Thursday, January 15, 2009

GeeVees - 01.1: Theology of God's Name

Continuing series The Nectar Name: 01.1 - Theology of God's Name

Namacharya Ramdas Babaji seated, chanting on a rosary

There are a number of theological formulations delving into the nature of God's name, the primary of which are summarized in the following sections. In the name of compactness and ease of reading, I have omitted quoting and referencing. For useful scriptural sources on the theme, please refer to Bhaktivinoda Thakura: Harinama-cintamani; Jiva Goswami: Bhakti-sandarbha; and Rupa Goswami: Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu.

Non-duality of Name and Named

The heart of the Name's powers lie in its non-duality with the named, or Krishna. As God is understood to be of an absolute nature, he and everything we perceive of as relating to him are equally present in him, and are him. His name, appearance, qualities and activities form a single presence in distinct interwoven aspects. The word Name, indicating this particular powerful name, has been capitalized for clarity.

Then, in principle, when the name of God is chanted, it is equal to being in God's presence and interacting directly with him. The only distinctions the Gaudiya Vaishnava theologians would admit to is one of mercy; the Name is abundantly available, while God in his full persona aspect is difficult indeed to reach and as such less merciful. This is, of course, but a witty poetic play of words on the canvas of theology, highlighting the applicability of the method.

Three Levels of Experience

It was Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda, author and theologian of late 19th century, who first published the tripartite theological formulation of the Name's aspects, even while diverse depths of experience have been long acknowledged. A graded approach is an important chapter in apologetics over the proposed full presence of God in his name vis-a-vis the lack of correlating immediate experience for the practitioner.

Nama-aparadha, or offending the Name, is the shallowest of levels where hardly any of the powers of God are experienced. At this point, one is still riddled with countless attitude flaws towards the Name despite knowledge of the Name's nature — flaws discussed later on. The pious merits resulting from such chanting are good for worldly boons alone, failing to reach beyond into God's own domain.

Nama-abhasa, or reflected Name, is the medium clearing level where rays of the Name begin to filter into the brightening consciousness. A reflection of the Name is said to grant instant mukti or liberation. Indeed, it is said that even a person chanting in jest, by accident, or referring to something else, would reap the said benefits (and this is a whole other branch of apologetics).

Suddha-nama, or pure Name, is the accomplished level where the fullness of Krishna is experienced through, or rather in, the Name. The chanter's consciousness journeys into the Name's own domain, into the spiritual sky of Krishna. This stage, and the subsequent experience of prema or developed love for God, is said to far supersede the joy of liberation. Associated hymns depict the experience as a climax of rapture that is incessantly relished, yet leaving the devotee addicted, craving for more, and again and again.

The founding eulogy of the dimensions of the fully potent Name, especially when chanted congregationally, reads as follows in Sri Chaitanya's words:
"It cleanses the mirror of the mind; it extinguishes the vast forest fire of material existence; it spreads the soothing moonrays of blessing; it is the life of bride Knowledge; it augments the ocean of bliss; nectar finds full relish at at every step; and it bathes the entire self; supreme victory to the full chanting of Sri Krishna's names!" (Siksastaka 1)
The sufficiency of the Name in Sri Chaitanya's view is evident in how its transforming influence extends from the very bottom to the very top, from the depths of ignorance and suffering to the greatest heights of nectarine relish in a rapturous communion with God.

The Standard Mantra

While the names of God are many, there is one particular formula of three names repeated a total of 16 names that Sri Chaitanya recognized as the foremost of all. The mantra is drawn from Kali-santarana-upanishad, a short text of a relatively late date, conventionally classified under Black Yajur-veda, and reads as follows:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare /
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare //

While a traditional interpretation would have Hare as a vocative of Hari, and all three as Hari's names, some Gaudiya interpreters (e.g. Gopala Guru) also derive it from Harā, a feminine of Hari, indicating Radha, who steals away Krishna's mind. Many non-Gaudiya renderings of the text have the lines reversed, starting with Hare Rama.

The Upanishad promises a vast number of boons including liberation to one who chants it a total of 35 million times. On a rosary with 108 beads, at a rate of 64 rounds daily, the project would take approximately fourteen years to complete. There are, of course, all sorts of other boons mentioned in other sources, so no matter which way you do it, someone has promised something good for the effort.

Incidentally, a rough estimate of my extensive chantings over the years come to a non-calculated surprise total of 35,714,520 mantras, most marks on the chart towards the end of the session with a bunch of two-hundred-rounders on good days. Perchance that is why I finally graduated from Gaudiya Vaishnavism! Regardless, this is the mantra almost every Gaudiya Vaishnava chants daily for a lifetime, some more and some less.

