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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Nectar of the holy name

Review: Nectar of the holy name
By Manindranath Guha
Original written in 1976. English translation published in 2005 by Blazing Sapphire Press.

I had the honour of meeting Maṇīndranāth Guhā or Maṇi Bābu twice, in his flat in Rādhā-raman Gherā in Vṛndāvana, in September 1982 and November 1985. A very powerful and ‘begeisterd’ gentleman who greatly stressed the chanting of the holy name.

In the introduction to this book Nitāi Dās confirms that stress and also his cautions on smaranam (cautions which I have expressed in this blog earlier, particularly my blog of June 9, 2006). Nitai writes: “In Maṇīndranātha’s view one should not on one’s own initiative take up (smaraṇam). To do so would be to diminish the importance of saṅkīrtan. Rather, remembering will grow organically out of the practise of utterance of sankirtan… when the time is right. It should not be undertaken artificially before one is ready. He uses a rather odd example …..It is like being possessed by a ghost…. In the way that without desiring a ghost, a ghost may come and possess one and having taken one over may refuse to leave, so does remembering come uninvited and possess one and once it arrives it never again departs. One need not strive separately for remembering. Instead one should devote all one’s efforts…to saṅkīrtan  when the time is ripe uninterrupted remembering of Kṛṣṇa will land on one’s shoulders like a ghost dropping from a tree and take possession of one’s heart. Like a ghost, too, once it arrives it will not easily depart…… Constant remembering of Kṛṣṇa is in fact a sign of having arrived at the highest level of religious cultivation in Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism. Someone who deeply loves Kṛṣṇa will constantly be thinking of Him and saying His name, will not forget Him for even a second. Although Viśvanātha Cakravartīpāda, in his Rāga vartma Candrika, calls rāgānugā bhakti a ‘mainly mental religion’ he does add this qualifier, quoted on page 11 of this book: ‘The subservience of smaraṇa, the central practise in rāgānugā, to kīrtana must also be emphasized because kīrtana has authority in this age and because it is established by all scriptures as the most excellent among all of the various paths of bhakti.”

On page 7 an answer is given to the question whether saṅkīrtan is for one’s own pleasure or for the benefit of others. In his commentary on Haribhakti Vilasa 11.456, Sanātan Gosvāmī says saṅkīrtya samyag uccair uccāryeti sadyaḥ sva-parānanda viśeṣārtham uktam “Loud chanting is at once causing bliss to oneself and to others as well.”

After that the book effectively starts; it is built around a conversation between Goswāmī, a Guru, and Laghu, a disciple, whom Nitāi Dās claims are none other than Maṇīndranāth Guhā himself (Laghu, or ‘light’) and his Guru Kānupriya Gosvāmī (Goswāmī).

Interestingly Nitāi Dās translates the word sevonmukhe from the famous ataḥ śrī kṛṣṇa nāmādi-verse in Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu as ‘being ready for service’ and that does comply with the dictionary meaning of the word unmukha (waiting for, expecting, near to).

Chapter 2.1 explains the difference between kṛpā siddhi and sādhana siddhi, and 2.2 discusses nāmābhāsa, where Nitāi Dās disagrees with Maṇi Bābu, who writes: “It is the first unfolding of the holy name in the mind of a practitioner engaged in cultivating the holy name, like the early stages of the rising of the sun. (When the holy name is not present on the tongue, but is in the mind, it is ābhāsa of the holy name. When it is present on the tongue, too, it is the holy name itself, not a semblance). He quotes Caitanya Caritāmṛta Antya 3.182-185.

Nitāi Dās responds in a footnote: ‘It is not clear what Maṇīndranāth Bābu means here nor where he got his idea. If he means that the holy name begins to manifest itself as a result of the practitioner’s diminishing offences its first reflections appear in the mind of the practitioner and then later the name itself appears on the tongue of the practitioner, I am unaware of the foundation of such a belief in Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism. Certainly the passage he cites from the Caitanya Caritāmṛta immediately following says nothing of the idea”

Neither Nitāi Dās nor Maṇi Bābu quote or translate these Caitanya Caritāmṛta verses, so I will just do it myself, to make sure everyone knows the disputed text here:

haridās kohen – yaiche sūryera udoy;
udoy na hoite ārambha tamer hoy khoy
Caura preta rākṣasādi bhoy hoy nāśa;
udoy hoile dharma karma ādi parakāśa
aiche nāmodoyārambhe pāpa ādira khoy;
udoy koile kṛṣṇapade hoy premodoy

(The above first 3 verses are essential:) Haridās said to the Lord: ‘Just as the sunrise destroys the darkness and with it, fear of ghosts, demons and thieves, and shows the beginning of virtue and activity (with the beginning of a new day), similarly the rise of the holy name destroys sins and so on and causes the rise of love for the feet of Kṛṣṇa.”

