Tag Archives: Holy Name

Sins and Offenses to the Holy Name

Question: Sins are many, starting from unavoidable killing while cooking or walking, etc. There are also sins incurred in one’s lifestyle, in earning a livelihood, and in transportation, agriculture, medicine, and business. It is not possible to avoid these but they are classified as sins to be avoided under seventh offense to the holy name. 

Does nāma take care of these sins? Or can this offense be partially ignored or relaxed for the world we live in today? 

Answer: Please understand the meaning of the offense. The seventh offense is to commit sins on the strength of the name.

What this offense means is that I know a certain act is sinful and I can avoid it but I do not. Rather, I engage in the sin and then do nāma-japa to absolve it.

This offense is not talking about unavoidable sins such as violence while growing and preparing food, or violence due to travel where insects may be killed. All such sins are taken care of by the name, and one need not worry about them.

But if one knowingly commits a sin while being capable of avoiding it and thinks that the name will give him protection, then that is the seventh offense.

Question: Thank you. By agriculture, I meant genetically modified foods or milk from cows that will be killed. Some medicine may have ingredients that are not ideal. These situations do not involve the killing of insects but have a direct impact on nature, like global warming, and may also go against dharma. They are also unavoidable. Does chanting take care of these also?

Answer: Yes, chanting will take care of them; they are unavoidable.

Question: There are also sins that one may be capable of avoiding but due to vāsanās or previous saṁskāras, they are practically very difficult to avoid. In which category do these fall? 

Answer: If you commit a sin because of vāsanās or saṁskāras, it belongs to the avoidable category. Practical advice: Be aware of this and maintain the thought that I did not want this to happen and I do not want it to happen again. Do not relish the pleasure of the sinful activity. Continue with bhakti and pray for the strength to not fall prey to vāsanās.

Question: How can the neophyte devotee, who is accustomed to committing offenses, avoid such offenses? 

Answer: There are various types of offenses, such as sevāparādha, nāmaparādha, and dhāmaparādha. Among them, the most destructive are the nāmaparādhas which are ten in number. Among them also, the most dangerous is the vaiṣṇava-aparādha, and I include guru-aparādha in it because guru is also a Vaiṣṇava. There could be various reasons for committing aparādhas but mainly we commit offenses because we possess a sense of superiority. Thus, we find fault with others, including in our own gurudeva. Caitanya Mahāprabhu gave two pieces of advice regarding the avoidance of offenses—practice tolerance and humility! Neither are easy. But if we introspect on our own state of mind and focus on our sādhana, then tolerance and humility are possible.


Question: I have three questions about the tenth nāmāparādha:

śuniyāo kṛṣṇa-nāma-māhātmya apāra
ye prīti-rahita, sei narādhama chhāra
ahaṁtā mamatā yāra antare bāhire
śuddha kṛṣṇa-nāma tāra kabhu nāhi sphure

“One who hears the boundless glories of Krṣṇa-Nāma but remains devoid of love for Kṛṣṇa-Nāma—whose heart does not melt in love for Kṛṣṇa-Nāma—is an impenitent and estranged fallen soul, the very lowest of mankind (narādhama chhāra). The pure Holy Name of Kṛṣṇa (śuddha-Kṛṣṇa-Nāma) does not reveal Himself to such persons who resist the divine influence of the Holy Name—whose thoughts, words, and deeds are internally and externally consumed by incorrigible attachment to the mundane, egotistical illusion of “I, me and mine” (ahaṁtā mamatā).”

In aniṣṭhitā-bhajana-kriyā, the sādhaka faces stages like ghana-taralā, viṣaya-saṅgarā, etc., where irregularity in sādhana, material attachments, and a lack of taste appear. Are these considered the tenth nāmāparādha?

Answer: No, these stages are not aparādhas. It is common that in the beginning stage a practitioner does not have control over his mind. That is not an aparādha. If one is practicing sincerely, then fluctuation of mind cannot be an aparādha. Śrī Kṛṣṇa acknowledges the difficulty in controlling one’s mind and advises one to continue practice (Gītā 6. 35). 

Question: If a person gives up the path of bhakti after practicing for some time, is that an offense to the Holy Name?

Answer: It is not an offense but an outcome of some offense. Offense results in slackening of interest in bhakti, absorption in non-devotional objects and activities, pride, crookedness, and ultimately loss of śraddhā. When śraddhā disappears, one gives up the practice of bhakti.

Question: In one of your articles, you mentioned: “If a person has no faith in the Name, and thus commits the offense of artha-vāda, then he or she cannot get protection from the Name.” The context was King Nṛga falling to hell for the offense of artha-vāda. What about the devotee who commits the tenth nāmāparādha and then goes on to commit artha-vāda? 

