What’s So Special About God’s Names?
by Bhakticaru Swami
Lord Jesus Christ, Mohammed, and all the world’s scriptures emphasize glorifying God’s names. What is unique about this kind of prayer?
According to Vedic calculation, great time spans are measured in yugas, or ages. The Vedas describe four yugas-Satya-yuga, Treta-yuga, Dvapara- yuga, and Kali-yuga-which repeat themselves in cyclical order like the four seasons. The duration of Satya-yuga is 1,728,000 years; Treta-yuga is 1,296,000 years; Dvapara-yuga, 864,000 years; and Kali-yuga, 432,000 years.
In Satya-yuga people are very pious. They almost never perform sinful activities. In Treta-yuga they are more inclined to sinful life, and even more so in Dvapara-yuga. Finally, in Kali-yuga impiety is almost completely dominant. Kali-yuga is like the winter of the yuga seasons.
The Vedic scriptures prescribe a specific kind of religious process for each of these ages. In Satya-yuga the process is meditation upon the form of the Lord. In Treta-yuga the process is offering sacrifices to the Lord. In Dvapara-yuga the process is gorgeous worship of the Deity in the temple. And in Kali-yuga the process is chanting God’s holy name. Being merciful, the Lord makes the process easier in each successive age, as people become less qualified because of the increase of sinful life.
Now it is the age of Kali, the most degraded of the four ages. We can see in our own lifetime how people are becoming more sinful. Meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex-the four pillars of sinful life-continue to increase everywhere. We can see that as these activities increase, the world becomes more and more miserable. All scriptures recommend chanting Krishna’s holy names to get free of misery.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam says that chanting is the only good thing about this age. Lord Jesus said, “Glorify the name of thy Father.” Similarly, Mohammed said, “Allah alone should we glorify.” These instructions are given repeatedly throughout the world’s great religions.
The question arises: “What’s so special about God’s names?” God does not have names like ours, which are mundane sounds given to us for the sake of our physical identity. God has no need for such identification. He has no physical identity; He is completely spiritual. But according to His divine, unlimited qualities and pastimes. He has innumerable names.
For example, in the Bible He has names that describe Him as “Almighty” and “Omnipotent.” Similarly, in the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures He has numerous names. The name Krishna means “all- attractive.” The name Rama means “giver of supreme pleasure.”
Because God has no mundane qualities, His name is not a mundane sound. It is spiritual and nondifferent from Him. And because God is absolute, His holy name is also absolute. When one chants His name, one is directly in touch with Him. When we begin chanting, however, we may not immediately feel His presence, because of our materially contaminated consciousness.
But because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, calling on His names is the most personal and intense form of prayer. If we practice chanting sincerely, we will soon feel God’s presence.
The Vedic literatures contain many mantras and prayers to the Lord, but only one maha-mantra. or great prayer. That prayer-Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama. Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare- addresses the Lord in His most sublime features: as Krishna, the all-attractive person, and as Rama, the giver of supreme pleasure. It means, “O all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead! O Supreme Enjoyer! Please deliver me from this material existence. Please engage me in Your loving devotional service.”
Prayers are appeals to God to fulfill our desires. In material consciousness we pray, “Lord, give me food; Lord, give me money.” But in spiritual life, instead of asking this or that for oneself, one wants to offer whatever he has to the Lord. One wants to serve Him. That’s why the Hare Krishna mantra is the highest form of prayer: it makes no selfish demands on the Lord. It is simply an appeal for engagement in His devotional service.
To teach the chanting of His holy name, Krishna appeared in this age in a wonderful form. Although He is the supreme proprietor, the supreme enjoyer, the possessor of all opulences, He appeared in this age as a mendicant-Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He accepted the renounced order, traveled all over India, and taught everyone, from scholars to kings to beggars, to chant the maha-mantra with firm faith.
To say that Sri Caitanya is God is not mere sentiment, a claim I make simply because I am His follower. No. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, and other scriptural sources describe His identity and predict His appearance in detail. They describe that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu descends to establish the religion of the age. During His appearance, Lord Caitanya predicted that the sankirtana movement of chanting the names of God would spread all over the world, and that has come true. Overlooking all sectarian conceptions, anyone who tries to understand Sri Caitanya’s real identity can easily recognize that He is the Supreme Person.
Now, it does not matter that Sri Caitanya appeared in India. God doesn’t belong to any geographical setting. He descends to bestow His mercy upon all. Wherever the Lord appears, it is for our benefit, if we follow His instructions.
Today, for example, most people in the Western world are followers of Lord Jesus Christ. They do not follow him because of where he appeared. They follow him because he is the son of God. Sincere devotees follow the Lord or His representative wherever they may appear. Devotees understand that the Lord and His representatives are actually from the divine realm and are not ordinary, mundane persons from a particular geographical area. Wherever such extraordinary persons appear in this world, that place becomes an extension of the spiritual world.
Still, if someone has difficulty accepting an “Indian” as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that’s, all right. No one should accept blindly, just on our saying so. But at least he can study the life and teachings of Sri Caitanya and see for himself whether it benefits his spiritual life. That is a practical test.
If we understand that God is our original and supreme father, it isn’t difficult to understand that He wants us to go back to Him. Nor is it difficult to understand that He makes various arrangements to take us back. In this degraded Kali age, when we have all but lost our spiritual vision. His holy name is His merciful arrangement to take us back.
Through chanting the holy name one comes to understand God’s form, abode, qualities, activities, and associates. On becoming fixed in transcendental knowledge, one realizes that everything belongs to God and, therefore, engages fully in His devotional service. That realization is the perfection of religion in all ages.