During Kārtik-vrata, Śrīla Gurudeva, Bhaktivedanta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja, would speak on Śrī Damodarastakam, Bhajana-rahasya, Upadeśāmṛta, Manaḥ-Śikṣā, and especially Śrī Śikṣāṣṭakam. When speaking on Śikṣāṣṭakam, Śrīla Gurudeva would describe the connection between the mahāmantra, aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā, and Śikṣāṣṭakam. He elaborated the teachings regarding aṣṭa-yāma-sādhana and mānasī-sevā as propounded by previous Gauḍīya luminaries in the branch of Vakreśvara Paṇḍita: Gopāla-guru-gosvāmī, and Dhyānacandra Gosvāmī. Śrīla Gurudeva embraced and followed the conceptions of the Six Gosvāmīs, Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Prabhupāda Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, and Param Gurudeva. He relished the nectar of the Guru-vargas’ divine vāṇī and distributed that mahā-prasāda in the form of their speech to others, thus inspiring and empowering them with guru-śakti and enabling them to progress on the path of bhakti without hindrance. The Guru-varga nourishes their followers with anurāga and vraja-prema through their hari-kathā. Śrīla Gurudeva presented discourses on the specialty of the mahāmantra: particularly that we can chant or meditate on this mantra at any time, place, or circumstance, even if we are in an impure state. However, Gurudeva said, “We follow the process of chanting the mahāmantra taught and practiced by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His associates. By thus always staying under guidance, we will certainly achieve the loving service of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. Mahāprabhu bestows vraja-prema to those who practice deep bhajana while absorbed in chanting the mahāmantra.”
In the eight verses of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, Mahāprabhu revealed the method of bhajana and prayer corresponding to the eight pairs of holy names in the mahāmantra.
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare
We first chant: Hare Kṛṣṇa. When chanting the first pair of holy names in the mahāmantra, the sādhaka should remember the essence of the first verse of Śikṣāṣṭakam, beginning with Ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanam. We then pray, “O Hare! Please purify my contaminated mind and heart. Remove my sinful tendencies and prārabdha-aprārabdha-karma and bring me to the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. O Kṛṣṇa! Kindly bring me into the guidance of Your associates. May this perpetual forest fire of material life cease at once.
“Mercifully offer me into the shelter of Lalitā-devī. If she accepts me into her group, then surely Viśākhā-devī will think about my śreyaḥ, highest good, and will instruct me. Citrā-devī, the presiding deity of parā-vidyā, will bestow upon me all transcendental knowledge. I will then understand how to serve Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and will accept Them as my life and soul. Campakalatā-sakhī will happily teach me how to increase the bliss, ānanda, of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. Tuṅgavidyā-sakhī will protect and look after me at every step, prati-padaṁ, and will show me how to engage at every moment in assisting the amorous pastimes of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa in the groves of Vraja—nikuñja-yūno rati-keli-siddhyai. Then, by the instruction of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, Indulekhā, Raṅgadevī, and Sudevī will submerge me in ānanda-rasa and engage me in service. The aṣṭa-sakhīs in this way will teach me how to serve and offer myself to the lotus feet of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Kṛṣṇa will then accept me and prema-nāma-saṅkīrtana will manifest in my heart.” The sādhaka prays, “O Hare, Srimatījī, please engage me in Your service and give me the qualification to perform kṛṣṇa-kīrtana.”
The second verse of Śikṣāṣṭakam, nāmnām akāri bahudhā nija-sarva-śaktis, corresponds to the second Hare Kṛṣṇa set in the mahāmantra. During this time of the day, in the morning after His breakfast, Kṛṣṇa goes with the sakhās and calves to the forest on go-cāraṇa. Go means the cows and also the senses. Kṛṣṇa engages the senses of that person who is absorbed in nāma-seva. He takes them out of the forest fire of material existence and brings them into the forest of Vraja. Kṛṣṇa bestows spiritual potency to the nāma-premī-jīvas and gives them acquaintance with and affection for His eternal associates. The sādhaka prays, “O Hare! Please empower me so that I can properly serve the dear associates of Kṛṣṇa with mamatā. O Kṛṣṇa! May I always improve in my services; may I become more and more enthusiastic to serve with all my senses, body, mind, and soul.”
