“One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 20.21)
You see a group of people singing and dancing all day. They don’t have “real” jobs. They don’t pursue interests of this world, such as fame, money, women, wine, and travel. Rather, they chant a specific mantra all the time, maintaining oceanic smiles on their faces. They say they are in love with God, practicing devotion to Him. They must lack knowledge, you think. They must not be very smart; otherwise they would follow a different path. From the teachings of Lord Chaitanya, we see that just the opposite is true. To be able to chant the holy name of the Lord all the time requires that one be extremely knowledgeable.
And what does that knowledge pertain to? Does the person who chants the holy name always win trivia contests? Do they score the most money on television game shows, like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune? Do they hold advanced degrees from prestigious universities? Do they know how to solve complex math equations without requiring much time? Are they skilled in physics and can engineer complex solutions like bridges, tunnels, gateways, and mechanical devices?
Any or all of these conditions may exist, but what makes the devotee knowledgeable is their understanding of the self. The self is the spirit. It is above matter. Matter cannot touch spirit. The vital difference between the two is that spirit has consciousness while matter lacks it. Matter is like the shirt I am presently wearing. I can take it off and wear another one. That shift will not alter my identity. Perhaps others may temporarily identify me in a different way, but ultimately my identity as an individual does not change.
“The difference between matter and spirit is that matter has no consciousness like the living entity; therefore this consciousness is supreme and eternal. Consciousness cannot be produced by a combination of matter.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.22 Purport)
The person who always chants the holy name also understands that all spirit has a source. That source’s name is Govinda, who is also known as the cause of all causes, sarva karana karanam. The sparks of individual spirit are known as Brahman, and Govinda is Parabrahman. There is a relationship between the two. One is subordinate and one is superior. The relationship always exists in this way, even if the subordinate lacks knowledge of their position.
To always chant the holy name of the Lord, one must think that they are lower than the blade of grass. If you think you are very high, it means that you don’t really know who you are. If you are proud of your abilities, it means that you don’t know that your abilities come from a higher power. One may be proud of their parentage and the estate they inherited from their ancestors, but what role did they play in acquiring these? I did not choose my parents. I did not choose my place of birth. I did not choose to have a certain feature set. I did not get a say in how my face would look to others. Therefore how can I be proud of any of these things?
The person in knowledge considers themselves to be lower than the blade of grass because they know that everything they have comes from God. They also know that devotion to Him is the only way to find true happiness. They think that if they were really devoted to Him, they wouldn’t commit so many mistakes. In this way they accurately assess their own effort, considering themselves to be lacking the proper motivation, even after knowing so much about the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The person who always chants the holy name is more tolerant than the tree. Again, why wouldn’t they be? Only a person in true knowledge understands the difficulties that others face. I may have a certain way of doing things, specific preferences for eating, sleeping, travel and leisure. If I am not very wise, I will impose those preferences on others, not taking the time to consider that others might have their own preferences. The devotee understands that everyone is struggling hard in this material world, which is the inferior energy.
“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.7)
Since others are struggling, there should be tolerance. Not everyone will understand that life is meant for serving God, that the human birth is most auspicious and comes rarely, after so much time. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also says that the person who chants the holy name always extends honor to others but never expects it for themselves. I only demand honor if I don’t know the true nature of this world. I insist that others respect me only when my ego is too puffed up. If I truly know God and His merciful nature, then I understand that others are waiting to become perfect devotees, far superior to me. I know God and I still don’t fully devote my life to Him, whereas others don’t know Him very well and are thus innocent.
With these qualifications one can always chant the holy names. Indeed, there needn’t be a separate endeavor, as the power of the holy name is such that all knowledge is revealed to the person who is attached to it. For this reason Lord Chaitanya did not speak much philosophy; He stressed the chanting of the holy name: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Devotee humble because to them known,
That results not from personal effort alone.
Considering lower than the grass’s blade,
From there all respects to others paid.
Personal honor for themselves not to expect,
False ego born of ignorance to reject.
From that position towards chanting going,
Potency of the holy name fully knowing.