5. GLORY OF GOD'S NAMES
(Also see 14: Litanies of thousand names of God)
Among the nine forms of the expression of bhakti, four have contemporary relevance:
SravaNam, that is, listening to recitals of names and glories of God (as did King Parikshit, grandson of Arjuna);
smaraNam, that is, recalling Him and His deeds, as did the boy-sage Suka; and
arcanam., that is, worshipping Him with ritualistic repetition of His names, as did King Ambarisha.
All these rest on the glory of the Lord's name and the majesty of His deeds. Their rationale is that the mind is always riddled with desire and hate, lust and greed, and so is as unsteady as a sailboat in an ocean and as such, needs a symbol, an Alambanam (prop) upon which the Lord can be superimposed for the purpose of single-minded concentration. The Lord's name serves as this symbol. Reciting God's names, repeating them in a certain rhythmic pattern, recalling God's majesty and splendour, His immanence and transcendence, His omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, His perfection -- these are the ways in which one uses the Alambanam of God's names for turning the mind inward. When man is at an elementary stage of spiuritual evolution, as is the case with most of us, the recitation and repetition of God's names has been held to be the panacea for all the ills of samsAra. Repeating the name of the Lord is a potent discipline for making progress towards moksha. The prop of God's names to turn the mind inward is used in every religion. But in Hinduism, it is the central cord that unmistakably vibrates throughout its vast tradition, literature and culture. The eloquence with which this literature is extolled by Sage Narada to VyAsa in a dramatic revelation about his own life must be enjoyed in the original. (bhAgavatam I - Chapter 5) Only that literature is worthwhile, says Narada (Sloka 11, ibid) which is replete with the transcendental glories of the name, fame and miracles of the Infinite Supreme Lord. Only such a literature will bring about a revolution in the impious ways of our misdirected civilization. Even if that literature is imperfectly composed, goes on Narada, it will be heard, sung and accepted by honest people all over the world.:
tad-vAg-visargo janatAgha-viplavo yasmin prati-Slokam-abaddhavatyapi /
nAmAnyanantasya yaSonkitAni yat SRNvanti gAyanti gRHNanti sAdhavaH //
According to Narada, VyAsa, in his several purANas, did not emphasize this aspect sufficiently and that was why VyAsa, even after so many scriptural texts, felt dissatisfied, unfulfilled, almost desolate. It was on the prompting by Narada that VyAsa created the bhAgavatam which is out and out, a work of bhakti in which the glories of the Lord are sung throughout, exquisitely blended with metaphysical exposition.
However, despite Narada's criticism, we of the kali-yuga must be thankful to VyAsa for interpolating in the narrative part of all his purANas, innumerable stotras (poems of praise) which have served over the centuries as texts for recitations and repetitions of God's names and glories. Some of them contain as many as one thousand and eight names of the Lord. These are called sahasra-nAmas (litanies of one thousand names). Historical developments on the Indian subcontinent led during the centuries following the tenth, to the submergence and partial disappearance of earlier bhakti traditions. But mediaeval times saw a revival of varied schools of bhakti across the land, a revival that had a very positive significance in the development of modern Hinduism in as much that it de-emphasized the role of ritualistic paraphernalia and rightly brought into focus the fact that bhakti is the only path to salvation. The schools of Ramanuja, Chaitanya, the Saiva and Vaishnava saints of the south, the author of the Ram-charita-mAnas, Swami Bodendra, Saint Thiagaraja, classic devotees like Tukaram, Mirabhai and Purandaradasa and many others, all contributed to this revival. To them is due the credit for keeping the torch alive during Hinduism's bleak centuries. It was thus that the present tradition of musical devotion came into prominence all over India.
For those who are not in a positition to read or recite a stotra, Hindu tradition has provided innumerable bhajans, devotional songs with a refrain, set to captivating tunes, particularly suitable for being sung in a chorus by a congregation. In these bhajans, a variety of God's several names are repetitively strung together in a melody and rhythm that are so delightfully musical that one is carried into ecstasy even by simply listening to them. The modern Krishna Consciousness movement has made this tradition come alive on an international scale. The schools of various Godmen, particularly the Sai movement which has roots in all the countries now across the world, have also popularised this bhajan tradition to such an extent and so innovatively that it is no more a congregation professing just one religion and has thus become the greatest integrating phenomenon of all humanity who believe in the existence of a Divinity Which is immanent, transcendent and perfect.
QUESTION: When the vedas prescribe costly, elaborate and difficult sacrifices and rituals for man's salvation, how can mere praise of the Lord, which costs no money, substitute for them?
The very ease with which one can practise this singing of God's names is a factor in its favour. It is highly recommended by every Hindu scripture for many reasons. It is the only mode open to all, irrespective of caste, creed, sex, status of enlightenment, state of mind or any other distinction. It does no harm to others. It is not conditioned by time; any time is good enough. It is not conditioned by place; there is no rule which says, you have to do kirtana here and not there. There is no ritualistic requiremment. Since the recalling of the names of God is of the purest of the pure (pavitrANAm pavitram) whether one is personally impure or pure, whatever may be one's physical or mental state, one who seeks punDarIkAksha (the lotus-eyed Lord) with his heart becomes pure both externally and internally:
apavitraH pavitro vA sarvA-vasthAm gato'pi vA /
yas-smaret-punDarIkAksham sa bAhyAbhyantaraH SuciH //
Sins of action, sins of the mind and sins of the tongue - are all eradicated, without doubt, by just the remembrance of the name SrI-rAma. :
mAnasaM vAcikaM pApam karmaNA samupArjitaM /
SrIrAma-smaraNenaiva vyapohati na samSayaH //
These two verses are invariably recalled at the beginning of every Hindu religious rite.
QUESTION: How come, mere words and repetition of words have so much power?