the holy names
- Every genuine religious tradition in the world teaches that God’s names are holy and meant to be glorified. The Bible contains numerous references to glorifying God and His holy name. (Exodus 15:3; Deuteronomy 32:2-3; I Chronicles 16:8-36; Psalms 29:2, 47:1, 86:11, 91:14, 96:1-3, 97:12, 98:4-6, 113:3, 116:1-17, 146:1, 148:1-5, 13)
The Lord and His name are praised throughout the Psalms. "I will praise the name of God with a song," says King David. (Psalm 69:30) In other places we read: "All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord: and shall glorify Thy name." (Psalm 86:9)
"O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the people. Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him: talk ye of all His wondrous works. Glory ye in His holy name." (Psalms 105:1-4) "...Praise Him with the timbrel and the dance; praise Him upon the loud cymbals." (Psalm 150:4-5)
Israel Baal Shem Tov (1699-1761), the great Jewish mystic, founded Hasidism, a popular pietist movement within Judaism, in which members dance and chant in glorification of God. The Hasidism were especially influenced by verses in Psalms calling for the joyful worship of the Lord through song. (Psalms 100:1,2, 104:33)
According to The Jewish Almanac: "In the Jewish tradition the name actually partakes of the essence of God. Thus, knowledge of the name is a vehicle to God, a conveyor of divine energy, an interface between the Infinite and the finite...It is curious that a tradition that places such a strong emphasis on the One God possesses such a large number of names for the divine. Each name, however, actually represents a different quality or aspect of God."
When teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus Christ glorified God’s holy name: "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name." (Matthew 6:9) Jesus also approved of his disciples’ singing joyfully in praise of God. (Luke 19:36-40) Of his own name, Jesus said: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there with them." (Matthew 18:20) The apostle Paul told his gentile followers to speak to one another in psalms and hymns, to sing heartily and make music to the Lord. Ephesians 5:19) He further taught them to instruct and admonish one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. (Colossians 3:16)
Paul wrote to his gentile congregation in Rome: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans 10:13) According to the historian Eusebius, there was "one common consent in chanting forth the praises of God," in the early Christian churches. The Gregorian chants, popularized in the sixth century by Pope Gregory and later by works like Handel’s masterpiece the Messiah, with its resounding choruses of "hallelujah" (which means "praised be the name of God" in Hebrew), are still performed and appreciated all over the world.
In addition to praising the Lord’s name and glories through music, song, and dance, there has also emerged the practice of meditating upon God by chanting upon beads of prayer. St. John Chrysostom of the Greek Orthodox church, recommended the "prayerful invocation of the name of God," which he said should be "uninterrupted."
Reverend Norman Moorhouse of the Church of England writes:
"The rosary is chiefly associated with Roman Catholics, but many members of the Church of England also use it. And there are many Russian orthodox Christians who chant the name of Jesus several hundred or thousand times every day...
"In the Book of Psalms there are biddings to praise the name of the Lord and to sing...I remember that during the Second World War, I was in Greece for Easter, and it was a wonderful thing to hear all the people chanting and singing ‘Christos anesethe’—Christ is risen."
The repetition of the Jesus prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me") became a regular practice among members of the Eastern Church. In The Way of a Pilgrim, a Russian monk describes this form of meditation:
"The continuous interior prayer of Jesus is a constant, uninterrupted calling upon the divine name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart...One who accustoms himself to this appeal experiences...so deep a consolation and so great a need to offer the prayer always, that he can no longer live without it."
"Perhaps you’ve heard about Hesychasm, a technique of mantra meditation that was employed by Christians as far back as the third century after Christ," says the Reverend Alvin Hart, an Episcopalian priest in New York. "The method was the simple chanting of ‘the Jesus prayer,’ which runs like this: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.’ I personally have found great comfort in this mantra."
According to Reverend Hart, "Although it was recently popularized by the New Age movement...’the Jesus Prayer’ has a long and venerable tradition in the Philokalia, an important book on Christian mysticism. The word Philokalia literally means ‘the love of spiritual beauty,’ and I can say that the book definitely brings its readers to that level of appreciation...
"The Philokalia also emphasizes the importance of accepting a spiritual master. The Greek words used are starets and geront, but they basically mean the same thing. The result of chanting under a proper master is theosis, or the ‘respiritualization of the personality.’"
