Answers by His Holiness Romapada Swami Maharaja
Q.1) What is the difference between Vedic mantra and nama mantra? What is the significance of the mantra that starts with "Hare Rama Hare Rama?"
There are many different Vedic mantras, some of which describe different aspects of the Supreme, aid in meditation upon the Brahman, offer sacrifices to different devatas etc. While these various mantras are all pointing toward the Supreme Personality of Godhead, some mantras directly address the Supreme Lord, wherein we simply and directly call upon His eternal names (nama). By chanting these Holy Names of the Lord, one can immediately access direct association of the Lord.
Among all these mantras, the Hare Krishna mantra, sometimes also chanted
beginning with `Hare Rama', is called Maha-mantra (the Top-most mantra).
This mantra is specified in different Upanishads as the special means of
deliverance for this age of Kali. For example- Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare ity
shodasakam namnam kali kalmasa nasanam (Kali santarana
Lord Krishna, in His yuga-avatar for this age as Lord Caitanya, propagated the chanting of this mantra in His inauguration of the yuga-dharma, the process of self-realization for this age. The special feature of this maha-mantra, as opposed to other Vedic mantras, is that there are no hard and fast rules for chanting the maha mantra. Vedic mantras can be chanted only by qualified brahmanas, and only at specific auspicious times accompanied by many purificatory rituals and rules. But the maha-mantra can be chanted by anyone without considera- tion of qualification, at any time or place or circumstance. That is the special mercy and potency invested within these Holy Names. Just as treatment given to a severely diseased person is expected to be very powerful, similarly just by the easy process of chanting this mahamantra even the most fallen souls of Kali-yuga can be delivered and uplifted to the highest possible spiritual perfection.
Q.2) How can I surrender to the Holy Name?
The Holy Name is non-different from the Person, Krishna; realization of this fact is very important in order to improve our chanting. Thus, surrendering to Krishna is surrendering to the Holy Name, and visa versa. We can progressively surrender to the Holy Name by placing complete faith in the Holy Name as our only shelter and cultivating the habit of chanting diligently, attentively and in a mood of depend- ance upon the Lord. Mahaprabhu teaches that one should cultivate humility like that of a blade of grass, become more tolerant than a tree, always offer all respects to others, without expecting any honor in return. (Cf. Sikshashtaka 3)
Our acharyas have identified the six-fold process of surrender as follows: (1) becoming completely humble; (2) dedication of one's self, body, mind and words and all one possesses to the Lord's service; (3) accepting whatever is favorable & (4) rejecting unfavorable to please the Lord; (5) having complete confidence that Krishna will protect me and (6) seeing Krishna as one's sole maintainer.
We can conscientiously endeavor to cultivate these qualities in relation to chanting the Holy Name, such as seeing ourselves as tiny and helpless without the shelter of the Holy Name, accepting only that which enhances our attraction for the Holy Name, avoiding unfavorable habits and offenses, developing faith in the protection of the Holy Name, dedicating our body, mind and words and so on. In short, surrender is an ongoing process, not an event that happens in a moment, and it takes continuous cultivation and practice in the mood of surrender.
Q.3) If the name of the Lord is identical to Him, then is it not important that the name be pronounced correctly? For instance Krishna is pronounced in many ways, depending on the accent and the nationality of the person. Will all of these chanting be equally effective or is it important that one finds out the correct enunciation of the name and then chant in that manner?
Srila Prabhupada personally addressed a similar dilemma in one funny instance. Sometimes Prabhupada's disciples would address him as `goru' instead of `guru'. Srila Prabhupada amusedly remarked about this mistake: "Goru means a cow; but even though you, my disciples, are calling me `goru' I do not consider it as an offense, because you do not know Sanskrit but you are all so sincere and dedicated and have such love for me."
Then he went on to explain how Krishna is famous as `bhava-grahi-Janardana', one who accepts only the mood of love and devotion of His devotees. When His devotee offers something, even if full of faults, Krishna ignores all the shortcomings and accepts the essence of their devotion and becomes fully satisfied. On the other hand, He does not care much for an elaborate, perfectly arranged offering (or for that matter perfectly enunciated mantras) by a non-devotee, who simply tries to make a show of religiousness for his or her own personal satisfaction.
This is not to say that one need not take care to properly chant the Holy Names. Krishna does look only for one's sincerity of purpose and devotion. But the sign of sincerity is that one must surely make the endeavor to properly enunciate the Holy Name, and must avoid chanting neglectfully or improperly. But if because of accent and other such unavoidable reasons, one's enunciation differs slightly, it is overlooked.
One of our twelve principle authorites, or mahajanas, Yamaraja, confirms this understanding directly in SB 6.3.24 "Even if one chants the holy name of the Lord with improper pronunciation, he will achieve relief from material bondage if he chants without offenses."