Awakening Love of God
The Viṣṇudūtas continued: “By following the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies or undergoing atonement, sinful men do not become as purified as by once chanting the holy name of Lord Hari. Although ritualistic atonement may free one from sinful reactions, it does not awaken devotional service, unlike the chanting of the Lord’s names, which reminds one of the Lord’s fame, qualities, attributes, pastimes, and paraphernalia.
“The ritualistic ceremonies of atonement recommended in the religious scriptures are insufficient to cleanse the heart absolutely because after atonement one’s mind again runs toward material activities. Consequently, for one who wants liberation from the fruitive reactions of material activities, the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, or glorification of the name, fame, and pastimes of the Lord, is recommended as the most perfect process of atonement because such chanting completely eradicates the dirt from one’s heart.
“At the time of death, Ajāmila helplessly and very loudly chanted the holy name of Nārāyaṇa. That chanting alone has already freed him from the reactions of all sinful life. Therefore, O servants of Yamarāja, do not try to take him to your master for punishment in hellish conditions.
“One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins, even if he chants the holy name jokingly, for musical entertainment, neglectfully, or even to indicate something else. This is accepted by all learned scholars of the scriptures.
“If a person somehow or other chants the holy name of Hari while dying because of an accident, such as falling from the top of a house, slipping and suffering broken bones while traveling on the road, being bitten by a snake, being afflicted with pain and high fever, or being injured by a weapon, he is immediately absolved from having to enter hellish life, even if he was sinful throughout his life.
“Learned scholars and sages have carefully ascertained that one should atone for the heaviest sins by undergoing a heavy process of atonement and one should atone for lighter sins by undergoing lighter atonement. But chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra vanquishes all the effects of sinful activities, regardless of whether heavy or light.
“Although one may neutralize the reactions of sinful life through austerity, charity, vows, and other such methods, these pious activities cannot uproot the material desires in one’s heart. However, one who serves the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead is immediately freed from all such contaminations.
“As a fire burns dry grass to ashes, so the holy name of the Lord, whether chanted knowingly or unknowingly, unfailingly burns to ashes all the reactions of one’s sinful activities.
“Even if a person is unaware of the potency of a certain medicine, if he takes that medicine or is forced to take it, it will act even without his knowledge, for its potency does not depend on the patient’s understanding. Similarly, even though one does not know the value of chanting the holy name of the Lord, if one chants the holy name – knowingly or unknowingly – the chanting will be very effective.”
Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī continued speaking to King Parīkṣit: My dear king, having thus perfectly judged the principles of devotional service with reasoning and arguments, the order-carriers of Lord Viṣṇu released the brāhmaṇa Ajāmila from the bondage of the Yamadūtas and saved him from imminent death. Then the Yamadūtas went to Yamarāja and explained to him everything that had happened.
The brāhmaṇa Ajāmila was now free from fear, having been released from the nooses of Yamarāja’s servants. Coming to his senses, he immediately offered obeisances to the Viṣṇudūtas by bowing his head at their lotus feet. He was extremely pleased by their presence, for he had seen them save his life from the hands of the servants of Yamarāja. But when the Viṣṇudūtas saw that Ajāmila was attempting to say something, they suddenly disappeared from his presence. (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.2.11–23)
Atonement vs. Chanting the Holy Name
Here the Viṣṇudūtas say that the Vedic scriptures recommend various means of atonement, by which a person may be delivered from the reactions of his sinful activities. In Christianity there is also a means of atonement. If a Catholic commits a sin, for example, he is instructed to go to a priest and confess: “I have committed such-and-such sin.” The priest is supposed to be an authorized representative of God, and so if he excuses the sinner, the sin becomes nullified.
However, such atonement cannot purify the sinful man as much as the purifying process of chanting the holy name of Lord Kṛṣṇa. The man who confesses to having sinned leaves the church and often commits the same sin again. In other words, there is no question of becoming purified by this process of atonement.
