Tag Archives: Kirtan

The Universality of Kīrtana (4)

The power of kīrtana is not dependent on any specific time or place. Although kīrtana has become more popular in Kaliyuga than in other yugas, its potency is not derived from Kaliyuga. Kīrtana is spiritual and anything spiritual does not depend on time or place. This is described in the following anuccheda of Bhakti Sandarbha.

Anuccheda 273

Therefore, after hearing of the supreme fixity in Bhagavān of the people of Kaliyuga, the people of other yugas pray to take birth only in Kaliyuga to attain this fixity. Karabhājana makes this point in his next statement:

O King, people of other ages, such as Satyayuga, aspire to take birth in the age of Kali, because in Kaliyuga, many people will be devoted to Nārāyaṇa (nārāyaṇa-parāyaṇāḥ). (SB 11.5.38),

Here, “devotedness to Nārāyaṇa” (tat-parāyaṇatvam) means “the state of being filled with exceedingly great love for Him” (tadīya-premātiśayavattvam). This is implied by the effect of such love, namely, the supreme tranquility (paramāṁ śāntim) mentioned in the previous verse. That those who have attained love for Nārāyaṇa are established in supreme tranquility is affirmed in this verse:

muktānām api siddhānāṁ nārāyaṇa-parāyaṇaḥ
sudurlabhaḥ praśāntātmā koṭiṣv api mahā-mune

O great sage, even among millions of liberated and perfected beings, a person whose interior faculty of awareness is unwaveringly tranquil (praśāntātmā) and who is exclusively intent upon Bhagavān Nārāyaṇa (nārāyaṇa-parāyaṇaḥ) is exceedingly rare. (SB 6.14.5)

Here, one should not misconstrue that the preeminent quality of kīrtana is due to its affiliation with Kaliyuga, because bhakti in its totality is beyond the limitations of time and place.

We also find specific reference to the name [as being beyond time and place] in the story of Kṣatra-bandhu from Viṣṇu-dharma:

O hunter, in uttering the names of Hari there are no rules and prohibitions pertaining to time and place, and there is no restriction on chanting even in an impure state.

In Skanda Purāṇa, the Vaiśākha-māhātmya of Padma Purāṇa, and Viṣṇu-dharma, it is said:

At all times and in every place, one should sing the names of the wielder of the disc weapon, Bhagavān.

And again, in Skanda Purāṇa:

The name of Hari is not dependent upon any particular place, time, condition, or purity of the heart. Rather, it is fully independent and awards the result desired by the aspirant.

And in Viṣṇu-dharma:

For one in whose heart Govinda is present, the age of Kali is Satyayuga, and for one in whose heart Acyuta is absent, the age of Satya is Kaliyuga.

One should not misunderstand that people in Kaliyuga obtain great benefit from such a simple process only because they are unable to perform other types of sādhana, and not because nāma-sādhana is itself so powerful.

In Viṣṇu Purāṇa, it is said:

By fixing the intellect on Him [Acyuta Śrī Kṛṣṇa], one does not go to hell. As concerns meditation on Him, even the pleasure of heaven is felt to be an obstacle.  By virtue of absorption of the mind and self (ātmā) in Him, even the planet of Brahmā appears insignificant. Becoming situated in the hearts of those who are pure in mind, this imperishable Bhagavān, grants them liberation. Thus, it is not at all surprising that a person’s sins are completely dissolved by singing the names of Acyuta. (VP 6.8.57)

In this verse of Viṣṇu Purāṇa, by the logic of kaimutya (the a fortiori argument), kīrtana is shown to be superior to the remembrance of Kṛṣṇa (smaraṇam), which persists even in the state of samādhi. Therefore, it was said earlier:

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)

And in Vaiṣṇava-cintāmaṇi:

The remembrance (smaraṇam) of Viṣṇu, which destroys sin, is attained through tremendous effort. Yet, superior to this is kīrtana , which is accomplished merely by moving the lips.

The superiority of kīrtana is shown elsewhere also:

O descendant of Bharata, the names of Hari are always present on the tongue of one by whom Vāsudeva has been perfectly worshiped for hundreds of previous lives.

The preeminence of kīrtana is also understood from the Nāmāparādha-bhañjana-stotra, already cited in Anuccheda 265, which states that the holy name delivers one even from offenses to Hari. Thus, in all yugas, singing Bhagavān’s name has the same power. Nonetheless, in Kaliyuga Bhagavān personally advocates the method of kīrtana out of His grace, and for this reason kīrtana has been specifically praised in scripture for the age of Kali. So, if one performs any other type of bhakti in Kaliyuga, it should be accompanied by kīrtana, for it is said:

In the age of Kali, the Supreme Absolute [Bhagavān] appears within this world with a non-blackish complexion and constantly sings or describes the names of Kṛṣṇa, accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons, and confidential companions. Those endowed with discriminating wisdom worship the Absolute in this form primarily through the sacrifice of the self in complete [sam, i.e., samyak] kīrtana [involving the totality of one’s being]. (SB 11.5.32)

Out of the various forms of kīrtana, nāma-kīrtana is especially glorious of its own accord, as expressed in these words:

In the age of Kali, the name of Hari, the name of Hari, the name of Hari is the only means of deliverance. There is no other way, there is no other way, there is no other way.

