They think they don’t have enough intelligence or education. Even those with college degrees and PhDs on their walls know that they don’t know very much. They may feel that they simply succeeded in faking their way through college. They’ve learned how to juggle words and come through with the prize, but they may be afraid to even try to do what they need to do to achieve a perfect relationship with the Supreme Lord.
It’s very sad. I’ve known so many highly learned people in my life, but they’re always afraid of silence. They’re afraid of being alone. They’re afraid to ask, “Who am I?” They don’t know what’s on the other side. They don’t know what might be there if they look too deep or question their identity and purpose in life. They’re afraid that such questions might lead them into a pit that they may never get out of. They don’t want to take a chance. So they just keep going the way they are. They have a niche or position in the world. They have a false identity that they spend their time reinforcing. They’re afraid. But they needn’t be.
Here Lord Chaitanya is saying that the process of self-realization is very simple. In the previous verse He says:
Glories to the congregational chanting of the Holy Names of the Lord! This hearing and chanting of the Lord’s Names cleanses the heart and mind of all contamination, all the dust which has covered one’s heart and mind for lifetimes and lifetimes, and actually gives a person a taste of that nectar for which we are always anxious.
We are always anxious for some actual spiritual happiness to satisfy our aching, empty hearts. And we seek that happiness in so many places, in so many love affairs or whatever. Or we try to run away from that longing and drown ourselves in forgetfulness by watching television or reading newspapers. We try to stay on the surface lest we be sucked under like a person gets sucked into a whirlpool while swimming in the ocean.
People try to avoid being sucked under by staying busy. When they get really depressed, they go to the psychiatrist. And the psychiatrists and psychologists say, “Well, stay busy.” Keeping busy is a way to cruise on the surface. If you go fast enough, you won’t drown.
In other words, it’s kind of like those fish—have you ever seen those fish that try to run on water? They can only go so far and then they sink… and then try again. The other day I was in the water and saw these fish jumping like that, jumping in fear, trying to stay out of the water as long as they could because there was a bigger fish down there trying to eat them. Obviously a shark or something was down there waiting for them to come back down. So the little fish were trying to skim on the water, trying to stay above the water. But they get tired sooner or later and sink down and get eaten by the shark.
The materialistic person is very frightened. Even those who know they are not the body or claim to be a member of one particular religion or another or whatever are afraid of going too deep; they’re afraid of going too deep in prayer, they’re afraid of abandoning all self-protection and all frivolous activities, they’re afraid of abandoning all those things which keep them from looking at themselves and their situations and having to pray to God, “Please save me!”
In other words, we’re all drowning. But some people like to forget this by reading the newspaper. They’d rather read about other people drowning: “So-and-so drowned yesterday at Haunama Bay,” or “Ten thousand people died in the war in the Falkland Islands.” People go, “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Oh, too bad. Oh, this is horrible.” But what about you? You’re dying! Why are you worried about all these other people dying?
Imagine opening the newspaper one day and reading the headline “You’re Dying” with an article about how you’re trying to avoid going deep and realizing your actual vulnerable position by wasting your time reading the newspaper.
People do so many things to avoid facing the reality of their drowning condition. They like to think, “I’m okay! I’m okay!” They have the saying, “I’m okay, you’re okay,” and a little round propaganda button that has a round head with a smiling face. These people are like fish jumping out of the water to escape a shark and while they’re out of the water they yell at each other, “We’re okay! I’m okay! You’re okay!” Then they sink back down.
People think they’re okay when really they’re suffering from inner emptiness and anxiety. They have no real security, no real shelter. A person thinks he has security in his home and then the bank takes it. He thinks he has security in his money, but it keeps losing its value and he realizes he’s just holding a bunch of paper. So he thinks, “Well, maybe I’ll buy gold.” Then the gold prices fluctuate. Then he thinks, “If I lose all else, I still have my health.” Then that starts to fade. Then he may conclude, “At least I have my wife and children to care for me.” But his wife dies and his children rarely ever contact him.
There was an article in which an Argentinean lady talked about her son getting killed in the Falkland Islands. She said, “I couldn’t believe it when I heard his name in the report. I thought it must have been somebody else, or that it must have been a mistake.” No one thinks that he or his kinsmen will die. No one wants to think that his security will be taken away.
