Get hope from the extraordinary, seek shelter in the ordinary
During my classes on the Ajamila pastime at the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha in Wada, a question that expectedly came up was regarding scriptural proclamations about the glory of the holy name: Are they literal statements that will always be true? Or are they poetic hyperboles?
My understanding is that they reflect literal accounts of what happened in the past — and these extraordinary displays of Krishna’s mercy are meant to inspire our faith in and commitment to the ordinary process of bhakti for acquiring that mercy.
The second chapter of the Bhagavatam’s sixth canto concludes with the declaration that if Ajamila got so much benefit by chanting while referring to his son, how much more will we be benefitted if we chant while referring to the Lord? Vishwanath Chakravarti in his commentary adds three more factors: Ajamila chanted just once, at the time of death and without all that much faith. If we chant daily and chant lifelong and chant faithfully, how much more sure we can be of being benefitted?
That hearers shouldn’t expect the exact event to recur for them is evident from Parikshit Maharaja’s response: After hearing the Ajamila pastime, he didn’t tell Shukadeva Goswami: “No need for me to hear krishna-katha for seven days continuously; I will just chant Narayana when I am about to die.”
During my practice of sadhana-bhakti, we get hope to struggle on through examples of extraordinary mercy such as that bestowed on Ajamila, but we focus on seeking shelter in the ordinary process of bhakti centered on hearing and chanting. And that ordinary-seeming practice will eventually reward the same extraordinary result that Ajamila and other recipients of extraordinary mercy got: elevation, purification and liberation.