Consequently, the conclusions expressed in the three verses, beginning with SB 11.5.36, cited in Anucchedas 271-273 respectively, are certainly appropriate.


The greatness of kīrtana is not limited to Kaliyuga but is eternally existent, in every place and time. Kīrtana is also not praised simply because people in this age are disqualified for other spiritual practices, which would make it no more than a last resort for the incompetent. The potency of the holy name is not dependent on time or place. It is absolute. Anyone can participate in kīrtana, anywhere and at any time.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī writes that kīrtana is superior even to remembrance (smaraṇam), because smaraṇam is not possible in an unclean heart. It takes a lot of practice before one can master the mind to attain remembrance of Bhagavān. Kīrtana, however, can be performed without much effort even by an impious person. Therefore, it is recommended that while undertaking other devotional acts, such as picking flowers, making garlands, cooking, or cleaning, one should also do kīrtana. Of all types of kīrtana, that of the holy name is especially recommended, and of the various types of nāma-kīrtana, that of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra is the best. If one practices this limb of bhakti while avoiding the offenses discussed earlier, he or she will attain the intended result very quickly.

According to sage Karabhājana, the wise (sumedhasaḥ) worship Bhagavān through saṅkīrtana-yajña. This implies that those who are not endowed with sufficient wisdom take to other processes. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī writes: “Nonetheless, in Kaliyuga Bhagavān personally advocates the method of kīrtana out of His grace…” The Bhagavān mentioned here is none other than Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He is called the father of saṅkīrtana, because He is the one who propagated kīrtana in the present age. Before His advent, kīrtana was not popular, although it is mentioned in the Purāṇas, including Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa. The closing verse of Śrīmad Bhāgavata says, “Nāma-saṅkīrtana of Kṛṣṇa’s name relieves one from all sins” (SB 12.13.23). The root cause of all sin is aversion to Bhagavān (bhagavat-vimukhyatā). Nāma-saṅkīrtana destroys such aversion and awards love of Bhagavān.

The Importance of Kīrtana in Kaliyuga (1)

Although kīrtana has its importance in all yugas and is independent of time and place, yet it has special significance in the present time, Kaliyuga. In Anucchedas 270 to 274 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains the reason behind the significance of kīrtana in Kaliyuga. The translation and commentaries on these anucchedas will be presented in the upcoming weeks.

Anuccheda 270

This bhakti in the form of bhagavat-kīrtana is unlimitedly merciful to those who are destitute (dīna-jana), being bereft of wealth, prestigious birth, admirable qualities, and praiseworthy accomplishments. This is understood from the Vedas and the Purāṇas. The state of destitution (dīnatvam) that is prominent in Kaliyuga is as outlined in Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa:

Therefore, in Kaliyuga, practices such as penance, yoga, study of the Vedas, and sacrifices, even if performed by those who are highly competent, cannot be executed in their entirety.

Therefore, saṅkīrtana, appearing amidst the naturally afflicted people of Kaliyuga, easily confers upon them all the results derived from the practices that are prominent in the other yugas and thus makes them perfect. For this reason, Bhagavān is especially pleased by saṅkīrtana in Kaliyuga.

This conclusion is confirmed by the following statement from the Cāturmāsya-māhātmya of Skanda Purāṇa,

In this world, singing about Śrī Hari is the foremost austerity. In Kaliyuga especially, one should perform kīrtana for the pleasure of Śrī Viṣṇu.

Thus, it is said by sage Śuka:

kṛte yad-dhyāyato viṣṇuṁ tretāyāṁ yajato makhaiḥ
dvāpare paricaryāyāṁ kalau tad-dhari-kīrtanāt

What is obtained in Satyayugaby meditating on Viṣṇu, in Tretāyuga by propitiating Him with elaborate sacrifices, and in Dvāpara-yugaby worship of the deity, is attained in Kaliyuga by Hari-kīrtana. (SB 12.3.52)

In other words, whatever is obtainable in Satyayuga and the other ages by the respective methods prescribed for those ages, can be attained in Kaliyuga simply by Hari-kīrtana. Elsewhere also it is said:

Whatever one may obtain in Satyayuga by meditation, in Tretāyuga by the performance of sacrifices, and in Dvāparayuga by worship of the deity, is attained in Kaliyuga by singing about Keśava. (VP 6.2.17)


From the descriptions found in the Purāṇas, it is understood that people in earlier yugas had much longer lives and were austere, self-controlled, religious, and renounced. As a consequence, they had the capacity to undertake severe austerities or to conduct elaborate and precise religious rituals, such as yajña. Being naturally endowed with such superior capabilities, they would not consider kīrtana as a significant means to attain perfection, because it would appear to them as being too easy and simplistic. Therefore, kīrtana was not propagated in other yugas. In Kaliyuga, people generally lack the qualifications possessed by those in previous ages. One advantage of this is that people have no reason to be proud. Humility is the basic qualification to engage in kīrtana. This humility is naturally possible in the present age in which people in general are in a downtrodden condition of life. Thus, one can obtain all the benefits of the religious deeds executed in previous ages merely by performing kīrtana in a humble mood. 