Answer: It depends on what you mean by hell. If by hell you mean a place of suffering like a specific region of the universe, then he may get protection from that. But if hell means suffering, that will surely come due to the offense. Arthavāda means to not put trust in the power of the name. If one distrusts the name, then one should not expect protection from the name.




Nāma-aparādha: The Ninth and Tenth Offenses

Offenses of the Instructor and the Instructed

To give a valuable object to an unqualified person is indirectly disrespectful to the valuable object. An unqualified person does not understand the value of the object and thus will not respect it. The holy name of Kṛṣṇa is as respectable as Kṛṣṇa Himself, being nondifferent from Him. Therefore, it should not be given to those persons who do not understand its value. Such people will only be offensive towards the name. This offense is discussed in the following subsection of Bhakti Sandarbha.

Anuccheda 265.9

The ninth offense, to instruct the glories of the name to a person who is devoid of faith, oblivious to Bhagavān, and disinterested in hearing, is applicable to anyone who instructs such faithless people.

Having pointed out the offense of the instructor (upadeṣṭṛ), the text goes on to describe the offense of the person to whom the instruction is given (upadeśya) in the next verse. Because of the person’s singular absorption in the conceptions of “I” and “mine” in regard to the body, he remains devoid of reverence for the name.

Previously [in Anuccheda 153], this verse was quoted from Padma Purāṇa:

It is indeed a fact that just one holy name appearing in the midst of a person’s speech, on the pathway of his recollection, or in the root of the ear, whether it is enunciated correctly or incorrectly, and with or without the intervention of other syllables, certainly delivers that person. But if the same name is cast among atheistic people who are greedy to enjoy the body, wealth, or followers, then, O vipra, it does not quickly manifest its result. (Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.24)

In this verse, the word pāṣaṇḍa, “an atheist,” who is so designated because of his greed to enjoy the body, wealth, and similar pursuits, indicates the ten offenses against the name because of the atheism (pāṣaṇḍamayatva) that is inherent in them.

In addition, the Vaiśākha Māhātmya of Padma Purāṇa mentions another offense that is applicable to such people:

Those people who disrespect the singing of Bhagavān’s names and leave the area are destined for a terrible hell because of this sinful act. (PP 5.96.63)

That the name is the only atonement for all these offenses is also stated in Padma Purāṇa:

The divine names alone can cleanse the sins of those who commit offenses against the name. Only when these names are sung ceaselessly will they bring about the intended result. (PP Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.23)

If, however, one commits an offense toward a devotee, one should continuously sing the names of Bhagavān with the specific intent to appease that devotee, for it is seen in the history of King Ambarīṣa that [Durvāsā’s] offenses could be forgiven only by Ambarīṣa alone [and not even by Bhagavān Himself]. In Nāma-kaumudī also, it is said: “An offense to a great devotee is mitigated either by suffering the result or by the grace of that devotee.” Therefore, because of the absence of any other means, it was appropriately said in the beginning of this anuccheda:

O King, for those seeking fulfillment of material desires [icchatām, i.e., kāminām], for those who are indifferent to worldly existence and seeking liberation [nirvidyamānānām, i.e., mumukṣūṇām], and for those already established in immediate realization of the Truth [yoginām, i.e., jñāninām], this constant chanting of the holy name of Bhagavān Hari has been ascertained [both as the means of attainment (sādhana), in the case of the first two, and as the completion state (sādhya), in the case of the last]. (SB 2.1.11)

Śrī Nārada made a similar statement in Bṛhat Nāradīya Purāṇa:

Even the great sages and the Manus cannot fathom the glory of the name of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. So how can I, of petty intellect, worship Him.

Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

One should not impart instructions about the name to a person who has no faith in it, who is not at all devotionally inclined, and who has no interest in hearing about it. To insist on instructing such a person is the ninth offense against the name. If a person is not interested in hearing but is forced to hear, he will only disrespect the name, which is an offense. The instructor will also become implicated in the offense, because he is the cause impelling the disinterested person to become offensive. The conclusion is that if an instructor becomes instrumental in making another person commit an offense, then he is also an offender.

The tenth offense applies to the person who receives instructions about the name. Even after hearing the glories of the name, if one does not take an interest in surrendering to it but remains entangled in materialistic ways, then he demonstrates disrespect toward the name. Such a person can be compared to a patient who is suffering from a terminal disease and, on coming to know of a sure remedy, does not show any interest in it. By the same token, if the patient rejects the person who mercifully offers the cure, will the latter not feel hurt by the rejection of his selfless offer of help?

