Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (11.237) states:
yena janma-śataiḥ pūrvaṁ
sadā tiṣṭhanti bhārataḥ
O best of the dynasty of Bharata, the holy name of Śrī Hari is eternally present only in the mouth of one who has perfectly worshipped Vāsudeva for hundreds of births.
hare kṛṣṇa ṣolanāma aṣṭayuga haya
aṣṭayuga arthe aṣṭaśloka prabhu kaya
ādi hare kṛṣṇa arthe avidyā-damana
śraddhāra sahita kṛṣṇa-nāma-saṅkīrtana
āra hare kṛṣṇa nāma kṛṣṇa sarva-śakti
sādhu-saṅge nāmāśraye bhajanānurakti
sei ta bhajana-krame sarvānartha-nāśa
anarthāpagame nāme niṣṭhāra vikāśa
tṛtīye viśuddha-bhakta caritrera saha
kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa nāme niṣṭhā kare aharaha
caturthe ahaitukī bhakti uddīpana
ruci saha hare hare nāma-saṅkīrtana
pañcamete śuddha dāsya rucira sahita
hare rāma saṅkīrtana smaraṇa vihita
ṣaṣṭhe bhāvāṅkure hare rāmeti kīrtana
saṁsāre aruci kṛṣṇe ruci samarpaṇa
saptame madhurāsakti rādhā-padāśraya
vipralambhe rāma rāma nāmera udaya
aṣṭame vrajete aṣṭa-kāla gopī-bhāva
rādhā-kṛṣṇa-prema-sevā prayojana lābha
The word samarcita in this Text means “properly worshipped”. Here Svayam Bhagavān says to Arjuna, “O Arjuna, when one has worshipped Bhagavān Vāsudeva for several births according to rules and regulations, his heart becomes indifferent to lust and so on. Indeed, Mukunda appears in the heart of such a person.” The scriptures present the system of arcana to enable the neophyte devotee (kaniṣṭha-adhikārī) to develop pure, good behaviour and to bring him to the practice of bhagavad-bhakti. By performance of arcana his heart will gradually become pure and freed from sorrow, anger, fear and so forth. In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.115) Rūpa Gosvāmipāda says:
ākrāntaṁ yasya mānasam
kathaṁ tatra mukundasya
How can Mukunda manifest in the heart of a person who is filled with emotions like grief and anger?
In the scriptures, smaraṇa is considered to be a part of arcana; one remembers the object of worship at the time of arcana. For a neophyte devotee arcana is superior to smaraṇa, but the compilers of the scriptures conclude that one attains the actual fruit of arcana only when it is performed with kīrtana. This is the rule for performing arcana in Kali-yuga.
The mahā-mantra is that harināma which is composed of sixteen names, or eight pairs of names, and consists of thirty-two syllables. Śrīman Mahāprabhu revealed to the world the meanings of these eight pairs of names in the eight verses of His Śikṣāṣṭaka. The steps from śraddhā to prema begin from the first verse and continue up to the eighth.
The hidden meaning of the first pair of names – Hare Kṛṣṇa – is that performing kṛṣṇa-nāma-saṅkīrtana with śraddhā nullifies ignorance and cleanses the mirror-like heart. The second pair of names – Hare Kṛṣṇa – indicates that all potencies, such as mercy, are invested in the holy name. These potencies destroy the ignorance in the heart of the sādhaka who performs nāma-kīrtana, and they create attachment for bhajana, which takes the form of performing harināma-saṅkīrtana in the association of devotees. Performance of such bhajana gradually destroys all kinds of impediments (anarthas) and produces unwavering faith (niṣṭhā) in bhajana.
When a sādhaka on the platform of bhāva (a jāta-rati-sādhaka) chants the first and second pairs of names – Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa – he remembers the pastimes in which Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa meet. Under the guidance of Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī and other vraja-devīs, he performs mānasī-sevā to Śrī Rādhā-Govinda in his internally contemplated form of a gopī.
When the sādhaka remembers Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s eternal forms, pastimes, qualities and so forth, Their līlā-vilāsa manifests, as does direct service to Them within these pastimes. This service is the wish-fulfilling tree (keli-kalpa-taru) of all treasured yearnings. The sādhaka constantly remembers Lalitā and the other sakhīs; in other words, he serves in his eternally perfect body (siddha-deha) under their guidance.