Unfortunately, one can become proud even without having a legitimate reason for it, as the popular adage goes, “Even a pauper is proud of his penny.” This immodesty disqualifies people from taking to kīrtana in earnest. Either they abstain from kīrtana, thinking it to be a commonplace act, or they engage in kīrtana merely as a show. Such proud people perform kīrtana only to impress others and not as an act of devotion. Even this is of benefit, however, because at least they are spared from singing mundane songs, but it does not yield the aspired for fruit of divine love.

The verse from Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa states that in Kaliyuga, religious practices, such as penances and yoga, cannot be executed in their entirety (sāṅgā), meaning “with all their component parts.” This is because of the disqualification in the executor and the requisite material required for the execution of the dharma. The sense is that in Kaliyuga religious acts are incomplete without kīrtana. Therefore, they must be accompanied by kīrtana to bring forth the intended result. But kīrtana should not be equated with any other religious act. This would be an offense to the name, as discussed in Anuccheda 265. Kīrtana should be understood as superior to all other practices and thus as necessary to bring perfection to these other inferior religious acts.


Singing Captures Kṛṣṇa’s Heart

Kṛṣṇa is akhila-rasa-mūrti, the personification of all rasas. He is also a singer and dancer, naṭavara. Thus, He naturally loves to hear kīrtana. In Śrīmad Bhāgavata, kīrtana is praised as the best means to become free from material bondage and attain the supreme destination. Kīrtana of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes is especially attractive to Him. Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu is called the father of saṅkīrtana, Saṅkīrtana-pitā. He instructed about the proper mood in which kīrtana should be performed. In all the six Sandarbhas, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi refers to Mahāprabhu twice. One such reference is in Anuccheda 269 of Bhakti Sandarbha, where he cites the famous tṛṇād api sunīcena verse. The translation of this anuccheda as well as my commentary is given below.

The Glories of Līlā-kīrtana

Additionally, in the following two verses [Śrī Sūta speaks about the importance of līlā-kīrtana]:

That speech in which Bhagavān Adhokṣaja is not described is indeed vain (mṛṣā), false (asatīḥ), and concerned with the mundane (asat-kathā). That speech alone is real (satyam), that speech alone is auspicious (maṅgalam), that speech alone is virtuous (puṇyam), in which Bhagavān’s qualities are revealed. That speech alone is delightful and begets newer and newer taste, that speech alone produces an endless festival of joy for the heart, that speech alone dries up the ocean of sorrow for human beings, in which the glory of Uttama-śloka [Bhagavān Hari] is constantly sung. (SB 12.12.49-50)

The word asatīḥ here means “false” (asatya), and asat-kathā, “speech concerned with the mundane,” means “that speech in which the discussions are concerned with those other than Bhagavān and His devotees.” The pronoun yat means “that speech in which” (yāsu gīḥṣu) Bhagavān Adhokṣaja is not described (na kathyate). On the other hand, that speech in which the glory (yaśaḥ) of Bhagavān Uttama-śloka is repeatedly sung (anugīyate), or in other words, that act of repeated singing (anugānam) that is filled with the descriptions of His līlās, is alone real (satyam) and endowed with the other virtues mentioned in these two verses. And why is this speech real (satyam) and auspicious (maṅgalam)? In answer to this, Sūta says that this speech causes Bhagavān’s qualities to be revealed in the heart of the singer. This means that such līlā-kathā-kīrtana induces divine love (rati) for Bhagavān.

In Skanda Purāṇa, it is said:

O King, Bhagavān Hari goes wherever stories about Him and His devotees are sung, just as a cow follows her calf out of great affection.

In Viṣṇu-dharma and Skanda Purāṇa (, Bhagavān makes the following declaration:

I never abandon a person who always narrates My stories, nor one who is intent on hearing them, nor one whose mind is captivated by My stories.

In the second of Śrī Sūta’s verses [SB 12.12.50], the verb anugīyate, “is repeatedly sung,” implies that if one has a melodious voice, he should sing the līlās of Bhagavān. This implies that singing (gānam) the līlās of Bhagavān is most highly esteemed [beyond even hearing and recitation]. In the same manner, one should sing about the names, forms, and qualities of Bhagavān as well.

It was said earlier:

Hearing of the most auspicious births and divine acts of Bhagavān Hari—the wielder of the disc—which are celebrated in this world, and singing His names denoting His birth and divine acts, one should roam about free from worldly attachment and inhibition. (SB 11.2.39)

Elsewhere it is said:

O King, one who sings, hears, or approves of the inimitable exploits performed here in this world by Bhagavān Hari [Śrī Kṛṣṇa], the source of the evolution, sustenance, and dissolution of the cosmos, attains loving devotion (bhakti) for Bhagavān, the refuge and bestower of liberation. (SB 10.69.45)

The import of this verse is that if one is unable to sing the līlās of Bhagavān, or if one encounters a devotee of a higher grade of realization, he should then hear those līlās from him. And if one is unable to do even this, he can at least approve of their being sung by others.

