The Home of Dharma

Lord Rama“Just as within the earth are found every kind of seed and within the sky live all the stars, Tulsidas knows that Shri Rama’s holy name is the reservoir of all dharma.” (Dohavali, 29)

jathā bhūmi saba bījamaya nakhata nivāsa akāsa |
rāmanāma saba dharamamaya jānata tulasīdāsa ||

The sound vibrations that emanate from the chanting of the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are so infectious that they can mesmerize people of any age and any religious persuasion. Someone could have never heard of Lord Krishna, the beautiful youth with a bluish complexion holding a flute in His hands and wearing a peacock feather in His hair, before and still be drawn to chanting this mantra over and over again. They may have no idea who Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty and greatest bow warrior this earth has ever seen, is or why His name is addressed so many times in a sequence of words repeated over and over again accompanied by the beating of mrdangas, the clapping of karatalas, and the dancing of spiritually infused devotees not ashamed to share their true emotions, those found deep within the heart. While to the uninformed it may seem that the act of chanting itself is what causes the wonderful effects, the key ingredient is actually the words within the mantra. Not that any word can just be repeated over and over again to get the same effects, the names of Krishna and Rama have deep meaning; they are the reservoir of all goodness.

Lord KrishnaAre there people who claim that you can just chant any word and elicit the same emotional response? And if they did, how can they be wrong? Isn’t God one? Doesn’t His mercy apply to every single person, regardless of their background? If He is universally benevolent, how can He be limited to just one or two names? God certainly is for everyone, but this doesn’t mean that just any process can be used to connect with Him. The hands, legs, stomach, and eyes play specific roles in maintaining the body of the human being. The eyes can’t be used to hear and the hands can’t be used to digest food. They are both equally part of the body but they each operate according to their abilities.

The same principle applies to sound vibrations, and, more specifically, words. Words mean things. Just by uttering certain words you can cause emotional harm to someone else. Some words are so bad that they are not used in common conversation. On the other hand, some words are so beautiful that they bring delight to the person hearing them. If this applies to our general conversations, why would it be absent in spiritual life?

pencils, booksThe Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, were originally known as the shrutis, or “that which is heard”. School children sing the song of “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks”, at the end of the school year, but such a song couldn’t apply to the early periods of the earth’s creation. There weren’t any books to get rid of. No pencils either. Information was passed down through aural reception, and since man was so pure in thought, he could hear Vedic wisdom just one time and remember everything. More than just tape recorder like technology, the mind could assimilate the presented truths in a very short amount of time.

Since hearing was so powerful, the content of the information being disseminated had to be carefully crafted as well. Just as in communications we use certain words to properly express our ideas, the truths of spiritual life – which include the eternality of the soul, its position relative to the material and spiritual lands, and its inherent link to the Supreme Personality of Godhead – are best presented through sound vibrations that are the most complete in terms of the information they carry. A seemingly miraculous effect evidenced since the beginning of time is the ability of small words, which represent names at their core, to bring the association of the Personality of Godhead.

Lord KrishnaBy personality we refer to God as a person, someone who is an individual just like us. Rather than accept this information through logical deduction and a series of experiments, we can take it as fact from authority figures, those respected acharyas who follow Vedic teachings to the letter. Even easier than this method is simply hearing certain sound vibrations, select names passed down through the sacred hymns of the Vedas. Though God is never limited to only one name, since He has unlimited attributes, He is addressed in a loving way by the people that know Him. In order to address someone properly, we’ll reference their qualities, pastimes, and how they are related to us. Similarly, to address God, the devotees use names that reference the Lord’s wonderful qualities.

Of the many names assigned to God over the years, Krishna and Rama are considered the most complete. Lord Vishnu is the Supreme Lord in charge of the creation, for He simply exhales once and introduces the many universes and their component objects. Vishnu is the same person most of us refer to as God. He is the very figure whose existence the atheists deny, and the person cursed at by the scorned fruitive workers drowning in misfortune. It is said that reciting the thousand names of Vishnu brings all auspiciousness in one’s life, for the holy name is non-different from the person it addresses. The formal ritual of reciting Vishnu’s thousand names is thus done primarily for the purpose of connecting with God. The promise of auspiciousness is just there as a side effect, for how can one have inauspiciousness if they are linked to the Supreme Lord in love?

