“There is no difference between the holy name of the Lord and the Lord Himself. As such, the holy name is as perfect as the Lord Himself in fullness, purity and eternity. The holy name is no material sound vibration, nor has it any material contamination.” (Padma Purana)
Of all the religious practices that currently exist and have ever existed in the past, the most effective, according to the Vedas, is the chanting of mantras. A mantra is a sequence of words, a set of sound vibrations repeated in order to achieve a desired result, or an effect. The word itself is a compound Sanskrit word consisting of “man” and “tra”. The “man” part refers to the mind and “tra” refers to deliverance or protection. Thus a mantra is something which delivers the mind from an unpalatable condition. While mantras are very popular amongst religionists, yogis, transcendentalists, and devotees of God around the world, not all of them are the same. To understand the difference between the various mantras and to decipher which ones are legitimate, a study of words themselves is required.
Words are important. Words mean things. These facts are quite obvious but sometimes forgotten. Speaking is such a common activity that it is almost performed involuntarily. As soon as a thought comes to our mind, we want to verbalize it. When a person is considered fluent in a particular language, it means they can speak without thinking about the right words to use. Sometimes if we are in a foreign country or forced to speak in a language unfamiliar to us, before speaking we’ll have to pause for a second or two. The beginning of the speech pattern is the same; we’ll have a thought or idea in our head. The difference is that the mind’s language will be that which we are most comfortable with. In order to speak in the required language of the situation, we’ll have to mentally translate our thoughts before speaking.
Once our ideas finally come out in an audible form, the exact words we choose make a huge difference. Words convey ideas, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Some words are so powerful that people refrain from using them. Some words can cause so much offense and harm to others that they are deemed unacceptable for common conversation. There is no area where words play a greater importance than in the discipline of law. Since governments today codify all of their edicts and law codes, the written word plays a significant role. This is because laws can remain on the books for years and years. I may be a member of the government today and come up with a new law, but it is likely that the term of the law will far surpass my time on earth. This is especially true of framework governing documents like the Constitution of the United States of America. The Constitution was written at the time of the country’s founding, 1787, and yet it is still quoted, referenced, and analyzed to this day. Therefore the framers of the Constitution, those deciding which laws were the most important, had to carefully pick and choose just the right words to ensure that their ideas were conveyed properly.
When writing any important document, there is an editing process. When a person or group of people sit down to write an important document, law code, story, book, essay, article, or song, they are bound to make mistakes the first time around. These “errors” are labeled as such by the authors themselves, for there is really no such thing as a mistaken word. Words are just sound vibrations after all, so there is nothing faulty about them. The fault actually lies with the usage of the words in relation to the ideas and tone the author is trying to put forward. After an initial draft is written, the writer will go back and make many edits, which often result in the change of words. Goswami Tulsidas, one of the most famous religious poets in history, paid special attention to meter, rhythm, and tone when composing his devotional poems in praise of Lord Shri Rama, a famous incarnation of Godhead. Tulsidas was a great devotee of Rama, so obviously none of his words of praise for the Lord were faulty. Yet the saint wanted to choose just the right words, the proper sequence of sound vibrations, so as to produce the desired effect of praise for the Lord in a harmonious and emotion-evoking tone.
Since written laws stay on the books for so long, the words that are used are of utmost importance. The legal field involves a form of cheating. Regardless of the nature of a specific law, there are bound to be those who disagree with it. In these instances, the dissenters will hire lawyers to help make the case that the text of the law actually affirms their position. The Supreme Court of the United States hears cases that deal with these issues all the time. For example, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that government cannot take private property from any individual unless the property being taken will be used for public use. The citizen must also be duly compensated for the value of their property. This practice falls under the rubric of eminent domain. It is common knowledge that the framers who authored the amendment did so with the intention that government could only seize land in cases where they needed to build a road, bridge, highway, etc. “Public use” was meant to convey the idea of public property. Recently, however, a specific case relating to eminent domain reached the Supreme Court. This case, Kelo v. City of New London, dealt with a local government seizing private property for the purpose of allowing a private developer group to build a hotel, health club, and offices on the same land. The local government cited eminent domain as their legal justification for their action. The Supreme Court ended up agreeing that the government was allowed to do what they did because the increased tax revenue that would come from economic development constituted a “public use.” Ironically enough, after the land was seized, the private developer was unable to follow through on their plans.
So we see that just a few simple words interpreted a certain way can provide a completely different meaning. If the framers had provided a little more clarity, maybe the verdict in the Kelo case would have been different. Then again, more words would have given dissenters more opportunities to bend and shape meanings. This is the nature of law, for each side will do whatever they can to win their argument. A good lawyer is one who can ostensibly cheat the written word in his favor.
