By Cintamani-dhama dasi
In 1996, Srila Prabhupada’s centennial, I made a promise that has saved me from spiraling into a most wretched condition of life. I committed myself to daily trying to study Srila Prabhupada’s books.
Prior to that time, I’d been having quite a bit of difficulty in my spiritual life. I’d given birth to my third child in 1995. My husband was running a small center in Manchester where we rarely received any good association. He was so busy trying to fulfill his obligations as a spiritual team leader to bhaktas and brahmacaris in the center that he was not able to spend a lot of time helping me keep on top of my sadhana as I struggled with three children. The upshot of all this was that by 1996 I had practically lost my faith, and was wondering what my options were.
But I remembered that once upon a time, especially one Kartika in Vrndavana, I’d definitely had a taste, such a strong taste that I had wanted to commit my whole life to sharing the messages of Krsna consciousness with others. And I also remembered that Srila Prabhupada had said that if we don’t study his books we would fall down. So with what little intelligence I had left, I put two and two together, and realized that possibly this is what had happened to me. I could surrender to my loss of faith, and end up disrupting the family and my life, or I could give myself one more chance to develop faith by studying Srila Prabhupada’s books. I opted to start studying his books, and I made it my centennial offering to Srila Prabhupada to do so.
For two years, I’d sit an hour a day, and work scrutinizingly through the Bhagavad Gita. I’d read a purport and then go back and analyze the purport sentence by sentence. I’d try to write in my own words what I felt was Srila Prabhupada’s intended meaning, and after doing that I’d explore my understanding; all of this in writing.
This was quite arduous, and finally after two years of sympathetically watching me struggle, my husband committed to making time in his busy schedule to discuss the Gita with me daily. Since then we have discovered so many instructions from Srila Prabhupada that have encouraged us in our commitment and guided us how to proceed. These instructions from Srila Prabhupada have given me so much help and encouragement to persevere that I am always enthusiastic to share them with others in the hope that they may give as much solace to others as they have to me.
“unless and until one is trained in the culture of good association, one cannot become good.” SB 3.3.6 purport
Isn’t this exciting! Unless and until we are trained in the culture of good association we cannot become good. No wonder I was struggling so much in the first years of my endeavours in devotional service. I don’t remember ever being trained in the culture of good association. This is something that requires training. And if we search carefully through Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, he will train us. Good association is referred to as sadhu sanga or sometimes as sat sanga. We may know the famous verse:
adau sraddha tatah sadhu-
sango ‘tha bhajana-kriya
tato ‘nartha-nivrttih syat
tato nistha rucis tatah
athasaktis tato bhavas
sadhakanam ayam premnah
pradurbhave bhavet kramah
“In the beginning one must have a preliminary desire for self-realization. This will bring one to the stage of trying to associate with persons who are spiritually elevated. In the next stage one becomes initiated by an elevated spiritual master, and under his instruction the neophyte devotee begins the process of devotional service.” Bg 4. 10 purport
If we have sraddha, or a sincere desire to become self realized, we will prioritise sadhu sanga, ie. Associating with persons who are spiritually elevated.
What actually counts as sadhu sanga? If we circulate in the society of ISKCON, are we automatically engaging in sadhu sanga? Here are some insights from Srila Prabhupada:
“A sadhu, the first qualification is he must be a staunch devotee of Krsna…That is sadhu. That is the basic definition…Therefore sadhu-sanga…means to associate with devotees, those who are devotees of Krsna. That is sadhu-sanga…Sadhu sanga is very important. If we can associate with real sadhu, means real devotee, unadulterated devotee, anyabhilasita-sunyam jnana karmady-anavrtam, then the recommendation is that simply by associating with sadhu all perfection will come.” Lecture 1972
So we need to associate with a completely pure unadulterated devotee! One could object, it’s hard, sometimes seemingly impossible to get such a devotee’s association. The great generals in ISKCON are very busy, they have thousands of aspiring devotees taking shelter of them, and it’s difficult to get any on-going association with them. To such objections, I made some incredible discoveries as I’ve been listening to Srila Prabhupada more. Listen to what he has to say:
“So in my absence you read the books. What I talk, I have written in the books… you can associate with me by reading my books.” Morning walk, 1975.