While remembering the third verse of Śikṣāṣṭakam, tṛṇād-api sunīcena, we chant “Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa” and pray, “O Lord, please make me humbler than a blade of grass. May I never leave Vraja and the service of the Vrajavāsīs, harināma, and Your beloved Srimatījī. May I never be haunted by the desire for opulence or eagerness to go to Vaikuṇṭha or any other place than Vraja. May I give up all anyābhilāṣa and simply take shelter of the gopīs. Then I can achieve Your nitya-sevā. O Kṛṣṇa, please let me continually serve You. Help me to remain humble and without any possession other than attachment to the service of Your lotus feet and the association of Your dearest devotees. I pray to You that I give up all independence and false pride, which has resulted in my current fallen condition in material existence. May I develop compassion and freedom from desire for regard from others and may I honor all others according to their position. Only then will I be able to perform Your kīrtana.”
As we chant the fourth pair of names ‘Hare Hare’ we remember the fourth verse of Śikṣāṣṭakam: na dhanaṁ na janaṁ na sundarīm, and pray to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, “O Hare! O dearmost beloved of Kṛṣṇa who steals His mind and heart, please let my mind and heart always serve You in the company of Your maidservants. Please don’t deprive me of Your service. Since countless lives I have accepted the gifts of māyā and, considering them to be my own, I have struggled to enjoy separately from Kṛṣṇa. Now may I give this up entirely. O Hare! May I receive the mercy of Your mañjarīs. Let them grant me entrance into kuñja-sevā.”
We then chant, ‘Hare Rāma’ and, remembering the fifth verse of Śikṣāṣṭakam, ayi nanda-tanuja kiṅkaraṁ, pray, “O Rādhikā-Ramaṇa-Rāma, You play in the hearts of Your beloveds and dwell within all living entities. O Rādhe! May Your sweet pastimes with Kṛṣṇa appear one after the other in my heart. I have fallen in the dark well of material life. May I become free of this bondage and never again be conquered by the agents of māyā. Without Your help I cannot escape this fearsome saṁsāra. O Rādhe! Please give me adhikāra and taste for serving in Your amorous pastimes with Kṛṣṇa.”
As we chant the next pair of names in the mahāmantra, ‘Hare Rāma,’ we remember the sixth verse of Śikṣāṣṭakam, nayanaṁ-galad-aśru-dhārayā, and we pray, while weeping, “O Lord, You are my life and soul. I forgot You and have committed so many offenses. Please forgive me and mercifully allow me to enter Your rāsa-līlā. May I become completely absorbed in chanting Your names. At that time, I will take shelter of Your līlā-śakti and serve, imbued with rasa that is otherwise unattainable without Your mercy. I am unqualified, a great sinner, and offender. I have left You and given You so much pain. I have misused the wealth of my love and shared it with so many jīvas. Now I pray that I can offer everything, all my love, to You. Please give me a drop of spiritual emotion and thus save my life. Please play and dance in my heart. Kindly grant me entrance into vraja-rasa.”
Next comes ‘Rāma Rāma’, and we now remember the seventh verse of Śikṣāṣṭakam, yugāyitaṁ nimeṣeṇa cakṣuṣā pravṛṣāyitam: after countless lives apart from Kṛṣṇa, if we make relationship with Him once, then we become overwhelmed in divine love and at every moment desire to serve Him and see Him. If we are apart from Him for even a few moments, it seems like the greatest agony. The world appears void. Our condition becomes like the gopīs’ when Kṛṣṇa left the Rāsa dance. After one’s first time meeting with Kṛṣṇa, when there is separation, the pain of that is unsurpassed. One prays, “O Kṛṣṇa, O Rādhā-Ramaṇa, Rasika-mohana, Rāsa-rasika, Vrajendra-nandana, please accept me. Don’t forsake me. I am unqualified. I have nothing of worth. Just please give me Your darśana one more time.”
While chanting the final pair of names in the mahāmantra, ‘Hare Hare’ we remember the eighth and last verse of Śikṣāṣṭakam, and pray, “O Hare, O Rādhe! You may do as You like with me. I completely surrender to You. Beat me or reject me—as You wish. I am so wretched. Kṛṣṇa may scorn me in front of His beloveds, He may kick or forsake me, but I will never take shelter of any other. O Rādhe! O Kṛṣṇa! I am Yours. I am Yours. I am Yours.” Praying like this, one chants harināma with deep absorption.