Words take on an even greater importance in spiritual life. If the Constitution remains the governing document of the United States after several centuries, we can just imagine how much more important the written law codes of the Vedas, which have been around since the beginning of time, are. While there are so many different religious systems in existence, with different ultimate conclusions and prescriptions for achieving perfection in life, the Vedas are unique in that they actually provide us names for the ultimate object of worship, the Supreme Entity. Rather than refer to this Almighty person with a generic name such as “God”, the Vedas give us words, or sound vibrations, which reference different features of the Lord and His different activities. Of all the different names, only one, Krishna, references every opulence and every feature possessed by the transcendent, all-merciful, all-powerful Supreme Lord. Since Krishna is the topmost name, He is referred to as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
All Vedic rituals involve the chanting of mantras. In the Vedic tradition, a ritual is referred to as a yajna, which means sacrifice; sort of. A sacrifice is the voluntary separation or donation of something valuable. A yajna is a more specific type of sacrifice; a ritual where the objects being sacrificed are given to the Supreme Lord or a heavenly figure. The entire purpose of a yajna is to satisfy Vishnu, or God. Lord Vishnu is just another name for God which references His four-handed form as the all-pervading, all-opulent Lord of the universe. Since there is no difference between Krishna and Vishnu, we can also say that the yajna is done for Krishna’s satisfaction.
There are different kinds of sacrifice. While Vishnu is the ultimate enjoyer of the yajna, the purposes for the performance of the sacrifice can vary. Sometimes a person may want progeny, a beautiful wife, material wealth, or the cure to some disease. Of all the different benedictions one can receive, none is higher than the direct association of the Lord. In material endeavors, romantic love is considered the highest engagement, that activity which provides the greatest enjoyment. The key ingredient in romance is association, the meeting of the parties who are in love. In a similar manner, the highest transcendental activity is the meeting of the subordinate living entity with its ultimate object of pleasure. The Vedic seers, the great saints who devoted themselves to Krishna’s service, have summarized the aim of life into three simple objectives: the realization that Krishna is the original owner of everything, the best friend of the living entities, and the supreme enjoyer. When Krishna enjoys, He does so with other living entities. In this way, not only does God enjoy, but so do those He enjoys with. Thus we see that not only is Krishna the supreme enjoyer, but He is also the supreme object of pleasure for the conditioned living entities trapped in an endless cycle of reincarnation.
Based on these facts, we see that service to Krishna, connecting with the Supreme Lord, is the topmost activity. Whichever activity brings the greatest amount of pleasure, the supreme enjoyment, must be considered the most worthwhile. Not surprisingly, achieving this association with the Lord involves the chanting of mantras. These mantras consist of words, the proper selection of which makes all the difference. For yajnas which are aimed at providing subpar results, or inferior enjoyment, the mantras used must also be considered secondary in stature. This points to the fact that not all mantras are the same. A mantra contains words after all, and these words are transcendental sound vibrations which represent various manifestations of the Supreme Lord. God is everything, but everything is not God. God is the dirt on the ground and the rain in the sky, but the rain and the dirt are not God. Therefore one cannot simply chant the words “dirt” and “rain” and expect to be in God’s association. One who does so will be associating with a separated expansion of the Supreme Lord, something which is part of His inferior energy. Association with inferior energy not only brings inferior enjoyment, but it keeps one firmly attached to the grand representation of the inferior energy: the material world.
Krishna is completely spiritual, so in order to associate with Him one must chant mantras which contain words which reference Him or one of His direct expansions. Of all the various mantras, the one considered most efficacious for the people of this age is the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This mantra consists only of three distinct words: Hare, Krishna, and Rama. Hare refers to God’s energy, the embodiment of pleasure-giving power, the eternal servant of the Lord. Krishna refers to God’s all-attractive, original form. Rama refers to Krishna’s ability to give transcendental pleasure. Rama also references Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s most celebrated incarnations, a divine figure worshiped by millions to this day.
Why is this mantra more powerful than others? Those who chant this mantra are considered practitioners of sankirtana-yajna. Unlike other sacrifices, this chanting sacrifice is not aimed at producing any material results. Material results have unintended negative consequences, the worst of which is attachment to the temporary and miserable material world. Sankirtana-yajna involving the maha-mantra is free of any defects; it does not provide any unwanted results. Moreover, it purifies the chanter of all unwanted desires and feelings. This means that one may start off chanting this mantra with a desire for a personal benefit, but through connecting with Hara, Krishna, and Rama, those desires are soon forgotten. In this way, Hare Krishna ends up being the perfect prayer, the only mantra ever worth reciting. The transcendental sound vibrations contained within are a cry for help, a sincere call to the complete whole, the Lord of the universe, to come associate with the contrite living entities who have spent so much time forgetting such a merciful master. This mantra should be the only religious practice; our lifeline and only means of salvation. This mantra is the mother, the father, the king, the spiritual master, and the giver of pleasure. Those who take this mantra as their life and soul will become fluent in the most important language, the language of transcendental love.