“Raising my hands, I declare, ‘Everyone please hear me! String this verse on the thread of the holy name and wear it on your neck for continuous remembrance.’” (Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.32)
Names, account numbers, social security numbers, dates of birth, and phone numbers are different identifiers which point to a person or entity in the business and educational worlds. Since these values are easier to remember and unique enough to account for overlap, they serve as ideal identifiers. But a simple name or similar value doesn’t necessarily tell us everything about the person it belongs to. Rather, identities are based on qualities, activities, and attributes. Since a person can live for a long time, the sum total of these features can be difficult to remember and describe at one time. Therefore more compact identifiers are used by others when addressing such personalities. While there are complexities involved in the descriptions of the average individual, there is one person whose activities are limitless and beyond description. Since this person is the Supreme Loveable Object, He kindly provides us with different identifiers to use to gain His association. Of all the different identifiers for the Supreme Divine Entity, there is one string of characters which serves as the most complete address, a callout which can never be mistaken with any other person or entity.
To help us understand the purpose behind the use of identifiers, let’s take the simple example of a credit card. Charge cards are issued by banks who hope to turn a profit through lending money. A credit card allows for purchases to be made without having to pay cash up front. There is an inherent promise to pay from the cardholder with each transaction. At some point in each month, the billing cycle day, a cardholder receives their statement, which lists the amount due on their account and the date the payment must be received by. Since a bank issues many credit cards, they need a system of record which holds information about the cardholders and their purchases. Moreover, this system must allow for customers to quickly and accurately update, delete, and access various aspects of their account information. On the business side of things, the system of record, which is a database management system, allows for a variety of business intelligence operations such as key performance indicator reporting, trending, data mining, and profit and loss analysis.
When an individual applies for a new credit card, they fill out various pieces of information such as their name, address, phone number, date of birth, and social security number. Out of all of these values, the social security number is the most unique; yet this alone isn’t used to identify the issued credit card. Since one person may hold more than one credit card, in the system of record each card will have the same social security number. Obviously when the bank wants to store information about a particular card, they will input all the values given to them by the customer. So in actuality, the most accurate identifying information for each credit card would be the collective sequence of the different values inputted, such as the social, name, address, etc.
When inputting information for a new credit card, the combination of these different values will be necessary and sufficient in identifying the credit card. But what if we want to access information later on? What if during a specific transaction at a merchant, the system of record wants to access that specific card and be able to create a new transaction record which stores the amount, location, and date of purchase? Looking up the credit card based on the combination of name, social, address, and date of birth would be an expensive operation from the database perspective. The operation is made more difficult when additional records are introduced into the system. We can think of it in this way: Say that all this information was stored on paper in files, and say that we had over one million different accounts at a particular bank. If we wanted to look up information for a specific account in a matter of seconds, it would be nearly impossible if we had to match all the values for name, social, and address. Even if our paper records were filed based on the sequence of names, i.e. alphabetically, this sorting wouldn’t help with the matching of social security number and address.
Due to these complexities, bank cards, and any establishment that uses a database management system, will issue unique identifiers at the time of creation for an account. When the account is first entered into the system, it is issued an account number, something which uniquely identifies the specific combination of values submitted by the cardholder. This account number is often simply an identity value which is incremented by a set number with every insert. For example, the first account holder would get account number “1”, the next person “2”, the next “3”, and so on. This account number is then used for all transactions and historical analysis. When there is a point of sale transaction, it is the account number that is validated. In a database system, in the specific table an index is created on these account numbers, which makes the lookup operation lightning fast.
In this way, we see that the account number is simply a representation of a specific set of values or attributes. The account number directly associates to a specific person, their charges, and their personal information. This sort of identifying technique is used in all areas of life. For example, the page number of a book uniquely identifies all the words contained on a specific page. If we read something of interest on a particular page, we would never tell our friends, “Hey, go to the page which has the following words…” For starters, it is highly unlikely that we would remember the exact words on a specific page. Secondly, it would be nearly impossible for another person to find a page by trying to match all of the words on it. The page number is a much more concise, and still accurate, identifier for the information contained on a specific page. Thus there is no difference between the number of a page and the words the page contains.
In a similar manner, the name of the Supreme Lord is considered non-different from Him. Our own names identify our activities, times of birth, and attributes. For an individual, it is almost impossible to accurately account for every activity and attribute, so the name serves as a way to describe and identify their activities. For the Supreme Lord, an entity who has every auspicious attribute imaginable, the task of accurately describing His relevant features becomes even more difficult. Therefore the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, refer to Him by thousands of names. The names which most accurately describe Him, however, are Krishna and Bhagavan. Krishna means all-attractive; so this points to the Divine Entity’s ability to attract the hearts and minds of every individual in existence. Bhagavan means that the Lord possesses every fortune imaginable, to the fullest degree and simultaneously. He is the wisest, strongest, most beautiful, wealthiest, most famous, and most renounced person in the universe.