Song and Repetitive Recitation

There are two primary applications for the Name, namely singing (kirtan) and private recitation (japa). Kirtan, sung to the accompaniment of instruments such as hand cymbals and clay drums, is generally a congregational practice where each participant contributes to the cumulative experience of the group. The prefix sam- turns the word into sankirtan, which refers to kirtan done in a grand style, e.g. parading en masse on the streets, or otherwise to a kirtan of particularly sublime depth.

Japa or private recitation is done on a rosary consisting of 108 beads (japa-mala), made of sacred Tulasi wood and especially sanctified for the purpose, often by a guru in an initiation ceremony. One mantra is either recited, muttered or meditated on at each bead, and a turn-around at the large Meru-bead starts a round anew. Japa is an individual practice, in which one works on his own individual relationship with the Name.

The Name also functions in an accessory and completing capacity in a myriad of other Gaudiya Vaishnava practices. It is said to be essential among the constituents of the secret and silently contemplated diksha-mantras, and believed to complete diverse ritual practices by making up for any inadvertent shortcomings. Chanting of the Name is classified as a compulsory root practice, in the absence of which lesser practices would remain deficient.


Dave said...

Then, in principle, when the name of God is chanted, it is equal to being in God's presence and interacting directly with him.

While this may be true, I've always wondered in what mood God is present in His Name. Is it simply to be assumed that in it's purest form, the Name is full of madhurya-rasa?

There is an interesting corollary between Gaudiya's Nama theology and the Orthodox church's 'Jesus Prayer'. Even the stages of chanting are present in the Orthodox formulation: out loud, silent and finally 'with the heart'. I wonder if Chaitanya ever ran into any Russian starets?

Vegman said...
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Mr. Ananda said...
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Vegman said...
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Mr. Ananda said...

Dave: I suppose he would be manifest just in the form the devotee thinks of him, the name and the figure alike?

I haven't heard about a Russian connection, but I ran into some material about a very possible Sufi influence behind the sankirtan movement. The formulation itself is old pancaratra material, at least in Hari-bhakti-vilasa's sources it is.

Dave said...

Well, I was being a little tongue in cheek, since most Indio-philes love to point out how most aspects of modern culture have some kind of Hindu background.

If there is a temporal connection or not, the chanting of Names is an ancient tradition that has developed in many different religious traditions. One thing to note is that many Eastern Christian traditions hold the chanting a little 'closer to the breast' - it's not thrown out there but is fostered as a personal practice, and kept deeply personal. That said, the correlations are surprising... tho they do eschew the idea that the language of the prayer/mantra matters - instead they focus on the 'intention of the heart'. So none of that weird vibrational physics going on ;-)

Nimai said...

Didn't the Heiromonk in "The Way Of A Pilgrim" meet a Sankirtan party in Moscow?

shiva said...

I wrote this 4 1/2 years ago


From Sri Caitanya Charitamrita Madhya 24.331:

diksha-purascarya-vidhi apeksha na kare
jihva-sparse a-candala sabare uddhare

One does not have to undergo initiation or execute the activities required before initiation. One simply has to vibrate the holy name with his lips. Thus even a man in the lowest class [candala] can be delivered.

I was reading at a website of an ex iskcon guy from back in the 60's recently. While he was in India he became involved with other traditions within the Chaitanya school. He concluded that the power of a mantra is only present when it is received within a chain of gurus, anyone outside that chain who doesn't receive the mantra from that succession is receiving a dead mantra.

In other words he claims, as I guess many others do outside of the Gaudiya school, that if you attempt to connect to God through a mantra, God will not respond to that endeavor unless you received that mantra from baba booie such and such, who in turn received it from his guru baba louie and on and on.

In this conception we have the power of the mantra not within the control of God, but rather within the control of humans. In effect they are saying God is subordinate to the mantra, and more importantly, God's potency is subordinate to them. In this conception the mantra is not effective unless touched and transmitted by humans. Therefore the mantra cannot have power in and of itself. God is forbidden from empowering the mantra. He is locked out by the human chain of command.

In this way they have fashioned a theory of disciplic succession which conveniently leaves out all those who are not submitting to them as being keepers of the secret, as being fakes.

This is their central argument, if you are not connected to them, then your mantra is ineffective due to God having his hands tied, God needs a permission slip from some mantra wallah in Calcutta or Radha Kunda.

In various discussions from various schools of thought we often hear of the concept of the necessity of receiving the gayatri mantras from a preceptor in a lineage of mahants in order to delve into or receive the proper result desired, i.e such and such rasa.

Is this really the case ? Is a person's rasa with Radha Krishna dependent on receiving a specific mantra in a specific way from a specific person ?

My understanding is that the mantra is a tool for meditation. The revelations do not come from the mantra itself. By that I mean that Bhagavan is the revelator, independent of any rules concerning mantras. Bhagavan is revealing knowledge or not, with a specific mantra or without. Any mantra is subordinate to Bhagavan. And therefore a mantra is empty words unless Bhagavan participates in the mantra. No chain of command or person has the ability to empower a mantra. The empowerment of a mantra is not like a magical incantation, rather it is the Lord manifesting knowledge or experience to the sadhaka by divine choice, regardless of any other consideration.