Reverend Hart says, "When we call on God—and we should learn how to do this at every moment, even in the midst of our day-to-day work—we should be conscious of Him, and then our prayer will have deeper effects, deeper meaning. This, I know, is the basic idea of Krishna Consciousness. In the Christian tradition, too, we are told to ALWAYS pray ceaselessly. This is a biblical command. (I Thessalonians 5:17)
"In a sense, this could also be considered the heart of the Christian process as well. For instance, in the Latin Mass, before the Gospel is read, there is a prayer spoken by the priest: dominus sit in corde meo et in labiis meis, which means, ‘May the Lord be in my heart and on my lips.’ What better way is there to have God on one’s lips than by chanting the holy name? Therefore, the Psalms tell us that from ‘the rising of the sun to its setting’ the Lord’s name is to be praised. And Paul echoes this idea by telling us that ‘whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Romans 10:13)"
Dr. Klaus Klostermaier notes that meditation and prayer are "important in the Christian tradition, at least for certain sects and monastic orders...In the Philokalia and in the path recommended by The Pilgrim, you find the...’Jesus Prayer,’ which may be unknown to most Christians today, but was very powerful in its time.
"So people are aware of the potency of ‘the name’ and the importance of focusing on it as a mantra...But it must be done with devotion...The idea of logos, or ‘the Word,’ has elaborate theological meaning that is intimately tied to the nature of Jesus and, indeed, to the nature of God."
"All the basic principles of bhakti yoga are richly exemplified in Christianity," writes Dr. Houston Smith in The Religions of Man. Dr. Smith is a Professor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His 1958 book is used as a standard text in major universities. Dr. Smith explains the fundamental principle of bhakti or devotion:
"All we have to do in this yoga is to love God dearly—not just say we love Him but love Him in fact, love Him only (loving other things because of Him), and love Him for no ulterior reason (not even from the desire for liberation) but for love’s sake alone...
"...every strengthening of our affections toward God will weaken the world’s grip. The saint may, indeed will, love the world far more than the addict, but he will love it in a very different way, seeing in it the reflected glory of the God he adores.
"How is this love of God to be developed?" asks Dr. Smith. "Japa is the practice of repeating the names of God. It finds a close Christian parallel in one of the classics of Russian Orthodoxy, The Way of a Pilgrim. This book is the story of an unnamed peasant whose first concern is to fulfill the Biblical injunction to ‘Pray without ceasing.’
"He wanders through Russia and Siberia with a knapsack of dried bread for food and the charity of men for shelter, consulting many authorities only to come away empty-hearted until...he meets a holy man who teaches him ‘a constant, uninterrupted calling upon the divine Name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart...at all times, in all places, even during sleep.’
"The peasant’s teacher trains him until he can repeat the name of Jesus more than 12,000 times a day without strain. ‘This frequent service of the lips imperceptibly becomes a genuine appeal of the heart.’ The prayer becomes a constant warming presence within him...a ‘bubbling joy.’ ‘Keep the name of the Lord spinning in the midst of all your activities’ is the Hindu statement of the same point."
In Islam, the names of God are held sacred and meditated upon. According to tradition, there are ninety-nine names of Allah, found inscribed upon monuments such as the Taj Mahal and on the walls of mosques. These names are chanted on an Islamic rosary, which consists of three sets of thirty-three beads.
The Sanskrit literatures of ancient India are diverse and cover a vast body of knowledge. The one hundred eight principle Upanishads tend to focus primarily on spiritual wisdom, while the eighteen Puranas contain historical narrations from the distant past, when humans were pious, civilizations were more enlightened and the miraculous was ordinary. The Kali-santarana Upanishad emphasizes chanting:
"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Rama Rama, Hare Hare"
to counteract the ill effects of this present age of spiritual darkness, while the Brihan-naradiya Purana emphatically states thrice that there is no alternative for spiritual deliverance in this age other than chanting God’s holy names. Traditionally, the Lord is glorified congregationally, with drums, cymbals and dance, or He may be praised individually, in silent prayer, upon rosary beads.
Father Robert Stephens, a Catholic priest in Australia, considers Krishna "one of the many names of God." He writes that he is "saddened at the narrowness and arrogance of many Christian fundamentalists;" "those who claim a monopoly on all truth or goodness;" "those who desperately cling only to external forms under the pretense of faith in God," and "those who have turned their Sacred Scriptures into mere weaponry against those who differ from themselves."
According to Father Stephens, we who engage in interreligious discussion "have firm support from the Catholic Church, especially the Second Vatican Council, and from such official bodies as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Dialogue Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India."
Father Stephens observes that "Because spiritual riches belong to all, dialogue and sharing are not an optional extra in a pluralistic society. We cannot live in a fortress of one-eyed people." Father Gerald O’Collins S.J., similarly, is of the opinion that the Bible does not necessarily provide authoritative answers to new questions which arise in the life of the Church, and that the Bible is not that kind of "norm for every problem and every situation."
Father Bede Griffiths says of Bhagavad-gita, "For a Christian, this is a wonderful confirmation of God’s love contained in the Gospel." Meister Eckhart wrote: "When we say God is ‘eternal,’ we mean God is eternally young." This is Krishna Consciousness. God is an eternal youth. Matthew Fox’s statement that "God and God’s Son are ultimately attractive and alluring because of their beauty" is also consistent with Vaishnavaism. The name "Krishna" means "the all attractive one."
