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Vishnusahasranama In Song

(Or Thousand Names of the Lord)

Dedicated to Gurudev Swami Sivananda

Thousand Sakura or Cherry Blossoms


It is very significant that the Vishnusahasranama was given as an answer to the questions of Yudishtira by the great Bhishma at the end of the Mahabharata war. The only enemies are the ones within—in our own minds and hearts. It is only after the inner war is won that the field is fertile to cultivate the new.

In the Katha Upanishad, the great master Yama instructs the most worthy disciple Nachiketas: “Arise. Awake. Staying awake, go to the master and get instruction, or have your doubts cleared.” Yoga insists on self-control and self-restraint before the other steps of restoration of one’s true nature. In jnana yoga, the fourfold qualifications of a seeker are requisite.

Scriptures are as wide open as the endless skies and one is free to take from the expanse any meaning one feels to. Rather than studying them as events or even as a dialogue from the outside, I have found it most useful to get into the teachings, as true teachings are timeless—they are eternally applicable.

Yudishtira’s six questions boil down to two and then further to one: 1) who or what is the greatest Truth or God?, and 2), what is the highest duty or thing to be done?

Bhishma replies to the questions with the thousand names of the Lord instead of an answer that was specific to Yudishtira’s present situation as a king who won a war. The questions may have been specific, but the grand Bhishma’s answer is universal and eternal. Like the sun, the mighty Bhishma radiates God’s Nature and Glories through the Vishnusahasranama or thousand names of God.

Vishnu means all-pervading, the Divine Omnipresence, the Absolute or God. The thousand names or the Vishnushasranama, like thousand rays from the sun, point back to the sun. If the heart and mind can be made to feel that we are right now in the bosom of God and none other exists—we will begin to understand how to do all that needs to be done.

Actions are guided by understanding. Our problems stem from wrong understanding of the true nature of all and everything and so we fail to adjust ourselves properly. The thousand names are ways of readjustment or calibration  to the natural state. Why a thousand? There could have been more, and one could suffice, but thousand is a grand and big number so it is most inspiring to see that all rays lead to the sun, and all ways or actions are steps in evolution or our journey home.

The two questions of Yudishtira boil down into one question: “What is the highest truth or God?” The question of ‘highest duty’ does not arise if we can somehow feel that we are right now not only amidst the ocean of God, but—God Alone Is! If this greatest of all dictums can etch itself onto the heart tablet, the mind will get clarity on how and what needs to be done. Lack of clarity or changing clarity is our problem. This clarity is not intellectual clarity but the understanding that is the core of your being.

This core of your being feels the need for security, satisfaction and joy, and not understanding the true nature of the interconnectedness of things—it goes about gathering broken shells at the water’s edge—never feeling secure, satisfied or joyful. The burning quest to end all answers of what it is to be ‘fulfilled’ in every way keeps driving one till total fulfillment is reached. Things, relationships and conditions are ever in the process of change and cannot deliver what is needed.

Bhishma’s majestic answer is a reply to everyone’s single question, “What is the Truth?” If you can take a simple mind and heart and listen to the thousand names just like you were listening with rapt attention to your wise and most loving grandfather who was about to depart from life, knowing this would be the last and only opportunity to learn from one whom you most love and respect—the magic can happen.

Like the brilliant effulgence of the sun, the thousand rays of names, or the nature of God, will enter your heart and set ablaze all doubts and the light of clarity will guide you eternally in how to live in light of the great truth—Divine Omnipresence.

Try lighting the lamp of aspiration within. Then, burn the sticks if individuality which at once wafts the sweet fragrance of incense. Wash the felt Indwelling Presence of the Lord with prem or pure love. Offer the petals of individuality as archana or flowers offered unto the Lord—a letting go of ignorance is the immediate realization of truth. Just like water flows as a steady stream, let the thousand names make your journey home unbroken till the small tumbler empties itself in the Divine Ocean. Ignorance cannot reside within if you do not hold onto it. The thousand names are thousand ways to let go of the ego or to effect self-surrender by embracing the truth—God Alone Is.

Here is a simple way to feel the import of the thousand names of God. You may call God by any name—God is God. I have been greatly inspired by the English Philosophical Songs of Gurudev Swami Sivananda in that, like bypass surgery, they bypass the blockages of the mind and connect directly to the heart.

The song can be sung in the commonly known tune as well as other simple tunes, and one does not need any singing ability or talent for these songs. Just as a capsule holds the medicine, the song holds the light of Bhishma.

The first few times you may find yourself concentrating on the words and tune… on the singing. If you continue on without becoming mechanical, you will find yourself listening to the words of the song which is being sung. If you continue to stay alert, you will then find yourself contemplating on the meaning of the song which is being sung and heard. If you are determined and ever alert, finally something wonderful happens!—you will find yourself meditating on that which the words point to, all the while the song is being sung and heard.

I hope to soon have the audio for this song offered on my website as well.

Wishing you a glorious journey through song!

Swami Suryadevananda

14 September 2010