The main point to understand is that the name is a fully conscious entity, endowed with all noble qualities and inconceivable powers. It is not inert sound. Consequently, one has to be careful while dealing with the name, just as one would adopt a respectable manner of behavior when dealing with a person of honor. One should try to use one’s common sense besides what has been described in these ten offenses. For example, one should not despise or create obstacles for those who are performing kīrtana. On the other hand, a practitioner should not do loud kīrtana if it is disturbing to the neighbors, because this will incite them to commit offenses. As stated above, this too falls into the category of offensive behavior.

If one offends a devotee, one should try to pacify her or him. It is not that one simply takes recourse to chanting the name but does not try to appease the offended devotee. Durvāsā offended Ambarīṣa, a great devotee, by creating a hobgoblin to kill him. Viṣṇu’s disc, however, came to the rescue of Ambarīṣa, and Durvāsā had to flee for his life. He approached various devas, such as Śiva, seeking protection from Viṣṇu’s weapon, but all of them expressed their powerlessness in this regard. Finally, he approached Viṣṇu Himself. Viṣṇu, however, advised Durvāsā to go back to Ambarīṣa and take shelter of him. He informed Durvāsā that there was no one else who could help him. Thus, if one commits an offense to a devotee, one should either pacify that devotee or face the consequences. There is no third solution. If, however, one does not know the cause of one’s offenses, one should continuously chant the name while avoiding further offenses.


Nāma-aparādha: The Seventh Offense

Committing Sins on the Strength of the Holy Name

Śraddhā in śastra is the foundation of spiritual life. On the path of bhakti, this includes having śraddhā in the power of the name of Kṛṣṇa. There are hundreds of statements in śastra that state that even if one chants the name incidentally, one is freed of all one’s sins. But this does not give one the license to commit sins. The offense of committing sins on the strength of the name of Kṛṣṇa is discussed in the following subsection of Bhakti Sandarbha by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī.

Anuccheda 265.7

The seventh offense, to commit sins on the strength of the name, is understood as follows. It is a fact that the name absolves a practitioner even of those sins that are committed on the strength of the name. Yet, it was by the power of the name that he was first engaged with the intent to attain the lotus feet of Śrī Bhagavān Himself, who is the condensed essence of being, consciousness, and bliss, and the supreme goal of human life (parama-puruṣārtha). Now instead, on the strength of the same name, the practitioner strives to accomplish his sinful aims, which are despicable. This is an instance of extreme ill-heartedness (parama-daurātmyam). By such action, the practitioner grossly misuses the name. Consequently, it is certain indeed that he incurs an offense millions of times more severe than the sin committed. 

As a result, the Padma Purāṇa verse concludes that for such an offender the means of purification through rules (yamaiḥ) simply does not exist (na vidyate tasya yamair hi śuddhiḥ). The word yamaiḥ, lit., “by rules,” means “by the numerous prescribed moral restraints (yamas) and ethical codes (niyamas).” Even after undergoing atonement by extensive application of such rules, the offender’s purification remains nonexistent (śuddhi-abhāva). Alternatively, the word yamaiḥ can mean “by a whole series of Yamas,” [the deva who administers punishment to the sinful after death]. In that case, the statement would mean that even after being punished by many Yamas, each acquiring the seat of authority one after the other, the offender’s purification remains nonexistent. This conclusion is certainly appropriate for the following two reasons.

First of all, for the person who commits sins on the strength of the name, atonement is possible only if he again continuously engages in singing the name [and not by yamas], as indicated in this upcoming statement of Padma Purāṇa: “The divine names alone can cleanse the sins of those who commit offenses against the name. Only when these names are sung ceaselessly will they bring about the intended result” (PP, Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.23).  Secondly, according to the Padma Purāṇa verse quoted earlier in this anuccheda (sarvāparādha-kṛd api, PP, Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.12–13), an offender of the name, even if endowed with devotion to Bhagavān, must reap the consequences in the form of a fall down (adhaḥ-pāta).

Indra’s action of killing Vṛtrāsura, however, executed on the strength of his worship of Bhagavān in the form of a horse sacrifice, was approved by the sages, whose intent was that the world would thereby be relieved of [asuric] oppression and that [upon being slain] Vṛtrāsura would be purged of his ungodly temperament (asura-bhāva). Therefore, it should not be considered an offense.

Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

The name is all-powerful and can free a person who takes shelter of the name from all sinful reactions to previous deeds. If a practitioner has faith in this principle and then commits some misdeed, thinking that he will be absolved of sinful reaction by chanting the name, then this is an offense. The reason for this is that although such a person has faith in the power of the name, he misuses it to wipe away his sins. Instead of serving the name, he engages it in his own service. Moreover, he uses the purest name to clean some abominable sins. This is like making an emperor clean one’s toilet.

The name has the power to award divine love, which is the highest goal attainable in human life. Instead, one uses it only for the insignificant task of purging sins. Moreover, such a person does not have faith that the name can bestow whatever material benefits are attainable by other methods. Such a person can be purified only by taking full shelter of the name. No other pious act of atonement can relieve him of the offense, just as an offense perpetrated against an emperor can be absolved only by the grace of the emperor.


Nāma-aparādha: The Second Offense

To Regard the Names and Qualities of Śiva as Independent of Viṣṇu

Among the devotees of Kṛṣṇa, Śiva has a very special place. Moreover, Śiva is also one of the guṇa-avatāras. In the Purāṇas, he is often portrayed as the Supreme Lord, Īśvara. There is also a large community of Hindus who accept Śiva as the Supreme Lord. If you read the second offense against the name, it appears very ambiguous. It seems to forbid any distinction between the names of Viṣṇu and Śiva. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī clarifies the true meaning of the second offense in the following anuccheda.

Anuccheda 265.4

[In connection with the second offense,] the following conclusion is also heard:

Whatsoever in existence is glorious, opulent, or powerful, know that indeed to be manifested from but a portion of My splendor. (Gītā 10.41)

As Śrī Balarāma said: “Brahmā, Śiva, and even I Myself are but portions of His [Kṛṣṇa’s] portions” (SB 10.68.37).

Bhagavān Kapila also said:

Śiva became śiva, or “auspicious,” by accepting upon his head the sacred water of the Gaṅgā, which is the best of rivers, because it issued forth from the water that washed the feet of Bhagavān. (SB 3.28.22)

And as Brahmā said:

I evolve the universe as appointed by Him, and Śiva dissolves it under His supervision, while He Himself [Bhagavān Hari], endowed with the three potencies, preserves it in His form as the Puruṣa. (SB 2.6.32)

Similarly, we find these statements from the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, cited in Madhva’s commentary on Vedānta-sūtra (1.3.3):

Bhagavān Janārdana is called Rudra, because He dispels the disease of material existence (rujam), Īśāna, because He rules over all (īśana), and Mahādeva (the Great God), because of His supreme glory (mahattva). Bhagavān Viṣṇu is called Pinākī, because He is the support of those who drink (pibanti) the bliss of the transcendental abode (nāka), having become liberated from the ocean of material existence. He is called Śiva (benevolent), because He is the very embodiment of beatitude (sukhātmakatva), and Hara (the destroyer), because He is the annihilator of all. He is called Kṛttivāsa (He who is adorned with a garment of skin), because as the Immanent Self, He dwells in and impels the body, which is covered with skin (kṛtti). Viṣṇu Deva is called Viriñci, because He sets loose the creative energy (recana) in a most unique manner (vi, i.e., viśeṣa-prakāra). He is designated as Brahman (the Infinitely Expansive), because He is the source of all expansion (bṛṁhaṇa), and as Indra (the lord of heaven), because of His supreme majesty (aiśvarya). In this manner, only one Supreme Being (Puruṣottama), who performs extraordinary deeds, is glorified in the Vedas and the Purāṇas by many different names.

And in the Vāmana Purāṇa:

There is no doubt that Nārāyaṇa and other names are used for others as well, yet Bhagavān Viṣṇu alone is proclaimed as the one and only refuge of all other names.

And in the Skanda Purāṇa:

With the exception of the names that are unique to Him, such as Nārāyaṇa, Bhagavān Puruṣottama bestowed other names upon the devas, just as a king invests his ministers with administrative authority over his entire kingdom, excluding his private quarters.

And in the Brahma Purāṇa:

Bhagavān Keśava awarded even some of His own particular names to others. To Brahmā He gave the names Caturmukha (the four-headed one), Śatānanda (the delight of hundreds), and Padmabhu (the lotus-born); and to Śiva He gave the names Ugra (the fierce one), Bhasmadhara (he whose body is smeared with ashes), Nagna (the naked one), and Kapālī (he who wears a garland of skulls).

In this manner, it is well-known [from scriptures] that Bhagavān Viṣṇu is the Immanent Self of all the devas and of all living beings (sarvātmakatva). For this reason, if a person even thinks, or perceives, that the name, qualities, and other attributes of Śiva are distinct from those of Viṣṇu—in other words, that they are manifested by Śiva’s own independent potency—he is an offender.