This description of the moods when praying and chanting the mahāmantra in relation to Śikṣāṣṭakam is only a glimpse—a distant darśana, like śākhā-candra-nyāya, the logic of pointing out the moon on the branch. By strong spiritual practice we will experience these moods and fully appreciate them. We pray to Mahāprabhu because without His mercy we will not be able to chant the mahāmantra purely with these moods. We pray to Nāma Prabhu that He manifests His eightfold daily pastimes in our hearts. Then we will understand the deep meanings of the mahāmantra in connection with aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā and will become qualified to enter kṛṣṇa-līlā. Chanting of this mahāmantra, which is composed of 16 names, or eight pairs of names, is the only method to enter Vraja. Chanting the mahāmantra qualifies one to attain vraja-rasa and vraja-vāsa, the nectar of Vraja and residence in Vraja.
We therefore pray, “Hare Kṛṣṇa! Please give me Your mercy. Please offer me to the lotus feet of a sad-guru. By his mercy my contaminated mind will be purified and I will always stay in sādhu-saṅga. Thus my anarthas will gradually be washed away, and as I follow the process of bhajana I will gradually attain the stages of niṣṭhā, ruci, āsakti, bhāva, and prema. Then truly I will understand paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṇkīrtanam—the extraordinary nature and potency of the holy names.”
By chanting these names, the anurāgī-bhaktas will give us shelter and help us realize how nāma is cintāmaṇi, transcendentally wish-fulfilling, rasa-vigraha, the embodiment of nectar, pūrṇaḥ śuddho, spotlessly pure, and non-different from Kṛṣṇa Himself. When we remember these names and chant them with absorption, then Kṛṣṇa’s rasa-svarūpa will manifest in our hearts along with His līlā-rasa.
All Vedic scriptures and saints have described the glories and specialty of Śrī Nāma. Śrī Tulasī Dāsa said:
nāma le to bhava sindhu sukai
vicār karo to sujana manomahi
A supremely fortunate person comes into the association of a pure guru who grants him kṛṣṇa-nāma. Śrī Nāma appears in this world through five eternal principles, or the pañca-tattva, and with six types of śakti. Of His unlimited potencies, the Lord manifests specifically in six forms for the benefit of the fallen jīvas. Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Adi-līlā 1.32, states:
kṛṣṇa, guru, bhakta, śakti, avatāra, prakāśa
kṛṣṇa ei chaya-rūpe karena vilāsa
Śrī Kṛṣṇa manifests and performs pastimes as the different gurus, the bhaktas, His incarnations, plenary portions, and divine potencies.
For one who takes shelter of the harināma-mahāmantra, Mahāprabhu gives darśana of His eternal svarūpa and the qualification to serve Him in His own dhāma. This harināma–kīrtana is the supreme dharma of this age.
Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 7.11, states:
kali-kālera dharma kṛṣṇa-nāma-saṅkīrtana
kṛṣṇa-śakti vinā nahe tāra pravartana
One cannot spread the holy name of Kṛṣṇa without being specifically empowered by Kṛṣṇa’s Divine Potency.
Without Kṛṣṇa’s śakti we cannot purely chant or spread the glories of the holy names. We thus pray to svarūpa-śakti Śrīmatī Rādhikā for Her mercy. Only then will we receive the potency to easily perform kṛṣṇa-kīrtana. We pray to Her, “I am Yours, whether You give me mercy or neglect me, keep me close or send me far away. Whatever You do, I am Yours and will never give up my aspiration to serve You and remain in Your shelter.”
In this way, we should pray to Śrīmatī Rādhikā and the Vraja-devīs with a burning desire to achieve their service. We should also pray to Nāma Prabhu. The harināma-mahāmantra composed of 32 syllables, 16 names, and eight pairs is the one and only sweet process to become connected to eternal Vraja and kṛṣṇa-līlā. By following this rasa-upāsana we can become connected to the transcendental realm and līlā-rasa. We will thus become free of the attraction to jaḍa-rasa, material tastes. For countless lives we have been bewildered and attached to material life. By continuously chanting harināma, the soul is nourished and freed of material coverings. One then becomes established in his spiritual form and achieves the opportunity to directly serve Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and Their associates. Guru-pāda-padma and our Guru-varga give us this process.
Herein we have only given an indication of the process of chanting and the connection between the mahāmantra and Śrī Śikṣāṣṭakam. By deeply practicing bhajana, we will experience the transcendental reality directly.
Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the Bhaktabandav book publication, “Srī Harināma Mahāmantra”. Available from: firstname.lastname@example.org )