Lord RamaSaying the holy name of Rama once is as good as reciting the thousand names of Vishnu. Lord Rama is the incarnation of Vishnu who roamed the earth during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Not just a folk hero who later got tagged with “God” status, Rama’s divinity is mentioned in the shastras, or scriptures. He didn’t go around this earth claiming to be the Supreme Ruler either. Through His actions, He fulfilled His promise to annihilate the miscreants and reestablish the true principles of religion, or dharma.

Saying the holy name of Krishna is equivalent to reciting Rama’s name three times. Krishna refers to Shyamasundara, the two armed, most attractive form of the Lord. Krishna is taken to be either an incarnation of Vishnu who roamed the earth around five thousand years ago or the original Lord Himself. In this way Krishna and Rama are the most important names to recite. The devotees of Rama do not abandon His name even though it is said that Krishna’s name is more powerful. Rather, the apparent deficiency places an added emphasis on repeated chanting. Because of the glory of the two names, it is not surprising that they would form the core of the maha-mantra, the one sequence of words that can best evoke God consciousness within the soul, the individual identifiable aspect of every living being.

Lord KrishnaWhat results from chanting the maha-mantra in full earnest? For starters, the effects of the senses get gradually mitigated. This is indeed very difficult to do without outside help. Chanting, which forms the bedrock of the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is seemingly easy to take up, but actually convincing the mind of the worthiness of the endeavor is very difficult. To use an example, in order to lose weight, we just have to eat less. It’s a simple formula: create a calorie deficit each day, which means that you have to burn more calories than you take in. The easiest way to do this is to just eat less food.

This is easier said than done, however. Put food in front of us and we’ll likely eat it until it’s all gone. Then there are cravings for food containing fat and sugar, for these ingredients add taste. Therefore, even though curbing food intake itself does not require any skill, convincing the mind of the need to follow this line of behavior is very difficult. Thus other tools are invoked, such as exercise, diet pills, and strategic eating, where only certain foods are eaten at certain times. These other paths are much more difficult to implement, but in the end they have the same effect as limiting overall food intake.

Lord KrishnaIn a similar manner, convincing the mind of the need to surrender unto the personal form of God and chant His names in a loving way is the largest obstacle to overcome in the march towards self-realization. Lest we think this is an exaggeration, it is this aversion to divine love that serves as the root cause of the creation. If everyone were open to bhakti-yoga, there would be no need for a material realm, where loss follows every gain. As soon as there is acceptance, rejection must follow. This applies to every single aspect of life, including the body itself. As soon as there is birth, there must be death. This fact was revealed by Lord Krishna at the outset of His famous discourse on spirituality delivered on the battlefield of Kurukshetra many thousands of years ago.

“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)

What other processes are taken up besides bhakti? To those who don’t know the magic behind divine love, just the results of bhakti practice are noted, with the aim then being to find other ways to reach the same end. The devotee immersed in God consciousness through chanting and abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life [meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex] is happy, detached from the senses, kind to everyone, and, most importantly, on a fast track to the spiritual land, a place where Krishna’s association never has to be rejected. The imitator not wanting to accept bhakti will try to downplay the effectiveness of chanting the names of Krishna and Rama. “Oh, you can just chant any names, it doesn’t matter. Hari is a word that means the “remover of distress”, so whatever name you chant that can remove your pain is your Harinama.” This is a dangerous, erroneous and completely bogus assessment. “Hari” is a Sanskrit word that can have several different meanings, but when used in the term “Harinama”, it refers to the holy name of the Lord. When Hari is used to address Vishnu, it refers to the Lord who removes the distresses of His devotees. When used to describe bhakti or chanting, the term “Harinama” does not refer to anyone except Vishnu or His non-different forms.