By continuously chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, a sādhaka who has not attained the stage of bhāva (an ajāta-rati-sādhaka) has his anarthas gradually removed and develops steadfastness in chanting. Consequently his intelligence becomes fixed and he develops resolute attachment (niṣṭhā) for kṛṣṇa-nāma. Such a sādhaka pursues as his ideal the character, service and goal of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī and other pure devotees.
While chanting the third pair of names – Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa – this sādhaka follows the ideal character of the pure devotees, their way of chanting a fixed number of rounds, their offering of a fixed number of obeisances, their renunciation of material enjoyment and their utterance of prayers and glorifications. With firm faith he chants the holy name day and night. The jāta-rati-sādhaka, on the other hand, remembers the pastimes of Śrī Rādhā and the other gopīs when Śrī Kṛṣṇa leaves for cowherding, as well as the moods of separation they experience at that time.
With the fourth pair of names – Hare Hare – unalloyed bhakti is stimulated within the heart of the ajāta-rati-sādhaka when he performs nāma-saṅkīrtana with taste (ruci). The jāta-rati-sādhaka chants this fourth pair of holy names with great affection, and Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes of meeting awaken within his heart.
While chanting the fifth pair of names – Hare Rāma – the ajāta-rati-sādhaka prays for the mood of servitude (dāsya-bhāva) to appear in his heart. Attachment (āsakti) for nāma-bhajana arises at this time and remembrance of pastimes begins. With attachment, that sādhaka cultivates the conception that he is a servant of Kṛṣṇa. The jāta-rati-sādhaka remembers the pastime of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa’s meeting after Kṛṣṇa returns from cowherding. The gopīs see to Kṛṣṇa’s bath, dressing and so forth in the house of Nanda, and they help Rohiṇī-devī cook various preparations for Him.
In this way, as the ajāta-rati-sādhaka continuously chants the holy name, he attains the inherent mercy of Nāma Prabhu, and his heart begins to soften and melt. Śuddha-sattva (unalloyed goodness) then arises in his heart, and his taste for chanting the holy name thickens. In the heart of this sādhaka, the mood of āsakti sprouts and the nine symptoms of bhāva – kṣāntir avyartha-kālatvam – begin to manifest.
At this stage the sādhaka tastes the chanting of the sixth pair of names – Hare Rāma – and a natural aversion for that which is unrelated to Kṛṣṇa manifests. By the sādhaka’s chanting of the holy name with complete dedication to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, his heart melts and becomes extremely soft. Tears (aśru), horripilation (pulaka) and other aṣṭa-sāttvika-bhāvas manifest to the degree of dhūmāyita (smouldering)3. With this pair of names, the jāta-rati-sādhaka remembers how Rādhikā becomes completely delighted upon obtaining Kṛṣṇa’s remnants through Dhaniṣṭhā. Simultaneously She receives information regarding where Their rendezvous will take place later that evening.
Chanting the seventh pair of names – Rāma Rāma – the nāma-sādhaka, who has taken shelter of mādhurya-rasa with an exclusive service mood to Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Yugala, attains the exclusive shelter of Śrī Rādhā’s lotus feet. In other words, he attains the transcendental sentiments of one of Śrīmatī Rādhikā’s maidservants (pālyadāsīs), whose hearts are one with Hers. He also attains the ekādaśa-bhāvas and the five daśās.4 Overwhelmed by the mood of separation (vipralambha-rasa), however, the sādhaka performs nāma-saṅkīrtana considering himself devoid of bhakti. At this time an internal transcendental vision (sphūrti) manifests in his heart: Śrī Rādhā is intensely eager to meet Kṛṣṇa and, following Vṛndā-devī’s instruction, goes to meet Him in a kuñja on the bank of the Yamunā. Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, fully absorbed in thinking of each other, search for one another.
Performing kīrtana of the eighth pair of names – Hare Hare – the sādhaka engages in the sweet prema-sevā of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa in the manifested Vraja-dhāma throughout the eight divisions of the day and night (aṣṭa-kāla). In other words, the sādhaka attains service imbued with the mood of the gopīs in his eternal form (svarūpa). As he performs nāma-bhajana of this pair of names, he remembers the pastimes of Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s meeting, in which the completely dedicated mañjarīs of Śrī Rādhā are serving Śrī Yugala by offering betel, massaging Their feet and so on.