“Paramahasa: Srila Prabhupuda, when you are not present with us, how is it possible to receive instructions, for example, on questions that may arise? Prabhupāda: Well, the questions… Answers are there in my books.” Morning walk 1973
“Whatever I have to speak, I have spoken in my books. Now you try to understand it and continue your endeavour. Whether I am present or not present, it doesn’t matter.” Arrival speech, 1977
“Reporter (2): What will happen to the movement in the United States when you die?Prabhupada: I will never die. I shall live forever in my books, and you will utilize.” Press conference, 1975
“Regarding your question about instruction, spiritual life is different from material life. The instruction given in my books is supposed to be personal instruction. When we read the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, it is understood that we are receiving personal instructions of Krsna. No physical barrier is there in the case of spiritual affairs.” Letter to: Dhrstaketu: 14 October, 1973
“So the best thing is nityam bhagavata-sevaya [SB 1.2.18]. If you hear Bhagavata… This Bhagavata is written for hearing, for hearing, discussing. Otherwise, why we are taking so much time?” Lecture 1972
Srila Prabhupada took so much time and trouble to write his purports for all of us, not just his initiated disciples. Through his purports he as made his personal association available to any aspirant. We have only to take his association and we will feel the benefits! And how are we meant to associate with him?
“The narration of the Personality of Godhead and His devotees is absolute in itself, and thus to hear it with a devotional attitude is to associate with the Lord and constant companions of the Lord.” SB 1.15.51 purport
“Hearing or associating with devotees is the most important function for self-realization.” SB 3.25.29 purport
“Lord Caitanya therefore recommended five main principles for attaining perfection in the devotional service of the Lord. The first is association with devotees (hearing)” SB 2.9.31 purport
In so many ways, Srila Prabhupada explains that associating with a sadhu (sadhu-sanga) means to hear from them..He also gives directions about how best to hear from the sadhu.
“Nor by independent study of books of knowledge can one progress in spiritual life.” Bg 4.34 purport
The message I get from this is that reading Srila Prabhupada’s books by myself, though good, is not sufficient for accessing his association.
So these are the transactions between devotee and God. Generally, people cannot understand. But if one understands, he becomes liberated. If some way or other… It is not very difficult; simply we have to associate with devotees and discuss this literature. Then we’ll understand Krsna very easily. And Krsna is explaining in the Bhagavad-gita about Himself.” Lecture 1976.
Here he gives me the clue that it’s better to discuss his purports with other devotees.
“Discussion of Krsna is very potent, and if a fortunate person has such association and tries to assimilate the knowledge, then he will surely make advancement toward spiritual realization.” Bg 9.1 purport
Here he tells me that it’s not only a better way of associating with him, but it will guarantee our advancement. Now you can see why I’m so excited by this discovery! Guaranteed advancement in spiritual life!
So many times, he instructs us to discuss his books. Listen to this:
“And what is the devotional way? …. The first is that you have kindly come here; you are trying to hear. This is very good. This is the beginning of process. Then kirtanam, sravana kirtanam. Whatever you hear, you discuss amongst yourselves. That is called kirtana. Sravana kIrtanam visnu smaranam. Remember about the topics of God.” Lecture 1975“hearing is our main business. .. We should be prepared to hear about Him. Srotavyah kirtitavyas ca. And we should discuss about Him, kirtitavyas ca. Smartavya. And if we hear and discuss, then, if we are really serious, then we shall remember also.” Lecture 1968
“Those who are devotees, they assemble together. Bodhayanta parasparam. In the Bg it is said, “They discuss about the glories of the Lord.” Bodhayantah parasparam. That is sadhu sanga” Lecture 1974
“Sat sanga. Sat sanga means assembly, discussion. .. If you are not interested in association, discussion, then you are finished. .. You have no time for sat-sanga, for association. You cannot make any progress by this sort of karmi’s life. We have to work for organization, but not that whole day and night engaged and no sat-sanga.” Room conversation 1973
“We are making the association to take lessons from these Vedic literatures. This is called sadhu-sanga” Lecture 1976
By now, the message is screaming at me: THE BEST WAY TO ASSOCIATE WITH SRILA PRABHUPADA IS TO DISCUSS HIS PURPORTS.