In Viṣṇu-dharma, we find this statement of Śrī Viṣṇu:

If one’s mind is naturally lyrical and thus captivated by melodies, one should fix the mind on Me and sing My virtuous stories.

In the Kārtika-māhātmya of Padma Purāṇa, Śrī Bhagavān said:

I reside neither in Vaikuṇṭha nor in the hearts of the yogīs. O Nārada, I remain wherever My devotees sing [my līlās]. When people worship these devotees by offering them scents, incense, and other articles, I am supremely pleased by such worship. I do not derive the same pleasure even from My own worship.

By singing the līlās of Bhagavān, such devotees are supreme benefactors of all living beings, to say nothing of the benefit they themselves receive. Śrī Prahlāda makes this point in Nṛsiṁha Purāṇa:

O Nṛsiṁha, those saints who loudly sing Your names in bliss are the unconditional friends of all beings.

The kīrtana of Bhagavān that is performed by many people gathered together is called saṅkīrtana, or “congregational singing.” This congregational singing is to be understood as superior even to kīrtana [performed alone], because it fosters such extraordinary feelings.

In this regard, Bhagavān Śrī Caitanya, who avatārically appeared to deliver the living beings of Kaliyuga, has given the following instruction about the congregational singing of Bhagavān’s names (nāma-saṅkīrtana):

Considering oneself to be even lower than a blade of grass, being more tolerant than a tree, being prideless, and offering respect to all others, one should continuously sing the name of Hari. (Padyāvalī 32, Śikṣāṣṭaka 3)


Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

After describing the singing of Bhagavān’s pastimes (līlā-kīrtana), Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains the importance of singing in general, be it of His name, form, qualities, or pastimes. The essence of all devotional practice is remembrance of Kṛṣṇa, as stated in Padma Purāṇa: “One should remember Bhagavān Viṣṇu always and never forget Him even for a moment. All the rules and prohibitions of scripture are servants of these two principles alone” (PP 6.71.100). Śrī Nārada instructs King Yudhiṣṭhira in a similar manner: “Therefore, one should fix one’s mind on Kṛṣṇa by whatever means possible” (SB 7.1.31). Fixing the mind on Kṛṣṇa or remembrance of Him, however, is not possible if the mind is unstable. The practice of controlling one’s speech is a powerful means to stabilize the mind. In this respect, Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī advises:

The faculty of speech is the regulator of all the senses, both external as well as internal. If it is brought permanently under control [either by observing a vow of silence or by bhagavat-kīrtana ], then the mind becomes stable and then only can one be wholely engaged in continuous remembrance of Bhagavān. Consequently [because remembrance (smrti) is the sādhya, or the object to be attained by kīrtana], remembrance (smrti) itself is the fruit (phalam) [of kīrtana]. (Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam 2.3.149)

Speech can be controlled either by observing a vow of silence (mauna) or by engaging it in japa or kīrtana. The first option is followed by yogīs and jñānīs, and the second, by devotees. The second method is superior, because it engages one’s entire being in the service of Bhagavān and purifies one’s existence. It is also the method prescribed for the present age, as pointed out earlier. Moreover, it should be noted that saṅkīrtana is not merely an instrument to be given up once the goal of remembrance is attained. It continues even after reaching the perfected stage. A perfected devotee naturally engages in kīrtana as an anubhāva of love (SB 11.2.40, and SB 1.6.27).

Good music has a special power to attract our minds. Singing attracts the mind of the singer as well as that of Kṛṣṇa. For this reason, Kṛṣṇa says that He is present wherever His devotees sing about Him. He is a musician Himself and thus loves to hear singing performed out of love. When many devotees come together and sing with the proper melody (rāga), rhythm (tāla), and tempo (laya), it creates a very enchanting and beatific atmosphere. This has a powerful influence on those who sing as well as those who listen to it. Śrī Jīva therefore recommends that if one has a melodious voice, one should sing bhagavat-kīrtana. If possible, one should sing in the company of devotees who have good knowledge of music, sweet voices, and who share the same devotional mood.

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu specifically recommended and propagated saṅkīrtana for the present age. He demonstrated it by His own life. In the Śikṣāṣṭaka verse cited at the end of this anuccheda, He describes the proper internal state in which saṅkīrtana should be performed. Saṅkīrtana performed in this manner can bring peace and harmony in society. At present, life is filled with strife (kali) in all spheres, be it family, society, or country. Love is scarcely to be found among the members of families, society, or country. The only solution is to perform saṅkīrtana in the mood recommended by Mahāprabhu. This will purify the heart of envy, jealousy, hatred, greed, and anger. According to sage Karabhājana, saṅkīrtana is the prescribed process for the present age (SB 11.5.32). He further says that all success can be obtained merely by saṅkīrtana (SB 11.5.36).