A person is afraid of going deep because if he does he’ll realize how shallow he is, how shallow his security and knowledge are. He’ll realize that he’s been living a shallow, superficial life for 60 years. People don’t want to face the fact that their lives have simply been a waste of time. They’d rather stick out the illusion to the very end and find out at death. And they try to keep death at bay because that’s when a person realizes how completely purposeless his whole trip has been, that he did it all for nothing.
Lord Chaitanya says here that a person can fearlessly dive deep by taking shelter in the Holy Names. In other words, a person doesn’t need to go deep alone. He goes with the Supreme Person if he takes His Names. A person doesn’t need to speculate or think his way into deepness. In fact, it’s not even possible. Mental speculation doesn’t take a person deep. It merely takes him in circles. And so, like Sartre and other mental speculators, he ends up dizzy and confused.
When I was in college, I read one of Sartre’s books. It was called Nausea. That was actually the title of his book: Nausea. And in it he simply meditated upon the ugly cut on his arm and how it was drying up around the edges and turning this color and so on—but he gave no solutions. He thought he was going deep. Everyone reads his books and thinks, “Oooh, this guy is so deep. A philosopher!” And a guy walks around with Sartre’s books thinking, “I’m a philosopher.” He has the book sticking halfway out of his pocket so the title Nausea shows, and the guy walking behind him goes, “Oooh, a philosopher.” And the girls who like philosophers look at him and go, “Oooh, a philosopher!” All he needs to go along with that is a pipe!
If you try to speculate your way into deepness, into spiritual realization, you will simply become nauseated and confused. Lord Chaitanya makes it very clear that it’s very easy to go deep and you don’t need to go alone—go deep with shelter, take shelter in the Holy Names. How? By clinging onto the Names of the Lord: “Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana.” As a person chants the Holy Names, gradually he’ll experience the superficial security of the world and the real security in the Name, “Govinda, Govinda, Govinda.” A person can take shelter in the Names of the Supreme Person and repeat the Holy Names. And while he repeats the Holy Names, he listens to his own chanting, “Govinda, Govinda, Govinda.”
Chanting and hearing the Holy Names is simultaneously the method and the goal. It is both the shelter itself as well as the means by which a person can achieve that shelter.
Why? After all, someone may say, “It’s just a sound. We can make up and chant any sound: table, table, table.” No. The Name of the Supreme Person is not just a sound. It is non-different from the Supreme Lord Himself.
There is no difference between the Holy Name of the Lord and the Lord Himself. As such, the Holy Name is as perfect as the Lord Himself in fullness, purity, and eternity. The Holy Name is no material sound vibration, nor has it any material contamination.
If you accept the existence of the Original Cause, then we can discuss it. But if you don’t, then there’s no use in taking this discussion any further. But if you accept the existence of the Lord and you accept that He’s all-powerful and that His potencies are inconceivable, then you must believe Him when He says, “I descend as My Names. My Names are invested with all of My transcendental power. You can take shelter of My Names.” If we don’t believe it, that means we have no faith in the Supreme Person. “How can the Supreme descend in the form of sound?” Why not? It’s His energy. This is His property. All energy is His. Everything here belongs to Him. It is all coming from Him. He’s the origin, the Cause of all causes. That He has the power to appear as His Names is not very hard to appreciate.
Lord Chaitanya describes that the Lord has hundreds and millions of Names, not just Krishna, Govinda, etc. The Supreme Person has so many Names, and in each of these transcendental Names He has invested all His transcendental energies–His transcendental energies being different than His material energies. The transcendental energies of the Supreme as well as the spiritual world itself (Vrindavan), which is full of unconditional love and without anxiety, are contained in the Holy Names. When a person repeats the Holy Names, he begins to become increasingly purified of material contamination and begins to experience actually being situated in the spiritual world, the world of no anxiety, the world of pure, unconditional love for the Supreme Lord and all living beings. This is the effect of regularly hearing and chanting the Holy Names.
Those who consider the Names of the Supreme Person to be ordinary sound vibration (such as some so-called yogis and meditators who say that any sound will be effective if you meditate on it) are complete nonsense. They are atheists. They reject the existence of the Original Cause, and therefore they reject the existence of His Names as being distinct from other names.