Still, atonement of various kinds is recommended in the Vedas for those who are not ready to take up the process of pure devotional service. These methods of atonement are proportional to the the severity of the sin they are meant to counteract. For example, if we fall sick with a cough or influenza, the cost of medicine prescribed by the doctor may be little, but if we are stricken with tuberculosis, the medicine will be more costly. Likewise, prāyaścitta, or the ritualistic ceremonies for counteracting sinful activities, is proportionately less or greater according to the gravity of the sin. If we commit a grievous sin, then the penance will be severe. These are the prescriptions given by great sages like Parāśara Muni and Manu. The sages have composed twenty kinds of scriptures, constituting the dharma-śāstra, and these scriptures are meant for atoning for one’s sins and elevating one to the heavenly planets. For example, it is said that if one has committed certain crimes, he must vow to fast for a certain number of days or give charity. Or, a businessman who has earned a million dollars by sinful activities must give in charity accordingly.
There are many such prescribed methods of atonement, but here the Viṣṇudūtas say, “Although these prescribed methods of atonement are authorized and true, they cannot purify the heart.” We can see that even though the adherents of Hinduism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity perform such rituals of atonement, they cannot refrain from again committing the same sins. One who practices these principles of atonement is like a rascal patient who goes to a physician for treatment. The physician gives him medicine and instructs him how to take it, but the foolish patient takes the medicine according to his own whims, and so his condition worsens. Again he goes to the physician, crying “Doctor, please give me more medicine.”
In this regard, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura describes an incident that took place when Sāmba, one of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s sons, was rescued from the punishment of the Kauravas. Sāmba fell in love with Lakṣmaṇā, the daughter of Duryodhana, and since according to kṣatriya custom one is not offered a kṣatriya’s daughter unless he displays his chivalrous valor, Sāmba abducted her. Consequently Sāmba was arrested by the Kauravas. Later, when Lord Balarāma came to rescue him, there was an argument about Sāmba’s release. Since the argument was not settled, Balarāma showed His power in such a way that all of Hastināpura trembled and would have been vanquished as if by a great earthquake. Then the matter was settled, and Sāmba married Duryodhana’s daughter. The purport is that one should take shelter of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, whose protective power is so great that it cannot be equaled in the material world. However powerful the reactions of one’s sins, they will immediately be vanquished if one chants the name of Hari, Kṛṣṇa, Balarāma, or Nārāyaṇa.
Therefore such rituals of atonement as fasting and giving charity are not accepted by the Viṣṇudūtas. They say, “Such prescribed ritualistic ceremonies cannot purify a man as effectively as chanting the holy name of God.” Undoubtedly one becomes free from all contamination of sinful life by executing particular religious principles, but these are ultimately insufficient, because the mind is so disturbed that even after being freed from the contamination of sinful reactions, the mind again becomes attracted to sinful activity.
The purificatory power of devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, beginning with the chanting of the holy name, is stated in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.2.42): bhaktiḥ pareśānubhavo viraktir anyatra ca. “Devotional service to the Lord is so powerful that one who performs it is immediately freed from all material desires.” All desires within this material world are sinful because material desire means sense gratification, which always involves action that is more or less sinful. But pure devotional service is anyābhilāṣitā-śūnya, free from material desires. One who is situated in devotional service no longer has material desires, and thus he is beyond sinful life. Material desires should be completely stopped. Otherwise, although one’s austerities, penances, and charity may free one from sin for the time being, one’s desires will reappear because his heart is impure. Thus he will act sinfully and suffer. The special advantage of devotional service is that it frees one of all material desires.
One cannot purify one’s heart by atonement alone. A patient suffering from syphilis goes to the doctor, who gives him an injection and charges a high fee. Yes, he may be cured, but when he again engages in illicit sex, he once again contracts syphilis. So his heart was not purified of the desire for illicit sex. But if one takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he forgets illicit sex. That is the test of one’s Kṛṣṇa consciousness. A sincere devotee never commits sin, because his heart has become purified by chanting the holy name and engaging in devotional service.
Of course, there are pseudodevotees who commit sinful activities on the strength of chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. They are great offenders against the holy name. We should not use the holy name like a machine, thinking that because the chanting process consumes sinful reactions we can freely commit more sin. This is the greatest offense against the holy name of Kṛṣṇa. Whatever sins we may have previously committed are immediately eradicated by offenseless chanting of the holy name of the Lord, even just once. But we must not sin again. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu forgave the sinful Jagāi and Mādhāi, who had been drunkards, woman-hunters, meat-eaters, and gamblers. But these two sinners fell down at the lotus feet of Lord Caitanya and Nityānanda Prabhu and cried, “Sirs! We are so sinful! Kindly deliver us.” Lord Caitanya agreed on the condition that they promise not to commit any more sins. He said, “Whatever you have done I shall excuse, but do not do it again.” Thus Jagāi and Mādhāi vowed, “This is the end of our sinful activities. We shall not do them anymore.” When a person is initiated by a spiritual master, the reactions of his sins immediately become nullified. But that does not mean he can again commit sins.
