A new series of posts on Vishnusahasranama has been started on a group called Vedanta Study Group via email by Mr. Prashant Parikh, a young Vedantin and a scholar of Vedanta who lives in the USA. The series has been explained by a very young Swamini Brahmaprajnananda ji, a student of Pujya Swami Dayanananda Saraswati.
Swamini ji explains Vedanta in a very lucid manner, easy to understand and imbibe. She will be explaining in much detail the significance of the 1000 names of Lord Vishnu, Vishnusahasranama, which is a very popular text in Vedanta study.
I am reproducing below the first part of this series. Those interested in following the study may please email Prashant, moderator of Vēdānta Study Group on firstname.lastname@example.org and he will add your name for regular posts which are most enlightening. For any queries and questions you may visit and post on Swamini ji’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Brahmaprajnananda/
Swāmini Brahmaprajñānanda ji writes:
The Viṣṇusahasranāma is a compilation of 1000 different names of the Lord. It is 1000 ways of looking at the Lord. It is the 149th adhyaaya of the Anushasana-parva of the Māhabhārata. As per tradition, it was composed by Sanaka and was given to Bhishma. Bhishma, in turn recited it to the Pāndavas in the presence of Bhagavān Sri Krishna. At the end of the war, Yuddhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, approached Bhishma, who was lying on a bed of arrows, waiting for death, and asked him ‗who is the supreme Lord of all, who is the refuge of all and by praising and worshipping whom, one gains all that is good and also the ultimate end?‘ In reply, Bhishma gave the Viṣṇu-sahasranama.
Bhagavan Sri Shankarācarya has written an elaborate commentary for each of the names, before undertaking other bhashya works, which further enhances its importance.
What is the meaning of Viṣṇu?
The word Viṣṇu is derived from the root viṣlṛ vyāptau, meaning to pervade. Viṣṇu means one who is all pervasive. The all pervasive is only one, not more than one. Being all pervasive, Viṣṇu cannot be away from me; We need to understand this Lord or Īśvara.
Who is Īśvara?
The Lord is called Īśvara. Īśvara is the one who protects, sustains and the one who is a source of blessing. This Īśvara, who we say is the cause of this scheme of things called jagat, is to be discovered not believed. The world, jagat is not only put together, but it is intelligently put together. Anything put together intelligently to serve a purpose, is preceded by knowledge. Whatever is intelligently put together is called creation and intelligence can only rest in a conscious being.
This intelligent conscious being, to account for the creation of this world, should have the knowledge of creation and that knowledge should be total knowledge, because we are talking of the total world. The one who has samagram jnanam, total knowledge and samagram viryam, the total skill to create is called Bhagavan, Īśvara. Īśvara is both the maker and the material and hence the jagat is a manifestation of Īśvara. Manifestation means it is not separate from the material. It is an intelligent manifestation.
Why should anyone repeat the names of the Lord?
Repeating the names is a karma – an action and every action has a result . Every karma produces both seen results as well as unseen results (adr̥ śṭa phalam). To be at the right place at the right time, throughout the course of my life requires grace or luck. Grace is not something that the Lord distributes to a chosen few. It is something that we earn as a result of our actions (karma-phala). The Lord, of course, is very much present in it as the one who gives the results of actions (karma-phala- data). The laws produce the result of action, and those laws are not separate from Īśvara.
If Viṣṇusahasranama is chanted mentally, it is mānasam karma, if chanted orally, it is vāchikam karma and if it is chanted while offering flowers to the Lord through a puja, then it is kāyikam karma.
In understanding the meaning of the names, there is understanding of Īśvara. The more I understand Ishvara, the more I understand and accept myself. The more I accept myself, I experience less alienation and am in harmony with what is.
Why 1000 names?
Īśvara is everything and everything constitutes the various forms of Īśvara. As the forms are countless, the names of Īśvara are also countless. Thus, Īśvara has infinite names. Names are but words and certain words, when understood, reveal Īśvara. But none of the known words can really reveal Īśvara. Therefore, we have some special words which reveal the nature of Īśvara and these words are 3-fold:
- Words which reveal the svarupa, essential nature of Īśvara like satyam, meaning that which exists in all the 3 periods of time.
- Words which reveal Īśvara as the cause of the jagat. All that is here is Īśvara, and who is both the father and the mother. Īśvara is ‗He‘ from the stand-point of the maker, the efficient cause and ‗She‘ from the stand-point of the material cause, as the one who is manifest in the form of the jagat.
- Words which indicate the manifest form, as even the form of an avatāra. Keeping Maya under His control, Īśvara is manifest in special forms like Shri Rama, Sri Krishna and so on.
So all these 3 sets of names given above constitute the sahasranāma, the 1000 names of Lord Viṣṇu.