Hearing and Singing about Kṛṣṇa Is Supreme

Bhagavān has innumerable names, which all have inherent potency in them. Yet not all names have equal potency. The Name of Kṛṣṇa is supreme. Therefore, hearing and singing Kṛṣṇa’s names is most beneficial and effective, and thus constitutes one of the most important parts of bhakti in Gaudīya sampradāya. Moreover, hearing from the mouth of a great devotee is most powerful. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains this in Anuccheda 262 of Bhakti Sandarbha. He also stresses the importance of hearing Śrimad Bhagavata Purāṇa. Below I render the original text and my comments on it.


The Hierarchy of Importance in regard to Hearing

Regarding hearing, the following [hierarchy of importance] should be considered: To hear about the names, forms, qualities, līlās, and associates of Bhagavān to any extent is supremely beneficial. Superior to this is to hear the sacred works brought forth (āvirbhāvita) by mahat devotees. When these compositions are then sung by a realized devotee (mahat-kīrtyamānam), the benefit is greater still. To hear Śrīmad Bhāgavata is superior even to this, and better yet when sung by a mahat devotee.

In addition, the prescription to hear repeatedly is to be enacted specifically in regard to the names, forms, qualities, and līlās of one’s own cherished form of Bhagavān (nījābhīṣṭa), as indicated in this verse: “One should worship the Supreme Puruṣa [Bhagavān] in the form that is according to one’s longing” (SB 11.3.48). Furthermore, such hearing should be received from the mouth of a greatly realized devotee (mahānubhāva) who shares the same internal devotional predilection (savāsanā).

To hear specifically about the names, forms, qualities, and līlās of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, out of all the various manifestations of Bhagavān, occurs only by supreme fortune because He is Bhagavān in His most original complete essential being. The same conclusion applies in regard to other sādhanas of bhakti, such as singing and remembering. Among the narrations of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, whichever ones a practitioner personally sings at present should be sung as mahat devotees, such as Śrī Śukadeva, previously did, by adopting the manner and devotional mood established by them.

We have thus explained the practice of hearing (śravaṇam). This precedes the practices of singing and remembering because without first hearing, one cannot have knowledge of these other practices. In particular, if the fortune to hear directly the narrations sung by a mahat devotee has not yet presented itself, then only should one personally sing them on one’s own (pṛthak), because hearing [the names and so on of Śrī Kṛṣṇa] is the primary process. Consequently, the following statement and comment are relevant in this regard:

tad-vāg-visargo janatāgha-viplavo yasmin prati-ślokam abaddhavaty api
nāmāny anantasya yaśo’ṅkitāni yat śṛṇvanti gāyanti gṛṇanti sādhavaḥ

[On the other hand,] that linguistic composition, in which each verse, even though grammatically or poetically defective, contains the names that are imprinted with the glory of the limitless One [Bhagavān], destroys the sins of humanity, since these are the names that saintly devotees hear, recite, and sing. (SB 1.5.11)

Śrīdhara Svāmī comments: “The pronoun yat, ‘which,’means ‘which names’ (yāni nāmāni). If a speaker is present, the sādhus will hear the names of Bhagavān uttered by him; if an audience is present, they will recite these names for the benefit of the listeners; and if neither speaker nor audience is present, they will sing by themselves.”


Kīrtanam Is the Best Form of Atonement

We will now discuss the practice of kīrtana, or singing the glories of Bhagavān. In this regard, the order in which the names, forms, and so on are to be sung is understood to be the same as previously delineated in the case of hearing [i.e. name, form, qualities and pastimes]. An example of singing the names of Bhagavān is found in this statement of the Viṣṇudūtas to the Yamadūtas:

sarveṣām apy aghavatām idam eva suniṣkṛtam
nāma-vyāharaṇaṁ viṣṇor yatas tad-viṣayā matiḥ

For sinners of all types, uttering the name of Bhagavān Viṣṇu is indeed the only perfect means of atonement, because Viṣṇu’s attention (mati) is thereby drawn toward the utterer. (SB 6.2.10)

Śrīdhara Svāmī comments: “The words idam eva suniṣkṛtam mean ‘this alone [i.e., the utterance of the name] is the best form of atonement’ (śreṣṭhaṁ prāyaścitam). The reason for this is that when a person utters Viṣṇu’s name, Viṣṇu’s attention (mati) is drawn toward him (tad-viṣayā), the utterer of the name (nāmoccāraka-puruṣa), and Viṣṇu thinks, ‘This person is My very own (madīya), and as such, he is to be protected by Me in every way.’”

Therefore, because Bhagavān’s name belongs to His constitutional nature (svarūpa), it is naturally the cause of absorption in Him (tadīya-āveṣa). As such, hearing even a single part [or syllable] of Bhagavān’s name induces love (prīti) in the foremost devotees of Bhagavān (parama-bhāgavatas), as confirmed by Śrī Śiva in the Rāmāṣṭottara-śata-nāma-stotra from the Uttara-khaṇḍa of Padma Purāṇa:

rakārādīni nāmāni śṛṇvato devi jāyate
prītir me manaso nityaṁ rāma-nāma-viśaṅkyā

O Goddess [Pārvatī], whenever I hear any name beginning with the letter ‘r’, love is awakened in my heart every single time, because I suspect that it may be the name of Rāma. (PP 6.254.21)

Such being the case, to characterize the name merely as something that destroys sins does not at all touch its true significance.