Kṛṣṇa consciousness means following in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya, and so we initiate disciples according to the principle he showed in the case of Jagāi and Mādhāi. We accept many people into our Society as duly initiated disciples, but only if they vow to observe these regulations: no more illicit sex, no more gambling, no more intoxication, and no more animal-killing or meat-eating. These regulations are necessary, because if one takes up spiritual life and at the same time goes on committing sinful activities, he will never be able to make progress. As Kṛṣṇa clearly says in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.28),
bhajante māṁ dṛḍha-vratāḥ
“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life and whose sinful actions are completely eradicated are freed from the dualities of delusion, and they engage themselves in My service with determination.”
If we are actually serious about entering into the kingdom of God, Vaikuṇṭha, then we should be very careful to follow the four regulative principles mentioned above. One must not have any sex except to have children within marriage. One must not indulge in intoxication. One must not gamble. And one must not eat meat, fish, or eggs or anything else beyond the foods established for human beings – grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, and sugar. Such foodstuffs are sāttvika, or pure and good, and they are allotted for human consumption. One should not imitate the cats and dogs, reasoning that because the animals are eating meat, human beings can do likewise. If everything eatable is food, why not eat stool? Stool is also food – hogs eat stool. But human beings should not eat like hogs, who will eat all kinds of unclean foods. We have to discriminate. If we want to enter into spiritual life, we must observe these four principles of restriction. This may mean undergoing some austerity, but this is the purpose of human life. When we have purified our existence through austerity, we will be eligible to enter into the kingdom of God, but without being purified, we can never enter.
Meditation on Kṛṣṇa’s Form
If one chants the holy name of God – Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare – eventually he will see Kṛṣṇa’s form, realize Kṛṣṇa’s qualities, and remember Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. That is the effect of the pure chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra.
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura comments that the chanting of the holy name of the Lord has special significance that distinguishes it from the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies of atonement for severe, more severe, or most severe sins. There are twenty types of religious scriptures called dharma-śāstras, beginning with the Manu-saṁhitā and Parāśara-saṁhitā, but herein it is stressed that although one may become free from the reactions of the most sinful activities by following the religious principles of these scriptures, this cannot promote a sinful man to the stage of loving service to the Lord. On the other hand, chanting the holy name of the Lord even once not only frees one immediately from the reactions of the greatest sins, but also begins to raise one to the platform of rendering loving service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thus one serves the Lord by remembering His form, attributes, and pastimes.
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī explains that it is because of the Lord’s omnipotence that this is all possible simply by chanting His holy name. What cannot be achieved through the performance of Vedic rituals can easily be achieved through the chanting of the Lord’s holy name. To chant the holy name and dance in ecstasy is so easy, sublime, and effective that one can readily achieve all the benefits of spiritual life simply by following this process. Therefore Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu declares, paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam: “All glories to the congregational chanting of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s holy name!” The saṅkīrtana movement we have started offers the best process for immediately becoming purified of all sinful reactions and coming to the platform of spiritual life.
Although Ajāmila became fallen in his later days, in his youth he was a brahmacārī and was properly trained by his father. He knew the name, form, and pastimes of Nārāyaṇa, but by bad association he forgot them. However, as soon as he chanted the name of Lord Nārāyaṇa on his deathbed, he again remembered all his past pious activities, and therefore he was saved.
That chanting and hearing the Lord’s name and glories is the best means of purifying the heart of sinful propensities is confirmed at the beginning of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.17):
hṛdy antaḥ stho hy abhadrāṇi
vidhunoti suhṛt satām
“Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Supersoul in everyone’s heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who relishes His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted.”
It is the special mercy of the Supreme Lord that as soon as He sees a person glorifying His name, form, and pastimes, He personally cleanses the dirt from that person’s heart. Even if one does not understand the meaning of the Lord’s name, form, and pastimes, one is purified simply by hearing or chanting them.
