How literal is the famous śloka from Bṛhan-Nāradīyā Purāṇa is? First thing – I don’t have English translation of this purāṇa and so know only that it’s a verse 38.126. There’s unnamed source floating on the internet which claims that there are only twenty two chapters in that purāṇa, I don’t know how credible it is. There’s a paperback on Amazon with Vyasadeva himself listed as the author but I’m not going to order it just to check, sorry. The verse, of course is this:
harer nāma harer nāma
harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva
nāsty eva gatir anyathā
Since it appears in Caitanya Caritāmṛta (Adi 17.21) there’s no reason to believe that it’s a new invention as it has been around for some five hundred years. Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja wrote it down many years after disappearance of Mahāprabhu but during that time we had Six Gosvāmīs, particularly Śrīla Gopāla Bhāṭṭa Gosvāmī, going through all the Vedic literature to put books like Hari Bhakit Vilāsa together, which is nothing but a compilation of authoritative quotes. It’s inconceivable that harer nāma verse went unnoticed and unsourced and no one ever checked its authenticity.
It is also highly unlikely that anyone would insert this verse there prior to the appearance of Lord Caitanya because hari nāma wasn’t a thing then, no one was interested, no one had a motive, and so the verse should be accepted as genuine.
Next question would be about the context and this is what we don’t have. The context won’t change the primary meaning but it could give us a scope for its application, though even the scope is given in the śloka itself – the age of Kali. Someone who can read Sanskrit can check the original online but I bet that there are no excuses given there after the verse repeated “there’s no other way” three times.
So, the meaning should be taken as literally as we possibly can, there’s no leeway in interpretation, and here is where our intelligence often fails us. I have tried to find any alternative prescriptions so that people could object “it’s just one verse, there are others that contradict it”, but there aren’t any. There’s Kali Saṇṭāraṇa Upaniṣad which is just as clear and explicit.
It’s a short conversation between Lord Brahmā and Nārada Muni at the end of Dvāpara yuga and Nārada Muni gets straight to the point from verse one – how can people save themselves from the degradation of the incoming age of Kali. Lord Brahmā congratulated him for asking a question for the benefit of the whole humankind and replied that they can protect themselves simply by chanting the names of Nārāyaṇa. “Which names specifically?” Nārada asked, and in reply Lord Brahmā recited our mahāmantra.
Now, there’s some confusion whether it starts with Hare Rāma or with Hare Kṛṣṇa. There’s an opinion that the original order was later switched by Rāmānandis who naturally wanted to put Lord Rāma’s name first. This one is a bit of mystery but we shouldn’t have a problem with whatever order because once you start chanting non-stop you still get to pronounce the whole thing, wherever the true beginning of the mantra is. We also have the testimony of our entire sampradāya that it works.
Lord Brahmā then said that chanting this mantra destroys illusory cover of the soul and allows Parā Brahman to shine within one’s heart. Nārada asked about the rules for its chanting and Brahmā replied that there aren’t any. He then said that this mantra destroys sins of killing a brāhmaṇa and some other serios ones, if chanted 35 million times, and concluded by saying that it delivers one from sins of abandoning all varieties of religion (exact words Kṛṣṇa used in Bhagavad Gītā) and repeated that it’s the only way three times, just like Nāradīya Puraṇa.
That’s the whole upaniṣad, btw, only eleven verses.
Once again, the meaning is clear and indisputable – in this age of Kali there’s only one method, chanting of the holy name, and there aren’t any others. Other methods are obviously there, too, just look around, but they don’t work, and that’s the most important part.
We clearly have alternatives in our lives, from atheism to Christianity to Buddhism to impersonalism to māyāvāda and they appear genuine and attractive to conditioned souls but they don’t work, period.
Our disbelieving nature would then prompt us to ask “Why?” We think it’s a good thing – to ask questions, we are told to question everything right from the start of our education, the whole modern western civilization is build on “transparency” and “openness”, demanding answers is not only our right but a duty, we’ve been taught.
Nārada Muni didn’t ask why, what makes us better than him?
We might never know why practices of yoga and jñāna are ineffective in shielding souls from the effects of Kali but we can observe it in real life. No one achieves perfection by doing yoga anymore. We might have some examples somewhere high in the Himalayas but then they wouldn’t be under the influence of Kali there, would they? It’s not the yoga that protects them there, it’s the mountains.
They, if they even exist, avoid Kali by all means. They stay away from people, who are prime carriers of this disease, and they stay away from animals and vegetation, too. There isn’t a living soul around them to contaminate their environment with their egoistic attitudes. Air is still clean, there aren’t smells of urine or cooking meat wafting through their caves and there’s no industrial pollution either. Since they only breath air, once in a while, they do not interact with the world in any way and they wouldn’t even know if Kali was there, his influence doesn’t reach them and therefore can’t disturb their meditation.
Needless to say, it’s not for us, we are full blown Kali carriers, we ARE the disease, caves won’t help us. Our defensive walls should be built right around our hearts and spread from there, gradually purifying all aspects of our existence. Simply isolating our bodies won’t be enough, the disease is already within.
Karma isn’t even a serious yoga and it requires full support from the material energy, and in Kali yuga the material energy just doesn’t cooperate. There aren’t even suitable ingredients for the sacrifices, there aren’t qualified priests, and that’s in India itself. In the west this way of life is simply implausible. Karma yoga is a societal, communal effort, and in this day the best we can do is to give small part of our money to temples and hope they don’t misuse it, which they very likely will. The misuse will bring negative karma back to us and reduce our ability and desire to continue. Protecting ourselves by doing karma yoga is out of the question.
That leaves jñāna yoga and it’s not so easy to rule it out effectively, I’ll explain why I think so the next time.