What’s in a Name?By
Shyamdas, an American devotee of Neem Karoli Baba, has been living in India for many years and is a kirtan expert. This article is adapted from the liner notes of the CD Kirtan: Maha Mantra in the Himalayas – Volume One of the India Odyssey Series, due to be released in March 2004 by Karuna Music. Used with permission.
Like most religions, Hindu tradition places great emphasis on the power of God’s name, especially when repeated in chant. The following stories describe how even accidental repetition of the sacred name can lead to enlightenment.
The account of Ajamila, found in the Bhagavat, reveals the merit of the Divine name. One day Ajamila, a very fallen Brahmin, while being taken off to the abode of death, called out the name of his youngest son, “Narayana!” (also the name of God). At that moment, God’s servants arrived on the scene and told the attendants of death, “Free this man! He has called out the name of God.”
The attendants of death objected, “He was calling out the name of his son!”
Narayana’s messengers explained, “It doesn’t matter! That single recitation of Narayana’s name has liberated him from all previous karmas. Now set him free.” Ajamila went on to realize the greatness of the holy name and became a great saint.
There is also the story of Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana. Before Valmiki became a saint, he was a thief. One day he tried to rob some holy men and demanded from them everything they owned. They calmly told him, “Our greatest wealth is the name of Rama! Please steal it from us.”
Valmiki ‘stole’ the name of Rama from them, but he was so perplexed that he could not remember the sacred name correctly. Instead of saying, “Rama,” he repeated the name backwards, saying “Mara,” which means ‘murder.’ Still, Valmiki attained, and he shared his realization through the amazing epic of Lord Rama, the Ramayana.
The name “Krishna” means ‘the all-attractive One.’ Krishna also means Perfect Bliss, and of course Krishna is the Lord of the Gopis. “Rama,” another name of God, is not only Sita’s husband, but also the abode of divine refuge. Rama also contains the inner meaning of, “The One who makes divine dalliance.”
Some people say that the secret meaning of the Hare Krishna Maha mantra is that Rama really refers to Radha, who is calling out to Krishna, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare!” Then Krishna responds to her, “Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.” Truly, the sacred names contain many meanings and speak to each of us in unique ways.