Commentary by Satytanarayana Dasa

Hearing Bhāgavata Purāṇa from the mouth of a great devotee is supremely beneficial. This is confirmed by the Bhāgavata-mahātmya from the Uttara-khaṇḍa of Padma Purāṇa (chapters 193-198). There, the story is told of a ghost who was released from his spectral body after hearing the Purāṇa for seven days. At the end of the week’s recitation, Kṛṣṇa appeared and carried the Purāṇa’s reciter to His abode along with the entire audience. A materialistic individual is comparable to a person possessed by the ghost of material desires, kāma. The verses of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa act like a magical incantation to exorcise this ghost and lead the person to the healthy life of prema.

The names of Bhagavān are innumerable. The practitioner should regularly hear and sing the specific name of his or her own cherished form of Bhagavān (nījābhīṣṭa). Of all the names of Bhagavān, “Kṛṣṇa” is the most potent, because He is Bhagavān in His most original and complete form. Kṛṣṇa Himself proclaims, “O Arjuna, of all My names, ‘Kṛṣṇa’ is preeminent” (Prabhāsa Purāṇa, cited in Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha 82). And as Kṛṣṇa includes and contains all other forms of Bhagavān within His essential being, so too does His name embody the power of all other names of Bhagavān. This is implied in the following statement from Brahmāṇda Purāṇa:

The benefit awarded by thrice reciting the divine thousand names of Viṣṇu is attained simply by uttering Kṛṣṇa’s name just once. (Brahmāṇda Purāṇa 236.19)

As in the case of hearing (śravaṇa), the sequence to be followed in the practice of kīrtana is to first sing Bhagavān’s name, followed in order by His form, qualities, associates, and līlās. Furthermore, it is recommended that kīrtana should be of those devotional songs or verses that were composed and sung by mahat devotees. At present, there are many devotional songs written by professional poets and singers. Listening to them or singing them is not recommended, because the sentiments they contain are tainted with the poet’s own subjective projections.

Of all the names of Bhagavān, kīrtana of Kṛṣṇa’s name is supremely beneficial. And kīrtana of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra is most highly esteemed because it was chanted by Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya and His mahat devotees. If the opportunity to hear from a great devotee has not yet presented itself, one should perform kīrtana on one’s own. In this case, the practice should be undertaken with the awareness that kīrtana of these names was enacted in the past by great devotees. One should perform kīrtana as a follower of one’s guru-paramparā and not independently.

If one is in love with a boy or girl and sees another person on the street who resembles them in gait, hairstyle, or other physical features, then at once, one becomes naturally absorbed in thoughts of the beloved. Accordingly, if one hears someone calling another person whose name begins with the same letters as one’s lover’s name, one would be reminded of her or him. Great devotees such as Śiva become absorbed in contemplation of Bhagavān even if they hear just the first syllable of His name. Indeed, Bhagavān’s attention is also drawn to the utterer of His name, even if it is sounded incidentally.

A glaring example of the power of the name is found in the story of Draupadī from Mahābhārata. When Duḥśāsana tried to strip her naked by pulling off her sārī, she pleaded to Bhīṣma and other leaders of the Kauravas to put an end to this grave injustice. But nobody came to her rescue. Finally, in desperation, she called out the name of Kṛṣṇa, who immediately appeared there in the form of an inexhaustible garment to keep her covered and foil Duḥśāsana’s evil attempt. Later on, Kṛṣṇa said:

govinda iti cukrośa kṛṣṇā māṁ dūravāsinam
ṛṇam etata pravṛddhaṁ me hṛdayāṇ nāpasarpati

While I was far away in Dvārakā, Draupadī cried My name, “O Govinda.” I am thereby deeply indebted to her, who never strays from My heart. (Mahābhārata)

Such is the power of the name. If you come across a famous person but do not recognize him, you would not even take notice of him. But if someone tells you his name or who he is, you would immediately become attentive. This means that the name is more influential than the person himself.

Because the name has such potency to draw the attention of great devotees and even of Bhagavān Himself, then to describe the name merely as that which removes the sins of a chanter does not at all do justice to its glory. Removal of sins can be accomplished even by a mere semblance of the name, nāmābhāsa, as is known from the story of Ajāmila (SB 6.2.14, 18).

Different Ways of Chanting, Focus during Japa

The Most Powerful Chanting

Sri Vinod Bihari Gosvami

Question: I would like to know which chanting is more powerful, in the mind or audibly.

1) Srila Jiva Gosvami writes in his Krama sandarbha: “The names of God should be chanted loudly.”

2) Baladeva Vidyabhusana explain in the Stava malabibhusana bhasya, “If one chants the Hare Krsna mantra loudly, Krsna personally dances on his tongue.”

3) In Caitanya-bhagavata Adi Khanda, with purports of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, it says that loud chanting is best.

