“Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!” shouted the little children at the devotee standing in front of them.
“Oh, don’t say that,” said the devotee as he put his hands over his ears.
“Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!” shouted the children in teasing defiance, louder and louder.
The Devotee’s Secret
But the children could not imagine that this devotee, broad-shouldered, handsome, and gold-complexioned, had a secret that he shared with only a handful of others: Though he seemed to be a Bengali named Sri Chaitanya, he was Krishna himself.
He had come into this world again, some 500 years ago in what is now West Bengal, on a special mission.
He wanted to sing like a devotee, to dance, to prostrate himself in the temple, though not only for his own pleasure. He would induce others to chant Hare Krishna so they too could take the devotional path. For many, like the children, it would be the first step.
Chanting to Be Naughty
I furrowed my eyebrows and cupped my chin in my hand. Aren’t we supposed to chant the Lord’s name with love and devotion, in a worshipful mood? Didn’t Krishna, as the unseeable Lord of Israel, tell Moses, “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”?
Now here was the same Krishna, the same God. And he was making children chant Hare Krishna not only in vain but in a naughty spirit as well.
Oh, but it is never in vain. The Vedic tradition, as I soon learned, encourages the use of the holy name by all people, in all circumstances:
“If a person unaware of the effective potency of a certain medicine takes that medicine or is forced to take it, it will act even without his knowledge because its potency does not depend on the patient’s understanding.
“Similarly, even though one does not know the value of chanting the holy name of the Lord, if one chants knowingly or unknowingly, the chanting will be very effective.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 6.2.19)
Then I learned the story of Valmiki, a highwayman who lived millions of years ago, robbing and murdering travelers. Who could ever save such a man?
Chanting the Word for ‘Corpse’
Even the great teacher Narada Muni advised him to chant the name Rama, but Valmiki demurred. “Rama is a name of God,” he said, “and I am a criminal. How can I chant this name?”
“Then chant ‘mara,’ the word for a corpse,” said the teacher.
Valmiki went to a secluded place and began chanting “Ma Ra / Ma Ra / Ma Ra…” In this way he was also chanting “Ra Ma” (‘Rama’),though unintentionally.
And after many years, he mystically saw the life of Krishna’s incarnation as Rama even before it happened, and he wrote the scripture known as the Ramayana.
Another, man, Ajamil, made money by any means he could—kidnapping, robbing, crooked gambling—to maintain his mistress.
While Ajamil, now an old man, lay on his deathbed, he was thinking about his small son, the darling of his life.
Coming to Take Him for Judgment
Suddenly he saw three agents of death—the hairs standing erect on their deformed bodies, their twisted faces looking horribly fierce—coming with ropes in their hands to seize him and take him for judgment.
Overcome with fear and confusion, Ajamil called out for the child.
“Narayan!” he shouted.
As if on cue, the messengers of God appeared. “Release this man,” they told the agents of death. “He called out ‘Narayan,’ the name of God. He is freed from all sin.”
The agents refused. “He was not calling God,” they said. “No. ‘Narayan’ happens to be the name of his son.”
“It makes no difference,” said the messengers. “Anyone who calls out the name of the Lord, even unknowingly, is freed from sin.” And they forced the agents of death to leave without Ajamil.
Trying to Cheat Krishna
Now if Ajamil was saved just by calling out the Lord’s name, maybe we should try it too. But there’s a catch.
“It’s easy,” one might think. “I’ll drink a little booze, smoke a little pot, fornicate a little, and then just say ‘Hare Krishna,’ and Poof! It’s all gone.”
It won’t work. You can’t cheat Krishna. Chanting is always good, but you won’t clear away the sin. Ajamil was not trying to cheat.
How Was the Muslim Liberated?
All right, then. I can read your mind. Do you think it is all too “Hindu”? Well, that’s O.K. A Muslim was also saved by the name Rama. He was being killed by a wild pig, and he shouted the Arabic word “Haram” (‘defiled’).
But the syllables “Ha Ram” in Sanskrit mean “O Rama,” and the Muslim was liberated by saying the holy name at the time of death.
Why Was God Grasping His Tongue?
And as if that weren’t enough, here’s a bonus. Did you know you can even chant the holy name when using the toilet?
In the house of Lord Chaitanya (who made the little children chant) there also lived a boy named Gopal, about seven years old. One day Gopal saw the Lord walking and grasping his tongue with his thumb and finger.
“Why are you holding your tongue?” asked Gopal.
My tongue cannot stop chanting Hare Krishna,” said the Lord. “But now I am going to the toilet. One should not chant in a dirty place, so I am holding my tongue to keep it still.”
“Oh but you, sir, are the supremely independent Lord,” said Gopal, “We are ordinary souls, and we may die at any time. We may even die using the toilet. If we cannot chant Hare Krishna at that moment, what hope do we have?”
“You are right,” said the Lord. “Thank you. You are my teacher, and your name is now Gopal Guru.”
(By the way, Gopal Guru grew up to become an important devotee among the followers of Lord Chaitanya.)
Yes, you say, but why does Krishna take a child as his teacher when he already knows everything?
Simple. Krishna enjoys becoming subordinate to his devotee, just as he became Arjuna’s driver in the Bhagavad-Gita.
Dying on the Toilet
Does it strike you strange, though, the thought of dying in the bathroom? It happens. Heart attack victims have been found dead sitting on the toilet.
Heart attacks are sneaky. They don’t always come the way the movies show it, with the victim clutching the left side of his chest, gasping for breath, turning red in the face.
You may feel the pain in other places (I can vouch for that), and the unfortunate souls mistook it for the urge to relieve themselves.
What a shame! If only they had known about Gopal Guru, the tragedy could have become their ultimate victory.
But now you’ve heard the story. Take advantage of it. You don’t have to make any commitment. Just chant Hare Krishna whenever, wherever, and however you can, and turn tragedy into victory.
Eternally touching my head to the floor at the lotus feet of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada,
~Umapati Swami February 23, 2020
Write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the teacher who brought Krishna Consciousness from India to the West and then to the rest of the world. He is the founder of the worldwide Hare Krishna Movement as well as the author and compiler of many works of Vedic knowledge. He left this world in 1977.
One of the first American devotees of the Hare Krishna Movement, he became Srila Prabhupada’s disciple in 1966. Since then, he has preached Krishna Consciousness in many countries and is the author of “My Days with Prabhupada,” available from Amazon. Now 84 years old, he has started this blog to share what he has learned.
© Umapati Swami 2021
Scriptural passages © Bhaktivedanta Book Trust