Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #33 – The Agony, the Ecstasy, and the Holy Name

August 19th, 2019

In bhakti, agony can be ecstasy. An example:


“Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu spoke, ‘My dear beautiful friend, if one develops love of Godhead, love of Krishna, the son of Nanda Mahārāja, all the bitter and sweet influences of this love will manifest in one’s heart. Such love of Godhead acts in two ways. The poisonous effects of love of Godhead defeat the severe and fresh poison of the serpent. Yet there is simultaneously transcendental bliss, which pours down and defeats the pride of nectar and diminishes its value. In other words, love of Krishna is so powerful that it simultaneously defeats the poisonous effects of a snake, as well as the happiness derived from pouring nectar on one’s head. It is perceived as doubly effective, simultaneously poisonous and nectarean.’” (Cc. Antya-līlā 1.148)


This description of agony and ecstasy is quite an elevated topic, but also core to the general practice of bhakti, at least the correlation between discomfort and devotion. Here’s the agony/ecstasy principle made simple.


The highest happiness is selfless love or devotion. It doesn’t always come easy, but any struggle done out of selfless devotion is mixed with a counter-intuitive feeling of happiness, because devotion is happiness. Hopefully a few examples of this apparent dichotomy will help clarify this point.


The first of five saṁskāras (good impressions) required for one taking initiation (commitment on the path of bhakti) is tāpa, or regret. We must regret our previous selfish life and commit to a life of selfless service. Tāpa also means to burn. What can burn more for one attached to the ego than the acknowledgement and regret of their mistakes? At the same time, what can be more blissful than the humble position, for it is the only position where love is felt and flows?


This agony/ecstasy principle is especially relevant to the chanting of the holy name. The first effect of chanting the holy name according to the Śikṣāṣṭakam is that it cleanses the mirror of the heart[1] and gives us clarity of perception. By sincerely chanting the holy name one can see and feel the real self, which is the pure consciousness of selflessness and devotion. Even a glimpse of the soul exposes our egoistic pretensions in comparison. How embarrassing to see our charade as the enjoyer and controller separate from God! So, which is more blissful — the pain of diminished pride where we call the names of God in hopelessness and humility, or our blasé and inattentive chanting that avoids exposing the depth and pain of our forgetfulness of God?


A little more about ecstasy. Happiness is selfless love or devotion, and love is manifest only through a relationship with someone either as one’s master, friend, child or lover. Krishna has appeared in His holy name. To experience the ecstasy of the holy name we must therefore talk with the holy name and pray to understand our relationship with Him. If you offer your consciousness in devotion, will He not, like any worthy person, reciprocate and increasingly reveal Himself, including your relationship with Him? Chant with attention, but pray for a relationship with the holy name.


There is more to say, but I have to stop here. My yearly Bhakti Immersion Retreat starts tomorrow (Friday), so there isn’t time for anything more. I just wanted to share a simple message this week before I go:


Be attentive while chanting, cleanse your heart, see your folly, and, in humility, beg for a relationship with the holy name.


Ah, the agony and ecstasy of chanting the holy name!


[1] Śrī Caitanya wrote an eight-verse poem called the Śikṣāṣṭakam glorifying the potency of chanting the holy name. The first verse summarizes the eight progressive effects of chanting the holy name. The first effect is ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaṁ — it cleanses the mirror of the heart.


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