Reading Srila Prabhupada’s Books
Nikunja Vilasini dasi: Throughout his teachings, Srila Prabhupada expresses his ardent desire that his followers read and study his books. Keshava Bharati Dasa Goswami, a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada, has not only taken this basic instruction to heart but has made it his life’s work by inspiring others to systematically read Srila Prabhupada’s books. He has dedicated forty-six years to studying, editing, distributing, and teaching his spiritual master’s books and is convinced that all challenges, internal and external, individual and collective, can be overcome by reading Srila Prabhupada’s books and applying the examples and precepts given therein into one’s character and practical dealings. In recent years, he has expressed in his Vyasa-puja offerings to Srila Prabhupada that reading his books out loud is especially potent. Thus, he has inspired the inauguration of Bhaktivedanta Reading Groups throughout the world and has heard from the participants how they feel spiritually revived by reading Srila Prabhupada’s books to one another. Please read Maharaja’s 2018 Vyasa-puja offering to Srila Prabhupada to get a glimpse into the magnificence and power of this practice. You can also watch this practice in action by going to the FaceBook page “Daily Readings of Srila Prabhupada’s Books” and “liking” it.
Letting Śrīla Prabhupāda Speak for Himself
By Keśava Bhāratī Dāsa Goswami
nama oṁ viṣṇu-pādāya kṛṣṇa-preṣṭhāya bhū-tale
śrīmate bhaktivedānta-svāminn iti nāmine
namas te sārasvate deve gaura-vāṇī-pracāriṇe
My dearest Śrīla Prabhupāda,
Please accept my prostrated obeisances in the dust of your lotus feet. All glories to you and your spiritually refreshing transcendental books, which are sowing seeds of pure devotion (bhakti) in the hearts of conditioned souls throughout a world suffering from the pangs of humanity’s degraded moral and spiritual values. Your books also nourish those seeds in the hearts of sincere souls who read them, especially those who drink the nectarean sound of your writings through their ears.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, your purports repeatedly remind us of the marvelous effects of hearing about the Absolute Truth:
Simply by receiving the glories of the Lord through purified transcendental ears, the devotees of the Lord are immediately freed from strong material desires and engagement in fruitive activities. [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 9.24.62, purport]
A person trying to be perfectly Kṛṣṇa conscious by hearing the words of Kṛṣṇa from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam or Bhagavad-gītā certainly has all the dirty things cleansed from the core of his heart. [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 9.19.25, purport]
A devotee who constantly engages in hearing and chanting (śravaṇa-kīrtana) is certainly freed from the disease of envy, and thus he becomes eligible to go back home, back to Godhead. [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 9.11.23, purport]
Śrīla Prabhupāda, my offering this year is a sequel to last year’s, which was written in Dallas as I was convalescing from an undiagnosed fever. As I mentioned in that offering, I felt so weakened from that fever that I took a break from writing to do my daily reading of your books. In that reading you warned me that one should be very careful of relapse from fever if one is still in the convalescent stage.
Having no idea at the time how serious the fever was, I must not have been careful enough because three days after submitting my offering I had a relapse that became a fever so extreme that it nearly took my life. In fact, after I was moved to Houston from Dallas, Doctor Gurubhakti later called a doctor in the UK and found out that the fever had been diagnosed as typhoid two weeks after I had been released from the hospital there and had flown to Dallas.
Just after I arrived in Houston, my health deteriorated to its lowest ebb. The first blood test showed very little water in my blood. How that manifested itself physically and mentally was that my senses could not connect very well to the environment around me and I became so weak that I could barely function. But by your grace, Śrīla Prabhupāda, from years of practice I had developed the habit of reading your books out loud every day; thus, I was able to continue to chant my rounds and read for at least an hour out loud every day throughout that dangerous ordeal.