Nitāi Dās continues: “If he means that the holy name chanted in the mind is merely nāmābhāsa, whereas the holy name chanted on the tongue, that is audibly, is the name itself, he is probably wrong. Numerous modern practitioners would disagree with him. It appears that one major source for this understanding that nāmābhāsa is the ‘first ray’ of the sun-like holy name which about to rise in the mind of the practitioner seems to be a verse from the Padma Purāṇa cited by Rūpa Gosvāmī in his Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu, 2.1.103: “Ocean of good qualities! With your mind illumined by faith you should worship him free from all insincerity, him who is the purifier of purifiers, the crown of those praised by the finest verse, the reflection (ābhāsa) of whose sun-like name rising in the cave of the mind destroys the flood of darkness that consists of great sin.”…. Though this does connect nāmābhāsa with the mind as does Maṇi Bābu, no commentator on the verse has suggested the rest of with Maṇīndra says here.”

In 2.3, dealing with nāmāparādha, its devastating effects are described. Viśvanātha says it causes one to see spiritual things as material and Maṇi Bābu says that due to a slight Vaiṣṇava aparādha (the first nāmāparādha) even Prahlāda changed from a lover to a hater of Viṣṇu and even rode out against Him with a demon army. Nitāi rightly wonders in a footnote what the source of the story is….

While I don’t admire each translation-invention of Nitāi’s, some are very nice and depicting, like ‘Quality-descent’ for ‘guṇāvatāra’, ‘dimness’ for rajoguṇa and ‘darkness’ (which I also used) for tamoguṇa. He translates guṇas as ‘threads’ (literally correct) that are woven criss-cross through material existence.

While discussion the ten offences to the chanting of the holy name, Maṇi Bābu quotes Jīva Gosvāmī’s ṭīkā on Śrīmad Bhāgavat 2.1.11 when he comes to the mysterious offence nr.6: hari-nāmni kalpanaṁ tan māhātmya gauṇatākaraṇāya gatyantara cintanam… ..undertaking some other means of practise in order to trivialise the greatness of the holy name……if, however, out of mental anguish, the thought of some other means arises for the purpose of arriving at the goal faster, it is not an offense.” The second sentence comes from Maṇi Bābu, not Jīva Gosvāmī.

Chapter 3.1, called ‘wealth’ condemns wealth as being much more dangerous than many devotees think it is, and Goswāmī quotes Mahāprabhu’s criticism of Raghunātha Dās Gosvāmī’s parents, who may be Vaiṣṇavas but are nonetheless tainted by their wealth, that they even used in the service of the Brāhmins (Caitanya Caritāmṛta Antya 6,196). Maṇi Bābu sounds like Sādhu Bābā, uncompromising, as he says (p.32-33): “Any of the possessions that have fallen off the rotting, foul-smelling body of today’s society into the hands of holy men are not just ordinary poisons but are likely to be the very strongest and most dangerous poisons……Are these things to be thoughtlessly accepted and used in offerings to Gaura and Govinda, who are more dear to us than life itself? Didn’t they reject offerings prepared with the wealth of Raghunātha’s father and Duryodhana’s offerings of all the four different types of sumptuous food arranged beautifully on a plate of pure gold? If they reject such offerings, then whose nectar-like touch will neutralize their poisonous natures and turn them into the nature of Mādhava?"

So then at what stage can one ‘dovetail’ money in Kṛṣṇa's service? Sanātan Gosvāmī cites the Pāṇḍavas in his comment on Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta 1.4.115 – kṛṣṇa eva samyaṅ niṣkāmatvādinā’rpitāḥ – “Yudhiṣṭhira’s wealth was completely offered to Kṛṣṇa, without any desire.” So at what stage is the mind completely free from desire and attachments? Up through the stage of bhāva or rati a little attachment remains. Only on the stage of full blown love (prema) is the mind completely free of desire.

Chapter 4, named 'Saṅkīrtan in single form practise', tells us that, although Rūpa Gosvāmī teaches in Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.2.264 that one can achieve perfection through one or all the items of sādhana, still that can never exclude harināma saṅkīrtan – that remains fixed. kalau nāstyeva gatir anyathā ('it is the only way in Kali yuga') – it automatically causes smaraṇa and all the rest.