If the sixth grammatical case [the genitive case] had been used in the verse with the intent to point out the nondistinction (abheda) between Śiva and Viṣṇu, then the word ca, “also,” should have been inserted after viṣṇoḥ. [If the word ca, “and,” had been placed after viṣṇoḥ, it would have given the exact opposite meaning. The translation would then have been as follows: “One who considers the name, qualities, and other attributes of Śiva ‘and’ Śrī Viṣṇu as different (bhinnam) displeases the name.” Śrī Jīva’s point here is that since the word ca is omitted from the statement, the verse’s intent is not to advocate absolute nondistinction (abheda) between Śiva and Viṣṇu.] To show the supremacy of Bhagavān Viṣṇu, the honorific śrī has been used only before the word Viṣṇu. Therefore, even in the compound śiva-nāmāparādhaḥ, “an offense to the auspicious name,” which appears in the statement of the ninth offense, the word śiva primarily indicates Śrī Viṣṇu. Accordingly, in the list of the 1000 names of Viṣṇu, the names Sthāṇu (the immovable one) and Śiva also refer to Viṣṇu.

Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

The basic principle of all śāstra is that there is only one Absolute Truth. This is stated in the very beginning of Bhāgavata Purāṇa (1.2.11), which has been established by Jīva Gosvāmī in Tattva Sandarbha as the supreme authority in the matter of the ascertainment of the Absolute. This Absolute Truth is identified as Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is designated as SvayaBhagavān, or God in His ownmost original and essential being (SB 1.3.28). No one is independent of Him (Brahma-saṁhitā 5.1, Gītā 10.8). This fact has been demonstrated in Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha (Anucchedas 1–29). This implies that no one is equal to Him, and thus there is no possibility of anyone being superior to Him. Arjuna confirms this in his prayers (Gītā 11.43). Kṛṣṇa Himself says that there is nothing superior to Him (Gītā 7.7).

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī cites various verses to show that the original meaning of all names, such as Śiva, is Viṣṇu. This is also confirmed from the use of the word śiva for Viṣṇu in the description of the offenses (Padma PurāṇaBrahma-khaṇḍa 25.17), cited in this anuccheda. Thus, to consider the name and qualities of Śiva as equal to or independent of Kṛṣṇa is ignorance and also an insult to Kṛṣṇa. Being displeasing to the name, it is therefore an offense. This is analogous to addressing and respecting a minister as the emperor in the latter’s presence while disregarding the actual emperor and calling him a minister.

As regards the second offense, one should not misconstrue the meaning of the statement śivasya śrī viṣṇor ya iha guṇa-nāmādi sakalaṁ dhiyā bhinnaṁ paśyet sa khalu harināmāhitakaraḥ to mean “One who considers the name, qualities, and other attributes of Śiva as different (bhinnam) from the name, qualities, and other attributes of Bhagavān Viṣṇu, displeases the name.” Such a meaning could be expressed if the word viṣṇoḥ were understood to be in the sixth case. In such instance, the word “ca” should have been used in place of yaḥ. But according to the meaning given by Jīva Gosvāmī, the word viṣṇoḥ is in the fifth case, and this understanding is in harmony with the fact that Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate manifestation of Absolute Reality.

(to be continued)

Nāma-aparādha: The First Offense

To Criticize a Devotee

If we want to reach our destination, we need to follow the proper route and avoid the wrong route. We must know the distinction between them. Just as to follow a particular process we need to understand it clearly, in the same way, to avoid something we need to clearly understand what is to be avoided. In the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava community, much stress is given to nāma-japa and nāma-kīrtana. That is wonderful. Stress is also given to avoid offenses. That is also great. However, sufficient understanding of the offenses is not common knowledge. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī expands on the meaning of the offenses against the name. In the following anuccheda, he elaborates on the first offense.

Anuccheda 265.3

From the first offense, “To criticize genuine devotees of Bhagavān (the sat) is a grievous offense against the name,” it is evident that to commit physical violence to a devotee is so offensive that it defies verbal description. Blasphemy of devotees and other related offenses are as described in a dialogue between Śrī Mārkaṇḍeya and Bhagīratha in Skanda Purāṇa:

Those fools who blaspheme the Vaiṣṇava saints fall into the hell called Mahāraurava along with their forefathers. There are six transgressions that lead to such falldown: to kill Vaiṣṇavas, to criticize them, to bear malice toward them, to fail to greet them, to become angry at them, and to not feel happiness upon seeing them.