The name of God is non-different from Him. Therefore, when we call out to Krishna, we are directly addressing the Lord. Similarly, the name Rama refers to His ability to give transcendental pleasure. This name also refers to His non-different expansion of Lord Ramachandra. Though the name of God is non-different from Him, there are some limitations to this name. This point of view generally isn’t noted, for the name of the Lord is certainly sacred and free of defects. The limitation is actually from the point of view of the conditioned living entity. The name of the Lord identifies Him, and since God is free of defects, so are His names. Yet if we do a careful analysis, we’ll see that there is actually a more accurate way to directly address God that doesn’t leave any room for error or misunderstanding.
As mentioned before, a name serves as an accurate identifier. If someone calls us by our name or invokes our name in the company of others, our associated facial features, speaking voice, physical appearance, and activities immediately come to mind. There is an issue, however, if someone else possesses the same name. This occurs quite often with common last names in America such as Smith, Johnson, Rodriguez, and Jones. In India, last names such as Patel, Singh, and Sharma are also very common. If many people are identified with the same combination of first and last names, the resulting full name loses its individuality and hence some of its value. In these instances, other attribute values are required, such as a date of birth, middle name, or age, to make an accurate identification.
“Ajamila was a great sinner during his life, but at the time of death he accidentally called for his youngest son, whose name was Narayana, and the attendants of Lord Vishnu came to relieve him from the bonds of Yamaraja, the superintendent of death.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 3.57)
The names of God are often given to children by parents who are spiritually conscious. This is actually done out of love for the Lord. Since the name of Krishna is non-different from Him, if a parent names their child Krishna or Rama, they will essentially be saying the name of God all the time. If we happen to say this name at the time of death, we will immediately be granted liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Our bodies are certainly not ever-existing, but our souls are. The soul goes through reincarnation, one birth after another, until it sincerely desires Krishna’s association in the spiritual world. When desires are purified, the soul is immediately taken back to the spiritual world. The sincerity of these desires is measured at the time of death. If one’s consciousness is fixed on Krishna as the life breath is about to leave the body, they will immediately be transported to the spiritual sky, where they will remain forever. By naming their children after Krishna or one of His various expansions, parents increase the likelihood that they will say the Lord’s name at the time of death, as was the case with the famous Ajamila, who called out to his son Narayana [another name for Krishna] at the time of death and was thus saved from going to hell.
There is actually one small limitation to the practice of naming children after God. Goswami Tulsidas, the great devotee of Lord Rama, accurately points this out in his Dohvali. The issue arises when the child named after God later turns out to be a miscreant or a non-devotee. If someone is an enemy of God, the good people of the world will not want to associate with them, even if they are named after Krishna, Rama, or a great devotee like Hanuman. And since the name of a person identifies them, if a pious person were to see or hear the name of such a miscreant, they would not want to say it or even think of it. Tulsidas references this effect to emphasize just how strong a negative influence the miscreants of the world can have on the rest of society. Essentially he says that a rascal is such a nefarious character that even if they are named after God, no one will want to say their name or think of them. Since they are the lowest of mankind, they make the pure devotees of the world hesitant to say or look at their name.
Tulsidas is indeed correct, for if there is someone who we don’t particularly like, seeing their name will put is in a bad mood. We have actually experienced this in our personal life, where we have had the misfortune of reading commentaries on spirituality made by Mayavadis and non-devotees who had such names as Hanuman, Krishna, Ramachandra, etc. They have been given such beautiful names by their parents, but their influence on others is so negative that simply by seeing their names, one is turned off. This certainly isn’t a defect in the name, but rather a flaw in the person and their activities. In this way, Tulsidas tells us to strictly avoid the association of such people, for they even give God a bad name.
The names of the Lord are certainly accurate identifiers, but we see that there are small limitations in the way that the name is invoked by others. Luckily for us, there is one foolproof address, a string of words that can be used to call out to the Lord. This collection of words isn’t very long, so it is easy to remember. Moreover, it can never be misidentified with impersonalism, the plea for material gains, the desire for merging into an energy, or even the acquisition of yogic siddhis. This string of sixteen words addresses the Lord in a kind and loving way. It asks the Lord and His energy for their association for eternity. Thus it forms the perfect prayer, and at the same time accurately identifies the Lord’s most important and unique attribute: His mercy. Since this collection of words is composed in Sanskrit and can be sung or spoken in different tunes, it is also known as a mantra. Since it is the greatest prayer, it is known as the maha-mantra. Anyone who chants this mantra regularly will be forever benefitted.
There are certainly many Vedic mantras, which each address the Lord in different ways. A mantra is simply a series of words which are uttered for a purpose, a phrase which delivers the mind from a precarious condition. In this world, we often find ourselves in a variety of difficult situations, but the root cause of all problems is our separation in consciousness from the Lord. By chanting the maha-mantra, the mind and the soul can be delivered from this worst of conditions. Therefore, for the people of this age, the only recommended spiritual practice is the chanting of the sacred formula, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This holy sequence of words represents the Lord and His pleasure potencies completely and fully. Every attribute, pastime, feature, and activity of the Lord is included in this greatest of identifiers. Through regular chanting of this mantra, there can be no mistaking who we are addressing and what we are asking for. This transcendental sound vibration immediately reaches the spiritual world and lets the Lord know that we earnestly desire His association. Hearing such an honest plea, He will most certainly deliver us.