Śrī Bhajana-rahasya is truly a treasure chest of rahasyas, intimate secrets. The secret of the qualification to enter bhajana is hidden in the first yāma of Bhajana-rahasya, niśānta-bhajana. This secret is śraddhā, faith. After the stage of sādhu-saṅga, when sādhana is executed through the performance of nāma-saṅkīrtana under the shelter of the spiritual master and with sambandha-jñāna, anarthas are eliminated. The first verse of Śrī Śikṣāṣṭaka, ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanam, indicates the most favourable process of bhajana for this stage.
The second yāma, prātaḥ-kālīya-bhajana, holds the secret of the removal of anarthas (anartha-nivṛtti) in the association of devotees. Nāma (the holy name) and nāmī (the possessor of the name) are non-different in tattva. Mercy and all other potencies of the personification of nāma are placed within the name of Bhagavān, and cleansing the heart (ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanam) becomes possible by performing such bhajana. The second yāma explains the secrets of nāma-bhajana in accordance with the mood of the second verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka, which begins with the words nāmnām akāri.
Bhajana with firm faith (bhajana-niṣṭhā) is the subject of the third yāma, pūrvāhna-kālīya-bhajana. Performing nāma-bhajana with niṣṭhā extinguishes the blazing forest fire of material existence (bhava-mahā-dāvāgni). Bhajana that is performed without pride (amānī) and with respect for others in relation to their respective positions (mānada) is the secret hidden within this yāma. This is stated in the words of the third verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka, tṛṇād api sunīcena taror api sahiṣṇunā.
The secrets of ruci are found to be concealed within the fourth yāma, madhyāhna-kālīya-bhajana. In the stage of ruci, the sādhaka has no other prominent desire but to serve Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The transcendental sentiments of prayers such as śreyaḥ kairava-candrikā-vitaraṇam (Śikṣāṣṭaka (1)) and na dhanaṁ na janam (Śikṣāṣṭaka (4)) explain bhajana in this stage.
In the fifth yāma, aparāhna-kālīya-bhajana, the nāma-sādhaka is praying to attain his true identity as an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa. Here an attachment for both bhajana and the object of bhajana (bhajanīya) is especially awakened. By performing such bhajana, one realises that the holy name is without doubt the very life of all transcendental knowledge, vidyā-vadhū-jīvanam. At this stage, the mood of the prayer ayi nanda-tanuja kiṅkaram (Śikṣāṣṭaka (5)) appears in the heart of the sādhaka.
The secret of performing nāma-bhajana with bhāva lies hidden within the sixth yāma, sāyaṁ-kālīya-bhajana. At this stage, the external symptoms of perfection become visible. By performing nāma-saṅkīrtana with bhāva, the ocean of transcendental bliss begins to expand (ānandāmbudhi-vardhanam), and prayers like nayanaṁ galad-aśru-dhārayā (Śikṣāṣṭaka (6)) arise in the devotee’s heart. This is all discussed in this yāma.
The seventh yāma, pradoṣa-kālīya-bhajana, presents a discussion on the internal symptoms of perfection. At this stage, when nāma-bhajana is performed with realisation of the mood of sepa-ration (viraha, or vipralambha), it is possible to taste complete nectar at every step, prati-padaṁ pūrṇāmṛtāsvādanam. Prayers to obtain vipralambha-prema, as described in the seventh verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka, yugāyitaṁ nimeṣeṇa, begin in this yāma.
The secret of prema-bhajana is hidden in the eighth yāma, rātri-līlā-bhajana, which describes perfection together with aikāntika-niṣṭhā, one-pointed dependence on Kṛṣṇa. Such a stage bestows sarvātma-snapanam, the complete purification of the jīvātmā, both inside and out. The desire to obtain bhāva (here referring to the stage just prior to mahābhāva), which is described in the eighth verse of Śikṣāṣtaka, āśliṣya vā pāda-ratām, is contained within this eighth yāma.
Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.4.15–16) states:
ādau śraddhā tataḥ sādhu-
saṅgo ’tha bhajana-kriyā
tato ’nartha-nivṛttiḥ syāt
tato niṣṭhā rucis tataḥ
athāsaktis tato bhāvas
sādhakānām ayaṁ premṇaḥ
prādurbhāve bhavet kramaḥ
[This verse describes the gradual development of the sādhaka’s devotion.] Sukṛti that gives rise to bhakti generates transcen-dental faith (paramārthika-śraddhā). Faith in the words of the scriptures and a desire to hear hari-kathā are the symptoms of this śraddhā. Upon its appearance, one gets the opportunity for sādhu-saṅga, and then bhajana-kriyā (devotional activity) begins. Anartha-nivṛtti is also initiated at this time, and thereafter niṣṭhā arises in bhajana. This is followed by ruci, and then āsakti arises for both bhajana and the object of bhajana. When this stage ripens it is transformed into the state of bhāva, and thereafter prema arises. This is how prema gradually manifests in the heart of the sādhaka.
bhakti-mūlā sukṛti haite śraddhodaya
śraddhā haile sādhu-saṅga anāyāse haya
sādhu-saṅga phale haya bhajanera śikṣā
bhajana-śikṣāra saṅge nāma mantra dīkṣā
bhajite-bhajite haya anarthera kṣaya
anartha kharvita haile niṣṭhāra udaya
niṣṭhā-nāme yata haya anartha-vināśa
nāme tata ruci-krame haibe prakāśa
ruci-yukta nāmete anartha yata yāya
tatai āsakti nāme bhakta-jana pāya
nāmāsakti krame sarvānartha dūra haya
tabe bhāvodaya haya ei ta niścaya
iti madhye asat-saṅge pratiṣṭhā janmiyā
kuṭīnāṭī dvāre deya nimne phelāiyā
ati sāvadhāne bhāī asat-saṅga tyaja
nirantara parānande harināma bhaja
The Kātyāyana-saṁhitā (quoted in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.51)) states:
Whether I am burned by fire or remain encaged forever, I will never, ever desire the association of those who are averse to Kṛṣṇa.
The Viṣṇu-rahasya (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.112)) states:
āliṅganaṁ varaṁ manye
na saṅgaḥ śalya-yuktānāṁ
It is better to live with or embrace a snake, a tiger or an alligator than to associate with those whose hearts are filled with varieties of material desires and who worship various demigods.
agnite puḍi vā pañjarete baddha hai
tabu kṛṣṇa-bahirmukha saṅga nāhi lai
varaṁ sarpa-vyāghra-kumbhīrera āliṅgana
anyasevi saṅga nāhi kari kadācana
(for Texts 8–9)
These two Texts instruct the sādhaka to seek the association of devotees of Kṛṣṇa who are like-minded and favourable to oneself. The ācāryas instruct the sādhaka to accept what is favourable for bhakti and to reject what is unfavourable. One should completely give up bad association. This means one should renounce association with the opposite sex and with those desiring liberation. The sādhaka should exclusively hear and chant the narrations of Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Yugala’s pastimes. The association of like-minded devotees is beneficial for the performance of this sādhana.
A sādhaka should also stay far away from the association of demigod worshippers; a good example of this are the followers of the Śrī sampradāya, who never enter a temple of Śiva nor worship him. The sādhaka should also carefully avoid the company of materialists and persons averse to Kṛṣṇa, for they will pollute his heart. In this regard the example of Śrīla Gaura-kiśora dāsa Bābājī is quite suitable. Occasionally, to avoid the approach of materialists, Śrīla Bābājī Mahārāja would lock himself in a public lavatory and perform his bhajana there. He maintained that the stench of excrement was superior to the “odour” of materialistic people. Various kinds of material desires arise in the heart of a jīva who has bad association, and he thus becomes degraded. Therefore sādhakas of pure kṛṣṇa-bhakti should avoid detrimental association.
Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (2.1.103) states that nāma-ābhāsa destroys all sins and liberates one from material existence:
taṁ nirvyājaṁ bhaja guṇa-nidhiṁ pāvanaṁ pāvanānāṁ
śraddhā rajyan matir atitarām uttama-śloka-maulim
prodyann antaḥ-karaṇa-kuhare hanta yan-nāma-bhānor
ābhāso ’pi kṣapayati mahā-pātaka-dhvānta-rāśim
O reservoir of good qualities, just faithfully perform bhajana of Śrī Kṛṣṇa without duplicity. He is the supreme saviour among all saviours, and the most exalted of those worshipped with poetic hymns. When even a slight appearance of His name, which is like the sun, arises in one’s cave-like heart, it destroys the darkness of great sins that are present there.