Sometimes you’ll find so-called meditators and “gurus” saying, “Oh, you can chant any name.” If this is true, why do they have their followers chant the Name “Krishna”? They’ll say, “Oh, because my followers think ‘Krishna’ is better. They’re attracted to chanting ‘Krishna’ so we let them. But really it could be anything.”So why don’t they have their followers chant “Reagan, Reagan, Reagan,” “Brezhnev, Brezhnev, Brezhnev,” “Mickey Mantle,” or “butter, butter, butter”? We don’t need to be great babas and gurus to know that their statements are stupid and, in fact, demoniac. And there’s no use giving mantra meditation classes for $75 a hit if you’re saying that all words are the same anyway. People have been chanting all kinds of words their whole lives—they’ve been chanting “money, money, money, love, love, sex, sex, lust, lust, gimme, gimme.” They’ve been chanting all kind of sounds in all kinds of languages. So why aren’t they purified? Why don’t all the damn commercials that keep going through their heads purify them?
When I was a kid, I used to drive in the car to get to school. I had to drive a long way and I listened to the radio. They played the same dumb commercial all the time and it drove me nuts. Every time I heard it, it gave me a headache, but I could never get it out of my head. I can still remember it! You may remember it. It went: “Double your pleasure, double your fun, chew Double-mint gum!” It didn’t purify me. It simply made me so uptight that by the time I got to school I’d go up to my teachers and just growl at them.
So we don’t accept this nonsense that you can meditate on any sound and it will have a purifying effect. No. We must meditate on the Names or Words of the Supreme Person or descriptions of the glories of the Lord.
Lord Chaitanya specifically says that there are no hard and fast rules for chanting the Holy Names. So if you want to go deep, here’s your chance. You can go as deep as it’s possible to go. Right now you can begin chanting the Holy Names. You don’t need to join anything. You don’t need to pay anything. You don’t need to believe anything. All you need to do is chant the Holy Names no matter where you are.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says a person doesn’t need to worry about how he chants the Holy Names. He doesn’t need to worry about being clean or about being in the right place or position when he chants the transcendental Sound. There are no rules. You can chant and sing the Holy Names while you’re walking, while you’re working, while you’re sitting, while you’re standing, while your eyes are closed, or while your eyes are open. This is wonderful because in this age of confusion, if there were any rules about how we’re supposed to chant, we wouldn’t be able to follow them anyway. We’d always be worrying, “Oh, I chanted it wrong—uh, oh, I gotta undo that one! I committed a great sin by chanting the mantra in the wrong order or with slightly wrong pronunciation. Uh-oh! Who knows what things are going to happen now?”
Even today if you go to India you’ll find smarta brahmins—they’re so good at chanting the Vedic hymns. They think the power is in chanting these hymns with the exact intonation, in the exact order, and so on. I don’t even know everything they need to know to be able to do it correctly. To know that, I’d have to go to school for 20 years to find out how to chant this one mantra so that I can achieve the pleasures of the heavenly planets. They’re very interested in these things. And if you chant it a little bit off or the pronunciation is a little wrong, who knows what will happen? So you have to chant another one correctly to counteract the problem that might come about because you blew that one.
But the chanting of the Holy Names is not like this. When a person chants the transcendental Sound, he doesn’t need to worry. All he needs to do is hear the Holy Names from a lover of the Lord, someone who is in disciplic succession from the Supreme Person. He hears the Holy Names from such a bona fide spiritual master and then he chants as he has heard. This is the method of going deep.
A person doesn’t go deep alone or by his own strength. Rather, he goes on a very nice vessel—the magic carpet of the Holy Names. He doesn’t go by his own power. He’s not even thinking, “I’m going to go deep.” He just begins hearing and chanting the Holy Names. And as he goes deeper and deeper, he comes to the point where he really is at the very bottom of existence, the deepest point. At that point, he’s perfectly connected with the Supreme Person. He has no pretenses, no false identity, no worries about his image, no worries about death, no worries about anything. He’s simply tasting the nectar of humble love for the Lord. This is described in the next prayer by Lord Chaitanya:
One should chant the Holy Name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking himself lower than the straw in the street. One should he more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the Holy Name of the Lord constantly.