One’s main purpose in human life should be to purify one’s existence and achieve liberation. As long as one has a material body, one is understood to be impure. In such an impure, material condition, one cannot enjoy a truly blissful life, although everyone seeks it. Therefore everyone requires purification. As Lord Ṛṣabhadeva says in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.5.1), tapo divyaṁ putrakā yena sattvaṁ śuddhyed yasmād brahma-saukhyaṁ tv anantam: “My dear sons, you must perform tapasya, austerity, to purify your existence; then you will come to the spiritual platform and enjoy unending spiritual happiness.” The tapasya of chanting and glorifying the name, form, and pastimes of the Lord is a very easy purifying process by which everyone can become happy. Therefore everyone who desires the ultimate cleansing of his heart must adopt this process. Other processes, such as karma, jñāna, and yoga, cannot cleanse the heart absolutely.
Māyāvādīs, or impersonalists, cannot glorify the name, form, and pastimes of the Lord because they think that God has no form and that His pastimes are māyā, illusory. Why should God not have a form? We have a form because our father has a form. So why should the supreme father not have a form? In the Bhagavad-gītā (14.4) Kṛṣṇa says, ahaṁ bīja-pradaḥ pitā: “I am the seed-giving father of all beings.” The Christians also believe that God is the supreme father. If the sons all have forms, how is it that the father has no form? We cannot be born of a father who is formless. Īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ: “Kṛṣṇa is the supreme controller and the cause of all causes, and He possesses an eternal form of knowledge and bliss.” (Bs. 5.1) Vigraha means “form.” If God is the cause of all causes, the creator, and He is creating all these forms, how can He be formless?
God has a form, but it is not a form like ours. His form is sac-cid-ānanda, but ours is just the opposite. God’s form is sat, eternally existing, while man’s form is asat, temporary. God’s form is cit, full of knowledge, but ours is acit, full of ignorance. And His form is full of ānanda, bliss, but ours is full of nirānanda, misery. It is only because we cannot conceive of a form so different from ours that sometimes it is said God is nirākāra, without form.
God’s form is transcendental. That means His body is not material but spiritual. His form is of a different nature than that to which we are accustomed. In the Vedas it is said that God sees but that He has no eyes. This means that God’s eyes are unlike ours – they are spiritual, not material. We can see only so far, whereas God can see everything because He has eyes everywhere. His eyes, His form, His hands and legs are of a different nature than ours.
Unlike our knowledge, Kṛṣṇa’s knowledge is unlimited. As He says in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.26), “I know past, present, future – everything.” Earlier (Bhagavad-gītā 4.5) He reminds Arjuna, “Both you and I have taken many births. I remember them all, but you have forgotten them.” Thus there is no limit to His knowledge. His knowledge, His body, and His happiness are completely different from our knowledge, body, and happiness. Therefore it is only out of ignorance that some people say the Absolute Truth is nirākāra, formless.
Thinking that God has no form is just imagination. It is material thought. We have a form, so He must have a form, though not a form like ours. Only fools think God is ultimately formless. Kṛṣṇa declares this in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.24): avyaktaṁ vyaktim āpannaṁ manyante mām abuddhayaḥ. “Unintelligent men think that I was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality.” In another place in the Bhagavad-gītā, those who deride the personal form of God are called mūḍhās, or asses. God certainly has a form, but His form is entirely different from ours. That is the real understanding of nirākāra.
And just as Kṛṣṇa’s form is not like our material forms, so His pastimes are also not of this material nature. Anyone who knows this is immediately liberated. Kṛṣṇa confirms this in the Bhagavad-gītā (4.9),
evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
naiti mām eti so ’rjuna
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains my eternal abode.” Simply by chanting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa purely, one can come to understand the pastimes of the Supreme Lord and thus become liberated. Chanting is easy and sublime. One who offenselessly chants Hare Kṛṣṇa will always remember Kṛṣṇa’s form, pastimes, qualities, and entourage, and that remembrance will liberate him from all sinful reactions and all material bondage.
The Viṣṇudūtas here declare that although there are many methods prescribed in the Vedas for attaining liberation from sinful reactions, these methods are all insufficient, because they cannot elevate a person to the standard of absolute purity. Those who practice other methods of purification mentioned in the Vedas generally desire some material benefit, such as elevation to the heavenly kingdom. But a devotee does not care for elevation to the heavenly planets. A devotee doesn’t care a fig for any planet in this material world, because he knows that the benefit of entering into the heavenly kingdom is temporary. We may live for thousands of years on a higher planet and enjoy a very high standard of life, complete with beautiful wife, abundant wealth, and the finest wine, but there is no permanent benefit. For a devotee, such a life is hellish, because he does not wish to live without Kṛṣṇa. That is genuine spiritual realization.
