The meaning of nāma-ābhāsa and nāma-aparādha

From Nāma-tattva, pp. 50-51:

Q: It is recommended that if one chants with offenses, they should continue chanting to become free from those offenses. Does this mean that one should continue chanting with offenses or with nāmābhāsa?

A: No, why chant with offenses? Just chant the name and avoid the offenses. And why nāmābhāsa? Just chant the name. I think there is some confusion about nāma, nāmābhāsa and nāmāparādha. Some say that there are three types or stages of chanting- nāmāparādha, nāmābhāsa, and śuddha-nāma.

They say that in the beginning stage, when people chant, they chant nāmāparādha. After making progress and avoiding offenses, they chant nāmābhāsa mixed with nāmāparādha. When by the mercy of their guru they realize that they are servants of Kṛṣṇa and become free of all offenses, they chant the pure name which grants Kṛṣṇa-prema.

There is no such thing as consciously chanting nāmābhāsa or nāmāparādha. Nāmābhāsa is not a stage of sādhanā. If one is chanting the name as sādhanā, there is no question of it being an ābhāsa. An ābhāsa means when one does an act of devotion incidentally to refer to something else. Sādhanā is always done consciously and with purposeful intent. Furthermore, as far as nāmāparādha goes, no one chants the Lord’s name as sādhanā with an intent to offend the Lord [which is what nāmāparādha means]. One simply chants the Lord’s name and one may commit aparādha along with it or separately. Therefore there is no possibility of nāmāparādha and nāmābhāsa being stages in the development of nāma-sādhanā.

If one chants Kṛṣṇa or the Lord’s name directly referring to Him, it is chanting the name, irrespective of who chants it. But if one chants the words Kṛṣṇa, Rāma or so on, not referring to the Lord but to some other person or object, that is called nāmābhāsa. The reason is that here the person is not referring to God but to someone else whose name happens to be the same as God’s. Just as when Ajāmila called his son Nārāyaṇa, he did not mean Lord Nārāyaṇa, but his son Nārāyaṇa. Such chanting is called nāmābhāsa. Nāmābhāsa is also possible when the Lord’s name is part of some other name such as the English word diorama, which has the word ‘Rāma’ in it. When one pronounces the word ‘diorama’, he chants ‘Rāma’ as part of it , although he does not mean to refer to the Lord. This chanting of ‘Rāma’ as part of diorama is an instance of nāmābhāsa.

Thus, when people chant the Lord’s name, such as the mahāmantra, they chant the name and not nāmābhāsa or nāmāparādha, regardless of what platform they are on. The name is always the name and it is always pure. It is only the chanter who is impure. As long as the chanter is impure, the holy name does not reveal its full potency. It is not that the name chanted by a neophyte is nāmāparādha, or that by chanting nāmāparādha, one gradually comes to the level of chanting nāmābhāsa and finally to the pure name. A devotee, regardless of his purity, chants the holy name.

If it were true that everyone chants nāmāparādha in the neophyte stage, no one would ever advance beyond that stage. Rather, everyone would fall down completely because of nāmāparādha. But that is not the case. Furthermore, if one chants the mahāmantra, how can that be nāmābhāsa? He is calling Kṛṣṇa’s name, not somebody else. So for a sādhaka, the name is always the name. The only obstacles are the offenses against the name. As one becomes clear of offenses, the name manifests its potency to the chanter.

Offenses are like a cloud that covers our vision of the sun. Similarly offenses obscure the full radiance of the name from our vision. The name is always pure and full of potency, but offenses act like a barrier around us. They obstruct our vision of the name. This is the same type of principle that impedes our realization of Kṛṣṇa. Although Kṛṣṇa is present everywhere, we do not see him because of our non-devotional attitude. If we become devotees in the true sense, we can feel his presence always.

Categories: sādhanā

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  1. You are probably aware but as far as I can tell this whole misunderstanding comes from the book Harinam Cintamani. This book was written by Bhaktivinoda Thakur who uses Srila Haridas Thakur as a character to teach the glories of chanting. I once spent time with a group that would literally say “as Haridas Thakur said in Harinam Cintamani” etc etc. It was really strange and I was never sure if they realized that Haridas Thakur didn’t write the book or say any of the things inside of it.

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