One evening during the peak of my health crisis, as I was preparing to read Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā, I suddenly felt that I possessed nothing in this world. This consciousness was forced on me by my physical condition. It was not a result of spiritual contemplation or qualification on my part; nonetheless, the effect was there. And as I started to read out loud as best I could, the quality of the sound was different than usual. The words were the same, but somehow what I heard was more than I’d ever heard before. Suddenly I was understanding more than I had ever understood before. And the taste of Lord Caitanya’s pastimes was sweeter than ever before. Then, to my amazement, all at once my misery disappeared. I was no longer suffering.
I had been writing year after year about how important it is to read your books every day, especially out loud. I had also been stressing the number of pages to read that would allow one to finish the entire Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in just one year to get a continuity of the subject. But I had never paid enough attention to the quality of hearing and how important it is.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, the effect of submissively hearing the Supreme Lord’s pastimes is confirmed throughout Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. For example:
The author requests every reader to hear these talks with faith and without argument. By studying them in this way, one will be able to understand the confidential truth of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. [Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya 8.308]
Anyone who desires to cross over the ocean of nescience, please hear with great faith the life and characteristics of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. [Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya 11.107]
Just try to hear these topics with faith, for there is great pleasure even in hearing them. That hearing will destroy all miseries pertaining to the body, mind, and other living entities, and the unhappiness of false arguments as well. Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta is ever-increasingly fresh. For one who hears it again and again, the heart and ear become pacified. [Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya 19.110–111]
I was forced by circumstances to hear submissively, Śrīla Prabhupāda. I can’t honestly say that I was able to maintain the degree of freedom from misery I experienced that night, but the incident did greatly increase my already strong faith in hearing your books. Thus, my sense of mission to help revive the taste for hearing your books in devotees who, for whatever reason, have stopped reading them has increased exponentially. And my faith in reading them to newcomers as the best way to give them a taste of Kṛṣṇa consciousness has become fixed.
Toward the end of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Kavirāja Gosvāmī goes on to say:
I now worship the lotus feet of all my readers, for by the mercy of their lotus feet there is all good fortune.
If one hears the pastimes of Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as described in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, I wash his lotus feet and drink the water.
I decorate my head with the dust of the lotus feet of my audience. Now you have all drunk this nectar, and therefore my labor is successful. [Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya 20.150–152]
Therefore, the readers of your books also become deserving of worship. And the active principle that underlies hearing with proper consciousness—with complete faith, without argument, in rapt attention—is the blessing of an eternal associate of the Lord. Śrīla Prabhupāda, you are the eternal associate of the Lord who made it possible for the world to taste real relief from the sufferings of the degraded Age of Kali and to feel true happiness by reading your books, especially out loud.
Dearest Śrīla Prabhupāda, my heart overflows with gratitude to you. I have no love or pure faith, but by force of circumstances and by your blessings and training I was able to hear in an especially helpless condition, without the ability to think of anything except what I was hearing, without the capacity to mentally argue, doubt, or embellish. This was the silver lining in the dark cloud of a life-threatening disease. You taught us that we are all helpless in this material world. The difficulties and suffering we face are all Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, meant to help us hear His holy names and pastimes with a feeling of complete helplessness.
