Benefits of Vishnu Sahasranama
विष्णुसहस्रनाम, (Viṣṇusahasranāma), is a Sanskrit hymn which contains 1,008 names of Lord Vishnu, one of the main deities in Hinduism and the Supreme God in Vaishnavism. It is one of the most sacred and popular stotras in Hinduism. The Vishnu Sahasranāma is found in Chapter 149 of the Anushasana Parva of the epic Mahabharata. It consists of 142 ślokas. Except 13 ślokas in the beginning and 22 at the end, the remaining 107 ślokas contain the thousand names of God. It is the most popular version of the 1,008 names of Vishnu. Other versions exist in the Padma Purana, Skanda Purana and Garuda Purana. It is held in great veneration and devotion in all parts of India. Each name eulogizes one of His countless great attributes. As stotras, Sahasra-namas are songs of praise, a type of devotional literature. The word is a compound of sahasra “thousand” and nāman “name”.
Benefits of chanting the Vishnu Sahasranama
Chanting of the mantras or shlokas or strotras help us remain focused in life and align our energies with the cosmic vibrations. Each word, when uttered correctly generates energy that can be felt within. This energy stimulates the tiniest cells and the neuro centers within the body.
Śrī Viṣṇu Sahasranāma is the heart and quintessence of the Mahābhārata. Mahābhārata is itself considered to be a commentary on the Sahasranāma. The Sahasranāma chapter occurs in the context of Bhīṣma expounding Dharma for the purpose of laying down the essence of the śāstras for Yudhiṣṭhira. Vedavyāsa, who is considered to be an avatāra of Lord Viṣṇu recalled the names from the sayings of eminent ṛṣis, like honey gathered from various flowers. They have come down traditionally. The existence of a logical connection between one name and another is quite apparent.
Every Name of Sri Vishnu has a deep meaning to it. The Sahasranāma is the essence of the Vedas and deals with the nature and glory of the Ultimate Reality in all the varied aspects and the realization of the highest goal of life.
The phonetic sounds of chanting each Name known as “Nama” and the chain of names known as “Namavali” produces vibrations that are essential for humans knowledge and wisdom. What the phonetic sound vibrations create for the one who chants or for the one who hears it is very well established by many eminent scholars. For attainment of spiritual liberation, one must involve himself/herself in chanting the glories of the Lord Vishnu, by reciting the Vishnu Sahasranama.This not only strengthens the brain’s neuron chips but also emits the brain waves at conducive levels that can reverberate Lord’s divine energies within one’s own body. Besides, the thought process of a person can also be regulated onto a divine path. That’s the true benefit of mindful chanting of Vishnu Sahasranama for a Bhakta (devotee) of Sri Maha Vishnu.
Approximately 72000 nadis are found in the human body. Each name in the Vishnu Sahasranamam corresponds to one verse of the Brihati sahasra (part of Vedas) that has 36 aksharams(letters)which is the form of Lord Vishnu. Each akshara is again composed of a swara (eg: a,u) and a vyanjana (na,ma) and there a total of 1000 mantras. So it adds up to 36000 swaras and 36000 vyanjanas which correspond to the 36000 (360 days ×100 years) and 36000 (360 nights ×100 years) of a complete human life span of 100 years i.e., 72000 days and nights – sathamanam bhavathi. The human body is kept alive by a life-force which is pulsing through each and every cell and this is done through the 72000 nadis(energy lines) as per the ancient siddhars. There are 36000 nadis on the right and 36000 on the left side of the body. When we chant the Vishnu Sahasranamam all these nadis are cleansed and energized which helps in uplifting our mind and body, reprogramming the neuro transmitters to vibrate at God frequency.
