Friday, January 01, 2010

Vishnu Sahasranamam - Part 1

Most of my New Year Resolutions, sadly, have been centered around a common theme - Losing weight. I came very close to pulling that off last year, but I decided to start a software company, and I became *VERY* busy. I piled on more kilos than I lost, and I am weighing the max I have weighed in my life ever :D

This year, I have decided to get back Vishnu Sahasranamam and few other texts COMMITTED to memory. I used to know Vishnu Sahasranamam quite well about 10 years ago, till I gradually gave up chanting it daily, till some parts of it appear quite new to me.

By, God's Grace I still remember some parts very well along with their meaning. I'll try to share some of it in this post.

1. What is Vishnu Sahasranamam?
Many would know that as thousand (sahasra) names (nama) of Bhagawan Sri Vishnu. This occurs in Mahabharata during the Kurukshetra war description. Bhishma, was defeated by Arjuna and was drilled by arrows so much that it appeared he was lying in a bed of arrows. Since he had a boon that he could decide the time of his death, he was waiting for a time called 'Uttarayanam' to begin, so that it would facilitate his departure to higher worlds. (He was such an exalted soul!). When this holy period was about to start, Sri Krishna went to Pandava's camp and said that one great soul was leaving earth very soon and requested Pandavas, starting from Yudhishtira to come and see Bhishma and learn from him for one final time. So, they all reached the part of the battlefield where Bhishma was lying down. His body was in deep pain (you can imagine that even a needle prick is so painful! Think of whole body riddled with arrows!) but his face was tranquil and serene.

His face lit up on seeing Sri Krishna coming towards him. (Krishna and Bhishma share a very nice bond - More on it later) - He reverentially bowed to Krishna and felt bad that he could not receive Krishna ceremoniously!

Then Yudhishtira asked a few questions to Bhishma:
1. Kim Ekam Daivatam Loke? (Who Only God World) - Who is the Only God?)
2. Kim vap ekam parayanam? (Who is (the) only (and final) refuge ?)
3. Stuvantha: kam kamarchanta prapnuyur Manava Shubham? Stuvantha means to Praise or Extoll. On Praising whom, will Humans (manava) get (prapnuyur / praapthi) Good (Shubham)?
4. Ko Dharma, Sarva dharmanam bhavatha paramo matha: - What Dharma, is First (parama) among all Dharmas (sarva dharmanam)?
5. Kim Japan Muchyate Janthu: Janma Samsara Bhandanath? - On meditating (japa) on whom, can living beings (janthu:) cross the bonding (bhandana) of birth and death (janma samsara)?

Bhishma answers all the above questions, and says that Bhagawan Sri Maha Vishnu is the Ultimate Resting Place and Refuge for all humans - He has infinite names. But, he would tell 1000 names that are very special and have been used by great Rishis and Saints while addressing Him. By chanting these 1000 names, all pain would be removed, happiness will flow and in the end, the endless cycle of birth and death will surely be cut! Btw, that's a tall promise!

Some Saints believe that Sahasranamam is even more special than Bhagawat Geeta, because, Bhagawan told Bhagawat Geeta, but He listened to Vishnu Sahasranamam :-) (along with Pandavas)

I have wondered how this was the FIRST text expounded by Sri Sankara after he concluded his travels and re-established Sanatana Dharma (so called Hindu Dharma) throughout India. Anyone would know that Sri Sankara was an Adwaitin - He believed that God only existed, and did not believe God was separate from Self.

I realized that these names are not just some collection of sounds, but are meaningful names - They show what God Is or Does. For e.g., the first name 'Vishwam' indicates that the entire creation is God. The next name 'Vishnu' means that He is all pervading! There is is NOTHING that is NOT Vishnu. He pervades deep into atoms and the great Sky and Cosmos. (I need to forcefully stop here, otherwise I might go on for long :D)

These names are called 'Bhagawat Guna Darpanam' - Mirror (Darpanam) that reflects the Properties (Guna) of God (Bhagawan) - By realizing these properties in God, we finally see them in the Self, and realize that the Self and God are One. So, if you believe in Adwaita, you should definitely chant Vishnu Sahasranamam! That's the reason why Sri Adi Sankara Bhagawat Pada expounded Vishnu Sahasranamam. (There is another story why He did that First, but that's for later too!)

So, Bhishma said that the person to whom all these names are meant, is standing next to me and listening to me! He bowed reverentially to Sri Krishna and chanted the 1000 names)

And in the end, when the Uttarayanam period started He gave up His Life and Merged into Sri Krishna. As soon as He left the Body, there was fragrance throughout the place and everyone there experienced a mighty peace that they did not even grieve for the death of Bhishma for sometime.

So, I would conclude by this post by telling that if you have a car and drive to office, buy a Vishnu Sahasranamam CD and listen on the way :-) - Even if you travel by bus, it might be good to buy an MP3 player and listen on the way (I have been listening to Vettaikkaran during my past few drives :D)

But, do we need to chant the names with total devotion and concentration for this to work? What if I am not able to focus or get even a semblance of devotion or concentration? What if mind keeps wandering off? What if I make mistakes in pronunciation? Will it help even if I have all of the above deficiencies? - Wait for Part 2 :D (Pssss - Answer is Yes!)