Whatever our social position, whatever our level of realization, whatever our service, however busy we may be, we must all find time every day to hear the teachings and pastimes of Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. And this near-death experience of mine increased my conviction that if we systematically hear, from cover to cover, the main books you gave us, again and again for the rest of our lives—along with following the regulative principles strictly, chanting daily at least sixteen rounds of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra while trying to avoid offenses, and distributing these jewels of wisdom to others less fortunate than ourselves—we will gradually become eligible to enter the pastimes of the Lord. Your translations and purports are transcendental, Śrīla Prabhupāda. Hearing them sincerely is as good as hearing the original Sanskrit. There is no other explanation for how Kṛṣṇa consciousness has spread across the globe in these degrading times. As you repeatedly tell us:
It is not that because one has once finished the Bhagavad-gītā he should not hear it again. The word abhīkṣṇam is very important. We should hear again and again. There is no question of stopping: even if one has read these topics many times, he should go on reading again and again because bhagavat-kathā, the words spoken by Kṛṣṇa and spoken by Kṛṣṇa’s devotees about Kṛṣṇa, are amṛtam, nectar. The more one drinks this amṛtam, the more he advances in his eternal life. [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 7.14.3–4, purport]
In the śāstras—the purāṇas and other Vedic literatures—there are so many narrations describing the transcendental activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and everyone should hear them again and again. For example, even if we read the entire Bhagavad-gītā every day, all eighteen chapters, in each reading we shall find a new explanation. That is the nature of transcendental literature. [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 7.14.8, purport]
During the rainy season the roads, not being cleansed, became covered with grass and debris and were thus difficult to make out. These roads were like religious scriptures that brāhmaṇas no longer study and that thus become corrupted and covered over with the passage of time. [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.20.16]
All the devotees connected with the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement must read all the books that have been translated (the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Bhagavad-gītā and others); otherwise, after some time, they will simply eat, sleep, and fall down from their position. Thus they will miss the opportunity to attain an eternal, blissful life of transcendental pleasure. [Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 25.278, purport]
Śrīla Prabhupāda, in the following excerpt from a lecture on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam you elaborate on how intensely you want your followers to read your books out loud:
Vidura particularly came to enlighten Dhṛtarāṣṭra and to give him a lift to the higher status of spiritual cognition. It is the duty of the enlightened souls to deliver the fallen ones, and Vidura came [for] that reason. But talks of spiritual enlightenment are so refreshing that while instructing Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Vidura attracted the attention of all the members of the family, and all of them took pleasure in hearing him patiently. This is the way of spiritual realization. The message should be heard attentively, and if spoken by a realized soul, it will act on the dormant heart of the conditioned soul. And by continuously hearing, one can attain the perfect stage of self-realization.
Therefore, śravaṇam is very essential. Śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ smaraṇaṁ pāda-sevanam. So in all our centers, this process should be followed. We have got now so many books. Simply if we read books . . . Our Yogeśvara Prabhu is very enthusiastic to read books. So everyone should read books, and others should hear. That is very essential, śravaṇam. The more you hear . . . We have got so many books. Whatever is already published . . . Just like we are describing one verse daily. So at least . . . There are so many verses already in stock, you can go on speaking for fifty years. These books already published, you can go on. There will be no want of stock.
So this practice should be adopted. Don’t waste time. As much as possible, try to hear about this transcendental subject matter, Bhāgavatam. Yad vaiṣṇavānāṁ priyam. It is stated that “The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is very, very dear to the Vaiṣṇavas, to the devotees.” In Vṛndāvana you will find they are always reading Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. That is their life and soul. So now we have got already six volumes, and further . . . How many? Eight volumes are coming? So you will have enough stock. So you should read. Śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ. That is the main business. That is pure devotional service. Because we cannot devote twenty-four hours in hearing and chanting, therefore we have extended our activities, program activities, in so many ways. Otherwise, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is so nice, if you practice anywhere, any condition, simply by reading Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, you will be happy. So adopt this practice and make your spiritual life perfect more and more. Thank you very much. [Lecture on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.13.12–14, Geneva, 3 June 1974]
In your 1975 visit to Perth, Śrīla Prabhupāda, a situation arose that compelled you to correct your devotees’ thinking. Kūrma Prabhu described what happened next in his book The Great Transcendental Adventure:
Prabhupāda’s chastisement went on for some minutes more. Then he suggested that someone bring a book and begin reading. As the devotees read aloud, they felt their ignorance dissipate. It was as if a heavy curtain was being lifted. Prabhupāda, the transcendental physician, had once again supplied the medicine—hearing and chanting about the glories of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa—to wipe out the disease of ignorance. The afternoon thus ended on a pleasant note, with an inspiring question and answer session before Prabhupāda spoke to his scheduled guest—a young Indian boy. [10 days in Perth, 1975]
In your purport to the verses in which Prahlāda Mahārāja describes the nine processes of devotional service, you analyze each one individually. In the first paragraph of the section explaining the process of hearing, you write:
Śravaṇam. Hearing the holy name of the Lord (śravaṇam) is the beginning of devotional service. Although any one of the nine processes is sufficient, in chronological order the hearing of the holy name of the Lord is the beginning. Indeed, it is essential. . . .
