How is the holy name different from ordinary sound?
Answer Summary: The holy name is dramatically different because it is God himself manifesting as divine sound – the difference can be understood through intelligence and confirmed through experience.
Answer: Out of His love for us, God manifests Himself as His holy name. The Padma Purana declares: abhinnatvam nama naminoh “There is no difference between the name of God and God Himself.” So the holy name is no ordinary sound; it is God Himself manifesting as sound.
Here’s an example to illustrate how a thing can be much more valuable that what it appears to be. A mother tells her four year old child to tear and throw into the dustbin all paper that he finds fallen on the ground in their bedroom. The child gleefully gets down to work, tearing and throwing away the papers. Suddenly the mother notices a five-hundred rupee note that had fallen from her husband’s pocket as he rushed to office that morning. The child also notices that note and picks it up to tear it. The mother screams in alarm, “Stop.” Taken aback, the child asks, “Did you not tell me tear all paper lying on the ground?” The mother hastily takes the note from his hand, keeps it safely in her purse and then replies, “But this is not ordinary paper.” The child looks at the paper in surprise. It looks just like the papers that he has torn. Seeing his incredulity, the mother says, “With this paper, you can get five hundred chocolates for your birthday.” When he actually gets the chocolates from the shop, then he realizes that the five hundred rupee note is no ordinary paper.
No ordinary material sound can provide the immense joy such joy just as no ordinary paper can get five hundred chocolates.
Similarly, those with undeveloped spiritual consciousness think that the holy name is just like any ordinary sound. But when they chant the holy names themselves and experience profound peace and immense joy, then they understand that the holy name is different from any ordinary sound, because no ordinary material sound can bring such joy, just as no ordinary paper can get five hundred chocolates.
God, out of His unlimited love for us, makes Himself easily available to us in a portable form that we can literally carry on our tongue-tip. Srila Prabhupada would say that when we chant the holy name, the Lord dances on our tongues.
Chanting can make a huge difference in our own lives and also make a substantial difference in the world too. There are a significant number of criminals and addicts and others habituated to self-destructive behavior who want to become better human beings, but don’t know how to change themselves. If they could be taught the process of chanting, they would be able to overcome their lower natures and become better human beings, and thus help make our world a much better place. Many such stories of inspiring transformation are described in the book Holy Jail compiled by His Holiness Candramauli Maharaj.
Chanting can not only make bad people good; it can also make good people better, helping them to become more focused and more selfless, thereby increasing their contribution to the world.
Thus, the holy name is hugely different from ordinary sound – and open-mindedly trying out chanting to realize that difference can make a huge difference in our life.