Even just to hear criticism of a Vaiṣṇava is an offense, as Śuka said:

One who hears criticism of Bhagavān or His devotees and does not leave the area loses all his piety and descends to hell. (SB 10.74.40)

When it is said that a person should leave the place where criticism of Bhagavān or His devotees is perpetrated, this applies specifically to one who is incapable of retaliation. If one is able, he should cut out the tongue of the critic, and if unable to do even this, he should give up his life, as the goddess Satī spoke:

 If a criticism is made of one’s worshipful Lord (Īśa), the protector of dharma, by human beings of frivolous nature, and one is incapable of retaliation, she should cover her ears and leave that place. If, however, she has the ability, she should forcibly cut out the foul tongue of the blasphemer, or even give up her own life. This is the way of virtue (dharma). (SB 4.4.17)

Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

The name is not a material sound but a conscious and blissful entity (caitanya-rasa-vigrahaḥ), nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa Himself (abhinnatvān nāma-nāminoḥ, BRS 1.2.233). Just as chanting is pleasing to the name, so too offenses displease the name. If examined carefully, offenses are understood to be those actions that contravene the sentiment of love. For example, the first offense is to criticize the devotees of Bhagavān. It is common knowledge that if you love someone, you should not criticize those who are dear to your beloved. Bhagavān or His name loves His devotees. If someone criticizes the devotees, the name will not be pleased with that person.

If such is the case even with criticism, then it goes without saying that harming a devotee in any way is an exceedingly grave offense and immensely displeasing to Bhagavān. This is understood from the story of King Ambarīṣa and sage Durvāsā, described in chapter four and five of the Ninth Canto. Many stories in Bhāgavata Purāṇa, such as those of King Citraketu, Vṛttrāsura, King Indradyumna, Ajāmila, and Dakṣa, are described to explain the intricacies of offenses to the name. In fact, the whole of the Bhāgavata can be seen as an attempt to educate spiritual aspirants about the offenses to the holy name, the importance of chanting the name, and pure devotion to Kṛṣṇa. This is so because in Kaliyuga, chanting of the name is the prescribed yuga-dharma (SB 11.5.31–32), and Bhāgavata Purāṇa was manifested specifically to provide vision for the people of Kali, who are blinded by ignorance (SB 1.3.44).

Just as it is an offense to criticize a devotee, so too it is an offense to hear criticism without raising an objection. For this reason, Satī recommends three possible retaliatory courses of action. The first is to cut out the critic’s tongue. If one is unable to do that, then one should give up one’s own life. If this too is not possible, then one should immediately cover one’s ears and leave the area. Out of these three, the first two recommendations are not to be taken literally, at least not in the context of the modern moral view. Rather, they are meant to impress upon us the severity even just of hearing criticism of Vaiṣṇavas and the need for appropriate action. Consequently, one should either try to verbally refute the critic or leave the place. But one should not remain neutral and should certainly not relish the criticism or support it.

When Draupadī was being insulted in the assembly of the Kauravas, great personalities like Bhīṣma did not object to it. Thus, all those people who did not raise an objection or leave the assembly became implicated in the offense. Similarly, when Dakṣa criticized Śiva for not honoring him, those who supported Dakṣa were subjected to the consequences of the offense. Among them, those such as Bhaga and Pūṣā received special punishment. Bhaga lost his eyes and Pūṣā his teeth.

In this context, it is noteworthy that when King Parīkṣit went on his world conquest and saw a bull being beaten by Kali personified in the guise of a barbarian (mlecchā), he understood that the bull was not ordinary but some divine being in the form of a bull. When he asked the bull about its plight, it did not blame Kali. It replied that there are many conflicting opinions among theorists as to the cause of a living being’s suffering—such as the self, providence, karma, and acquired nature—and it was thus unable to pinpoint the cause of its own plight. Hearing this strikingly objective reply, King Parīkṣit made a telling statement that instructs us in the matter of the non-assignment of blame upon others. He spoke the following words:

O You who have realized the essence of dharma (dharma-jña)! What you speak is perfectly in line with dharma [for in spite of knowing your assailant, you do not identify him and speak as though undecided about the matter]. Thus, you are dharma personified in the guise of a bull. [And what is the fault in identifying an offender? The dharma-śāstras say] that the outcome that an offender must reap is also obtained by his accuser. (SB 1.17.22)

In the same vein, Kṛṣṇa advised Uddhava to neither praise nor condemn the nature and actions of others (SB 11.28.1–2).