And in the second paragraph of that same section, you write:
Hearing from the text of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is considered the most important process of hearing. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is full of transcendental chanting of the holy name, and therefore the chanting and hearing of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam are transcendentally full of mellows.
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, great devotees like Śukadeva Gosvāmī have specifically described Lord Kṛṣṇa’s holy name, form, and qualities. Unless one hears about the holy name, form, and qualities of the Lord, one cannot clearly understand the other processes of devotional service. [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 7.23–24, purport]
In another purport you state:
Hearing about the activities of Kṛṣṇa is the beginning of purified life. Puṇya-śravaṇa-kīrtanaḥ: simply by hearing and chanting, one becomes purified. Therefore, in discharging devotional service, śravaṇa-kīrtana (hearing and chanting) is most important. Then, with purified senses, one begins to render service to the Lord (hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanam bhaktir ucyate): this is called bhakti. [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.6.34, purport]
In this way, Śrīla Prabhupāda, on practically every page of your Bhaktivedānta purports you enlighten us about the importance of hearing your books along with the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. You insist that they are both kīrtana. They are equally important—essential, in fact. And you also confirm this same truth in discussions with your disciples. For example:
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Both of them are kīrtana. When you chant, that is also kīrtana; when you distribute book, that is also kīrtana. When you read book, that is also kīrtana. [Morning walk, Honolulu, 19 January 1974]
In researching this subject, I came across the following statement of yours in a letter:
Along with the restaurants there can be “Bhaktivedanta Reading Room” where all my books can be kept and people can come and sit comfortably and read. The people will like these restaurants and reading rooms. They will take them as non-sectarian. [Letter to Śubhavilāsa, 16 March 1977]
Śrīla Prabhupāda, please forgive me if this suggestion seems impertinent: Recently, the leaders of your movement have recognized the importance of reviving the reading of your books—for so many devotees have fallen away from reading them—and to place you clearly in the center of your movement again as its founder-ācārya by placing your books in the center once again. A revival has begun, and many ideas are being put forward. When I read your words “Bhaktivedanta Reading Room,” I had a related idea: “Bhaktivedanta Reading Groups.” I seek your blessings to establish as many such reading groups as I can and to inspire ISKCON leaders to do the same. I can think of no more efficient way to put you solidly in the center of your movement. From devotees who have set up such reading groups and sustained them over the past year, I’ve heard that their spiritual lives have changed for the better by reading your books out loud together.
To help propagate this revival, I’ve made a vow to live-stream my daily reading of your books. On the Facebook App, if one searches for “Daily Readings of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Books” and “likes” the page, one can hear your books, either live or at one’s convenience. Now I’m reading the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. But when I finish the Bhāgavatam I’ll move on to Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta and read it out loud cover to cover; then the Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, cover to cover; then back to the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and so on, for the rest of my life. I seek your blessings, Śrīla Prabhupāda, to complete this vow.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, in 2015 I wrote this to you in my Vyāsa-pūjā offering:
I want to live in the Bhāgavatam, to make the Bhāgavatam and your other books my home, and to bring others into this transcendental abode. As Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī prays:
hā na muñca kadācin maṁ premṇā hṛt-kanṭhayoḥ sphura
O [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam] bestower of saintliness to the unsaintly, O exalter of the most fallen, please never leave me. Always appear in my heart and my voice with pure love. [Śrī Kṛṣṇa-līlā-stava 416]
I am completely unqualified to fulfill this desire of mine, Śrīla Prabhupāda; thus, it will be possible only by your causeless mercy. On this auspicious day of the anniversary of your appearance, September 4, 2018, let me express my unending indebtedness to you for giving me a taste for reading out loud your sublime books and sharing that taste with others.
Your eternal servant,
Keśava Bhāratī Dāsa Goswami