San Jose, California — Tuesday, January 30th

Real reading

In a short MP4 clip of a morning darshan at the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math in Navadwip, India, last week, Srila Gurudeva says:

We see that our devotees cannot understand everything [about Bhagavad Gita] because they have no teacher [mentor]. They read so much, but because they read without a teacher, they do not get proper understanding. When I hear some of their questions about that, I feel: "They have read this chapter but this knowledge has not bloomed [been assimilated]. They have only stored that chapter as their knowledge, but it has not bloomed, not given proper service to anyone..."

I was immediately reminded of the first paragraph of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur's 1869 lecture, The Bhagavat (reprinted in the foreword to Srila Sridhar Maharaj's Search For Sri Krishna—Reality the Beautiful):

We love to read a book which we have never read before. We are anxious to gather whatever information is contained in it, and with such acquirement our curiosity stops.... Most readers are mere repositories of facts and statements made by other people. But this is not study.... Students, like satellites, should reflect whatever light they receive from authors, and not imprison the facts and thoughts just as the magistrates imprison the convicts in jail! Thought is progressive. The author's thought must have progress in the reader in the shape of correction or development.

Srila Gurudeva does not advocate reading many books, but he always advises us to read Bhagavad Gita. And he always encourages us to read under the guidance of a senior Vaishnava, so that we can learn how to practically apply this transcendental knowledge to our daily lives.

But we continue to read so many books, on our own... and we wonder why we do not feel inspired or enlivened.

Arbitrary, impulsive, empirical reading — yes, even reading the shastras and the books of our guru-varga! — will not give us transcendental knowledge. We will just become storehouses of mundane knowledge. The difference between mundane and transcendental knowledge is that the former is acquired (empirically, by our own endeavors), and the latter is revealed (mystically, by the grace of Srila Gurudeva).

In Bhagavad Gita (4:34) we are told that transcendental knowledge (tad viddhi) will be revealed to us only if we approach it with sincerity (pranipatena), receive it with humility (pariprasnena), and use it for service (sevaya).

As long as we want to be what Srila Sridhar Maharaj described as the "masters of many keys," transcendental knowledge will elude us.

We want to surrender... not to approach, ask some questions, pocket the answers, and then make trade with them elsewhere ...The inquisitive want to satisfy their idle curiosity, or they want to be "masters of many keys" — to be able to give solutions to everyone's problems, and attain some status. They have many motives but they cannot understand the real necessity.

Sermons of the Guardian of Devotion I

What is our motive for reading so many books? Are we sincere seekers, curious onlookers, or simply "knowledge-gatherers" seeking newer and more subtle ways to exploit our environment utilizing the shastras?

To progress in Krishna consciousness — to assimilate what we read — we must read the books recommended by Srila Gurudeva with the help of a mentor because this experienced, trusted, Vaishnava friend and adviser will show us how to utilize what we have gleaned from the shastras for the service of Sri Guru and Krishna.

If we do not do this, what will be the result? Srila Gurudeva continues:

...not given proper service to anyone. And so many have again returned to their previous position. We see that. And it is only happening because they did not learn from the proper person, the proper channel. They have not got this knowledge.

If we do not want to go away disappointed with Krishna consciousness, saying, "It was all a hoax! There was nothing there!" — we have to dive deep into reality. We will not "catch" Krishna by casually trawling through the shastras on our own, because as Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita (7:25), He does not reveal Himself to the casual observer:

naham prakasah sarvasya / yoga-maya-samavrtah
mudho 'yam nabhijanati / loko mam ajam avyayam

"By My sweet will, remaining concealed by My own potency, I am not manifest to anyone and everyone. The foolish cannot know Me, the son of Vasudeva, unborn and ever-existent in My divine Shyamasundara form of beautiful feature like a blackish rain cloud."

Srila Gurudeva has given us the key to the treasure of Bhagavad Gita — he has placed the key in our hands! — but still we try to pick the locks of so many other books, pilfering and poring over trivia that we think will unlock the "secret" of Krishna consciousness! As I wrote in Another reminder:

We want to be Krishna conscious, but we don't want to have to work too hard, so we waste our lives looking for a miracle — a shortcut to Krishna consciousness — instead of following this simple formula that Srila Gurudeva has given us....

There is no mysterious, abstruse secret to Krishna consciousness (that Srila Gurudeva has not told us about yet)! We are not going to discover some arcane text in a musty book somewhere that will jump-start our stalled spiritual lives. There is no "Da Vinci Code." Sorry.

We forget that Krishna revealed the mystery of Bhagavad Gita — "The hidden treasure of the Sweet Absolute" — to Arjuna only after Arjuna acknowledged the futility of his own endeavor (visrjya sa-saram capam) and accepted Krishna as his guru: "I am Your disciple (sisyas te 'ham). Please instruct me (sadhi mam). Please give me Your grace because I am exclusively dependent on You (tvam prapannam)."

We will understand the transcendental mystery of Bhagavad Gita not by reading it on our own, but by following Srila Gurudeva's instruction to read it under the tutelage of an experienced Vaishnava mentor who can show us how to assimilate what we think we have already learned.

"That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you have understood all your life, but in a new way" — Doris Lessing (novelist).

Tags: Reading | Slokas

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Layout by iMonk — January 30th, 2007.