The Power of the Lord's Name and the Efficacy of Namasmarana According to Sri Sathya Sai Baba
The Best Sadhana for Kali Yuga
According to the Hindu scriptures, time has been divided into four eras or aeons which keep repeating in a cycle. Each of these aeons or Yugas is supposed to last for a multiple of 432,000 years. The four Yugas are as follows:
1. Sathya Yuga (The Golden Age)
2. Treta Yuga (The Bonze Age)
3. Dwapara Yuga (The Silver Age)
4. Kali Yuga (The Iron Age)
For each of these four ages, a different spiritual activity, or sadhana, has been prescribed. The current age, Kali Yuga, is best dealt with by namasmarana, or the constant remembrance (and chanting) of the Divine Name of the Lord. Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba has always emphasized on the importance of this namasmarana. He has stated on numerous occasions that the name of the Lord materializes the form of the Lord, meaning that name = form.
On several occasions, I have heard Swami (as Bhagawan Baba is lovingly called) expound on the power-potential of namasmarana through a short story or Chinna Katha as he calls it. There are several versions of this story, and here is one.
The Power of the Name: a Story
Once upon a time, the celestial and ever-wandering sage Narada got a doubt. He began to wonder on the power inherent in the Lord’s name. This was surprising, considering the fact that he always chanted the name of his Lord, Narayana. But then, these things happen in life when, suddenly, you stop doing whatever you are doing and question the wisdom and logic behind the same. Unable to understand the power of the Lord’s name, sage Narada approached his Lord Narayana (or Sri Maha Vishnu) and asked him:
“Lord, please forgive my impertinence and indulge me. What is the power of the Lord’s name? I have been contemplating on your name and chanting it too for all my life. So, I would love to hear the answer from you.”
Lord Narayana smiled and told him:
“Narada, there is never a wrong time to get a doubt cleared. But once your doubt is cleared and you are given an experience, hold on to the lesson with faith. Do not be like a monkey that daily pulled out a planted sapling to check whether the roots were growing!”
“I understand, my Lord. I shall not be like that. Seeing the growth of leaves and fruits on the plant, I will have faith that the roots are indeed growing stronger within the soil. But as you yourself said, till the doubt is cleared, the lack of faith is not a sin!”
“True Narada. But I need not answer your question. You see that parrot there? Go and ask your question of the parrot.”
Narada approaches the parrot. The parrot bows down to the great sage, and Narada blesses it with "Ayushman Bhava" (May you enjoy a long life). Then, he asks:
“Tell me, dear parrot, what is the power inherent in the name 'Narayana'?”
Even as the question was completed, the parrot rolled its eyes and fell to the ground with a soft thud—dead! Narada was horrified. This was not what he expected. He rushed back to his Lord and reported what had happened. The great Vishnu however, was not at all perturbed.
“Is that so? Then listen. A cow in a farmer’s barn has just delivered a calf. Go to the calf and ask your question of that calf.”
“But why did the parrot have such a seizure and death?”
“You will understand everything in its own sweet time. Go now to the calf and quell your doubts.”
Narada hesitatingly goes to the aforementioned barn. He approaches the cow with humility and reverence, for the cow is a mother that sustains human babies too. The cow salutes him and Narada says:
“Mother! I see that you have been blessed with a bonny baby. If you permit, I would like to ask your little calf a small question...”
With the cow’s permission, Narada asks the calf:
“What is the reward of chanting the name of 'Narayana'?”
The calf raised its head, saw Narada, and fell dead. Narada was now stupefied and really scared of even saying the divine name any more! He went to Narayana again.
“Oh Lord! What is happening? I will not leave until I learnt the truth. Is this the reward of chanting your name?”
“Don’t be hasty, Narada. Haste makes waste, and waste leads to worry. So, do not be in a hurry. Be patient. A son has been born to the king of this land just yesterday. The king is very happy, for the child has been proclaimed by the sages as a great heir. Go and ask the child the same question.”
Now, Narada was afraid. He thought:
”If the child also died, the soldiers will arrest me. I may also die. The kingdom will become heirless. Is this the reward?”
“Don’t be hasty. Go and ask the child.”
Narada went to the king. The child was brought on a golden plate. Narada asked the king,
“Oh, king! Can I ask the child a question?”
The king agreed.
"Oh, prince! Tell me what is the reward of chanting the name of 'Narayana'?"
Hearing this the baby prince spoke.
“Oh, Narada! Is this all that you have learnt? You chant the Lord’s name for 24 hours, but don’t know its taste or effect. First, I was born as a parrot. When I heard the name Narayana, I was liberated to a higher birth instantaneously. Next, I was born as a calf. This was an even better life. Bharatiyas worship cows. I heard the Lord’s name and was liberated again from the calf’s body. Now I am born as a prince. Where is a parrot, calf, and where is a prince? By chanting God’s name, we go to higher states. I have become a prince. This is my fortune. This is the reward of listening to Narayana’s name.”
The Story of Ajamila
It is said that the thoughts one holds just before death determines the next birth. If thoughts center around money, that is where the thoughts would center in the next birth for that soul. And so, if the final thoughts of a person is that of God, he/she will attain or get a birth that will ensure that he/she seeks God and finds fulfillment. Every devout Hindu therefore wishes to die with the name of his/her dear Lord (from among the lakhs of deities available!) in mind and heart.
To emphasize on this, the scriptures narrate the story of Ajamila. In short, it is the story of a very sinful person by name Ajamila. Having led a life full of sins, when the moment of death comes, he is all alone and forlorn. In desperation, he calls out the name of his son, Narayana. And that single act saves him. He is redeemed, for he took the name of the Lord just before death.
The Modern Day ‘Ajamila’
Though meant to inspire, the story of Ajamila often encourages people to postpone thinking about God and the chanting of the deity's name to the last moment. The thought is,
“The last minute matters right? So let me do whatever I want in my life and think of the Lord in the last moments of my life alone.”
The 100-meter dash in an Olympic final requires one to just beat 9 other competitors in a time span of less than half a minute. But everyone knows that this apparently simple task needs a lifetime of hard practice to achieve! So too it is with Namasmarana. A lifetime of practice is necessary to ensure the perfect ‘run’ in those final few moments that matter. Swami narrates another short story to highlight this.
There was once a person who was inspired by Ajamila’s story. So, he named his four sons as Rama, Krishna, Govinda, and Narayana—the different names of the Lord. He felt that when the last minute came, he would definitely call out to them and thus be assured of salvation. Having prepared thus, he led his entire life completely immersed in the material world—his wife, children, and most importantly, the business of his little shop.
When he was on his deathbed, perfectly according to his plan, he called out:
“Rama! Krishna! Govinda! Narayana!”
The four sons rushed to his bedside. The father was about to close his eyes and pass away when suddenly he screamed out:
“Fools! All of you are here?! Who is taking care of the shop then??”
Saying so, he died!
Whenever the question of Namasmarana comes up, I am always reminded of these three stories. In my opinion, they are a comprehensive coverage on all that one needs to know about the power of the name.
Let us choose any name and form of our choice. And let us begin the lifetime of preparation. Just contemplation on the name and chanting it brings so much peace and joy. It safeguards and protects. It relieves anxieties and worries.
All the very best to one and all on this endeavour.
© 2013 Aravind Balasubramanya