The two main aims of a first level response are 1) to clarify and 2) to deepen our understanding of what Srila Prabhupada has written. To be able to apply the principles Srila Prabhupada teaches in his purports it's important that we correctly understand what he is saying, and that we deeply appreciate the practical value of what he is saying.
These two aims, i.e. clarification and deepening, have two subdivisions.
Two types of clarification:
Sometimes our initial understanding of what we read may not make sense to us. For example, it may contradict other statements we have read. In such cases we need to formulate a question that expresses our confusion. At other times, the sentence may make sense, but we have doubts about it, or we may find it hard to accept the value of the truth being discussed. In such cases, we need to state our doubt and ask how it can be resolved.
Two types of deepening:
We can deepen our understanding by either exploring insights into Srila Prabhupada's point, or by exploring its practical value / benefit to us. An insight is a truth that is implicit in what Srila Prabhupada has said, though he may not have explicitly stated it. Before we will apply the principles Srila Prabhupada teaches we have to see their practical value, to gain insights as to how applying the principle will benefit us. Without such deepening we will not be sufficiently motivated to put the principles into practice.
HOW TO MAKE A FIRST LEVEL RESPONSE:
The best way to start a response is to first ask yourself what you need to do. Pause, think, "What do I need to do in order to open this honey jar? Do I understand this point properly? Do I fully appreciate the pertinence of the point? etc." Once you've connected to your own inner self and your inner need, then ask the appropriate question. For example, if you realize that you don't really understand the point, even though you did your initial understanding, phrase a question that expresses your lack of comprehension.
Example of a first level response which is clarifying the meaning of the sentence:
Recently I discussed Bg 11.14 verse with a devotee, and we had to clarify our initial understanding. This is how the discussion went:
We were discussing the following verse:
Then, bewildered and astonished, his hair standing on end, Arjuna bowed his head to offer obeisances and with folded hands began to pray to the Supreme Lord. Bg 11.14
Part of our initial understanding was: Arjuna's hair was standing on end because of ecstasy, not because of fear. Arjuna was bewildered meant that he was forgetful of Krishna, influenced by tamo guna, overwhelmed by material desire and hence couldn't remember Krishna. Putting it all together, we understood that Arjuna was both in tamo guna (bewildered) and experiencing ecstasy because of seeing Krishna's universal form.
This didn't make sense to us. So at the beginning of our first level response, we asked a question that expressed what didn't make sense as follows:
How could Arjuna be bewildered, i.e. forgetful of Krishna under the influence of tamo guna, and at the same time be experiencing ecstasy?
Our light: Arjuna is not bewildered in the material sense at this point. It's not that he is under the influence of ignorance and material desire which make him forget Krishna. Rather he is spiritually bewildered. He is so overwhelmed by Krishna's opulence that he can't think. This is spiritual bewilderment which is compatible with spiritual ecstasy.
We then amended our initial understanding as follows: "Arjuna was so overwhelmed by Krishna's opulence that he could not remember his material situation, and he began experiencing symptoms of spiritual ecstasy."
For the purpose of this article it isn't important whether you agree with our light or not. All i am trying to illustrate is that we were confused by our initial understanding, and therefore in our first level response, we asked a question with the aim of clarifying that confusion.
Example of a first level response which is clarifying our doubts:
Towards the beginning of the first paragraph of Bg 9.29 purport, Srila Prabhupada writes:
"....He provides everyone with a generous supply of the necessities of life. He is just like a cloud which pours rain all over, regardless of whether it falls on rock or land or water."
We initially understood the sentence to be saying that Krishna provides everyone's necessities abundantly, irregardless of the person's piety or impiety.
We had a doubt about this understanding which we expressed in our first level response as follows: "How is it that everyone is being supplied their necessities abundantly when we see there is so much deprivation in the world?"
In trying to answer this doubt, our light was that Krishna is providing everything abundantly, but whether we are able to access the supplies depends on our karmic destiny.
Example of a first level response which deepens our appreciation of the point Srila Prabhupada is making by exploring our insights into the point.
In the SB 2.3.11 purport Srila Prabhupada writes:
The demigods are as factual as we are, but they are much more powerful due to their being engaged in the direct service of the Lord in managing different departments in the universal government.
In our initial understanding, one of the points we understood was that the reason Krishna empowered the demigods was that they were engaged in doing His will. In our first level response we wanted to explore an insight into this point, so we asked the question, "Do we have any insights into the point Srila Prabhupada is making?" The insight we consequently shared was that if we want to have power and influence we can get that only if the Lord empowers us, and not by any devious means such as back biting or politicking. And we discussed to whom the Lord gives His empowerment; i.e. those who have given up lust and envy, and who with humility are dedicated to doing His will. So our insight was that if we want true influence and power, we need to cultivate humility, give up lust and envy, and try to properly understand the Lord's will through thorough association with Srila Prabhupada's purports.
Example of a first level response which explores the practical value of a point Srila Prabhupada is making to our own lives:
In the introduction of the Bhagavad-gita there is the following sentence:
If the master is fully satisfied, then the servant is satisfied.
In our initial understanding we understood Srila Prabhupada to mean that if Krishna is completely pleased with us, then we will also feel fully happy. In our first level response, we wanted to more deeply appreciate the practical pertinence of this point in our lives, so we asked the question: "So what?" (or "how should knowing this impact on me?") Our light to our question was that if we are unhappy, instead of analyzing our unhappiness from an external point of view (i.e. I am unhappy because my income is insufficient, or I don't like my spouse, or my children are playing up, etc.) and trying to make some external adjustments, we should instead analyze our situation from an internal point of view (i.e. Am I pleasing Krishna? Am I chanting attentively? Am I doing my proper duties for His pleasure? Do I properly understand what my duties are? Am I adequately hearing about Him from proper sources?)
If we can discipline ourselves to restrict our responses to clarifying or deepening our appreciation of what Srila Prabhupada is saying in the section of the purport we are discussing, then our responses will help amplify Srila Prabhupada's intended meaning, and solidify our understanding of his teachings. Mostly, for a good discussion we only need to go as far as a first level response. Occasionally, we may find it beneficial to discuss how to apply the principles we've understood from Srila Prabhupada. For that we can move into a second and possibly a third level response which are all to do with applying the teachings we are hearing. I will explain more about that in the next article.
Hare Krishna! OM TAT SAT