“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 quoted from The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 13)
“Chant the holy names. The holy name is non-different from the Supreme Lord. There are four distinct aspects to God that are of relevance to us. They are nama, rupa, guna and lila. Name, form, qualities and pastimes. The idea is that we don’t have to speculate about the Almighty. He does not have to be relegated to an imaginary figure that we have a hope of seeing only in the afterlife. He has endless variety and nuance, and He appears ever fresh and new.
“The people living in the present age of Kali get the tremendous benefit of having everything necessary come to them simply through chanting. The name itself contains the form, qualities and pastimes. The realization comes through steady chanting, so always try to say and hear the name of Krishna as much as possible. Make a routine of chanting the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Those who are familiar with Vaishnava philosophy, the devotional culture focused on God the person, have likely heard this recommendation before. The exact name is not so important. The key is to connect with the Almighty through sound. The more the name addresses God in His personal feature, the greater the effect the chanting has. Though devotion should be spontaneous and done with great enthusiasm, the teachers recommend a routine at first. The concept is known as numerical strength.
There is strength in numbers. This strength garners attention and respect as well. Consider the streak in professional sports. In baseball, the objective for the batter is to get on base. The way to earn your way on base is to hit the ball thrown by the pitcher. Hit the ball somewhere on the field where the nine people on the defensive side can’t catch or field the ball in time to throw you out at first base, which is ninety feet away from where you first strike the ball.
The rules of baseball are designed in such a way that getting a hit is difficult. If you are successful thirty percent of the time, then you are one of the top tier batters. You can also get on base by a walk or a hit-by-pitch. Both of these are considered mistakes by the pitcher, so the batter doesn’t get much credit. Getting on base by hitting a pitch onto the field indicates dexterity in batting.
If a batter can go several games with getting at least one hit, it is considered an accomplishment. One player many years ago went fifty-six consecutive games with getting at least one hit. In ice hockey there is something similar called the point streak, where a player gets at least one goal or assist in consecutive games. These streaks are not easy to accomplish. The players who can do it get attention because of numerical strength. Their consistently good performance indicates exceptional ability in their field.
In the same way, the devotee who consistently chants the holy names and engages in bhakti creates numerical strength. If there is a streak in chanting the holy names for a prescribed number of rounds each day, it means that the person has been able to fight off the illusory energy known as maya for a steady number of days. The easiest thing in the world to do is nothing. It’s known as the path of least resistance. Change is hard. To follow a routine for something that involves speaking and hearing for likely hours a day is not easy. The person who can do so is uncommon.
The benefit they get is the rarely received reward of love and devotion to the Supreme Lord. The achievement is not guaranteed, as a person can just be going through the motions. Still, the holy name is so powerful that even chanting without attention can bring benefits. Imagine then if there is focus while saying the powerful name of the Almighty. Imagine what happens when the enthusiasm increases, where the person wants to supplement their routine by also creating numerical strength in other areas of devotion, like speaking, travelling, writing, and cooking. Soon such a person inspires others to create their own numerical strength, thereby expanding the effectiveness and reach of their own bhakti practices.
The routine commonly prescribed by teachers of the Vaishnava school today is sixteen rounds. To help in the routine of chanting there is the japa mala. This is a string consisting of one hundred and eight beads. Say the mantra one time on a bead and then move on to the next bead. Once you reach the last bead, you have completed one round. Then go in the reverse direction and repeat. If you can complete sixteen rounds in a day, you have created great strength in your devotional life.
The material energy is intentionally strong. In so many areas it urges laziness. The warm blanket on the comfortable bed in the winter months subtly speaks. It says to remain protected, to not go out into the cold world. This is illusion, for if a person slept all day they wouldn’t get anything done. They wouldn’t even be able to eat. Similarly, a person who avoids the routine in bhakti-yoga becomes more prone to the illusory energy of maya, which keeps the individual in the cycle of birth and death. God is known as Mukunda, as He liberates His devotees. He can bring that liberation through the sound that represents Him.
Even if not on righteous principles’ ground,
Liberation still possible through only a sound.
With string of beads calmly taking seat,
In steadiness holy names to repeat.
Maintaining in consecutive time length,
Battling maya through numerical strength.
Form, qualities and pastimes to be known,
Through Krishna’s holy name alone.