In his commentary on the Sahasranama, Śankara has pointed out at the very beginning that the loving utterance and meditation of the divine name has the two fold merit of being easy and yet securing all the aims of life viz., virtue, wealth, pleasure and liberation. The reasons are that the sādhana is characterised by ahiṁsa (non-injury) and that it does not involve the need of extraneous things or of other persons and does not involve any meticulous adherence to rules about time, place etc. Bhiṣma has also specifically emphasised in his exposition to Yudhiṣṭhira that the praise and worship of the Lord with a thousand names is the supreme Dharma. Śankara says in one of his hymns, “I do not ask of thee, Mother! riches, good fortune or salvation; I seek no happiness, no knowledge. This is my only prayer to thee that as the breath of my life forsakes me, I may chant Thy holy name.” In his Bhajagovindam, Śankara has advised his pupils that the Bhagavad Gitā and Sahasranāma should be sung (geyam gītānāmasahasram) (27). Parāsara Bhaṭṭar in the introduction to his commentary on Viṣṇu Sahasranāma has established that the Stotra provides a sovereign remedy to make life worthy. Both Śankara and Bhaṭṭar are of the view that the stotra besides being a panacea for all Saṁsāric ills, is as authoritative and important as the Bhagavad Gitā. Towards the end of the Stotra, Vyāsa has himself guaranteed all kinds of fruits to the reciters.
The ancient custom, still observed especially in the traditional South Indian villages, is to repeat each name of the Sahasranama, offering Tulasi petals or any available flowers of the season before the idol of Vishnu in his various incarnations of Rama, Krishna, Dashavataras etc. This is done for the fulfillment of one’s desires, or to gain strength to deal with the undesirable influence of planets. Many merely repeat the whole book sitting before the idol with Chandan or Bhasma in a plate, which is afterwards distributed among the village people. Sometimes in the thread or initiation ceremony of their son, people feed one thousand virtuous Brahmins repeating each nama before a Brahmin. If one wants to perform Purushcharana in order to attain perfection, one should repeat it a lakh and twenty five thousand times within a fixed period during his lifetime and perform Homa in fire with ghee or payasana (milk-rice porridge).
In this part, we will cover the various techniques that can be adopted to invoke Lord Vishnu by chanting Vishnu Sahasranamam. There are three basic techniques and these are:
- Japa or repetitive meditation of a selected Nama or Mantra.
- Archana or worship with each Nama in order.
- Parayana or recitation of the whole book in the form of continuous chanting.
Now, let’s learn about these three techniques
1. Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam as Japa
Mantra in Sanskrit means a word or a verbal string, the constant repetition of which in the mind gives power and peace. It stands for ‘Mananaat traayate iti Mantrah’ or that which protects by repetition in the mind. There are 3 forms of Japa:
In the Maanaseeka form, the sound is internal. There is no lip movement and nothing audible;
In the Upamshu form, the lip moves but the sound is inaudible; and
In the Vaikhari form, the lip and the tongue move and the sound is clearly audible.
The best among the three forms of Japa is the ‘Manaseeka’ form which is also called ajapajapam. Initially, when the concentration of the mind is not strong enough, it is recommended to begin with the Vaikhari form, then gradually transitioning to the Upamshu form and finally progressing to the Manaseeka form.
While there are no limits or prescribed number of Japas, it is usually chanted for 108 times. It is also chanted 1008 times on some occasions.
As mentioned earlier, each Nama in Vishnu Sahasranamam can be considered as a Mantra and used for Japa. However, there are a few Namas that are particularly conducive for Japa. Apart from being part of the Vishnu Sahasranamam, they are powerful Mantras in their own right. A few of the most important Mantras are described below.
Om Namo Narayanaaya!
This is also called Ashtakshari because it contains eight syllables. Sage Narada always meditated on this name. Prahlada got his enlightenment from this Mantra and Sri Ramanujacharya famously revealed the meaning of the Ashtakshari and Charma Shlokam.
Vedic Hymns say:
“Narayana paro jyotiratma Narayanah parah
Narayana param brahma tattwam Narayanah parah
Narayana paro dhyaataa dhyaanam Narayanah parah”
The Lord Narayana is the Supreme Light; Narayana is the Supreme Reality; Narayana is the Supreme Absolute; Narayana is the Supreme Self; Narayana is the Supreme Meditator; Narayana is the Supreme Meditation.
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya!
This is another powerful Mantra for meditation and is known as Dvadashakshari because it contains 12 syllables.
The phalashruti of Vishnu Shasranamam says:
“Vasanad Vasudevasya vasitham bhuvana trayam,
Sarva bhutha nivasosi vasudeva namosthuthe.”