Lord VishnuRemembering that “words mean things”, if we want to call out to our friend, we have to address them by their name. We can’t just call out any word and expect them to know that we are trying to get their attention. We can’t send a letter in the mail and write down any address and expect to have it delivered to our intended destination. We can’t pick up the phone and dial a random set of numbers and expect to have our friend pick up on the other line. In the same way, just any sound vibration cannot be used to connect with the Supreme Lord. The names of Vishnu, or Hari, passed down in the Vedic texts have specific meanings. They give life to the Harinama process. Without Vishnu and His names, there is no real efficacy in any religious process.

This is the point made by Goswami Tulsidas in the above referenced verse from the Dohavali. He says that just as the earth is the reservoir of the many seeds used to grow plants and the sky the home of the numerous stars, the holy name of Shri Rama is the reservoir of all dharma, or religiosity. Bhakti-yoga is the real dharma of the soul; hence the discipline is also known as sanatana-dharma or bhagavata-dharma. The essential characteristic of something is its dharma. The procedures used to activate and maintain that characteristic can also be referred to as dharma; hence the common correlation between dharma and religion.

starry nightThe different methods that mimic bhakti practices and are used to receive some of the same results found in bhakti are also types of dharma. There is meditation, study of Vedanta philosophy, fruitive work with the results renounced, and a host of other more targeted methods of spirituality. They each have their place and can prove to be effective in helping one reach the bhakti platform, but they are not fully potent without the holy name. The seeds in the ground are wonderful because from them come the plant life and fruits we need to maintain our lives. Though the seed is so wonderful, it is meaningless without the soil. Moreover, just having a few seeds cannot compare to having the full earth which contains all the seeds. It’s like having a small quantity of honey versus having the entire jar that is full of honey. Obviously having the full jar is more important. The same holds true with the stars in the sky. A few stars are wonderful in their brilliance, but the sky is more important because it holds all the stars.

The many types of dharma practiced over the years are important in their own right, but one who has the holy name of Rama doesn’t need anything else. From the name they acquire detachment, kindness, and pure love for God. These rewards are unmatched in their brilliance. They are the different end goals of the various other dharmas practiced. Notice that Tulsidas doesn’t say that any name is the reservoir of dharma. He doesn’t say that chanting a sound vibration or meditating on a mantra is the pinnacle of religious practice. He specifically mentions Rama and His name because these are non-different from the Personality of Godhead. You can’t just chant a guru’s name over and over again and expect to have Krishna or Rama’s association. The guru is the representative of God who teaches the disciple how to chant properly and which names to use. He never becomes God himself, especially if he presents bogus definitions of Harinama and tells his disciples that they can just chant whatever they want and expect to get the ultimate benefit in life.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)

But aren’t there many holy names that represent divine personalities? In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the same Lord Rama but in a different outward, spiritual manifestation, reveals that whatever state of being the departing soul remembers at the time of death, that state they will attain without fail. Therefore if we chant the names of other divine personalities who are not equal to the Personality of Godhead, the best we can hope for is their association in the next life. Since their homes are not eternal, the cycle of birth and death will roll on. Lord Vishnu and His forms live in the spiritual sky of Vaikuntha, and Krishna in the same realm but on the planet of Goloka Vrindavana. This planetary system does not suffer destruction; therefore residence there is eternal. It would make sense that the Personality of Godhead’s land would inherit the Lord’s qualities of eternality and bliss. This is why the vishnu-tattva names represent real Harinama and chanting them is what constitutes real bhakti.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, HanumanThe holy name is the home of religion. One who lives in it need not be concerned with any other regulative principle. One doesn’t need to be Hindu to be attracted to chanting the holy names either. Moreover, reciting the maha-mantra does not violate any religious principle nor does it break the allegiance to a particular spiritual tradition. What harm can there be in taking shelter of the complete dharma, the resting place of every system of maintenance? The aim of following a particular system is to receive a specific benefit, to further an end. If all of those ends can be attained in just one place, why would we bother taking the circuitous route? Tulsidas, as a wise Vedic seer armed with both practical experience and knowledge inherited from authority figures, knew what he was talking about. For religious practices to have efficacy, they need a home. Without finding the proper home, the mind will continue to speculate on the nature of the world and the meaning to life. As the true answer will never be found through this method, the mind will never be at peace. On the other hand, he who takes shelter of Rama’s holy name can rest comfortably knowing that they have the whole world available to them.

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