Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Darsanodaya (Exposition) of Vishnu Sahasranaama


An exposition is a discourse of the meaning or purpose of a composition.  This exposition here may be called Vishnu  Shasranaama Darsana in Sanskrit. Vishnu Sahasranaama (VSN) is a hymn of thousand names of the All-Pervading leading us through thousand ways to the Transcendental.

In the beginning it was water everywhere. It was cold and dark. Vishnu appeared on the horizon as blue skinned and filled the world with light. He took three steps as Trivikrama—dawn, noon and dusk—and drove gloomy demons to night. Some sages called him Bhagavaan, the keeper of communal wealth, others called him Naaraayana, the deliverer of Mankind (Nara=human; ayana=abode) and others Vaasudeva, Lord of all elements and Tadekam (the ONE and only one). Bheeshma much later started praising him with thousands of names mesmerized by the Viswaroopa–Darsana (Revelation of Universal Form) of Lord Krishna. VSN can therefore be called Vishnu-Darsana (Vishnu Exposition).

Vishnu Sahasranaama begins with Viswam, Vishnuh and Vashatkaara.Vishnu is the one whose manifestation is the whole Universe of forms glorified in Purushasookta as Viratpurusha. Vis means to enter. Therefore Visvam means That One which has created and entered into the entire Universe as the All-Pervading Reality (Antaryamin) Veveshti Vyaapnoti iti Vishnuh—that which pervades everywhere is Vishnu. Vashat means pouring oblations in sacrifices. Vashatkara therefore means that which is invoked by pouring oblations in Vedic rituals using the mantra called vashat. Therefore Brahman is called Vashtkaara or Yajnapurusha. Upanishad mantras say: “Yajno vai  Vishnuh”—Yajna is Vishnu.

Vishnu Sahasranama concludes its 1000 names with the 107th sloka (hymn) and   the devotees plead for their protection in the 108th sloka appealing to Naaraayana (the Deliverer of Mankind), Vishnu (The All-pervading) and  Vaasudeva (the Lord of the Elements).—Vaasudevobhi raksatu (may Vaasudeva protect us!).

Sri Rudram occupies the prime position among all the Vedic hymns for the praise of the All Pervading Supreme Principle. Perhaps this inspired Vaisampaayana to come out with Vishnusahasranaama (VSN) in his epic Mahaabhaarata. Vishnusahasranaama is a Naamaavali (row of names) that contains 1008 (in reality1031 single names) names of the All Pervading (Vishnu) and leads all Naamaavalis found in various Puranas. These names are all in the nominative case in Sanskrit unlike Sri Rudram and include names in all the three genders.  Whenever it is masculine, it denotes Vishnu. When it is feminine it is indicative of His might, Glory of Power that is manifested everywhere as Lakshmi (Prosperity). When it is neuter gender it means The Absolute, Brahman that has entered into all beings as Antaryamin (Inner-Self). VSN includes names of all deities prescribed in the Shanmatas (six Sampradayas or Traditions) propagated by Sankaracharya making it universal for all prayers of all   traditions for all occasions, seeking  good fortune  or pleading  for his help, directed towards the All-Pervading. It is therefore no surprise that it needed Sankara   to unfold the deeper meanings of these 1000 divine names for the first time before starting his work on various Upanishads. It looks as though he has not touched on the Phalasruti portion of the VSN. The same is not included in the Thousand Ways to the Transcendental by swami Chinmayananda who bases his text on Sankara’s commentaries on VSN. In all probability Phalasruti could have been added later. This is also not found in the Badrikaasrama text of VSN.

It looks as though VSN has been further expanded by others to include a prologue and an epilogue which contains benefits (Phalasruti) derived from its recitation, which are not found in Mahaabhaarata.  It is customary to perform Archana (one of the modes of Hindu religious worship) with VSN daily. If the religiously devoted Hindus feel that chanting of VSN every day is not convenient, then, they perform the worship of the All-Pervading with its help on their own birthdays, on eclipse days and on the days on which the Sun moves from one Zodiac to another (Sankraanti day) as per scriptural sanctions. Saastras prescribe Archana form of worship for warding off troubles arising from the position of planets, anger of the rulers, incurable diseases and ruthless enemies. However, maximum benefit is for purifying the mind and thus for gaining more and more inner-poise for the spiritual seeking by meditation. Religiously devoted Hindus believe regular recitation of VSN promotes prosperity, health and happiness, similar to what one achieves by Asvamedha Yaaga (Vedic Horse Sacrifice).

Vedavyaasa had a unique style of introducing his works, not revealing identity as their author, to make them more popular and reverential. He introduces Bhagavadgeetaa as a dialogue between Lord Krishna as Bhagavaan and Arjuna in the Upanishadic style of delivering spiritual message             , between the deliverer, the teacher (guru) and the recipient (sishya). He often repeats “Bhagavaanuvaacha” to attract the rapt attention of the listeners.  

VSN is also introduced into Mahabhaarata by yet another unique style as answers to the inquiring mind of his Grand-son Dharmaraaja by Bheeshma while lying on the bed of arrows. As we all know Yudhishthira was also called Dharmaraaja for he was the most righteous and known for his adherence to Dharma. His questions to Bheeshma are therefore very deep which is natural to any serious spiritual seeker in his pursuit of attaining liberation. These question and answers are as follows:

Question 1: Kimekam daivatam Loke? [Who is the One and the greatest Lord in the world?]
Answer:  Pavitraanaam pavitram yoe mangalaanaam cha mangalam | daivatma  devataanaam cha bhootaanaam yoe avyayaha pitaa || [He who is the embodiment of purity who sanctifies  even all sacred things; He is the most auspicious; He is the God of Gods; He is the eternal and universal father of all beings (sentient and  non-sentient) pervading them all—Vishnu.