On page 42, Laghu then asks the obvious question: "Narottam Dās Thākur says sādhane bhāvibe yāhā siddha dehe pābo tāhā – ‘Whatever I think of in my sādhana I will attain in my siddha deha”. Isn't that a contradiction with the teachings of Sanātan and other Gosvāmīs (mentioned in the first pages of this review)?” Goswāmī replies: “It is a contradiction merely fabricated within your mind. Listen: Śrī Rūpa in his Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu and later Kṛṣṇadās Kavirāja in the Caitanya Caritāmṛta have written: “Some practise one form, some practise many. If one becomes unwavering in practise, the wave of love will arise. By one form many devotees have reached success (Caitanya Caritāmṛta Madhya 22.76-77)"…..Here two separate channels of worship (bhajan praṇāli) are mentioned, each of which has the same potency to bestow love. Śrī Narottam Dās Ṭhākur described the second channel – the form of remembering in which kīrtana of the Holy Names is dominant. This applies to the phrase ‘What one meditates on in practise one will achieve in perfection”. He has not mentioned the first channel. The first channel that he does not mention should not be brought in for comparison. If someone says that Rāma can lift five maund (410 lbs) does it lead to the conclusion that Lakṣmaṇa cannot? It doesn’t. If one wanted to convey that meaning one would have to say…..’Only Rāma can lift five mound, no one else.” Since Narottama Dās Thākur has not said that, worrying about a contradiction is useless, just a figment of the imagination.” (See my blog of July 31, 2006)

Laghu: “Is a practitioner of the single form, kīrtan… then deprived of remembering the holy sports or performing mental service to Rādhā-Govinda …..?”

Goswāmī: “No, he is not cheated out of anything. By the mercy of the holy name he will easily remember the holy sports and attain mental service and the rest – not in the form of means or method of cultivation (sādhana) but in the form of end or ultimate realisation (sādhya). (Wherever there is greed it will ultimately be fulfilled) How can one think that by planting the seed of a Langra mango one will get some other kind of mango? So let the practitioner practise remembrance or not, remembering will come and take hold of him in due time. This taking hold can take place in the stage of practise or in the stage of accomplishment – if it grips one in the stage of practise the flow of practise will be multi-formed; if it grips one in the stage of accomplishment (sādhya) practise will be single-formed…..”

Goswāmī later cautions Laghu that in the stage of anartha one should not meditate on the Lord’s erotic pastimes and quotes Jīva Gosvāmī’s rahasya līlā tu pauruṣa vikāravad indriyaih..nopāsya ("When male transformations take place in the senses this (Rāsa-lila) is not to be contemplated"), which, according to Nitāi Dās, is part of Jīva’s comment on the final verse of the Rāsa līlā, vikrīḍitaṁ vraja-vadhūbhir idaṁ ca viṣṇoh  (10.33.39).

In chapter 5, about initiation, Maṇi Bābu quotes Bhakti Sandarbha about lecturing and lecturers, warning that a materially attached lecturer may do more harm than good and assuring (in paragraph 261, quoting a ṭīkā of Śrīdhara Swami) that if a good lecturer is not available one can study śāstra privately at home. When Laghu asks Goswāmī about an unqualified Guru, Goswāmī replies: “…….The unqualified teacher is….capable of saying something incorrect, the following of which would bring death and the not following of which would also bring death. Even in this kind of difficulty one cannot reject or disregard the teacher as long as no contempt for or dislike of Viṣṇu or Vaiṣṇavas is evident in him. ….one has to pay honour to such a teacher from afar. Keeping him pleased as far as possible by service from afar, and with faith and respect relying completely on the holy name, a practitioner can still succeed in everything.” “Therefore beware! Although there is no positive worth in such a teacher – that is, he is not able to drag his students to the feet of Hari – there is a thoroughly negative side to such a teacher. By disrespecting him one can commit an offence to the holy name, that of disrespecting the teacher. Then even the practitioner’s last resort, the holy name itself, will not work.”