We simply care for Kṛṣṇa and how Kṛṣṇa will be happy. That is real happiness. We try to please Kṛṣṇa. Kaṁsa was also Kṛṣṇa conscious, insofar as he was always thinking of Kṛṣṇa, but his meditation was unfavorable. His meditation was on how to kill Kṛṣṇa. He was thinking of Kṛṣṇa, but he thought of Him as his enemy. That is certainly not bhakti, or devotion. Thinking of Kṛṣṇa but being opposed to His desire, opposed to satisfying Him, is not bhakti. One must act favorably in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Arjuna was a devotee because he acted favorably, for the satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa. Materially speaking, Arjuna’s actions appear unfavorable, but they were favorable as far as Kṛṣṇa was concerned. Therefore they were perfect and free from all sin.
Lord Kṛṣṇa’s Transcendental Pastimes
It is important to understand the difference between activities of bhakti and ordinary pious activities. Cultivation of knowledge and pious activities is on the material platform. Piety does not amount to liberation. A pious man is situated on the platform of goodness, but he remains a conditioned soul, bound up by good reactions. One may even become a brāhmaṇa, a very pious man, but that does not mean he has become a devotee. And sometimes a devotee appears to act against the rules of mundane piety. Arjuna, for example, was an exalted devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa, but he killed his relatives. Ignorant people may say, “Arjuna is not a good man. Look, he killed his grandfather, his teacher, and his nephews, devastating the entire family.” But in the Bhagavad-gītā (4.3) Kṛṣṇa says to Arjuna, bhakto ’si me: “You are My very dear friend.” In the estimation of the material world Arjuna may not be a good man, but because he is a soul surrendered to the desire of the Supreme Lord, he must be accepted as a devotee. While it is true that Arjuna killed his own kinsmen, in the eyes of Kṛṣṇa he remained a dear friend and devotee. That is the difference between a devotee and a good man of this world: A good man of this world tries to always act piously, for he knows that if he acts badly he will suffer sinful reactions; but a devotee, although naturally a very good man, can act like a bad man on Kṛṣṇa’s order and still not fall down: he remains a pure devotee and is very dear to the Lord.
As mentioned above, hearing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes is very purifying, but such hearing has to be done with the right attitude. Some persons with material vision are very much attracted to Kṛṣṇa’s rāsa-līlā – His pastimes with His cowherd girlfriends – but they do not appreciate His fighting and killing the demons. They do not know that the Absolute Truth, Kṛṣṇa, is good in any and all circumstances. Whether He is enjoying in the company of His devotees or killing the demons, He remains the Absolute Truth, and therefore all His pastimes are equally purifying to hear.
Generally people go to hear the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from professional reciters, who are especially fond of describing the rāsa-līlā. The people think, “Oh, Kṛṣṇa is embracing a girl – this is very nice.” At times ten thousand people will gather to hear the rāsa-līlā, and in this way the reciters earn a nice profit. Thus people come to think that the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam means the Tenth Canto, which contains the rāsa-līlā and other pastimes, but what they don’t realize is that there are so many important instructions in the other cantos as well. Lord Kṛṣṇa, the summum bonum, is described in the Tenth Canto, and the other nine cantos are especially meant for purifying the heart so that one may understand Kṛṣṇa.
Therefore we instruct everyone first of all to read the first nine cantos of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam very carefully. Then one may read the Tenth Canto with proper understanding. Those who hear about Kṛṣṇa’s rāsa-līlā and take it as an ordinary story cannot know Kṛṣṇa in truth. The rāsa-līlā is not an affair of lust. It is a transcendental pastime of love between Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. According to Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the chapters of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describing the rāsa-līlā are not meant for ordinary persons; they are meant for liberated persons only. Therefore these descriptions of the rāsa-līlā should not be described to ordinary people. Those who are advanced devotees, liberated from material contamination, can try to understand Kṛṣṇa’s rāsa-līlā. One must not try to imagine the rāsa-līlā of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa in mundane terms.