“Dyaus sachandrarka nakshatram Kham diso bhur mahodadhihi.
Vasudevasya veeryena vidhrithani mahatmanah”
This means the whole Universe exists because of the presence of Vasudeva. Also the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth and the ocean are held in place by the power of Vasudeva.
In the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 7 Verse 19, Bhagavan says:
“Bahoonam janmanaamante gnanavan mam prapadyate
Vasudevas sarvamiti samahatma sudurlabhah”
Meaning: After many births and deaths, one perfected in wisdom, Knowing Me as the ultimate cause of all causes, surrenders unto Me; Such a great soul is very rare.
Om Namah Shivaya!
This is the Panchakshari Mantra of 5 syllables. Some may be surprised that the Mantra of Lord Shiva is found in Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam. In fact, Shloka 4 of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam goes as follows:
“Sarvas sharvash shivas sthanur bhutadir nidhi ravyayah
Sambhavo bhavano bharta prabhavah prabhu reeshvarah”
Thus Shiva is the 27th name enshrined in Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam. Shiva means purity. Shiva means auspiciousness. Sri Adi Sankara, in his commentary, points out the abheda (or no difference) in the identity of Vishnu and Shiva. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the Panchakshari Mantra, which is the embodiment of Lord Shiva, is also contained within Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Om Namo Ramaya
This is the Mantra revealed by Narada to Valmiki which marked Valmiki’s transformation from a sinner to a saint. To make it simple we are allowed to chant the short form of ‘Hare Rama’ or even just ‘Rama’. This Nama is contained in Shloka 43 as the 394th Nama of Vishnu as under:
“Ramo viramo virato margo neyo nayo nayah
veerash shaktimatam shreshtho dharmo dharma viduttamah”
Sri Adi Sankara defines the word Rama as ‘Nithyananda lakshane asmin yoginah ramante iti Ramah’, or that which gives delight to Yogis with its perfect eternal beauty.
Rama is also interpreted as a combination of Ashtakshari and Panchakshari, the letter Ra coming from Om Namo Narayanaya and the letter Ma coming from Om Namah Shivaya thus compounding the benefits of both these Mantras.
2. Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam as Archana
This method is generally adopted in a formal Pooja like say SatyaNarayana Pooja or Janmashtami Pooja.
To begin with, the idol or picture of Sriman MahaVishnu is set up and decorated with sandal paste, kumkum, ornaments and flowers. Then the preliminary poojas such as asana pooja, ghanta pooja, Ganesh pooja, kalasha pooja, shankha pooja, atma pooja, peetha pooja and Guru pooja are performed. Then Lord Vishnu is invoked with divinity by doing the process of Prana pratishta. After which Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Archana is performed.
For this each Nama is separately chanted with the prefix of OM, a suffix of Namaha and a flower is offered to the deity after reciting each Nama.
For example the first line of Vishnu Sahasranamam is:
“Vishvam vishnur vashatkaro bhootabhavyabhavatprabhuhu”. This is the verse form, but to perform as an Archana this is split into individual Namas which will be recited as:
- Om Vishvaya Namaha
- Om Vishnave Namaha
- Om Vashatkaraya Namaha
- Om Bhoota-bhavya-bhavat-prabhave Namaha
After each Namaha, a flower is offered with reverence at the feet of the deity. This is repeated for each of the 1000 Namas and this procedure is called Sahasranama Archana. Finally, Neivedhyam is offered.
3. Vishnu Sahasranamam as Parayanam
In Part 3, covered the methods of practicing Vishnu Sahasranamam as ‘Japa’ and ‘Archana’. In this part, we will learn the method of practising it as ‘Parayanam’ or recitation of the whole Stotram.
The word ‘Parayanam’ consists of the two words ‘Para’ and ‘Ayanam’. Para means limit or end and Ayanam means journey, So the term Sahasranama Parayanam means navigating to the end of the 1000 names in the Stotram. Generally, Vishnu Sahasranama Parayanam is recited in a single session, in contrast to the Parayanam of extensive works like ‘Srimad Bhagavatham’ or ‘Ramayanam’ which can be spread over several sessions over several days.
It is important that Vishnu Sahasranamam Parayanam is chanted with the correct pronunciation and rhythm.
There are three types of Parayanam that are in practice:
1. Nitya Parayanam
2. Kaamya Parayanam
3. Samooha Parayanam
1. Nitya Parayanam
In this procedure Vishnu Sahasranamam is recited as a daily routine just like taking shower or eating or other activities. There is no expectation of any reward attached with this daily recitation. The purpose of the recitation is mainly for Chitta Shuddhi or for purification of mind. In this process, the ever restless mind is quietened. With the mind kept calm and devoid of agitations, it is easier to pursue the path of spiritual enlightenment.
There are no limitations of time, attire, place etc. for Nitya Parayanam. One can do it at any time of the day and in any attire. It can be recited while walking on the road or shopping or using public transport. In this uber connected world, it has become all the more easier to practice this even while at one’s work desk.
In short, it is called ‘Yatha Sowkaryam’ or ‘do it at your convenience’. Done regularly as a duty it increases will power and self-esteem. It instils a sense of purpose and discipline in one’s daily life.
2. Kaamya Parayanam
Kaamya means ‘with a specific wish or desire’. This method of Parayanam refers to a specific pattern of recitation performed to achieve a certain objective or desire. The objective or desire may be for more money, progeny, a job, a promotion, cure for a disease, prosperity and so on. Unlike Nitya Parayanam, Kaamya Parayanam has got a number of procedural restrictions. It has to be performed at a specific time either in the morning after shower or in the evening. It has to be performed for a specific number of days say 48, 24 or 12 days. Each day’s recitation should be done like a Pooja or a prayer with the picture or idol of Vishnu decorated with flowers and completed with Naivedyam (offering) and Arathi (with camphor).
Ideally this should be performed by the person who has the wish or desire that needs to be fulfilled. However, where this is not possible either due to ill-health or for any other reason, such a person can seek the help of an accomplished Parayanam practitioner to perform on his/her behalf. It is important that the person performing the Parayanam is treated with respect and suitably honoured.
3. Samooha Parayanam
Samooha Parayanam as the term connotes is a community chanting. This involves a group of families assembling at a common place and reciting the Sahasranamam together.
This is the next best alternative for those who are unable to do the Nitya Parayanam.
Participation in Samooha Parayanam is a good way to get initiated into the Parayanam of Vishnu Sahsranamam and this can also be a good training ground.
Adi Shankara in verse 9 of his Bhaja Govindam song extols the importance of Satsang.
Satsangatve Nissangatvam; Nissangatve Nirmohatvam;
Nirmohatve Nischalatatvam; Nischalatatve Jeevanmukti
The company of the good weans one away from false attachments;
When attachment is lost, delusion ends;
When delusion ends, the mind becomes unwavering and steady; and
An unwavering and steady mind is merited for Jeevan Mukti (liberation even in this life).
Why Dhyana Shlokas?
The purpose of Dhyana Shloka is to visualise a clear image of the Lord in our mind’s eye before we begin worshipping Him with his one thousand Namas. It is pertinent to ask whether we are justified in ascribing a particular form and shape to the Absolute Brahman and putting Him under the limitations of physical coordinates.
In Purusha Suktam this duality is mentioned and resolved:
“Ajaayamaano bahudhaa vijaayate” meaning “Though the Brahman is unborn (and therefore shapeless and formless), He manifests himself in various external forms”.
Arjuna has asked this question on our behalf to Lord Krishna, in the first shloka of Chapter 12 in the Bhagavad Gita.
Arjuna asks: Who is a better devotee, the one who worships the abstract impersonal formless abstract God (Nirguna), or the one who worships God as a manifested personal idealised idol (Saguna)?
Krishna replies: That both forms of worship are equally acceptable to Him and both devotees ultimately reach Him. However, the worship of the abstract and formless God is very difficult for most people to follow. People can associate with finite bodies and cannot easily comprehend the infinite Brahman. They need a defined image and a specific form to concentrate and focus their meditation through objectification.
“Mayyeva Mana Adhatsva Mayi Buddhim Niveshaya, Nivasishyasi Mayyeva Atha Oordhvam Na Samshayah”
“Just fix your mind upon Me and engage all your intellect in Me. Thus you will reside in Me always, without a doubt”.