Chapter 6.1 quotes Srī Jīva’s commentary of Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.1.35, interpreting the word anāsaṅgair there, which apparently says that bhakti is very hard to attain if practised without skilfulness, in such a way that it means jñāna karmādyanāvṛta – if it’s covered with jñāna and karma. Worried that Rūpa’s stern statement would discourage bhakti-aspirants, Śrī Jīva further quotes from Śrīmad Bhāgavat 2.8.4 and 1.5.26 to show that bhakti’s not all that hard to get, really. The full texts of his ṭīkā are both in this book and in Bhānu Swāmī’s Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu.

In chapter 7 Goswāmī explains the texts smaraṇaṁ tu śuddhāntaḥkaraṇatam apekṣate, "Smaranam depends on a pure heart”, Jīva Gosvāmī’s ṭīkā to Śrīmad Bhāgavat 7.5.25 and Bhakti Sandarbha 275 and 276) as follows: “If the texts had said ‘viśuddha’ it would mean that one would have to be completely pure to practise smaraṇa, but then it would no longer be a sādhana but a symptom of siddhi. Therefore, Jīva Gosvāmī is talking about only partial purity of the mind here – then one can commence smaraṇam. He then quotes Śrīmad Bhāgavat 11.14.26 yathā yathātmā parimṛjyate’sau, (describing a gradual process of purification – “To the degree that the mind is cleansed by hearing of and repeating my auspicious deeds one becomes able to see My forms, qualities and sports….”) also quoted in both Rāga-vartma Candrikā and Mādhurya Kādambinī. Goswāmī then quotes from Mādhurya Kādambinī that the mind becomes fully fit for smaraṇam at the stage of niṣṭhā – as in the verse tadā rajas tamo bhāva kāma lobhādayaś ca ye (Śrīmad Bhāgavat 1.2.19). Goswāmī also quotes Bhagavad Gītā 12.9, atha cittaṁ samādhātuṁ na śaknosi mayi sthiram - ‘If you cannot fix your mind on me then (patiently and repeatedly) practise (bhakti-) yoga….” At the stage of niṣṭhā one can perform the dual practise of sevā sādhaka-rūpena siddha rūpena cātra hi (both in the external and in the mentally conceived spiritual body), as prescribed in Caitanya Caritāmṛta Madhya 22 and Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.2.295.” (page 69:) “…………one should not start the remembering form of bhakti when the mind is just in any condition or by merely memorising texts…..regular practise of saṅkīrtan is required to attain the qualification for smaranam – ceto darpana mārjanam.….” “… means of kīrtan the names, forms, qualities and sports by themselves become connected with the mind. Those things that run away when one tries to capture them come of their own accord and allow themselves to be held like snakes when they hear the flute of the snake-charmer. What wonderful magic this saṅkīrtan is….” Rūpa Gosvāmī writes in Upadeṣāmṛta: Tan nāma rūpa caritādi sukīrtanānusmṛtyoḥ kramena rasanā manasi niyojya ‘Constantly remembering and doing nice kīrtan of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s names, forms and pastimes, one gradually engages the tongue and the mind..”

Interestingly Maṇi Bābu quotes a verse from Caitanya Caritāmṛta, which I cannot find in my own Bengali GM edition, nor in the BBT edition, supposedly verse 75 of Antya 3. It’s a very strong one though –

japa-kartā hoite ucca sankīrtan-kārī;
śata guṇa adhika se purāṇete dhari

“The Purāṇas say that a person who is doing loud saṅkīrtan is 100x better than someone who does japa.” Even if that verse would be an interpolation, later, on page 77, Maṇi Bābu produces further evidence to the same extent from Sanātan Gosvāmī's ṭīkā to his own Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta 2.5.218 (a bit too long to quote in this blog-review).

Laghu asks why there are so many rules and so many different types of chanting - japa, kīrtan (loud pronunciation) and saṅkīrtan (song with melody and rhythm), and Goswāmī replies with a comparison, “If your doctor prescribes you three kinds of medicine – a cream, a syrup and an injection and you speculate and take only the first two without taking the most powerful third one (saṅkīrtan) how will you get cured?”
Previously I read in Viśvanātha’s writings that a single utterance of offenseless harinām can bring one to Golok, here on page 84-5 it is quoted from Śrī Jīva, too (SB 6.2.23 ṭīkā): “… death one must offer worship at least once. In that case, someone who has performed, either in a previous life or in this life, worship of the Lord is certain to utter the name of the Lord, even if only once. In their case the holy name exerts its own influence and immediately such a person meets the Lord (quotes Gītā 8.6)……because there is an absence of offence, there is no need to repeat the holy name over and over again in order to destroy it……….”

