Purpose of life is to realise the Absolute, Infinite and Supreme Brahman. Purpose of human birth is to realise God thereby freeing oneself from the vicious cycle of birth and death. If we understand and believe in this, we start seeking a Guru who will guide us in that path and make sure we reach the Infinite.
Bubbling with inquisitiveness and initial enthusiasm, when we finally meet our Guru, we expect Him to give us some ‘upadesa’, or to clear our innumerable doubts. When we do not see that happening, and on the contrary, we hear the Guru say, “Chant Nama! That will suffice. Do not worry about anything else”. That’s a first. We’ve never heard anything like this before. Unable to digest this simple path shown by our Guru, we prod him further, “But how do I attain God if I don’t follow the spiritual practices stipulated by our scriptures? How can I make any spiritual progress if I don’t study and understand the various shastras and brahmasutras?”
‘Just keep chanting. Even if you do it mechanically, it’s alright. Clap your hands and chant aloud’, the Guru insists. So we begin chanting, we start by keeping count and strictly adhere to the time allotted for Nama. Not a minute more, a few seconds less maybe. A few months into chanting mechanically this way, with no spiritual intention or thought whatsoever, we begin to observe our perspective towards the many things happening in our lives and around us.
We happen to witness a fund raiser program performed by ‘differently abled children’. We witness a small girl dancing with a pot on her head, so graciously and with extreme precision. She has no arms. The crowd breaks into a thunderous applause after the girl finishes. One exclaims, “What perfection and determination!” Another compliments, “Special child indeed. She is very gifted. God bless her”. A line of pity cuts across all the faces in the audience, including mine. I am equally distraught and in complete acceptance with all the words spoken by people around. But then, an unexpected thought occurs to me, “I have a perfectly healthy body. My arms are absolutely fine. What is stopping me from clapping my hands and chanting as much as possible?”
We witness the prevailing situations in many countries where the citizens have so many restrictions and rules. They are not allowed to pursue careers of their choice; they do not have freedom of speech, do not get to wear what they like, so on and so forth. Looking at this, we only wonder, ‘Living in such a liberal country, governed by good hearted people who have created an administration system that is truly by the people and for the people, where our choices are not forced or restricted, why are we still not doing something, which we know for a fact is for our greater good? Why are we still not chanting more and more Nama?’
When we see any political or social disarray in the country, we begin to feel that these are transient, and we rather spend time in chanting than discuss these affairs. We begin to recognize that good and bad are very subjective. What is acceptable to one, is completely unacceptable to another. What is recommended to some people or regions of the world, is totally banned for others. We realize all this is a matter of perspective and we start focusing on the path that we have been instructed to tread on by the Guru.
We see contract laborers working under the hot sun for negligible remuneration, terminally ill patients affected by cancer – ears, cheek or noses removed, in perennial pain and suffering. We hear of a close friend’s father die unexpectedly due to a massive cardiac arrest at the age of 50, contradicting the astrologer who had predicted a long life for him. We shed a tear. We are at a loss of words. But instantly our mind says, “God has given me such a lovely life filled with joy. Sufferings are only due to ‘prarabdha’ (destiny). Today, I am perfectly healthy. Yet here I am, wasting so much time every day doing petty things when I can spend that time chanting Nama”. At that time, when we hear people say, ‘Nama Chanting? Spirituality? Sure. After retirement, not right now’, we are amused at the manner in which they are so sure that death or disease will not strike them till or after retirement.
Few more months of chanting pass. We become more refined and a little more at peace. At that juncture, we listen to a song’s lines playing at a distance… “Poovarasan Poo Poothachu, Ponnuku Seithiyum Vanthachu” and we find ourselves mumbling along unconsciously. The moment we become conscious of this, we find it very meaningless, and remind ourselves to rather chant Nama than waste time singing along those meaningless lines. The TV Shows of dance, glitz and entertainment that were once our favorites begin to look very silly and superficial, and we cannot but wonder how the ones on screen look like jesters to us. Even socializing and meeting up with friends, and exchanging pleasantries start appearing futile. Every moment spent without Nama on our lips, seems to be a colossal waste.
We stop getting frustrated over feelings like lust and greed. We are in agreement that we need to get rid of them, but we also realize that these are a result of accumulation of our ‘vaasanas’(latent tendencies) piled up over hundreds of births, and just like bad odor emanating from filth, it is natural that these feelings emerge out of us now and then. We are assured that chanting Nama will slowly vanquish these ‘vaasanas’.
On consciously observing all this, a series of realisations invade our minds. What started as a mechanical process with ‘nil’ spiritual inclination has caused so much refinement and transformation in our thoughts. Was this voluntary? Was this our intention? Not at all, I would say. Nama has softened and refined our minds even without our knowledge. It has increased our faith, brought upon the fear of death, belief in after life, and fear of losing much time. We get over our ignorance and realise how insignificant, temporary and futile our role and part in this world is. Above all, it dawns upon us that Nama has planted a sapling called ‘thirst for god’ inside us without us even asking for it. Our yearning to reach God and liberate ourselves has become multifold. All this has happened over a period of time after we started chanting Nama and without us even wishing for it to happen. What we thought could be achieved only by complex spiritual practices and study of holy texts, we achieved by sheer repetition of the Holy Name.
Sri Swamiji explains this wonderfully by quoting Sri Sankaracharya’s Tattva Bodha - “nitya-anitya-vastu-viveka”, which means the ability to discern between the eternal and the ephemeral, the real and the illusion. It is easy to understand and relate to that which is visible to our eyes in this material world. But to understand or realize the invisible, formless, attribute-less Brahman, a Guru’s Grace is vital. To be recipients of the Guru’s Grace, one must believe in the Guru’s words, and implicitly obey his instructions and upadesas, sans any doubt or questioning. Although the instructions given are initially related to disciplining our worldly routine and affairs, as the disciple begins to follow them with steadfast faith, the Guru begins to believe in that disciple. It is the belief that the Guru gets on the disciple that will make His eternal Grace work, and take the disciple unto His loving fold.
We begin to agree that God Realisation cannot be obtained by a single request or permission, but should be a life-long quest with true yearning and craving that increases with each passing day. The more Nama we chant, the more our thirst and faith appreciates!
We, who were initially longing for an ‘upadesa’ from the Guru, begin to experience that the Nama bestowed on us by Him, has itself become our Guru!
~ Vignesh Sundararaman