parama pāvana kṛṣṇa tāṅhāra-caraṇa
niṣkapaṭa śraddhā-saha karaha bhajana
yāṅra nāma sūryābhāsa antare praveśi
dhvaṁsa kare kahāpāpa andhakāra rāśi
ei śikṣāṣṭake kahe kṛṣṇa-līlā-krama
ihāte bhajana-krame līlāra udgama
prathame prathama śloka bhaja kichu dina
dvitīya ślokete tabe haota pravīṇa
cāri śloke kramaśaḥ bhajana pakva kara
pañcama ślokete nija-siddha-deha bara
ai śloke siddha-dehe rādhā-padāśraya
ārambha kariyā krame unnati udaya
chaya śloka bhajite anartha dūre gela
tabe jāna siddha-dehe adhikāra haila
adhikāra nā labhiyā siddha-deha bhāve
viparyaya buddhi janme śaktira abhāve
sāvadhāne krama dhara yadi siddhi cāo
sādhura carita dekhi’ śuddha-buddhi pāo
siddha-deha peye krame bhajana karile
aṣṭa-kāla sevā-sukha anāyāse mile
śikṣāṣṭaka cinta, kara smaraṇa kīrtana
krame aṣṭa-kāla-sevā habe uddīpana
sakala anartha yābe pābe prema-dhana
catur-varga phalgu-prāya habe adarśana
When the holy name is chanted without any desire other than that for bhakti, when it is not covered by jñāna, karma and so forth, and when it is chanted in a favourable mood with a sense of one’s relationship (sambandha) with Kṛṣṇa, it is called śuddha-nāma, the pure name. If it is not śuddha-nāma, it is called nāma-ābhāsa, a semblance of the holy name. When one’s chanting of the holy name is aśuddha, covered with ignorance, or in other words when it has the defects of bhrama (the tendency to commit mistakes) and pramāda (the tendency to be illusioned), it is called nāma-ābhāsa. Nāma-ābhāsa also refers to the chanting of the name when one is absorbed in matters unrelated to Kṛṣṇa. And when aśuddha-nāma is chanted with desires for liberation and enjoyment, due to the influence of māyāvāda (impersonalism) and so on, it is called nāma-aparādha.
The semblance of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s name is so powerful that it is capable of putting an end to the darkness of the greatest of sins. Nāma-ābhāsa enters the ears of the jīva, rises in his cave-like heart and liberates him. Moreover, if one who chants nāma-ābhāsa gives up bad association and constantly remains in the association of pure devotees, he will very quickly attain śuddha-bhakti and the topmost goal of life – kṛṣṇa-prema.
Nanda-nandana Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate limit of bhagavattā (the quality of being Bhagavān). He is all-powerful (sarva-śaktimān) and supremely merciful. Even a semblance of His name burns the most terrible sins to ashes and makes the heart pure and pleasant. It is therefore necessary to perform one’s bhajana sincerely and faithfully.
The process of gradually developing kṛṣṇa-bhajana is described in Śrī Śikṣāṣṭaka. Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes will progressively manifest in the heart of the sādhaka who is following this process. First, one should practise according to the rules of bhajana mentioned in the first verse. Thereafter, by faithfully following the second, third and fourth verses, one’s bhajana will gradually become mature. When that is achieved, one should perform bhajana according to the sentiments contained in the fifth verse, and one should contemplate one’s perfect spiritual body (siddha-deha), which develops gradually by taking exclusive shelter of Śrīmatī Rādhikā’s lotus feet. By continuously performing bhajana in this way, all anarthas will be removed and one will receive the eligibility to attain one’s siddha-deha. As long as anarthas are present, one can never attain one’s siddha-deha. The intelligence of those who try to contemplate their siddha-deha without sufficient qualification becomes spoilt due to their lack of strength, and their entire bhajana is ruined. This is called sahajiyā-bhāva, and it is thoroughly opposed to pure bhajana. If there is an honest desire to attain perfection, one should carefully adopt the gradual process of bhajana as mentioned previously and follow the path of Śrī Rūpa, Śrī Raghunātha and other mahājanas who are expert in bhajana.
By performing bhajana in this way and having obtained one’s siddha-deha, one easily attains the happiness of aṣṭa-kālīya-sevā, service in Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s eternal pastimes during the eight periods of the day. Therefore, contemplating the sentiments of Śikṣāṣṭaka through smaraṇa and kīrtana will gradually stimulate aṣṭa-kālīya-sevā. All anarthas will be removed by this process and one will easily be able to attain prema-dharma. At that time the four ultimate goals of human life (puruṣārthas) – religiosity (dharma), economic development (artha), sense gratification (kāma) and liberation (mokṣa) – will appear very insignificant.