What’s in a Name?

sri-caitanyaThis is the first lesson in our classroom series discussing chapter 2 of Swami Tripurari’s Siksastakam of Sri Caitanya. San Rafael: Mandala, 2005. Swami will be responding to comments and questions while guiding readers through the text. Reader participation is encouraged.

Siksastakam of Sri Caitanya is available here.

Read the full series here.
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Continuing to trumpet the glories of Krishna nama, Sri Krishna Caitanya expresses his amazement with the words etadrsi tava krpa bhagavan: “O Bhagavan, your mercy is so great.” In the opinion of Mahaprabhu, magnanimous dispensation reaches its zenith with the appearance of Krishna nama. Krishna nama is so high, so great, yet he nonetheless makes himself so readily available. Although nondifferent from Krishna himself, Krishna nama is more merciful.

After reciting this second verse of his Siksastakam, Gaura Krishna began to discuss its significance by explaining to Rama Raya and Svarupa Damodara that God has many names because people have many desires.1 By this we learn that there is a relationship between the desires of the jivas and Bhagavan’s names, just as there is between the condition of the jivas’ hearts and Bhagavan himself. He reciprocates with the jivas in consideration of their desires. In the Bhagavad-gita Sri Krishna tells Arjuna, “As people surrender to me, I reciprocate accordingly. Everyone follows my path in all respects, O Partha.”2

How many names does Bhagavan have? He has as many names as there are desires in the hearts of jiva souls! For that matter, Vedanta-sutra informs us that every word indicating an object or power is first and foremost a name for God:

Words primarily denote God
for he resides in all things,
both the mobile and immobile.
But that words refer to God
is only known with time
after hearing from scripture.3

Mahaprabhu personally realized this sutra’s import that all words are names of God. In his youth he was renowned for his scholarship and had many students. After he received Vaishnava diksa from Sri Isvara Puripada and learned the conclusions of the bhakti-sastra under his guidance, he began to explain all Sanskrit words designating material objects as primarily referring to Krishna and only secondarily to the objects themselves. He identified the particular aspect of Krishna residing in each material object that caused it to be called by a particular word. He realized that all words denoting power or energy also refer by extension to their underlying energetic source and that what is desirable in any object is so because of God’s presence therein. Baladeva Vidyabhusana asserts that such realization is the goal of Vedanta—vasudeva’ sarvam iti. Commenting in his Govinda-bhasya on the above sutra he writes, “The object of Vedanta is to give rise to the knowledge that every word is really the name of God.”4

Although all words are names of God, Gaura emphasizes in this stanza of Siksastakam names of Krishna that directly refer to Sri Krishna’s person, form, qualities, and lila. Mahaprabhu says that Bhagavan Sri Krishna has manifested many names in this world (on the tongues of his devotees) and that these names are filled with all of Krishna’s personal sakti. These names are those that identify him in lila with his devotees—his primary names chanted by his unalloyed devotees. They are names that each of his devotees holds most dear to his or her heart because they correspond with a particular sentiment of love for Bhagavan. Names such as Brahman and Paramatma, on the other hand, are secondary names of God and do not refer to him in divine play energized by his internal sakti.

Krishna’s unalloyed devotees are embodiments of his svarupa-sakti, in reciprocation with which Krishna makes his appearance. Their love—Krishna’s svarupa-sakti invested into their hearts—causes Krishna to appear in a form that corresponds with their purified hearts. Where then does Krishna reside? He resides in the hearts of his devotees. What is his name but that by which they refer to him out of love? It should come as no surprise, therefore, when we hear that Krishna nama is invested with Krishna sakti, for Krishna is completely invested in his devotees, causing them to address him affectionately. This is the Vedanta of Sri Krishna Caitanya: the supreme energetic (saktiman) is simultaneously one and different from his energy (sakti), acintya-bhedabheda-tattva.

What is in a name? Everything. We are advised to be careful not to give out our name—nowadays our social security number—lest our identity be stolen. If we are present to this extent in our material name, how much more is Krishna present in his name? Those names that are filled with his personal sakti often tell us more about him than he himself is aware of, for they speak of Krishna as he is experienced by his devotees. Nothing is more endearing to Krishna than hearing these names because they are expressions of his devotees’ love for him.

  1. aneka-lokera vancha—aneka-prakara krpate karila aneka-namera pracara (cc. 3.20.17) []
  2. ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy ahammama vartmanuvartante manusya˙ partha sarvasa˙ (bg. 4.11) []
  3. caracara-vyapasrayas tu syat tat-vyapadeso ’bhaktas tad-bhava-bhavitvat (Vedanta-sutra 2.3.15) []
  4. Baladeva Vidyabhusana appears to make this point in relation to Sanskrit. []


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2 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. This brings to mind the concept of using the lord’s name in vain. Coming to GV from a Christian background, this is a concept of great importance, but to be honest, I never really realized the import and power of such sentiments, until now. Here again, the saying, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” holds true. For years, I would go round and around with people about what is considered blasphemy and what is not (and inevitably, my version was looser than theirs). I ended up dismissing the whole thing as cultural trappings that have nothing to do with real spiritual life or progress, just meaningless rules created by a powerful and oppressive church system. To some extent, I still feel that way. When it comes down to it, phrases and sayings that employ the name of God in them have adopted a meaning completely apart from their literal interpretation (I’m speaking of English, specifically, and I think we all know which expressions I am referring to), and I would think that God, in infinite wisdom, would be able to realize that is the case. A God that would get all hung up and bothered by such petty things is not really the God I have sought out and have come to serve. The God I know isn’t sitting up in heaven eavesdropping on people’s conversations, there are much bigger fish to fry (again, just an expression). However, the view illuminated by swami in this article is something else entirely. The words (indeed every word) make the power and grace of God accessible to all who approach him (through the use of those words) in the proper mood of devotion and service. The words are nondifferent from Krishna, so, just as we wouldn’t use the person or being of Krishna (if that were even possible to “use”) in a careless manner, we should use and treat the words and references with the same respect, care and attention. This is part of our bhakti, our service, to use even the smallest extension of Krishna, a word, a thought even, in service to Krishna and with grace. It’s through love that I respect the names of God (in whatever tradition or language), not out of fear of punishment. My material attachments punish me enough through repeated birth and death. God is not the source of further punishment, but the source of relief, of deliverance. Thank you, Swami, for making this concept finally clear and accessible for me!

  2. I was wondering about some names like Govinda, Damodara, Madhusudana… I always considered them primaly to be the names of Krishna in Goloka Vrindavana. But there are also forms of Lord Visnu that have the same names. One of them is even called Krishna if I remember corretly.
    Is there any connetion between these particular expansions of Visnu and Krishna-lila? Why do they have the same names?

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