Question 2: Kimva-api Ekam paraayaanam? [Who is the one refuge for all?]
Answer: Paramam yoe mahaatejah paramam yoe mahaat-tapah | paramam yoe mahad-brahma paramam yah paraayanam || [It is the great Effulgence; it is that which the great controller is: It is the Supreme All-pervading Truth. It is the highest goal— Lord Vishnu].

Question 3: Stuvantah  kam praapnuh maanavaah subham? [By praying to whom in glorification humanity attains peace and prosperity (Sreyas)—Eternal Bliss?]
Answer: Jagat–prabhum deva-devam anantam purushoettamam | stuvan-naama–sahasrena purushah satatoetthitah || [By praying to the Universal Person (Supreme Principle) with thousands of names in glorification,   who is ever caring for the welfare of all  humanity, the Lord of the Universe (Jagannatha) who is endless—Lord Vishnu].

Question 4: Kam-archantah praapnuyur-maanavaah subham? [Whose worship would lead humanity to peace and prosperity?]
Answer: Tameva cha-archayan nityam bhaktyaa purushm-avyayam | stuvan-naama-sahasrena purushah satatotthitah || [By  worshiping that Universal Person with devotion, praising his glory with thousands of names one can reach true happiness (Sreyas) and auspiciousness that would emancipate  the one from the shackles of worldly miseries.

Question 5 and 6: Koe dharmah sarva-dharmaanaam bhavatah parmoe matah? Kim japan muchyate jantuh janma samsaara-bandhanaat? [Which act of Dharma amongst all acts of Dharmas is considered as greatest? By meditating on what all the living entities can escape from the shackles of worldly miseries?
Answer: Anaadi-nidhanam vishnum sarvaloka-mahesvaram | lokaadhyaksham stuvan-nityam sarva-dukha-atigo bhavet || [The one and only Dharma is Vishnu alone, who has neither a beginning nor an end, who directs the entire Universe and who is the Knower of the World. All living entities can go beyond the shackles of worldly miseries and bondage (samsara) by chanting thousands of names in glorification of the All-Pervading (Vishnu)]

{The words naamasahasram and archana in the above texts have inspired Aagmas and  religious devotees to come up with sahasrnaama and lakshaarchana  modes of temple and home worships with tulasi leaves, flowers  and Kumkuma etc., drawing further motivation  from the sloka in Bhagavadgeetaa “Patram pushpam phalm toyam yoe may bhaktyaa prayacchati…..}

After answering all six questions of Yudhishtira, Bheeshama communicates to him thousands of ways to the Transcendental calling for his rapt attention. He did not have time to go further into details as to the deep meanings contained in these names of Lord Vishnu which later Sankara explained in detail in his first commentary on VSN. In delivering these names Bheeshma on and off repeated some names—74 of them twice, 14 of them 3 times and   2 of them 4 times, and also called them as thousand names of stotra of Vishnu.  A stotra is a hymn in glorification and also thousand here implies limitless as the names exceed 1000. While chanting the glory of the Lord devotees often indulge in repetition of the name as you find in the sloka “sree raama raama raameti”.  Stotra is musical and is meant for loud recitation while Mantra is meant for deep meditation which has a Chandas (meter), a Rishi (sage) as the author, and a Devata (deity) to whom it is directed. In Kali-Santarana Upanishad Brahma says to Naarada that repetition of the names of   Naaraayana alone  is sufficient for a seeker to spiritually evolve in these hard days of extrovert behavior, which is quite natural and unavoidable in Kaliyuga (Iron Age): This gives also poetic license to repeat names in slokas: The text from Kali-Santarana Upanishad is given below;
“Sarva sruti-rahasyam gopyam tat srunu yena kali-samsaaram tarishyaci bhagavatah aadipurushasya Naaraayanasya naamocchaarana matrena nirdhoota-kalir bhavati”  You all know how Naarada is portrayed as travelling in three worlds singing the words Naarayana tuned to the musical sound of his Tanpura.

Hindu Religious leaders also recommend repeated chanting of specific slokas of VSN to derive special benefits. These are:

Sloka 27: Asankhyeyo apprameyaatmaa visishtah sishta-krit-suchih | Siddhaartah siddha-sankalpah siddhidah siddhi saadanah ||
Benefit: to obtain success in one’s task; to accomplish one’s goal

Sloka 32: Bhootabhavya bhavan-naathah pavanah paavano-analah | kaamahaa kaamakrit-kaantah kaamah kaamapradaha prabhuh ||
Benefit: Successful marriage and married life.

Sloka 46: Vistaarah sthaavarah sthaanuh pramaanam  beejamavyayam | artho anartho mahaaksoso mahaabhogo mahaa-dhanah ||
Benefit: To get rid of poverty.

Sloka 65: Sreedah sreesah sreenivaasah sreenidhih sreevibhaavanah |-sreedharah sreekarah sreyah sreemaan-lokatrayaasrayah ||
Object: To become rich, affluent and famous.