Dr. Harvey Cox, a liberal Protestant theologian at the Harvard Divinity School, favorably compares Krishna Consciousness with Christianity:
"You can see the obvious similarities. Here you have the idea of a personal God who becomes incarnate...revealing what God is about and eliciting a form of participation in the life of God.
"I think a Christian will have some natural sensitivity to Krishna devotion... devotion of the heart, that is, pietistic Christianity...We noted several surprising similarities between what you might call Appalachian folk religion and Krishna Consciousness. Both religions put a big emphasis on joy, the spiritual joy of praising God...
"...both traditions emphasize puritanical values and practice certain forms of asceticism such as no drinking, no smoking, no non-marital sex and no gambling...Both seem to put more emphasis on a future life or another world."
According to Dr. Cox, "You have to remember that if you had been there at the early Methodist frontier revivals here in America...you would have seen some very ecstatic behavior...jumping up and down and singing. This sort of ecstatic religious behavior is, of course, associated with religious devotion from time immemorial in virtually every culture. We happen to be living in a culture which is very restricted, unimaginative, and narrow in this regard."
The Sikh religion is a blend of Hinduism and Islam. The Sikhs emphasize the name of God, calling Him "Nama," or "the Name." Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, prayed, "In the ambrosial hours of the morn I meditate on the grace of the true Name," and says that he was instructed by God in a vision to "Go and repeat My Name, and cause others to do likewise."
Rosaries are used in Buddhism. Members of Japan’s largest Buddhist order, the Pure Land sect, practice repetition of the name of the compassionate Buddha ("namu amida butsu"). Founder, Shinran Shonin says, "The virtue of the Holy Name, the gift of him that is enlightened, is spread throughout the world." Followers believe that through the name of Buddha a worshiper is liberated from repeated birth and death and joins the Buddha in the "Pure Land."
Religions all over the world teach that God’s names are holy and meant to be glorified. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s humble requests to the confused and alienated American youth of the late 1960s are especially relevant today:
"...don’t commit suicide. Take to chanting this Hare Krishna mantra, and all real knowledge will be revealed...We are not charging anything...No. It is open for everyone. Please take it...That is our request. We are begging you—don’t spoil your life. Please take this mantra and chant it wherever you like...chant, and you’ll feel ecstasy."
"...and you can develop (love of God) so simply. You just hallow the name of the Lord. Jesus says, 'hallowed be Thy name, my Father.' And we are also hallowing the name of the Lord. We don't even demand you say 'Krishna.' You can say 'Jehovah.' You can say 'Yahweh.' You can chant the names of God..."
--Srimad Bhagavatam lecture, 1972
"If one has become a lover of God, naturally he will be detached from material enjoyment. Love of God and love of the material world cannot go together. Lord Jesus Christ never advised going for economic development, for industrial development. He sacrificed everything for God. That is one test--'Here is a lover of God.' Lord Jesus Christ was punished. He was ordered, 'Stop this preaching.' But he did not. So that is love of God. He sacrificed everything. "The idea is that Lord Jesus Christ and his followers must both be, at least to some extent, at that point. That is the test. So we say that you follow any religious path. Which one doesn't matter. We want to see whether you are a lover of God. That is our propaganda...
"But Jesus Christ never said that he is God. He said 'son of God.' We have no objection to chanting the holy name of Jesus Christ. We are preaching, 'Chant the holy name of God.' If you haven't got any name of God, then you can chant our conception of the name of God, Krishna. But we don't say only Krishna...
"And it is such a simple thing. They don't have to go to a church or temple. It doesn't matter if they are in hell or heaven. In any condition they can chant the holy name of God...There is no charge, there is no fee, there is no loss. If there is some gain, why not try for it?...
"So what more do you want? Therefore let us cooperate. Don't think that it is against Christianity or that it is sectarian. Let us cooperate fully. Jointly let us preach all over the world, 'Chant the holy names of God.' Let us join together. That should be the real purpose of devotees of God. My students are preaching love of God. Why should others be envious of them? We don't say that you must chant Hare Krishna. If you have a name of God, chant it."
---Room conversation, London
August 14, 1971
"Lord Jesus Christ exemplified this by teaching 'Thou shalt not kill.' But the Christians like to misinterpret this instruction. They think the animals have no soul, and therefore they think they can freely kill billions of innocent animals in the slaughterhouses. So although there are many persons who profess to be Christians, it would be very difficult to find one who strictly follows the instructions of Lord Jesus Christ.
"I think the Christian priests should cooperate with the Krishna consciousness movement. They should chant the name Christ...and should stop condoning the slaughter of animals. This program follows the teachings of the Bible, it is not my philosophy. Please act accordingly and you will see how the world situation will change."
--The Science of Self Realization