But even though ordinary hearers of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam do not know the deep significance of Kṛṣṇa’s rāsa-līlā, because they hear about Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes they become purified. And if they hear from authorized sources, they will be promoted to the transcendental devotional platform. The disease within the heart is lust, the desire to enjoy, and by hearing from authorized sources about Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes of loving exchanges with the gopīs, the deep-rooted lusty desires in the heart will be completely eradicated.
Unfortunately, most people do not hear the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from authoritative sources. They hear only from professional reciters. Therefore they remain materially diseased, full of lusty desires. Some become sahajiyā, pretending to be Kṛṣṇa and Rādhārāṇī and Her gopī friends. In this way they behave as if they were the supreme enjoyer.
The pure devotee’s business is to satisfy Kṛṣṇa, and as soon as he chants the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, he remembers how to do so. In the material world, the living entities are inclined to go astray. The mind and senses generally become attracted to material objects of desire. But one should draw one’s mind to the eternal by the practice of bhakti-yoga. Otherwise, one’s mind and senses will force one to perform karma, activities for personal sense gratification. And as soon as a person engages in sense gratification, he commits sin. Therefore to avoid karmic activities, which quickly entangle one in the process of repeated birth and death, one must take to the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Here the Viṣṇudūtas advise us in the same way: If we want to be freed from the reactions of karma, we should glorify the Supreme Lord twenty-four hours a day. That will purify us. Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī says, “Instead of taking to prescribed ritualistic ceremonies, simply engage your mind in describing or glorifying the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” This is the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
In Kṛṣṇa consciousness, or devotional service, there are nine processes: hearing about the transcendental name, form, qualities, and pastimes of the Lord, chanting about these, remembering these, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering Him respectful worship, offering Him prayers, becoming His servant, considering Him one’s friend, and surrendering everything to Him. One who practices one or more of these processes of devotional service throughout his life is sure to remember Kṛṣṇa at the time of death. That is the art of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We cannot abandon all activities and simply chant Hare Kṛṣṇa; therefore we keep ourselves constantly engaged in practical devotional service so that our mind is fixed upon Kṛṣṇa. Then, at the time of death, we are sure to attain total liberation from material existence.
One who is not practiced in devotional service cannot all of a sudden chant the holy name of Nārāyaṇa at the time of death. He must have prior practice in order to chant effectively. Therefore Caitanya Mahāprabhu has recommended, kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ: “One should chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” This is the best way of remembering Kṛṣṇa in this age, and always remembering Kṛṣṇa ensures our return home, back to Godhead. As the Lord promises in the Bhagavad-gītā (8.8),
paramaṁ puruṣaṁ divyaṁ
“He who meditates on Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, is sure to reach Me.”
That Ajāmila remembered Kṛṣṇa was not accidental. He had chanted the name of Lord Nārāyaṇa earlier in his life, but he forgot the Lord due to bad association. Nevertheless, the transcendental effect of his earlier practice was there at the time of his death, even though he was calling out the name of his youngest son, not intending to call for Kṛṣṇa.
As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā (8.6):
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.”
One who practices chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is naturally expected to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa when he meets with some accident. Even without such practice, however, if one somehow or other chants the holy name of the Lord when he meets with an accident and dies, he will be saved from hellish life after death. For example, if a person falls from a high rooftop but somehow or other cries out “Hare Kṛṣṇa!” that cry will be heard by the Lord. Or, if in our sleep we dream that a tiger is coming to eat us and we chant Hare Kṛṣṇa in our sleep, the Lord hears that also.
Although Ajāmila indirectly chanted the holy name of Lord Nārāyaṇa through the medium of the name of his youngest son, he at once remembered Lord Nārāyaṇa. Therefore in Vedic society children are given God’s names. It is not that the child becomes God. If we name a child Nārāyaṇa, it is understood that he is Nārāyaṇa dāsa, the servant of Lord Nārāyaṇa. Similarly, we give our disciples spiritual names, such as Viṣṇu dāsa, Vāmana dāsa, or Kṛṣṇa dāsa. That Ajāmila remembered Lord Nārāyaṇa by calling his son of the same name is confirmed in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, which says that the power of the sound vibration of the holy name is absolute.