And Srila Prabhupada gives us so much guidance and direction as to how to discuss his purports. Listen to this:
“Your first job should be to make sure that every one of the devotees in you zone of management is reading regularly our literatures and discussing the subject matter seriously from different angles of seeing, and that they are somehow or other absorbing the knowledge of KC philosophy. … then very easily they will perform tapasya or renunciation and that will be their advancement in KC.” Letter to Satsvarupa Maharaja, 1972.
“So this process can be practiced even at home. There is no necessity that you have to change your place, you have to give up your business, … No. You remain in your… But practice this sravanam. Just like you are hearing here in this hall, you can do it at home. These books are there. I am speaking from the book. You can speak also from the book, and sit down amongst your family members and chant Hare Krsna.” Lecture 1975
“If one is in full Krsna consciousness, he can make his home very happy, because this process of Krsna consciousness is very easy. One need only chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, accept the remnants of foodstuffs offered to Krsna, have some discussion on books like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and engage oneself in Deity worship. These four things will make one happy. One should train the members of his family in this way. The family members can sit down morning and evening and chant together Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. If one can mold his family life in this way to develop Krsna consciousness, following these four principles, then there is no need to change from family life to renounced life.” Bg 13.8-12 purport
“Actually Vedic scripture is krsna-kathä, topics about Krsna, and krsna-kathä is not a subject matter for a debate club.” Teachings of Lord Kapila, chp 15
“Now we have received this news, very pleasing. Now next duty? Taj-josanat. Now, if you little try to assimilate it. And what is that assimilation? Smaranam. Simply by thinking, “Oh, this has been spoken.” Try to argue whether it is true or not. So you have to think over. Satam prasangan, taj-josanad asv apavarga-vartmani. And if you do that…Suppose you hear something of the Bg, and it appeals to you, or even does not appeal to you. Just try to think over: “What Bg says? How Swamiji has discussed this matter?” Apply your arguments. Apply your logic. Don’t take it as a sentiment or as a blind faith. You have got reason; you have got arguments; you have got sense…Apply it and try to understand it. Neither it is bogus. It is scientific. Then you will feel… Taj-josanad asv apavarga-vartmani sraddha ratir bhaktir anukramisyati. You will gradually develop your atachment for hearing it, and devotional service will be invoked in your heart, and then gradually, you will make progress.” Lecture 1966
Isn’t there a wealth of instructions here to guide our discussions? Here are some salient points I picked up on:
· Discuss regularly
· Discuss the books seriously
· Discuss from different angles of seeing
· Discuss even at home
· Train your family members to do this, and do it with them.
· Don’t turn the discussions into a debate wherein one person’s understanding has to be right, and another’s is de facto wrong.
· Don’t accept something you read blindly.
· Apply your arguments.
· Try to understand what you are reading.
Here are some more instructions Srila Prabhupada gives:
“Simple hearing is not all; one must realize the text with proper attention. The word nivista means that Suta Gosvami drank the juice of Bhagavatam through his ears. That is the real process of receiving Bhagavatam. One should hear with rapt attention from the real person, and then he can at once realize the presence of Lord Krsna in every page. The secret of knowing Bhagavatam is mentioned here. No one can give rapt attention who is not pure in mind. No one can be pure in mind who is not pure in action. No one can be pure in action who is not pure in eating, sleeping, fearing and mating. But somehow or other if someone hears with rapt attention from the right person, at the very beginning one can assuredly see Lord Sri Krsna in person in the pages of Bhagavatam.” SB 1.3.44 purport
I thought this was very interesting. Since I’m not pure I can take it for granted I will not be able to properly understand the Srimad Bhagavatam. This point is further expounded in Lord Kapila’s instructions to Devahuti wherein he tells her it is possible to do all the angas of bhakti in each of the three modes. That is to say, it is possible to hear in the mode of ignorance and passion, which is useless! But in the above quote Srila Prabhupada says that if despite all our impurities we do somehow or other manage to hear with rapt attention, then we are certain to make progress. And in so many ways he is telling us that the secret is to discuss his purports; that will help us to hear with rapt attention.
You know the most exciting thing about these revelations Srila Prabhupada is making, is the wonderful benefits. For so little effort, we have so much to gain. Look at what he says about just some of the benefits:
“Such exchanges of thoughts in regard to Krsna give pleasure to the Lord, who therefore favors such devotees with all enlightenment.” CC Adi lila 1.50 purport
“Try to always study our books and see our philosophy from different lights of directions, become convinced yourself of this knowledge and without a doubt all of your difficulties of mind will disappear forever and you will see Krishna face-to-face.” Letter 1972“Simply by chanting and hearing of the transcendental name, form, etc., of the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, one can achieve the cessation of unlimited miserable conditions.” SB 3.7.14 verse
“…spontaneous love of God, is the basis of an intimate relationship with the Lord. This highest stage of relationship with the Lord can be attained simply by hearing about Him (His name, form, quality, etc.) from authentic sources like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, recited by pure, unalloyed devotees of the Lord.” SB 3.9.5 purport“Sadhus are always interested in hearing about the activities of the Lord or His devotees. .. since the devotees always engage in the topics of the Lord, they are forgetful of the miseries of material existence.” SB 3.25.23 purport
“…. These transcendental activities of the Lord are so arranged in writing by the great sages that simply by hearing of those narrations one becomes perfectly self-realized, and the proper use of the ear and the tongue is also achieved. Srimad-Bhagavatam is one of such great literatures, and the highest perfectional state of life is attained simply by hearing and reciting its contents.”
“Persons who hear Srimad-Bhagavatam regularly and are always taking the matter very seriously will have the Personality of Godhead Sri Krsna manifested in their hearts within a short time.” SB 2.8.5 verse
“This process of hearing about and glorifying the Lord is applicable for everyone, whoever he may be, and it will lead one to the ultimate success in everything in which one may be engaged by providence. … Everyone wants to be free from all kinds of fear, and everyone wants the fullest extent of happiness in life. The perfect process for achieving this, here and now, is recommended in the Srimad-Bhagavatam…By hearing about and glorifying the Lord, all a person’s activities become molded into spiritual activities, and thus all conceptions of material miseries become completely vanquished.” SB.2.1.5 purport
“If one meekly and submissively hears about the activities of the Lord from a realized soul, he will be able to conquer the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is unconquerable by any other process.” SB 3.25.27 purport “The word jivanti indicates that a devotee who always hears about Lord Krsna will go back home, back to Godhead, even if he can do nothing except maintain his existence and hear topics concerning the Lord.SB 10.14.3 purport
“So our only request is that if you want happiness, if you want to prosper, make your life successful, you must read Bhagavad-gita thoroughly, as it is, as Krsna says. Don’t try to misinterpret.” Lecture 1974
There are innumerable quotes like this wherein Srila Prabhupada assures us of the unimaginable benefits of hearing and discussing his purports regularly. Because of unbearable victimization at the hands of the modes of ignorance and passion, I have to very carefully seek shelter of the process. And I can, hand on heart, testify that it does remove the suffering. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet seen Krishna face to face, but if Srila Prabhupada says that will also one day happen as a result of this practice, then I for one believe him.