Fundamental Aspects of Sankaradeva's Religion - Sravana-Kirttana
Sankaradeva's Vaisnavism presupposes the benevolence of a personal God and His accessibility to those who approach Him and therefore, listening to (sravana) and reciting (kirttana) the Names of God devotedly are considered the quickest and most efficacious means of putting one's bhakti (devotion) into action. According to Sankaradeva, this is the best kind of bhakti.
Sravana and Kirtana is the best way even according to scriptures like the Bhāgavata Purāna. Sankaradeva, therefore, declares:
There is only one sāstra, that spoken by the son of Devaki,
There is only one God and he is the son of Devaki,
There is only one religious duty, the worship of this God;
There is only one mantra, the Name of this God.
[Sankaradeva, Bhakti Ratnākara]
Satya yuge kari dhyāna samādhi:
Tretāt samasta yajna ārādhi.
Dvāpare puji nānā bhakti bhāve:
Kalita kirttane si gati pāve.
Salvation that had been attained through meditation in the Golden Age, through sacrifices in the Silver Age, through worship in the Copper Age, can be attained through Kirttana in the Iron Age.
sravana-kirttana, kare yito āka, kariyā dridha bisvāsa
ehi janamate, guci manamoha, hovaya Brahma apuni
[Sankaradeva, Nimi Nava-Siddha Samvāda]
He who hears and sings this ( the Glory of the Lord) with a firm belief, being relieved of his mental illusion, becomes himself the Brahman even in this birth.
Krishna-kathā sravanata suddha haiba mana
sarbadāye karibeka Krishnara kirttana
From the listening to Krishna-kathā, his mind will be purified and (hence) he should, at all times, sing the glories of Krishna.
sravana-kirttana for spiritual uplift
Sankaradeva gives a scientific analysis as to how sravana and kirttana acts and reacts on the mind for spiritual uplift. In his Kirttana, he describes the seven stages:
Prathame dahibe pātakacay:
Kariba mahā punya abhyuday:
Karāve bisayat birakati:
Krishnat bādhiba prem-bhakati.
Opajāiba āti Vaisnava jnān:
Māyāk kariba dahi niryān.
Caitanya-murti Purnānanda Hari:
Thaibeka tente-ere kari.
First, (sravana-kirttana) will burn out the sins. (Second), it will arouse great merits. (Third), it will create aversion for wordly pleasures. (Fourth), it will develop loving devotion to God. (Fifth), it will give birth to the mood of a Vaisnava. (Sixth), it will extinguish illusions from the mind. (Seventh and last), it will merge (the devotee) in God who is all life and all joy.
Why sravana-kirttana is important (Nām Ghosā)
Madhavadeva in his Nām Ghosā establishes the importance of chanting the Name of the Supreme Deity in devotion. He has based his argument on the following:
The only religion prescribed for man in this iron-age is chanting the Name of the Deity. Rules and formalities are to be followed in the observance of other forms of rituals and different classes of persons are permitted by Sāstras to perform different rituals but the names of God can be sung by all classes of people and no rules and formalities are to be observed in doing so. So God Who is Benevolent and Who is equal to all, became a special lover of His Names.
His names are all descriptive and they indicate His different attributes or aspects. If their significance is properly understood, they can give a real insight into the Greatness of God, and His working. As his attributes or aspects are innumerable or infinite, so are His names inexhaustible. God, the Deity cannot be dissociated from His name. God exists where His name exists. In other words, a mental image of the form or attributes of the Deity is formed as soon as the name associated with that image or attribute is conceived or pronounced. It helps in the realisation of the soul.
There is a belief that the feet of the Deity are impressed in the heart of every being and there is a covering of illusion or Maya over it. The only means to see the feet of the Deity is Chanting of Nis Name. It acts like a lamp and breaks through the illusion.
It is always seen that at the time of death, highest consideration in expectation of salvation is given to the utterance of the name of the Deity.
There are parables in Hindu Sāstras that persons with despicable character attained salvation by uttering the name of the Deity.
Madhavadeva summarises the effect of chanting the name of the Deity saying that it can give everything to a devotee and make the Deity subordinate to him and comes to the conclusion that God being omnipresent cannot be called in or requested to depart, being above all forms cannot be imagined in mind, beyond the reach of language used by men, cannot be worshipped. Consequently, the only thing that a man can do to purify himself is to chant His name.
The names Rāma, Krishna Hari are the best of all religions.
That is the essential truth of all the Vedas;
There is no religion higher than that.
(Madhavadeva, Nām Ghosā)
Devotional Prayer in the Nāmghar or Name-House
In Sankaradeva's devotional system, the service consists of chanting the Names of God in prayer houses called Nāmghar (literally 'Name House'). The service itself is referred to as Nām and the leader of the chant is called nām lagowa (literally, 'he who touches the Name'). The devotees are present as the congregation. The verses sung towards the conclusion of the service consist of strings of the many names of God:
Rāma Rāma Rāma Rāma Rāma
Rāma Krishna Hari Nārāyana
Rāma Rāma Rāma Rāma Rāma Rāma Rāma
Rāma Rāma Hari Hari Hari
Rāma Krishna Govinda Gopināth Hari Gopināth
Gopināth Gopināth Hari Gopināth