One attains freedom from all sinful reactions immediately upon recitation of the holy name, even if one does not understand the potency of the name. Whether one is chanting with devotion and reverence or without any faith, more sinful reactions are vanquished than a sinful man can commit. Kṛṣṇa’s name has such unlimited potency. When Caitanya Mahāprabhu was chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra in Navadvīpa, the people used to imitate the Lord and His associates. At that time the land was ruled by Mohammedans, and sometimes the people would go to one of the government officials and complain, “The Hindus are chanting ‘Hare Kṛṣṇa! Hare Kṛṣṇa!’ dancing wildly, and thrashing their arms about.” In this way they imitated the saṅkīrtana of Lord Caitanya. In Western countries the onlookers also imitate our chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa when we go out to chant on the street. Even by imitating, however, they become purified. The holy name is so powerful that if someone derides us, saying, “Why are you chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa – it is nonsense!” he also gets spiritual benefit.
The chanting of Kṛṣṇa’s holy name is like the sun rising in one’s darkened heart. This universe is full of darkness, and only by Kṛṣṇa’s arrangement for sunshine do we see light. As soon as the sun sets, the world comes under the influence of darkness. Likewise, our heart is full of the darkness of ignorance, but there is a light to dispel the darkness, and that light is Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Due to impious activities we are in ignorance, but to those who constantly engage in the service of the Lord with love and affection, Kṛṣṇa reveals Himself in the heart. By Kṛṣṇa’s special mercy, the devotees are always kept in the light of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Kṛṣṇa knows everyone’s intention or motive, and His mercy is especially meant for those who are sincerely engaged in His service.
Kṛṣṇa is equal to everyone, and as such, His mercy is unlimited. However, He is very much inclined toward His devotees. If one is prepared to accept His mercy unlimitedly, then He is prepared to give it unlimitedly. On account of our envious nature, however, we are not prepared to take His mercy. In the Bhagavad-gītā (18.66) Kṛṣṇa says, sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja/ ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi: “Just give up all other so-called religions and surrender to Me alone. I shall protect you from all sinful reactions.” He openly offers His protection, but we do not take it. Sunlight is also equally distributed throughout the universe, but if we close the door and do not come out to take advantage of it, that is our own fault. Sunlight and moonlight do not discriminate, illuminating the houses of brāhmaṇas while leaving caṇḍālas’ [dogeaters’] houses in darkness. No, the light is distributed indiscriminately. Similarly, the mercy of Kṛṣṇa is equally available to everyone, but it is up to each individual to accept God’s freely distributed mercy.
Naturally Kṛṣṇa bestows more mercy upon His devotee, because the devotee has the capacity to accept that mercy through service. The process of receiving the causeless mercy of the Lord is to render more and more service. We should be very enthusiastic to render service to the Lord. That enthusiasm will come when we chant Hare Kṛṣṇa with faith and determination.
Someone may argue, “I can see how chanting the holy name with faith is purifying, but if a man has no faith, then how will the holy name act?” Here are some examples: If an innocent child touches fire, knowingly or unknowingly, it will burn him. Or, if we give medicine to a child, it acts, even though he does not know the potency of the medicine or how it is acting. Poison also acts in this way. Similarly, the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra acts, even though we may not know how or why. Even ignorant lower creatures are benefited when we chant loudly. This is confirmed by Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura: “When one chants Hare Kṛṣṇa loudly, every living entity, moving or nonmoving, benefits.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 3.69)
The potency of the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa is confirmed by the spread of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. In countries where the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement is spreading, learned scholars and other thoughtful men are realizing its effectiveness. For example, Dr. J. Stillson Judah, a learned scholar, has been very much attracted to this movement because he has actually seen that it is turning hippies addicted to drugs into pure Vaiṣṇavas who voluntarily become servants of Kṛṣṇa and humanity. Even a few years ago, such hippies did not know the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, but now they are chanting it and becoming pure Vaiṣṇavas. Thus they are becoming free from all sinful activities, such as illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling. This is practical proof of the effectiveness of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. One may or may not know the value of chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, but if one somehow or other chants it, he will immediately be purified, just as one who takes a potent medicine will feel its effects, regardless of whether he takes it knowingly or unknowingly.
Another analogy: fire will act, regardless of whether handled by an innocent child or by someone well aware of its power. If a field of dry grass is set afire, either by a man who knows the power of fire or by a child who does not, the grass will be burned to ashes. Similarly, a person may or may not know the power of chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, but if he chants the holy name, he will become free from all sinful reactions. This is the correct conclusion of the Viṣṇudūtas.