Answer: Both are powerful and both are recommended. I have practiced both. My personal experience is that manasic japa is superior in focusing the mind on the mantra. But it must be learned from one who knows. If audible chanting helps one to focus, that is good for him/her. However, Jiva Gosvami or Baladeva Vidyabhusana are not forbidding mansic japa. Manasic japa is the same as smaranam, and Jiva Gosvami has written about smaranam and its importance.

A famous quote from Padma Purana says that the essence of all rules and regulations is to remember Krsna and never to forget him. Narada also says in the first chapter of the Seventh Canto that somehow or other one should fix the mind on Krishna – which is smaranam.

As far as the Chaitanya Bhagavata story is concerned, that is to glorify the Name. I do not disagree with it. CB is also not forbidding mansic japa. It only says that vacika is 100 times superior to manasic. The reason for this is that by vacika, the plants and animals also benefit. But if the chanter himself is not making progress, how will the plants? This may be true in the case of people like Haridasa Thakura who chant purely. But others must be free from offence themselves to benefit others. The Holy Name does not manifest His power otherwise. One who chants for the benefit of others must be pure to think like that. Normal people are not able to concentrate while chanting. In the list of offences inattentiveness is also counted. So if one can chant with attention loudly, that is good. But to come to that stage, you may have to go through manasika japa.

In regards to 100 times, there are slokas which say that manasic chanting is 1000 time superior to vacika. Of course one may say that it is applicable only to Vedic mantras and not to the Name. Vedic mantras should not be chanted loudly. But when chanted like a mantra, the Name should follow the rules for Vedic mantras. Loud chanting is kirtan and manasic japa is smaranam and both have their glory. Mahaprabhu glorifies kirtana – kirtaniya sada hari, and also smaranam  – smarane na kala.


Focus During Japa

Question: When chanting, should I associate the sound of the Lord’s name with His form or the sound of His name with the written representation of His name? I have heard different views about this. And if my association should only be in respect to one of the two, then is that not contradictory to the statement that the Lord’s name is non-different from His form?

Answer: You associate the sound with the letters. That is recommended. It is not contradictory because although the Lord is non-different, He is also different in some sense. Otherwise we would not have separate two words for them.

In Bhakti Sandarbha Sri Jiva Gosvami writes that one should begin hearing and chanting the Name. This will purify the heart and then form, qualities and pastimes will manifest in the pure heart. He says that one can follow any order but he recommends to begin with the Name.

Beads and Japa

Question: I read that the individual beads that make up our mala, which we use to chant with, is meant to represent the 108 gopis – is that accurate? If not, what is the purpose of the beads – to focus our attention?

Answer: The purpose is to keep your mind on the mantra and also to chant a certain amount regularly. Otherwise one will be irregular. The beads are made of Tulasi, so it also keeps in touch with Tulasi Devi who is dear to Krsna. 108 is a mystical number. You can interpret it as gopis or Upanisads, or related with the number of breaths. According to numerology, it is the complete number, 1 plus 8 is equal to 9, so it brings completeness, or it links you with the Complete Person.


The Meaning and Purpose of Chanting

There is an interesting verse in Srimad Bhagavatam in regards to chanting: sanketyam parihasyam va stobham helanam eva va vaikuntha-nama-grahanam aseshagha-haram viduh: “One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins, even if he chants indirectly [to indicate something else], jokingly, for musical entertainment, or even neglectfully. This is accepted by all the learned scholars of the scriptures.” (SB 6.2.14). I was wondering if Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur has said something further on its meaning.

Answer:  He adds that none of these things should be offensive. Otherwise he only explains the meaning of these terms.

Question: As you know, many devotees of Krsna are lecturing and doing kirtan at various yoga studios in the USA and Europe. Some conservative devotees feel that we shouldn’t compromise our Vaisnava philosophy one iota while others are more liberal and are encouraging yogis to chant even if it has the above mentioned flaws. Any thoughts on this matter, specifically in regards to the above mentioned verse?

Answer: Well, the real thing is to know the purpose behind chanting. Its primary purpose is devotion to the Lord – to do it for His pleasure. It is not a means of entertainment, which is usually the case. Even many conservative devotees fall prey to this tendency.

The above mentioned verse is not an injunction to chant in this manner but an explanation of the power of the Name. You can chant in Yoga centers or wherever, if your intention is proper, and ultimately you should let it be known. Sometimes I also chant but I also explain the meaning and purpose of chanting.


Kirtan and Philosophy

Question: Namaskara, I have read the question and answers section of your web site with great interest. Coming from the Gaudiya Vaishnava parampara myself, in pursuance of my guru Sripad AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s teachings, sankirtan of the holy names of Sri Krsna is the yuga dharma in the age of Kali.  Although the philosophical precepts presented here are profound and deep and represent the true teachings of Sri Gadadhara Pandit, Sri Jiva Goswami et al, I don’t see any reference to or recommendation of the Sankirtan movement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu at this site.  Why is that?