Sloka 80: Amaanee maanado maanyo lokasvaamee trilokadhrik | sumedhaa medhajo dhanyah satyamedhah dharaadharah ||
Benefit: To get well educated and shine intellectual.

Sloka 90: Anurbrihat-krisah sthoolo gunabhrin-nirguno mahaan | adhritah svadhritah svaasyah praagvamso vamsavardhanah ||
Benefit: To beget children and promote good progeny.

Sloka 103: Pramaanam praana-nilayah praanabhrit-praana-jeevanah | tattvam tattva videkaatmaa janma-mrityu-jaraatigah ||
Object: To meditate on the Supreme to realize Consciousness—Infinite Reality and Self-realization.

Sloka 106: Aatmayonih svayamjaato vaikhaanah saamagaayanah | devakee-nandanah srashtaa kshiteesah paapanaasanah ||
Object: To eradicate all sins by meditating on the All-Pervading Vishnu.

Sloka 107: Sankhabrin-nandakee chakree saarngadhanvaa gadaadharah | rathaangapaani-rakshobhyah sarva- praharanaayudhah ||
Benefit: To have   suitable weapons for easy delivery during all kinds of assaults and fights against the preservation of Dharma; to equip oneself fully to fight all egos.

Dr. (Mrs.) Vora, a Jain by birth and a firm believer in astrology came out with an interesting concept linking VSN with planetary (Navagraha) influence. There are 27 Stars (Nakshatras) starting from Aswini and ending in Revati.  Each Nakshatra has 4 Quarters (Paadas). She linked 108 slokas of VSN to 27x4=108 quarters of 27 stars. If a person is born in the first quarter of Aswini, that will correspond to Sloka 1 of VSN or it becomes his birth-sloka from VSN and   similarly for others born on different quarters of stars.  It would then be appropriate to meditate upon the relevant birth-sloka on one’s birthday to ward off evil planetary effects (navagraha-dosha). In fact there are innumerable write ups like these drawing help from Vedic, scientific, philosophical and astrological as well as other sources by religious enthusiasts. The above one is picked up as an example since this was cited by Chinna Jeer, one of the Vaishanva Sect religious heads in his lecture on VSN. 

Ashtottara archana form of worship has become an essential part of sixteen steps worship (shoedasa upachaara Pooja).   Ashtottara means eight after (ashta+uttara). It is the part for the whole of the word Sata-ashtottara that is 108.  Probably it indicates eight more hymns added in VSN deviating from Vedic Satarudreeya which contains 100 hymns. In this form of worship 108 names of the Lord are repeated. On special occasions this is extended to Sahasranama-ashtottara or 1008 names. Periodically Laksha-ashtottara archana is also conducted, that is repeating of 100008 names of the Lord. As we all know Satarudreeya is a prayer of hundred hymns very sacred and inspiring involving Rudra which forms part of Taittareeeya Samhitaa of the Yajurveda. These hundred hymns were repeated by devotees with ardent faith and total dedication during the Vedic period. Vedavyasa’s Vishnu Sahasranaama contains 108 hymns, increasing the number by 8 (Ashta Utrtara meaning later eight). Probably his intention was to repeat these 108 hymns daily like Satarudreeya.  Larter people felt that it may not be possible for all to repeat all these 108 slokas. It might have then become customary to repeat at least 108 names of the Lord during prayers picked up from 108 slokas drawing support from Lord Siva’s advice to repeat Raam-naama thrice instead VSN. Both Tulasi Maala and Rosary (Rudraakshi Maala) used in prayers contain 108 beads.  This could be the origin of Ashtottaara.

The Rosary or Tulasi Maala used in Japa or meditation contains 108 beads to make easy counting of 108 names or 108 slokas. 108 beads are stringed together because it is related to the frequency of our breath. In 24 hours we breathe 21600 times. We normally spend 12 hours in daily routine. That leaves 12 hours behind for devotion of God. This means that each day 10800 times or 108X100 times of Breathe should be utilized for praying to God.  However since it is not practical tin the busy world, the two zeros are removed. Therefore, breathing 108 times is appropriate during prayers or repeating one name for each breath. So Ashtottaras contain 108 names.

The entire Universe is divided into 12 segments. Each represents a sign of the zodiac. In Hindu religious texts, there are principally Nine Planets (Navagrahas) that affects us. When 12 segments are multiplied by 9 Planets we arrive at a figure of 108. Therefore, the number 108 represents the Universe under the spell of nine planets controlled by the Supreme to whom we pray 108 times or repeat his 108 names for our success.

Original compilation of VSN by Vedavyaasa did not include Phalasruti. Phalasruti means hearing to the benefits derived from the recitation of hymns in praise of the Lord.  All of you are familiar with Srutis and Smritis in Hindu   Scriptures.  It is firmly believed that the Supreme is immensely pleased with this glorification and will go to any extent to help the devotees and save them from all past sins, drawing asurance from Bhagavadgeetaa “sarva paapebhyo mochayishyami maa suchah”—do not grieve; I shall relieve you from all sins. These were the words spoken to Arjuna who was already spiritually evolved and enlightened. Vedanta emphasizes  one has to go through his Karmaphala (consequences of accumulated Karmas) and cautiously avoid accumulating more and more of bad karmas, focus  on Satvaguna (good acts) and finally exhaust even that and aspire for eternal bliss.