(to be continued)

Importance of the Holy Name

In Anuccheda 256 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, writes about the importance of hearing the name of Bhagavān before engaging in meditation on pastimes, līlā-smaraṇam. In the preceding anucchedas, he described the process of hearing about the name, form, qualities and pastimes of Bhagavān. Here he describes the importance of the order. Below I give my translation of the anuccheda and my commentary on it.

Anuccheda 256

Hearing Is To Be Undertaken in Sequence

We have thus described the practice of hearing (śravaṇam) about the names (nāma), forms (rūpa), qualities (gua), and līlās of Bhagavān. Hearing about Bhagavān’s liberated associates (parikaras) is also understood to be included within this practice, as Śrī Vidura confirms:

śrutasya puṁsāṁ sucira-śramasya nanv añjasā sūribhir īḍito’rthaḥ
tat-tad-guṇānuśravaṇaṁ mukunda- pādāravindaṁ hṛdayeṣu yeṣām 

To repeatedly hear the virtues of those in whose hearts the lotus feet of Mukunda perpetually reside has been rightly esteemed by the wise as the true aim of the extensive effort undertaken by human beings in studying the scriptures. (SB 3.13.4)  

It is a fact that by hearing even about just one of these four—the names, forms, qualities, or līlās of Bhagavān—and in any given order, perfection ensues. Yet in order for the heart (or “the affective-cognitive faculty,” antaḥ-karaṇa) to become purified, it is necessary to begin with hearing the name. When the heart is thus purified, and by then hearing about Bhagavān’s form, the heart attains fitness for the self-disclosure of His form. When Bhagavān’s form fully manifests, there follows the revelation of His qualities that are implicit in His form. Thereafter, when Bhagavān’s name, form, and qualities have fully manifested along with Bhagavān’s associates, the līlās of Bhagavān are disclosed in the appropriate manner. It is with this intention that the order of execution of sādhana practices has been stated. The same order is understood to be applicable in regard to singing (kīrtana) and remembering (smaraa) the names, forms, qualities, associates, and līlās of Bhagavān.

If hari-kathā is received from the mouth of greatly realized devotees (mahat), this practice of hearing attains to its most exalted state of being (mahā-māhātmyam) and grants supreme delight (parama-sukhadam) to those in whom the relish (ruci) for such topics has arisen. Additionally, hearing from mahat devotees is of two types—to hear sacred works brought forth by a great devotee (mahad-āvirbhāvitam) and to hear hari-kathā sung by a great devotee (mahat-kīrtyamānam).

Among these two, an example of the first is found in Śrī Sūta’s statement in reference to Śrīmad Bhāgavata:

idaṁ bhāgavataṁ nāma purāṇaṁ brahma-sammitam
uttama-śloka-caritaṁ cakāra bhagavān ṛṣiḥ 

For the highest benefit of humanity, the divine seer [Vyāsadeva] brought forth into being this Purāṇa called Śrīmad Bhāgavata, which is equal to all the Vedas, which is filled with the narrations of Uttamaśloka, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, which bestows all aspired for aims, which is productive of the highest wellbeing, and is supremely preeminent. (SB 1.3.40) 

In this verse, the author’s name has been mentioned simply to make evident the exalted state of being (māhātmyam) of Śrīmad Bhāgavata.


Just as hearing about the name, form, qualities, and līlās of Bhagavān can award perfection in the form of divine love, so too hearing about His associates (parikaras) can grant the same perfection. The associates of Bhagavān, being direct manifestations of His own intrinsic potency, are equal to Him in power. This was discussed in Bhagavat Sandarbha (Anu. 76).

Here it may be added that hearing about contemporary devotees is similarly purifying. Indeed, hearing about them may be even more inspiring than hearing about Bhagavān or His direct associates, because a practitioner can more readily relate to contemporary devotees and develop an affinity with them. The listener can empathize with the struggle undergone by such devotees and feel inspired by it.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī also singles out the importance of hearing and chanting the name. Hearing and chanting the name are two of the most important spiritual practices in the Gauḍīya School. He recommends that one should first hear the name for purification of the heart. Unless the heart is first purified by hearing and chanting the name, the other practices will not easily yield their result. Oftentimes, a disproportionate amount of stress is placed on līlā-smaraṇam, “recollection of, or meditation on, Bhagavān’s līlās.” But this practice requires the heart to be firmly established in sattva, or purity of being. If the heart is not sāttvika, līlā-smaraṇam becomes an impossibility. Instead of granting the desired result, it leads to degradation. There have been many practical examples of this in the recent history. Unqualified people take to līlā-smaraṇa and end up materially implicated. For this reason, Śrī Jīva recommends following the approved order, beginning with hearing the name.

