“Therefore, although I was born in a demoniac family, I may without a doubt offer prayers to the Lord with full endeavor, as far as my intelligence allows. Anyone who has been forced by ignorance to enter the material world may be purified of material life if he offers prayers to the Lord and hears the Lord’s glories.” (Prahlada Maharaja, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.9.12)
तस्माद् अहं विगत-विक्लव ईश्वरस्य
सर्वात्मना महि गृणामि यथा मनीषम्
नीचो ’जया गुण-विसर्गम् अनुप्रविष्टः
पूयेत येन हि पुमान् अनुवर्णितेन
tasmād ahaṁ vigata-viklava īśvarasya
sarvātmanā mahi gṛṇāmi yathā manīṣam
nīco ’jayā guṇa-visargam anupraviṣṭaḥ
pūyeta yena hi pumān anuvarṇitena
“I remember reading in the Ramayana that Sita and Rama, the Divine couple, prepared for Rama’s planned ascension to the throne, the abhisheka ceremony, by sleeping on the floor the prior night and contemplating Vishnu, which is one name for the Almighty.
“It is a kind of purification step. I understand that Rama is the same Vishnu, an incarnation appearing on this earth and providing the visual of a bow-wielding human, chivalrous in every way, and ever-dedicated to upholding dharma, which is the essential business of the living being.
“Sita and Rama set an example. Sleeping on the floor is a kind of austerity, especially for someone in a royal family, who has the greatest amenities available to them. In the modern day, the coveted dwelling is the new construction home. The number of floors, bedrooms, bathrooms, and the entire layout are all configurable. Moreover, no one has lived in that place before; it is being made specifically for you.
“In Ayodhya, the royal family lived in the best possible conditions. Beautiful palaces along with dedicated servants to take care of every need. Yet ruling is a kind of austerity, also. A sacrifice made for the good of the people. The king absorbs the blows from rivals around the world. Rama would have to prove Himself in battle in order to keep the people safe.
“My question relates to chanting the holy names, which is the sacrifice recommended for the present age of darkness and hypocrisy. Is there a purification step? I know that for other versions of yajna, you might have to fast for a certain number of days, sit in a specific place, face a certain direction, and so forth. Is there a similar kind of preparation necessary when worshiping in devotion, bhakti?”
We get confirmation from Prahlada Maharaja that the glorification is itself the purification. That is to say we start in the contaminated condition. It is an unfortunate reality to our existence, and we have no way of knowing better until the time of the second birth, which the spiritual master facilitates.
He opens our eyes to the duality of body and spirit, to the ever-changing conditions in our environment and how the illusion fools us into accepting the experience at the moment as everything. Purification through the jnana method is difficult, but necessary. Then there is the requirement for vijnana, the practical realization. An analogous concept is studying both the science in college and passing the field work in the laboratory. Learning the principles and then proving them via observation and experiment.
Chanting the holy names is a version of the direct method, approaching God the person and glorifying Him. Not asking anything in return for that glorification. No beauty. No money. No fame. If those should happen to arrive, they are accepted, but not valued on a scale anywhere close to the glorification itself, which is everything.
Prahlada is the ideal example both in his instruction and his circumstances. He was born in what would be considered a low-grade family. His father was the best of the Daityas, or those against the principles of dharma. Under the standard way of purification, Prahlada would have to wait for a future birth in a higher species to break free of the illusion.
Instead, he worshiped Vishnu directly, to the detriment of his own safety. This was the purification itself, though it wasn’t necessary since he was a devotee since birth. That same process can purify anyone, explaining why the acharya so strongly recommends it: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Fast today and face to the west,
For yajna this purification test.
Is there something the same,
For bhakti chanting holy name?
From Prahlada explained,
That when opportunity attained.
Potent itself the glorification,
Approach including purification.