Later Bhaktimaarga promoted several steps to focus on the Supreme which included mananam (recitation) and sravanam (listening).  When Phalsruti part was added to hymns, its listening was also made peremptory.  So stotras (hymns) invariably stress on the importance of listening to the concluding section of the slokas. Sometimes these are disproportionately exaggerated as pointed out earlier in my spiritual discourses. It is even emphatically believed   by religiously focused that without listening to the benefits (Phalasruti) mere recitation of the main portion of the hymns will bring no benefits.  In Satyanaaraayana Vrata this is extended even to the consuming of the blessed food (prasaada). The sincere intention behind all these is to bring home the great role played by Bhaktimarga.

In VSN the following two slokas are recited thrice conventionally:

Vanamaalee gadee saarngee sankhee chakree cha nandaki |
Sreemaan Naraayanoe Vishnuh Vasudevo-abhi rakshatu ||108 ||

Sree Raama Raama Raameti ramay raamay manoramay |
Sahasranaama tattulyam raamanaama varaananay || Phalasruti ||

One may wonder why the 108th sloka (Hymn) in VSN is repeated thrice  and also why Lord Siva says  to Parvati (this is also a later addition to the original text of VSN) that merely repeating the word “Raama” thrice would be equivalent to chanting the 1008 and more names of Vishnu in Phalasruti. How does the word Raama the name of an Avatar of Vishnu becomes a Mantra and if so why not the names of other avatars? These need some deep thinking.

Raama in Sanskrit means that which reveals in every form or that in which all yogins revel in their meditation meaning Brahmopaasana. The word Rama is derived in Sanskrit thus: “Ramante Yoginah asmin iti raamah”.  Padma puraana has beautifully described the word Raama; “Ramante yoginoe anante nityaanande chidaatmani’—that which is Eternal, Bliss, Conscious, Endless and  in which the Yogins revel.  

The word Raama consists of two   Sanskrit letters Raa and Ma. The letter Raa is the beejaakshara or the seed letter in the Vedic Mantra Naaraayana indicating Brahman in Brahmopaasana as stated by Ramanuja.  If letter raa is removed from the word Naaraayana, it conveys the opposite meaning. Similarly, in the Vedic Mantra Namassivaaya of Sri Rudram if the letter maa is deleted it conveys the opposite meaning.  Together these two letters form the Raama mantra. Religiously faithful believe that the word Raama existed even before Raama’s birth which Sage Naarada administered to the way side killer as Ma and Raa who later became sage Vaalmiki meditating on these two letters.  Tulsidas, Kabir, Tyagaraja and others, drawing inspiration from Skanda Purana and Padma Purana, use the word Raama as mantra in their prayers.  

Lord Siva addresses the following Sloka to Parvati in Skanda Purana: Raameti dvayaakshara japah sarvapaapanodakah | gacchams-tishthan sayanoe vaa manujoe raamakeertanaat | ida nivartito yaati chaante hariganoe bhavet || [Chanrting Raama japa mantra of two letters absolves one of all sins. Whoever chants and sings Raama naama when moving, sitting or sleeping or wherever possible, finds fulfillment and eventually joins the band of Hari (Harigana), thereby attaining Sreyas, everlasting Bliss.

Padmapurana   glorifies Raamajapa thus:  “raama raameti raameti   cha punarjapam…… sarvateertham kritam tena namocchaarnna maatratah”---reciting the mantra Raama thrice will bring the same benefits as visiting all holy places (Teerthayaatra.)                                                                                                                                                                                                   

The number three in Hindu Theology has great and very many significance which I have indicated in many of my previous discourses, particularly, “Words associated with numbers in Hindu Theology” and “Even and odd numbers in Chamakam”.  One may even ask why 1008 names in VSN which actually even exceeds this and why Lakshaarchana. You are all familiar with Purushasooktam by now. Purushasooktam describes Purusha as the one with 1000 heads, 1000 eyes and 1000 legs (Sahasra sheershaa purushah sahsraakshih sahasrapaat). This looks rather odd for a human figure! What the Sookta actually means by Sahasra is countless.  In Hindu worship in India you will therefore find Lakshaarchana popular and probably Hindu- Americans may go with   Million-aarchana to go with the local culture.  This only means there is no limit to the Archana mode of worship. As a blessing in disguise this brings in more revenue to the temple and also brings in lot of enthusiasm and inspiration to devotees. Only devotees should not count the benefits based on the number of the recitations.

In Vedic tradition it is customary to end all discourses with Shaantipaatha (prayer for peace) by chanting the words “Om  Saantih” thrice invoking peace within, peace from outside disturbances and peace of God which passes all understanding (Aadhyaatmika, Aadi-bhautika and Aadi-daivika). Phalasrutis also have adopted this Vedic practice.  The 108th sloka in VSN pleads for the protection from the Lord (vaasudevobhi rakshtu).  The last sloka also mentions three emanations of Brahman—Srimaan Narayana (one who is water borne), Vaasudeva (Lord of the Universe or Jagannatha; Lord of all the Elements) and Vishnuh (All -Pervading). Repetition thrice is addressed to these three emanations conceived as deities (like Sankarshana, Aniruddha and Pradyumana in Pancharaatra concept of Vyuhas of Vaaasudeva). This sloka is derived from the famous Vishnu Gayatri: “Naaraayanaaya vidmahay Vasudevaaya dheemahi tanno Vishnuh prachoedayaat” from Upanishads where all the three names appear. This Gayatri means:  We meditate upon Naaraayana (the deliverer of Mankind). For that we devote ourselves to Vaasudeva (Lord of the Elements). May the Lord Vishnu (All- Pervading) invigorate us! Manu Smriti says: the waters are called Naaras which come out of Nara (Easwara). As they are his original abode he is called Naaraayana. Nara also refers to mankind and ayana means shelter.