A delay in that is quoted in the case of the gopīs – Kṛṣṇa abandoned them in the beginning of the Rāsa dance, but that was not due to offence but just to increase their eagerness for Him.
Jīva Gosvāmī comments on SB 6.2.20 that such a delay was there also for Ajāmila, so that he could cultivate eagerness first through harinām, since he had no history of devotion to Viṣṇu, because, as Maṇi Bābu assures, the single-track sādhakas (who practise only kīrtan without smaraṇam) will attain this remembrance and all other items of bhakti at the right time and as the need arises.

There are brief descriptions of the acaryas in the appendix of the book, of which Sanātan Gosvāmī’s one is interesting. Nitāi writes: ‘The ‘father’ of Caitanya Vaiṣṇava theology. Without Sanātan Gosvāmī’s contribution Caitanya’s movement would have remained mostly sentimental fluff. He gave it direction and substance. His younger brother Rupa gave it wings and the ability to fly and his nephew Śrī Jīva gave it muscle and thought.”

Generally I must admit that Nitāi’s books are much more interesting than I expected them to be, both in content and in language. He really managed to make them interesting and attractive to both his targeted audiences – the academic and the devotees. This book is soundly based on the precepts of the Six Gosvāmīs and casts refreshing new light on them. I was fascinated throughout while reading this booklet, cover to cover…..


  1. First of all, thank you for all these excellent series of writings in reviewing Gaudiya Vaisnava publications. They are a treat to read. When new works are published, someone should make it a point to send a copy to Advaitadas.


    On "verse 75 of Antya 3" on the different kinds of chanting, this is misattributed -- the quote is from Caitanya-bhagavata 1.16.273. It is followed by a statement, uccaiH zata-guNaM bhavet, of an unknown source (274). These two are followed by verse 283, a quote from Narada-purana (in the words of Prahlada):

    japato hari-nAmAni sthAne zata-guNAdhikaH /
    AtmAnaM ca punAty uccair japan zrotRn punAti ca //

    Here the reason for the loud chanting's being a 100 times better is clearly put -- the statement is in the context of its benefits for others. Manasika-japa is obviously not as beneficial.

    On the other hand, when japa is undertaken as a matter of internal cultivation on raga-marga, the more internal and silent, the greater the avenues of avesa and sphurti. That is, assuming that the mind has come to a level of purity where it stays calm and remains within -- if that isn't the case, the chanting must go "out there" and bring the mind back "in here" to where it belongs.

  2. Speaking of chanting, there is another wrong verse-numbering in the book - Bhakti Sandarbha 261, which says that one can 'study shastra privately at home' actually is paragraph 262, and it more particularly mentions 'singing or hearing the name', yat yAni nAmAni vaktari sati zRGvanti zrotari sati gRNanti anyadA tu svayam eva gAyantIti (Sridhar Swami) 'hearing where there is a speaker and speaking where there is an audience - at other times, however, one sings just alone', though I suppose that would include 'studying shastra'.

  3. I also thought this book was really some kind of essay abhout how good the Nama is with some focus on japa. But it seems to be more focused on the glories of sankirtana.

    That disheartened me somewhat, as it left me with the impression that japa in some ways becomes 'selfish' if sankirtana is not properly engaged in. This is more clearr when you read Nitai's intro that gives some details about Mani Babu's personal life and example with regards to performing sankirtana. Performing it himself at home for 2/3 hours..

  4. I think the focus is more on harinama sankirtana (the injection, unlike the medicinal cream of japa) than on japa. There are these intriguing verses in CC about the Gosvamis and Haridas Thakur doing 'sankirtan' all day and night (two of them, about Rupa and Raghunatha, are quoted on page 80). They seemed to have done more dancing and singing than long silent japa sessions. Think of the opening words of Sad Gosvamyastakam - kRSNotkIrtana gAna nartana parau..

  5. Dandavat to all the respected vaisnavas. This is my very first attempt to quak something on this blog.

    ***In Manindranatha’s view one should not on one’s own initiative take up (smaranam). To do so would be to diminish the importance of sankirtan.***

    This particular statement of Nitai das, I feel, goes too far (the rest is allright). In all vaisnava sastra rememberance and meditation is recommended. The intention of Kanupriya Gosvami, in my humble opinion, to show that 1) kirtana, the king, cannot be substituted by anything; 2)if (!) smarana is not yours at all by now, don't worry, it will come surely just by chanting. Chanting is whole-potent.

    What is wrong in trying to think of Krishna?