Lord Chaitanya lets us know here that in spiritual life the lowest is the highest. He says that one who is falsely trying to make himself the highest by keeping his false ego intact, feeling, “I’m a great person,” “I’m a great devotee,” “I’m a learned man,” “Oh, aren’t I beautiful?” or whatever the particular individual’s false ego may be, has no spiritual life. Spiritual life is when one has no artificial protection and actually feels himself to be lower than the straw in the street, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respects to others.
Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami, the author of Chaitanya Charitamrita, prays with the attitude that he is lower than the low. He’s feeling, “I am the lowest.” He has no sense of false prestige. Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami is feeling like that—that “I am lower than the lowest”
In this condition of feeling lower than the straw in the street, the devotee is at the feet of the Supreme Person and he is tasting the nectar of love for the Supreme. He has no fear of losing anything because he has nothing—not even a great image of himself. A person may say he’s not afraid to lose anything, but he is afraid of losing his good image of himself. But the lover of the Supreme Lord doesn’t even feel any need to hold onto his image. He feels he has nothing to protect. He has no false ego. He’s simply solid at the bottom, on the ground. He’s not falling lower—he’s already at the lowest point.
What happens at the lowest point? You stop going lower. Everyone is afraid of falling, right? But not the person on the ground. Have you ever noticed that? Only those who are higher are afraid of falling, and those who are falling are also afraid of falling. But the person on the ground isn’t. He’s the only person on a solid platform. Everyone else is either high and bound to fall sooner or later—and they know it—or they’re already falling; their false ego is being chipped away a little and they’re starting to fall. So they’re clawing and trying to cling to the mountain as they fall down. They’re in anxiety: “Oh, I’m going down, down, down.” But the person standing on the ground has nowhere to fall.
Just imagine the security of knowing you’re in a position you can never fall from because you’re at the lowest point. Such a person is completely relaxed. He doesn’t need to worry about tripping and falling over the cliff because there is no cliff. He’s on the bottom. He’s not living on a mountain that he’ll eventually fall from. He’s already on the ground—he’s on a solid platform and there’s nowhere to go. This “ground” is not earthly ground. The real ground is the feet of the Lord! So it’s not even that he’s on the ground but looking up and wishing he was “up there.” Rather, he’s on the ground looking at the beautiful feet of the Lord. He’s holding that sacred ground. He loves it down there. He loves the sweetness of being lower than the straw in the street. It’s not that he wants that position because he wants to suffer. He wants to stay lower than the straw in the street so that he doesn’t suffer separation from the feet of the Lord.
Just as you have to hold down a balloon so it doesn’t float up, a devotee of the Lord constantly prays to the Supreme Lord to keep him from floating up. He doesn’t want to float high. Why? Because he’s happy! He’s satisfied in the condition of feeling lower than the straw in the street. He’s tasting the nectar of love for the Lord and he doesn’t want to give it up for anything. He holds on to the Holy Names.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says that a person can chant the Holy Names constantly when he’s feeling lower than the straw in the street. This means that a person who is not feeling lower than the straw in the street and is not ready to offer all respects to others cannot chant the Names of the Lord constantly. The devotee wants to taste the nectar of love for the Supreme Lord. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu declares that only one who has no false ego can really chant and taste the nectar of the Holy Names in the truest sense. This highest platform is known as uttama adhikari. It is the highest platform of loving service to the Supreme.
A devotee is not puffed up, thinking, “Oh, I’m a great devotee of the Lord. A pure devotee doesn’t feel like this. He doesn’t think in terms of higher and lower. He’s just thinking, “Govinda, Govinda, Govinda.” He’s just thinking of his Beloved, his Master, his Supreme Friend.
A person who sees the power of the Supreme Lord sees the smallness of his own power. A person who sees the beauty of the Lord sees how ugly he is in comparison. A person who sees the greatness of the Supreme in all respects—His wisdom, beauty, power, renunciation, wealth—is immediately humbled.
So Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is saying that a real holy man, one who really wants to see the Supreme Person, must be in this condition of being free from all false prestige and feeling, lower than the straw in the street. In that condition, he can always see the Lord and chant His Names constantly.
Don’t try to go deep alone or you’ll end up nauseated like Sartre. Go deep with the Holy Names and the instructions of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He’ll take you deep. He’ll take you to the lowest point and, once tasting the nectar of that lowest point, you’ll never want to leave it.
– Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda