Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Mukunda-mālā-stotra 38
āścaryam etad dhi manuṣya-loke
sudhāḿ parityajya viṣaḿ pibanti
tyaktvānya-vācaḥ kuhakāḥ paṭhanti
āścaryam — wonder; etat — this; hi — indeed; manuṣya — of human beings; loke — in the world; sudhām — life-giving nectar; parityajya — rejecting; viṣam — poison; pibanti — people drink; nāmāni — the names; nārāyaṇa-gocarāṇi — which refer to Lord Nārāyaṇa; tyaktvā — avoiding; anya — other; vācaḥ — words; kuhakāḥ — rogues; paṭhanti — they recite.
The greatest wonder in human society is this: People are so incorrigible that they reject the life-giving nectar of Lord Nārāyaṇa's names and instead drink poison by speaking everything else.
This verse reminds us of the verse in the Mahābhārata (Vana-parva 313.116) in which Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira answers this question from his father, Yamarāja: "What is the most amazing thing in the world?" Yudhiṣṭhira replies,
ahany ahani bhūtāni
śeṣāḥ sthāvaram icchanti
kim āścaryam ataḥ param
"Day after day countless living entities in this world go to the kingdom of death. Still, those who remain aspire for a permanent situation here. What could be more amazing than this?"
Both King Kulaśekhara and Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira use the word āścaryam, "amazing," in the sense of amazingly stupid. Yudhiṣṭhira is amazed that people can be so stupid and self-destructive that they refuse to recognize their impending deaths and thus misuse their brief human lives by failing to prepare for the next life. Kulaśekhara is amazed that people don't chant the holy names of God, although by this simple act they could gain eternal life. It is amazing that instead of blissfully drinking the nectar of the holy names, people drink the poison of worldly talk. As we have noted before, Śrīla Prabhupāda compared such worldly "chanting" to a frog's croaking, which attracts the snake — death.
One might argue that chanting the holy names is not everything. Can't we also meditate on Brahman and discuss many worthy philosophical topics? Why does King Kulaśekhara condemn us just because we don't chant the names of God? The reason is that chanting the holy name has been directly given for all humanity as the yuga-dharma, the religion of the age. Spiritual methods such as yoga meditation were recommended for past millenniums, when conditions were more favorable. For this age, all Vedic scriptures and spiritual authorities have declared that chanting the holy names is the easiest method and also the topmost. To refuse it is stubbornness and foolishness
In 1970, when devotees of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement were publicly chanting hari-nāma daily in Berkeley, California, Dr. J. F. Staal, professor of philosophy and South Asian languages at the University of California, objected in a newspaper interview that the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement was not bona fide because "[the devotees] spend too much time chanting to develop a philosophy." In an ensuing exchange of letters between Śrīla Prabhupāda and Dr. Staal, Prabhupāda quoted many scriptures to prove that chanting should be emphasized above all other practices for spiritual advancement. Dr. Staal had said that the Bhagavad-gītā does not recommend constant chanting, but Prabhupāda reminded him of verse 9.14, wherein Kṛṣṇa says about the mahātmās, or great souls: satataḿ kīrtayanto mām. "[They] are always chanting My glories."
Śrīla Prabhupāda quoted other verses from the Bhagavad-gītā, as well as from the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad and the Nārada Pañcarātra, confirming the importance of chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. When the professor replied that he could also produce quotes to counter the Vedic conclusion, Prabhupāda agreed that the quoting could go back and forth forever without producing a conclusion. Therefore, Prabhupāda suggested, instead of arguing fruitlessly they should accept the judgment of an impeccable authority, such as Lord Caitanya. Śrīla Prabhupāda also pointed out that one could judge the effectiveness of chanting the holy names by seeing how young Westerners were becoming sanctified devotees of the Lord simply by following that process.
If speculative discussion on transcendental subjects is less valuable than chanting the holy names, then mundane talks are absolutely worthless. Unfortunately, most people are unaware that the goal of human life is liberation from birth and death. So they find nothing wrong in chattering away from morning till night on topics totally irrelevant to their liberation. The ācāryas give them innumerable warnings about the folly of wasting one's life in this way, and the material nature gives them many stiff lessons to teach them that finding permanent happiness here is a hopeless dream. But the "wonderful thing" is that people ignore their own mortality and refuse the life-giving nectar of the holy names in favor of the deadly poison of mundane talks.
Copyright © The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, Founder Ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Gopiparanadhana dasa Adhikari