The concept of the necessity of specific mantras from specific sources to realize a desired goal negates the role of the divine will. The divine will is made subordinate to a formulaic method of revelation, a magical incantation. By that I mean the divine will is the only thing which can reveal or hide desired jnana or experience. The formulaic idea is the same as that of the magical incantation which puts the power of the mantra squarely in the hands of the chanter. He will receive the desired goal if he follows the methodology given and will not receive the desired goal without that carefully followed methodology.

This is the magical or alchemical or kabbalistic approach to the divine. The belief that the divine will can be controlled by our actions or inactions is the essence of the magical, mystic alchemical path. Which posits our ability to control our own destiny based on our manipulation of words or concepts within our mind.

My understanding is that all revelation is divine providence. Regardless of any attempt utilizing mantra or tantra or any other esoteric tool. The reality is that we exist under the autocratic rule of the divine will and desire. In this concept any mantra or sadhana is essentially unnecessary if the divine will desires, or conversely, absolutely necessary if the divine will desires. The basic premise is that there are no absolute rules for revelation. Revelation is independent of all forms or systems utilizing the ascending process prescribed in any methodology from any school of mysticism or religion.

Of course there are those who will insist that the mantra is non different from the divine. With them I differ. The mantra is a tool of the divine, but the divine is not subordinate to the mantra. Just like if you insist that the mantra must be empowered by a guru, I also will insist that the mantra is not empowered itself but rather it is the divine will that is the relevant potency. Being an autocrat and supremely independent the divine will can do as it likes and all formulas are subordinate to this conception.

My understanding is that the empowered mantra is non different from Bhagavan if it is the desire of of the divine. It is the divine will which is the actual potency and revealer of all truths and all reality of whatever type. The mantra is not to be understood as a separate principle having a separate potency from the divine potency it represents.

We shouldn't think of any mantra as being the actual potent factor, that would leave the Personality of Godhead as a subordinate potency to the mantra. The mantra is potent only due to the Personality of Godhead manifesting to the chanter, without that, the mantra is no different then any other words.

The mantra is not empowered by a line of succession. It is not empowered by humans. A mantra is effective if the supreme will desires, and it is not effective likewise. The mantra itself is nothing without the divine will, a humans touch is irrelevant.

Whenever sastra advises taking the mantra from a bona fide guru, it is not the mantra itself that is being empowered by that guru. Rather it is the conception, the teaching that the guru imparts that is important. The mantra will be effective or not regardless of it's source. But what is important is the philosophical teaching that the guru provides along with the mantra. In this way the sadhaka is given a mantra that is invested with potency due to the the context it is given in.

In this concept a person need not take the mantra in a formal initiation from a specific lineage of unbroken succession in order for the mantra to be effective. Anyone can read or hear the proper teachings of the mantra and the associated philosophy and the mantra will be effective. The potency is not in the line of succession itself. The potency is the divine will helped along by the associated jnana or philosophy.

There are those who want to be the gatekeepers of the higher reality and they will use the methodology of the occult master i.e. "I have the secret whatever and it is here in this mantra or spell, and it is only effective if it comes from me or my lineage, directly handed to you".

There are many non Gaudiya Caitanya Saraswat vaisnavas who believe exactly these concepts. They criticize and belittle all and anyone who is not receiving mantras from them. They teach that without their touch, the mantras have zero potency. As silly as this is, it has attracted more then a few people away from the Gaudiya Saraswat tradition.

Vegman said...

According to the pañcarātra injunction, only a householder brāhmaṇa can initiate. Others cannot.

So, obviously, these babajis and sannyasis giving pancaratric initation are violating pancaratra injunctions.

But, then again that only governs Pancaratrica diksha.

According to Mahaprabhu even a sudra can become guru, so obviously he was referring to what is called "bhagavati diksha" popularized by the Sankirtan movement of Sri Caitanyadeva.

Nama diksha can be given even by a sudra.
As long as the sudra got the mantra in a succession of devotees coming in the line of Mahaprabhu, it will have full effect.

Even you can get Nama diksha from a book, because a book authorized by the acharya is also technically within the realm of sabda-brahma.

Sabda-brahma is simply anything that conveys the proper spiritual conception and the books of the great Vaishnavas do that most efficiently.

Sabda-brahma is not necessarily auditory sound.
The writings of the goswamis and acharyas is also sabda-brahma.

Written language that conveys spiritual knowledge is certainly sabda-brahma in it's most efficient form.

A Vaishnava can initiate others through his writings.
The writings of the pure Vaishnava are non-different than his spoken word.

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