 May be this appeal is made thrice for various other reasons also.  Upanishads mention about four states in everyday life—wakeful state, sleeping state, dreaming state and deep sleep state. Human beings live active, partially or fully in all the first three states. VSN Phalasruti implies that we should always focus on the Raama Mantra (Sri Raama Raama Raameti) in our wakeful, sleeping and dream states. If we think always about the Mantra in the wakeful and sleeping state, this will automatically lead us to the dream state also to dream about the Mantra.  The last stage is the one called Tureeya where you are in unison with Brahman and there is nothing more to think there though it is of temporary nature; but we have to strive hard to attain everlasting state of Tureeya by our spiritual efforts.

 Also in the Mantra “Bhoor-bhuva-ssuvar-om” Upanishads mention of three lower strata worlds Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka and Suvarloka through which the soul wanders experiencing enjoyment or suffering resulting from the Karmas. Having achieved the goal here the soul returns back to earth as Jeevanmukta (liberated soul) and takes its final flight to be in unison with the Supreme.  Thrice repeated Mantra also reminds us of Brahman pervading, all these three Lokas. Our thoughts should also be focused on Brahman in all the three worlds in order to achieve liberation. Repetition three times constantly reminds us of these facts. In modern science these are psychic levels. Raama mantra is essentially Brahmopaasana (meditation on Brahman) Mantra as explained above. Bhur-bhuva-suva is Om or Brahman says Upanishads as he pervades all the three.

Hard working American Hindu wives would no doubt appreciate and love Lord Siva who is so considerate to his busy wife Paarvati suggesting easy way of reciting only Raama mantra instead of the elaborate VSN of countless names with full of mystic meanings. Siva is an ardent admirer of Raama and Raama is ardent devotee of Siva. Yet Vaishnavites and Saivites fight all the time. Raama consecrated Sivalinga in Rameswaram and devotees called it Ramalinga.  It is easier to say than do as Lord Siva is not easy to understand.  It was not easy for even Paarvati,  who was so attached and dedicated to Him. Only Lord Kartikeya, his own creation could de-mystify him and earn the title of Guruguha. What Lord Siva indirectly conveyed to her was why to focus on so many names, concentrate on Tadekam, that one Supreme Being as contained in Raama mantra constantly. He also said thrice so that it should come out of all physical endeavor,  open expression  and mental thinking (kaayaa, vaachaa, manasaa) initially and then rising to spiritual heights through Panchendriyas (all sense organs and vital forces), Intellect (buddhi) and Self (aatman). This is not easy and calls for Jeevan-mukta status of liberated souls. The Mantra is simple but Saadhana (means) is too difficult. Religiously attracted ignorant souls blindly think repeating three times the sacred Mantra as a name of Purnaic person Raama will offer all the goodies promised in Phalasruti or even by the physical act of Lakshaarchanas and others on lavish scale.

Upanishads mostly focus on Mantras pleading to the Supreme as seen in Mantras like Asato maa sadgamaya, Trayambakam Yajaamahe, Viswaani deva savitr duritaani Paraasuva, last anuvaka of Chamakam etc., and dwell upon Brahmopaasana and Saranaagati or Nyaasa (meditation on Brahman and complete   surrender). Encouraged by the divine assurance in the Bhagavadgeeta (aham tvaam sarvapaapebhyo mochayishyaami maa suchah) Puranas have allured us to a  new and easy  path of temptation by Phalasrutis where benefits mostly match your physical efforts or sometimes even offering disproportionate  rewards for the efforts put in, which if not properly understood  and acted  upon will lead us nowhere. It should not be forgotten that nobody can escape from the operation of the Laws of Karma and have to exhaust them cautiously and judiciously for spiritual evolution.

Later, Phalsrutis have also found their way into later Upanishads like Mahaa  Naaraayanopanishad influenced by Puranas.  A Phalsruti from Mahaalakshmi Astakam of Padmapuraana reads as follows:
:Eka kaale pathen-nityam mahaapaataka naasanam | Dvikaalam yah pathen-nityam dhana-dhaanya-samnvitah | trikaalam yah pathen-nityam mahaa-satru-vinaasanam || [If you recite the Lakshmi Ashtakam once daily you will get rid of sins accrued from capital crimes; if you recite twice  daily you will be rewarded with plentiful riches; and if you recite thrice daily you will be able to destroy all your formidable enemies] I wish this could be as simple as this which follows the preaching  of organized religions. If people can get rid of all sins from capital crimes by reciting sloka only once daily what else inspires them to go further? Our Bhaktimaarga enthusiasts will no doubt come with elaborate explanation pointing out how ignorant or misunderstood  others are in interpreting their meanings. They may explain riches as all spiritual wealth, and enemies mean all egos that influence common people. Slokas are not mystic Vedic texts.  Slokas are meant for common man and therefore their meaning should be simple and straight –forward unlike Vedic mantras.

VSN slokas contain 1000 and odd names of Vishnu to be chanted.  Apparently they look simple. But   to a spiritual thinker   all the 108 slokas in the VSN can be considered as Mantras. A mantra has a Chandas, a rishi or sage as its author and a Devata or deity to be meditated upon. Vedavyasa is its author. He has composed it in Vedic style using Anushtup Meter (Chandas). Narayana is the Devata to be meditated upon.   The question still remains as to how do we overcome the laws of Karma by this approach?