Extended Lease on Life
The servants of Yamarāja are so powerful that generally they cannot be hindered anywhere, but this time they were baffled and disappointed in their attempt to take away a man they considered sinful. Therefore they immediately returned to Yamarāja and described to him everything that had happened. They thought that it was unnatural that Ajāmila, who had seemed eligible to be brought before Yamarāja, had been released by the Viṣṇudūtas.
Now Ajāmila was fully Kṛṣṇa conscious. By the divine association of the Viṣṇudūtas, who were highly elevated Vaiṣṇavas, Ajāmila came to his full consciousness. He had been arrested, but then he had been released, and now he was free from all fear. This is liberation. When one is situated in Kṛṣṇa consciousness by the association of Vaiṣṇavas, or devotees of the Lord, one becomes free from all fear. This position is eternal. Ajāmila became fearless due to being reinstated in his constitutional position. At once he began to offer nice prayers to the Viṣṇudūtas: vāñchā-kalpatarubhyaś ca kṛpā-sindhubhya eva ca: “I offer my respectful obeisances unto the devotees of the Lord, who are just like desire trees and oceans of mercy.” This is the life of a devotee: he is always offering prayers to other devotees. First he offers respects to his spiritual master, next to his grand-spiritual master, next to his great-grand-spiritual master, and then to all devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
Vaiṣṇavas are also Viṣṇudūtas because they carry out the orders of Kṛṣṇa. Lord Kṛṣṇa is very eager for all the conditioned souls rotting in this material world to surrender to Him and be saved from material pangs in this life and punishment in hellish conditions after death. A Vaiṣṇava therefore tries to bring conditioned souls to their senses. Those who are fortunate like Ajāmila are saved by the Viṣṇudūtas, or Vaiṣṇavas, and thus they return home, back to Godhead.
Good examples of merciful Vaiṣṇavas are the Six Gosvāmīs. They scrutinizingly studied all kinds of scriptures to establish the principles of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (The Nectar of Devotion) Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī quotes many verses from different scriptures in support of the principles of bhakti. Why did he and the other Gosvāmīs go to so much trouble and research? It is very laborious to research the Vedic literature in search of authoritative statements, and then to assimilate them in order to support the Vedic conclusions. But the Six Gosvāmīs took up that laborious work out of compassion for humanity.
Spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness, as the Six Gosvāmīs did, is the best welfare work for all humanity. There seem to be many other welfare activities, but their benefit is only temporary. The great welfare work of spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness, undertaken by exalted personalities such as the Six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana, has real value for all men because it is based upon substantial spiritual truth. The Vaiṣṇavas are just like desire trees (kalpa-vṛkṣa), for they can fulfill all one’s spiritual desires. And thus they are also oceans of mercy (kṛpā-sindhu).
Ajāmila heard the conversation between the Yamadūtas and the Viṣṇudūtas, and simply by hearing he was completely cleansed of all material contamination. Such is the purifying effect of hearing about Kṛṣṇa. Anyone who regularly hears the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the Bhagavad-gītā, the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, or any other Vaiṣṇava literature gets the same benefit as Ajāmila and becomes free of all material contamination.
Ajāmila was very grateful to the Viṣṇudūtas, and he immediately offered his respects by bowing down before them. Similarly, we have to make firm our relationships with the servants of Lord Viṣṇu. As Caitanya Mahāprabhu has said, gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ: “One should consider oneself the servant of the servant of the servant of Kṛṣṇa.” Without offering respects to the servant of Kṛṣṇa, no one can approach Kṛṣṇa.
After Ajāmila had offered his respects to the Viṣṇudūtas, he prepared to say something out of gratitude. But they immediately took their leave because they preferred that he glorify the Supreme Lord instead. Since all his sinful reactions had been vanquished, Ajāmila was now prepared to glorify the Lord. Indeed, one cannot glorify the Lord sincerely unless one is free from all sinful activities. This is confirmed by Kṛṣṇa Himself in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.28):
bhajante māṁ dṛḍha-vratāḥ
“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life and whose sinful actions are completely eradicated are freed from the duality of delusion, and they engage themselves in My service with determination.” The Viṣṇudūtas made Ajāmila aware of devotional service so that He might soon become fit to return home, back to Godhead. To increase his eagerness to glorify the Lord, they disappeared so that he would feel separation in their absence. In the mood of separation, glorification of the Lord is very intense.