Answer: My stress is on teaching shastra which is very much lacking in our sampradaya. There are hundreds of temples for doing kirtan but not a single place where people have the facility to study Gosvami literature. My Institute is open to all, but you know that not many people are interested in studying. It is very taxing for the brain. However it is necessary to maintain the siddhanta. Because we do not study shastra, and stress is given only on kirtan, there are so many deviations and branches, although we all claim to be followers of Mahaprabu and the Gosvamis. Srila Prabhupada also said – books are the basis. We interpret it to mean book distribution. But books are the basis for what? We need to study them to follow, teach and preach.

Every sampradaya has at least one place where you can go and study the literature of that sampradaya deeply. The Gaudiya sampradaya has no such place – only temples. Therefore I have created such a facility in Vrindavan.

Q: Thank you again for your kind reply.  Yes, I agree completely, that there seems to be a lack of true philosophical and ideological depth in most circles associated with the Gaudiya sampradaya and affiliates, and that is to be noted.  It is very essential and great work that you are doing therefore, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t think there is anything quite like your institute in presenting the depths of knowledge in the Gosvami literature.

My only question vis à vis sankirtan of the holy names of Sri Krsna, is that this was the central focus and matrix of the teachings of Mahaprabhu and his followers.  There must be a seamless binding of shastric knowledge and then sadhana of the holy names in order to be fully conversant with the siddhanta. If you, for example, go into the text of Sri Caitanya Caritamrta, then almost every chapter elucidates the Kali-yuga dharma of chanting the holy names of Ram and Krsna.  Verses that come to mind are as follows:

“kali-yuge yuga-dharma, namera pracara……..”
Sri Caitanya Caritamrta, Adi-lila 3.40
Namnam akari nija sarva shaktis…..” – Sri Siksashtikam, 2
yan myselfajnaih sankirtanaih prayair…..” – SB 11.5.32
“amanina manadena, kirtaniya sada harih……” – Sri Caitanya Caritamrta, Adi-lila 17.31
“kaler dosha nidhe rajan, asti hy eko mahan gunah; kirtanad eva krsnasya, mukta sanga param vrajet – SB 12.3.51
“krte yad dhyayato vishnum, tretayam yajato makhaih; dvapare paricaryayam, kalu tad hari-kirtanat ) – SB 12.3.52

There are as many verses as there are waves in a river describing the Kali-yuga dharma, Mahaprabhu’s mission, and the ultimate trajectory of the Goswami and all successor teachings in the parampara.

The nine processes of devotional service lists kirtanam as second in order, and thus without practicing it as regular sadhana, one cannot understand the intrinsic teachings of the shastras. There must be a connection between sadhana on the one hand, and then studying of shastras on the other.  They have to come hand in hand.  Sravanam comes first in order, but then second is kirtanam, and thus they are inseparable in so far as the substantive teachings of Mahaprabhu is concerned.

Please do not take my writing in the wrong way, as I have great respect for you and your mission and what you have accomplished thus far.  What I’ve written above is my understanding of the heart of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, and if I am wrong, I will stand corrected.  But I agree with you, that book distribution as emphasized by Prabhupada, means learning the essence of those books, for this you are doing great work, and I commend you.

Jiva Gosvami
Jiva Gosvami

A: I am not against kirtan. I do kirtan myself, and we even have music school where interested people learn kirtan. But my stress is on the philosophy behind kirtan. Lord Chaitanya’s life was full of kirtan but he sent his most intimate followers to Vrindavan, away from the kirtan atmosphere, to write literature about kirtan. What we now understand about Gaudiya Vaisnavism is from the gosvamis, not from those who did kirtan. Sadhana is most important, but for that the siddhanta must be clear. Improper knowledge leads to improper action, which gives improper results.

Kirtan can also be done in a proper and improper manner, and both will give two different results. I think the one is known to all, about the other hardly anyone has any idea. This is most amazing and sad fact. Do you think all those who do kirtan do it properly or even have an idea about it?

Chanting the Holy Names

Question: I have a question regarding the following verse: sanketyam parihasyam va stobham helanam eva va vaikuntha-nama-grahanam aseshagha-haram viduh: “One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins, even if he chants indirectly [to indicate something else], jokingly, for musical entertainment, or even neglectfully. This is accepted by all the learned scholars of the scriptures.” (SB 6.2.14) Srila Prabhupada does not give a commentary on this verse and I was wondering if Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur has said something further on its meaning.

Answer: He adds that none of these things should be offensive. Otherwise he only explains the meaning of these terms.

Q: As you know, many devotees of Krsna are lecturing and doing kirtan at various studios in the USA and Europe.  Some conservative devotees feel that we shouldn’t compromise our Vaisnava philosophy one iota while others are more liberal and are encouraging yogis to chant even if it has the above mentioned flaws.  Any thoughts on this matter, specifically in regards to the above mentioned verse?

A: Well, the real thing is to know the purpose behind chanting. Its primary purpose is devotion to the Lord – to do it for His pleasure. It is not a means of entertainment, which is usually the case. Even many conservative devotees fall prey to this tendency.

The above mentioned verse is not an injunction to chant in this manner but an explanation of the power of the name. You can chant in Yoga centers or wherever, if your intention is proper, and ultimately you should let it be known. Sometimes I also chant but I also explain the meaning and purpose of chanting.