Mahaanaarayana Upanishad also comes with such Phalasrutis probably influenced by later Puranic period, perhaps included later!  For example, Phalsrutis in Trisuparna Mantras:
“Trisuparnamayaachitam braahmanaaya dadyaat | brahmahatyaam vaa ete ghnanti || | ya imam trisuparnam ayaachitam braahmanaaya dadyaat | broonahatyaam vaa ete ghnanti || Ya imam trisuparnamayaachitam braahmanaaya dadyaat  | veerahatyaam vaa ete ghnanti || [One should teach these three  sections called Trisuparna Mantras to a Brahmin without asking for any fee. These mantras terminate the sin of killing a learned Brahmin; get rid of the sin of killing of fetus; terminate the sin of annihilation of valorous beings (who die a noble death fighting in a war).

All sins mentioned here are of capital nature pardoned by merely teaching these Vedic Mantras to Brahmins not even waiting to watch the effect produced on the recipients. Probably this Upanishad has been influenced by sages like  Valmeeki and others of Puraanic lore who had indulged in capital crimes before their enlightenment!


·         That man who hears the names every day who recites them every day never meets with any evil either here or hereafter.

·         If a Brahmin (the learned in Scriptures) does this he succeeds in mastering the Vedanta; If a Kshatriya (a protector of the community)   does it, he will always be successful in his fight against the evil; A Vaisya (a trader who serves the community) by doing it, becomes rich and affluent to serve the community better; A Sudra (a person who physically   renders service to community) earns great happiness enjoying his selfless service.

·         If one develops desire to earn the merits of following the path of Dharma (righteousness), one succeeds in earning it by hearing or reciting these names.

·         Those desirous of wealth succeed to become wealthy by reciting Lord’s glorious name; similarly those who desire to have good progeny will succeed in their sensual pleasures by chanting these names.

·         Those  with devotion and perseverance and heart wholly turned towards the Lord , recite   these thousand names of Vaasudeva (Lord of the Universe) everyday, after having cleansed their   body and mind, will  succeed  in acquiring great fame, a position of eminence among his kinsmen, enduring prosperity, and lastly, that which is of the highest benefit, Sreyas, the final liberation and bliss.

·         Such people never meet with fear at any time, and acquire great prowess and energy. Disease never afflicts them; splendor of complexion, strength, beauty, and accomplishments become their natural possessions.

·         The sick become hale healthy, the afflicted become freed from their afflictions; the frightened become freed from fear, and   those drowned in calamity are freed from it.

·         Those who sing   the praises of that Master of All Beings succeed soon crossing the ocean of difficulties by reciting the thousand names of the All-Pervading with devotion and faith.

·         That mortal being who takes refuge in Vaasudeva and who becomes devoted to Him, becomes freed of all sins and attains salvation enjoying the company of the Supreme Principle (Brahman).

·         Those who are devoted to Vaasudeva never have to deal with evil. They become freed from the fear of birth, death, decrepitude, and disease.

·         Those,  who with devotion and faith, recite  these hymns (consisting of the thousand names of Vaasudeva) succeed  in acquiring solace to  soul, forgiveness of disposition, prosperity, intelligence, memory, and fame. Neither wrath, nor jealousy, nor sexuality, nor evil understanding, ever appear to those followers of dhaarmic (righteous) pursuits and who are devoted to that Supreme Principle.

·         This hymn in praise of the illustrious Vishnu composed by Vyaasa, should be recited by that person who wishes to acquire eternal happiness (Sreyas), the one that gives the highest benefit (viz., emancipation from repeated births and deaths).

·         Those persons that worship and adore the Lord of the universe, that Divine--  who is unborn and possessed of blazing effulgence, who is the origin or cause of the universe, who knows no deterioration, and who is endowed with eyes that are as large and beautiful as the petals of the lotus-are never to meet with any discomfort.

Sloka 108 is essentially is Vishnu Gaayatri and VSN ends with this Gayatri Mantra pleading to the Supreme for all time protection (Vaasudevobhi rakshatu) invoking the names of Naraayana, Vishnu   and Vaasudeva (found in Vedic Vishnu Gaayatri)  chanting the mantra thrice.  Later Phalasruti which was added inspired by Skanda Puraana added another Raama mantra  pleasing both the followers of Siva and Vishnu of the puranic periods as Rama mantra is addressed to Brahman covering both the aspects of Siva and Vishnu as explained above.  VSN is called Stotra because it contains thousand names (that which is said in glorification) but makes it effective for Brahmopaasana (meditation on Brahman) by adding the last sloka in Mantra form. Later inspired devotees have added another sloka adding Rama mantra (Sri Raama raama raama raameti) which again is a Brahmopaasana mantra like the one given from Vedas.  Raama mantra is a sacred mantra in simplified form for Om namoh Naaraayanaaya and Om namah  Sivaaya. Therefore focus your thoughts while doing Raama Japa with this thought and not as the son of Dasaratha and Kausalya of Puranas.
Om tad Brahma | Om tad Vaayuh | Om tad Aatmaa | Om tat Satyam | Om tat Sarvam | Om tat Puror-namah ||
Om antas-charati bhooteshu guhaayaam visvamoortishu| Tvam Yajnastvam Vishnustvam Vashatkaarastva(ga)m  Rudrastvam tvam prajaapatih ||
(For deeper understanding of the above mantras, go to Blog <nrsrini.blogspot.com> of my discourses on Mahaa Naaryana Upanishad).
Jalam Vishnuh sthalam Vishnuh Vishnur-aakaasam-uchyatey | sthaavaram jangamam vishnuh sarvam vishnumayam jagat ||                                                               
[The One Supreme cause of the whole universe is Vishnu; and all effects are but different expressions of   their cause.]

