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BOOK REVIEW

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The Power of the Sacred Name

Jackson, William J. (ed.), The Power of the Sacred Name: V. Raghavan’s Studies in Namasiddhanta and Indian Culture, XX, 362 pp., bibl; index, map, illus; chart; Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications – a Divisio of Indian Books Centre, 1994 Rs. 300.

My parents pilgrimages to the shrine of Baidyanath, one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, a manifestation of Siva as a brilliant column of light. There they fasted for three days and three nights, reciting the Name of Siva thousands of time, praying for a son, untill the God appeared in dream and gave them the boon. When I was born they named me Baidyanath. Saraswati is my family name, an honorific title which a Peshwa king conferred upon my great-great-grandfather for his spiritual exercise in Tantra and erudition in Sanskrit learning. Bereft of any divine power of the Lord Baidyanath or of the Goddess Saraswati my name takes on a mere human character, whether by history or by customs more generally. One consequence of naming is that my parents do not utter may name, because I am their eldest son. What a pity? My name is taboo also for my wife, for my younger brother’s wife, my son’s wife, and many other kinswomen in the second generation. The question is: Why?

This book does not answer the anthropological question of empty names. But what is present is a delightful analysis of devotion to holy Names. While drawing upon a specific tradition, namely, the Namasiddhanta in the religion we know as Hinduism, it allows a wider insight into the use of the sacred Names in other parts of the world. The editor Jackson provides a wealth of modern interpretations of psychological, philosophical and religious thoughts that leaves a truly profound effects on his readers.

Divine names, called on over a lifetime, can be said to be markers in consciousness which is also "measure being".

The name is said to be one way to engender in the psyche the beauty and glory of the holy – Namasiddhanta promotes this, offering a way of concentration and refinement for the simple. Namasiddhant’s goal is to saturate the whole brain, the whole psyche, the whole memory, the whole life with what the name connotes.

In India repeating the name is one form of mantra, a "mind tool" for breaking down condition perceptual structures of time, and the built-up patterns of language and mental concepts in human consciousness, measuring the limits of the realms of the unconscious.

A theory and practice of the sacredness of sound and its effects on the human nervous system was developed further in mystical directions by Indian musician-yogis.

Raghavan’s studies of the Namasiddhanta saintss, a major motivation for Jackson, form a fairly dense section of the book. In order to highlight the cultural overviews of the emergence of bhakti scholars and saints, Raghavan refers to illustrious leaders of Kaveri delta, namely Sridhar Venkatesa Ayyaval, Sadasiva Brahmendra, and Narauyana Tirtha. In speaking of the bhakti of Tulsidas, Guru Nanak, Bhadracama, Ramadas, Tyagraja and Mahatma Gandhi, he gives fascinating account of creative exponents of the Names that appear in the sacred texts on par with the attributes, or terms, applied to the Supreme Being. The power of the sacred Name presents itself in its fullness in the recitation of Visnu Sahasranama, the thousand Names of Lord Visnu by which "will a being born here be released from the fetters of birth and death". Although, truthful translation is enormously difficult, if not impossible, the English rendering of this Mahabharata text is highly valued for the mind that ascends to a more evolving spiritual viewpoint.

Raghavan is an example of a scholar who had the traditional grounding in Sanskrit, the modern training in Indology, the temperament for science, the acumen of philosophy, the appeal of religion, the devotion to music and dance: these and much else are reflected in his writings. The manner in which he influenced the Chicago school of Indian anthropology is indicated in Milton Singer’s personal reminiscence appended to this book.

Jackson’s concluding reflections on the power of the Name illuminate a fascinating account of "beads and strings" that picks up several of the religious traditions which give value to the Name.

Yet although this book is rich in materials of great value to indologists and historians of religion, I have a feeling uneasiness at certain points in Jackson’s reasoning. It seems that his stream of consciousness is a narrow-flowing fringe limited by anthropocentric character of Name and form. Unlike other religions, Hinduism transcends the physicality of the sacred being. What is ultimate in Hinduism is that which is without name, without form, without attributes, and all that is inconceivable by mind – far beyond human consciousness. It is only that the lower level that Names have significance. At the highest state all Names and forms dissolve. The deeper mystery of the Name lies in that which is unqualified, without Name. As has been said of Rudra Brahman:

His name is not uttered. It must not be mentioned; Only indirectly is He to be reffered to.

(Aitareya Brahamna, 3.34)

Clearly, the cosmocentric Hinduism is a complex, world outside mind where all differentiations and oppositions in thought-forms are contained by the principle of one-and-many, full and empty, with-and-without, and all that moves-and-moves not.

 

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