Śrī Jīva further advocates that one should hear hari-kathā from the mouth of great devotees (mahat). He remarks that hearing of this nature exhibits two qualities, the first of which is that it attains to its most exalted state of being (mahā-māhātmyam). Śrī Jīva’s use of the latter compound could also imply that hearing from the mahat becomes of the nature of the exalted state of being (the māhātmyam) of the mahat. The second quality of hearing from the mahat is that it grants supreme delight (parama-sukhadam). This hearing from the mahat is then said to be of two types—hearing the sacred works that have been brought forth by great devotees (mahad-āvirbhāvitam) and hearing narrations that are sung by them (mahat-kīrtyamānam). Out of these two, Śrī Jīva gives an example of the first in reference to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa’s being manifested by the sage Vyāsa. In this case, the Bhāgavata’s being of the most exalted state (mahā-māhātmyam, the first of the two qualities referred to above) is indicated by mention of the author’s name, the mahat Vyāsa.

The Holy Name is Always Pure

Question: It is recommended that one who chants with offenses should continue chanting to become free from those offenses. Does this mean that one should continue chanting with offenses or with nāmābhāsa?

Answer: No. Why should one chant with offenses?  Chant the name and avoid offenses. And why chant nāmābhāsa? Just chant the name. I think there is some confusion about nāma, nāmābhāsa, and nāmāparādha

Some practitioners think that when people chant in the beginning stage, they chant nāmāparādha. After making progress and avoiding offenses, they chant nāmābhāsa mixed with nāmāparādha. When, by the mercy of their guru, they realize that they are servants of Kṛṣṇa and become free of offenses, they chant the pure name, which grants Kṛṣṇa-prema.

To have clear understanding, we should know the difference between nāma and nāmābhāsa.  A devotee chants nāma as part of his or her sadhana. Sādhanā is always done consciously and with purposeful intent. Nāmābhāsa is not a stage of sadhana as it is not chanted consciously. Therefore, if one is chanting nāma as part of one’s sādhanā, then it is not considered nāmābhāsa. 

An ābhāsa is an act of devotion done incidentally. For example, when Ajāmila called his son, whose name was Nārāyaṇa, that was nāmābhāsa because his intention was to call his son, not Bhagavān Nārāyaṇa. Ajāmila’s calling out was not a purposeful act of devotion or part of sādhanā.

Concerning nāmāparādha, no one chants the Lord’s name as sādhanā with an intention to offend the Lord. One simply chants the Lord’s name and may commit aparādha, either while chanting or at another time. Therefore, there is no possibility that nāmāparādha or nāmābhāsa are stages of nāma sādhanā.

If one chants “Kṛṣṇa” or the Lord’s name directly, referring to Him, then he or she is chanting nāma. But if one chants the words “Kṛṣṇa”, “Rāma”, or so on, referring to some other person than the Lord, that is nāmābhāsa. Incidental chanting of the holy name of God while referring to someone else with the same name is called nāmābhāsa. Nāmābhāsa is also possible when the Lord’s name is part of another name. The English word “diorama” includes the word “rāma”, although it does not refer to Lord Rāma. This chanting of “Rāma” as part of “diorama” is another instance of nāmābhāsa.

Thus, when people chant the Lord’s name, such as the mahāmantra, they chant nāma and not nāmābhāsa or nāmāparādha, regardless of what stage of bhakti they are on. The name is always the name and it is always pure. It is only the chanter who is impure. As long as the chanter is impure, the holy name does not reveal its full potency. It is not that the name chanted by a neophyte is nāmāparādha, or that by chanting nāmāparādha, one gradually comes to the level of chanting nāmābhāsa and finally to the pure name.

If it were true that everyone chants nāmāparādha in the beginning, then no one would ever advance beyond that stage. Rather, everyone would eventually fall down due to nāmāparādha. But this is not the case. Therefore, such an understanding is improper. 

Furthermore, if one chants the mahāmantra, how can that be nāmābhāsa? He is calling Kṛṣṇa’s name, not someone else’s name. For a sādhaka, the name is always the name. The only obstacles are the offenses against the name. As one becomes clear of offenses, the name manifests its potency to the chanter.

Offenses are like a cloud that covers our vision of the sun. Similarly, offenses obscure the full radiance of the name from our vision. The name is always pure and full of potency, but offenses act like a barrier around us. They obstruct our vision of the name. This is the same principle that impedes our realization of Kṛṣṇa. Although Kṛṣṇa is present everywhere, we don’t see Him because of our nondevotional attitude. If we become devotees in the true sense, we can feel His presence always.

Further details are explained in this booklet