References :
1.  Swami Chinmayananda, Vishnu Sahasranaama, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India
2. Ananta Rangacharya, Principal Upanishads, Bangalore, India
3. Rama Prasad, American Gita Society, Bhagavadgeetaa, California, USA.
4. Prem P Bhalla, Hindu Rites, Rituals, Customs and Traditions, Pustak Mahal, Delhi, India.


Why Lord Vishnu is Called as Shunyah or Zero in the Vishnu Sahasranama?
Posted by M.K. Sudarshan | Apr 20, 2016  | IndiaDivine.Org
 One of the “namas” in the Sahasranamam that I’m always intrigued by is the name “shunyah” given to Vishnu, which appears in sloka No. 79:
suvarnavarno hemango varangas chandhanangadhi
viraha vishamaha sunyo grithasirachalaschalaha
The Sanskrit word “sunya” means “zero”, “nullity”, “cipher”, “emptiness”.
It would strike anyone as extremely odd that the Sahasranamam should choose to call Lord Vishnu as Zero! You can understand God being called “ekaha”, the One Supreme Being. The essence of all monistic theism lies in the belief that God is One (the Upanishad says, “sayaschayam purushe; yaschasavadhithye; sa ekaha”).
You can understand too God being addressed as “ananthaha” the Infinite, as in the Sahasranamam stanza 70:
kamadhevaha kamapalaha kami kanthaha krithagamaha
anirdhesya vapurvishnuhu viro ‘nantho dhananjayaha
Since God is Immeasurable it seems plainly alright to name Him “ananthaha” the Infinite. But how is one to explain hailing the Almighty as “shunyah” the Cipher?
There is a view that “If Infinity is immeasurable, so is Zero”. Mathematically speaking, one could define zero to be anti-infinity. If “Infinity” is immeasurable plenitude, “Zero” is immeasurable emptiness. If you were to imagine, say, an interminable series of values, from zero to infinity, floating somewhere out there in endless space, then, surely, Zero would be at one end of it while Infinity would be found at the other end, wherever, that is, the two ends may be found, if at all. And if you reflect upon it deeply, that would make out “Zero” and “Infinity” to be two sides of the same un-graspable coin.
By the same logic, you might say the Sanskrit “ananthaha” and “shunyah” might seem antonymous but in reality they mean the same thing. Hailing God Almighty as “Lord Infinity” is hence no different from hailing Him “Lord Zero”.
Incredible logic notwithstanding, we know for a fact however that the “Infinite” and the “Cipher” are never really the same thing. None of us would be willing to exchange one for the other if it came to a real choice between the two. If I go up, for instance, to a venerable “acharya” or “guru” and prostrate at his feet, I would expect him to shower his benediction upon me saying, “May you be blessed in life, my son, with Gods infinite Grace!” If instead the man were to say, “May Gods zero grace be thine in life!, the blessing would stand transformed into a vicious curse, wouldn’t it?
So then, why is God, who is Infinite Being, being called “sunya”, a Zero – the very opposite of infinity? The traditional commentators of the Vishnu-Sahasranamam offer us some explanation in their respective “bhashyas”.
Let us take up Adhi Sankara’s “Sahasranama bhashya ” first.
In his commentary, Sri Sankara (6th CE) explains “sunya” as an apt “nama for God, the Supreme Brahman, who is “nirguna ” – i.e. the Being who is totally devoid of any qualities or attributes. In other words, according to Sankaras school of metaphysics, God is “guna sunyan”.
According to this explanation, God transcends all attributes. His qualities like omnipotence, omniscience etc. only serve to help us in ascertaining His reality but they do not “per se” define Him. The truth of Gods existence cannot be grasped by us with reference to His qualities or “guna” alone, says Sankara. Brahman is to be apprehended as an Absolute Being who stands far apart from and quite beyond any of His infinitely (“ananthaha”) great qualities – i.e. He is “nirguna brahman”, a Being without qualities, a Being with “zero” qualities. Hence it is fit to call Him “shunyah”
Let us turn to the other explanation found in the commentary of Sri Parashara Bhattar (11th CE) on the Vishnu Sahasranamam titledbhagavadh guna dharpanam”.
Bhattar explains “shunyah” in the typical way of the school of Visishtadvaitha theology. According to this school, God is the Supreme Abode of all auspicious attributes. The Almighty is full of innumerable good qualities like “gny+an+a”, “bala”, “aiswarya”, “virya”, “shakthi” and “tejas”. In Visishtadvaitha, God is ananthakalyana guna ganan+” (to use a famous expression of Sri Ramanujacharya) – i.e. Brahman is Being  with Infinite Number of Happy and Wholesome Attributes. The theology next states that God, by corollary, is also totally devoid of inauspicious, un-wholesome or negative qualities.
According to Bhattar, in so far as, Brahman is replete with infinitely good attributes, He is to be known as “ananthaha”. And in so far as He is absolutely bereft of defective qualities, He is to be known as the God of “zero-defects” – in other words, He is “shunyah”.
From a purely theological standpoint both explanations above are equally valid and wholly satisfying (depending, of course, upon which school of Vedanta – Sankaras or Ramanujas – one is predisposed towards). All the same, for one who is not steeped in the various nuances and niceties of Vedantic theology, (especially for one who cannot really appreciate the technical difference between the metaphysical “nirguna” and “savisesha” Brahman), the explanations of Adhi Sankara and Parashara Bhattar for “sunya” might only seem to resemble the case of the proverbial bottle that got described as “half-empty” by one and “half-full” by another.
Even leaving theological considerations aside, one can still regard Zero to be a remarkably apt “nama” for the Almighty. Common knowledge of the world around us reveals how all-powerful the concept of Zero, “sunya”, truly is. When we look at the history of Zero, we realize why “sunya” is almighty indeed!
Until about 1500 years ago nobody in the world outside India could count numbers beyond 9 without enormous difficulty. The entire Greco-Roman Western world knew nothing about the Hindu-Arabic system of numerals that prevails in the entire world today. The Romans depended upon alphabets to denote numbers – such as I, X and C or with V, L and D. In their system the number 32 had to be written, for example, as XXXII but writing a number like 3200 or 32000 for the Greeks and Romans presented a huge, often insurmountable problem! For several centuries the Greco-Roman civilization struggled with this cumbersome system of numbering. It was the principal reason why for almost a thousand years Western mathematics hardly advanced beyond being a method of elementary counting and mensuration using crude devices like the abacus. The Greeks and Romans had no knowledge of how to deal with large numbers, ratios, series, complex algebraic functions and calculations – all child’s play for any high-school student today. Western thought simply stagnated for ages since it could just not grapple with the mathematical problem of large numbers and calculations.
Somewhere between 1000 and 1200 AD, the Western world came in contact with the Arab world and that was when the Hindu-Arabic system of numerals opened the eyes of the Europeans to a whole new world of mathematical thought.
The Arabs had for long borrowed and been using the Hindu system of numerals that had been in use in ancient India for more than a thousand years earlier. The Hindu system did not use alphabets but a simple but versatile scheme of numeric symbols starting from “Zero” – the famous “sunya” – and ending with 9. These symbolic numerals made it so easy to represent and calculate numerate values anywhere from zero to infinity in quick time. They enabled complex functions and calculations. They made it possible to represent the most formidable series of values by a mere formula which in turn facilitated further complex mathematical functions! The Western world realized – for the first time ever – the power of the Hindu numeral system: a power that became the inspiration for all the mathematical advancements to later come out of Europe: algebra, ratios, surds, functions such as squares, cube and root, series and progressions, logarithmic tables, quadratic equations… and so on and so forth.
It was the power of Zero, “Sunya”, indeed, that made the European Renaissance possible – the Renaissance that eventually gave birth to all the wonderful discoveries of modern mathematics such as Fibonacci’s series, Pascal’s Probability theory and even Newton’s Calculus! “The concept of Zero unleashed something more profound than just an enhanced method of counting and calculating”. Zero revolutionized the old modes of human thought. It meant firstly people could use only ten digits, from 0 to 9, to perform every conceivable calculation and to write any conceivable number. Secondly, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for abstract human thinking that had been simply unthinkable before!
How did the ancient Hindus discover such a powerful concept as “sunya” while the rest of the world remained ignorant of “Zero” for ages?
To grasp the concept of “sunya” required a very high level of intellectual and spiritual advancement as what prevailed in India during and after the Vedic period. As the English philosopher, A. N. Whitehead wrote: “The point about zero is that we do not need to use it in the operations of daily life. No one goes out to buy zero fish or eggs. (But) It is in a way the most civilized of all the cardinals, and its use is only forced on us by the needs of cultivated modes of thought”. Vedic mathematics and astronomy of those ancient times clearly bear evidence to the highly sophisticated conceptual and ideological skills that our Indian forbears possessed. There was no doubt at all that the ancient Vedic Indians who gave to the whole world the idea of “sunya” were indeed masters of the most civilized and “cultivated modes of thought”.
There was a great mathematician in India who lived in the 10th century CE, He was Bhaskaracharya. He wrote several pioneering treatises (in Sanskrit) on Vedic mathematics. In one of the treatises, it is said, he wrote a small dedication: “To the Supreme Brahman, who is Infinity, I offer my salutation”.  Bhaskaracharya used the Sanskrit word “khahara” to denote God as “Infinity” in the dedication. It is derived from “kham” which means “Zero” and “hara” meaning “divided”. The word “khahara” was meant to indicate that God who is Infinity is related to Zero.
Bhaskaracharya was the first mathematician to reveal to the world the intimate relationship between “sunya” and “ananthaha”, between Zero and Infinity. Any quantity divided by “sunya” is equal to Infinity, he said. Take a value like 16 and divide it (“haraha”) with progressively decreasing divisors. What happens? The quotient progressively enlarges. For e.g. 16 divided by 4 = 4; and 16 divided by 2 = 8; and eventually when 16 is divided by 0 it equals “Infinity!” Every quantity, every value in the world, when divided by “sunya”, results in the same quotient or result viz. Infinity, “ananthaha”
Such is the mighty power of Zero that it can raise and relate all values on earth to the exalted state of Infinity –that very same state in which God Almighty, the Vishnu of the sacred “Sahasranama”, is said to eternally reside and rule!