Hearing and Chanting
Regarding personal association with Srila Prabhupada versus association with him via his recorded words: I don’t think this is actually an issue for anyone. If Srila Prabhupada were to personally come to our house, while we were sitting in our room listening to his tape, would we refuse to go downstairs and hear from him personally? “I’m associating with him via the tape. It’s just as good.” Would we really feel that it is just as good? I don’t think so.
Srila Prabhupada’s disciple, Gour Govinda Maharaja has stated:
=============== “One has to hear. It is not that, “All right, tapes are there, I’ll hear the recorded tapes.” sabda-brahma will never descend. […] You should be greedy. Physical contact is required. You must hear directly, not just by listening to tapes. Sabda-brahma will never descend through a tape. One must hear from a physically present Sri Guru.” (HH Gour Govinda Swami, ‘Q&A’, The Worship of Sri Guru, chapter 3) ===============
However, the above quote is just one side of Gour Govinda Maharaja’s teachings. He always encouraged devotees to read and distribute Prabhupada’s books, and to associate via listening to tapes. Many times he said things such as:
=============== “We should associate with instructions and books and with our sincere prayers we will reach Krishna.” (Home program in Paris 1987) ===============
He also taught that we can associate with Srila Prabhupada and our previous acaryas through their books. As he said, in his transcribed lecture printed in the book Pariprasna:
=============== “All sadhus speak through their books. Jiva Goswami, Rupa Goswami, Sanatan Goswami, Bhaktivinode Thakur, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Prabhupada all say that they speak through books. This is not a new thing. This is our vaishnava procedure.” ===============
Srila Prabhupada’s second canto purport and November 1975 letter bring another dimension to this topic:
=============== “The potency of transcendental sound is never minimised because the vibrator is apparently absent.”
(Srimad-Bhagavatam, 2.9.8, purport) ===============
=============== “You should have a fire sacrifice and the second initiates should hear through the right ear the mantra on my recorded tape.” (Srila Prabhupada Letter, November 13th, 1975) ===============
However, Srila Prabhupada sometimes said things from another angle. For example:
=============== “We have to hear not from a telephone but from an authorized person, for it is he who has real knowledge.” (Purport to Cc. adi 7.107)”Unless one is svanubhavam, self-realized, [unless his] life is Bhagavat, he cannot preach Bhagavat. That will not be effective. A gramophone will not help.” (Bhag. Lecture Rome May 27th 1974) ===============
A devotee once pointed out to Gour Govinda Maharaja that Srila Prabhupada often gave gayatri mantra by tape. Maharaja responded, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada can do that. He is such a powerful person.” Maharaja then went on to say, “However, you cannot imitate him. In Sajjana Toshani Magazine, Srila Thakur Bhaktivinode has written, ‘The symptom of an apasampradaya is that they take an extraordinary act of a great personality and make it into a regular standard.’”
Certainly, Srila Prabhupada’s act of initiating devotees via recordings is a very extraordinary act. The Skanda Purana and other Vedic literatures describe that there are four levels of sabda-brahma. Like everything in Krishna consciousness sabda-brahma is a detailed science which is very deep and subtle. Acaryavan puruso veda — the vedic tradition dictates that one cannot understand the Vedas without a guru. The tradition is that one must hear directly the words spoken by the guru — guru mukha padma vakya. Srila Prabhupada, as an empowered acarya, was able to do things that we cannot understand or imitate.
Srila Prabhupada’s books are very powerful, and contain his personal presence. Prabhupada said that anyone who simply touches his books will get spiritual benefit. However, it is obvious that there will be a great difference in what various people perceive, and receive, from those books when they read them.
For example, we can give copies of “Srimad Bhagavatam” to a drunken man lying in the streets of London; to a young college student engaged in illicit activities; to a mundane professor of Sanskrit at Oxford; to a new bhakta who has been staying at the Soho Street temple and strictly following Srila Prabhupada’s program for a month or two — or to a surrendered disciple who has heard from and served their guru, Srila Prabhupada. Obviously, there will be a huge difference in each of the above readers’ perception and assimilation of the message in Prabhupada’s books. Sastra should be approached via a personal relationship based on hearing, serving and following.
The Bhagavatam is krsna-tulya bhagavata vibhu sarvasraya — a direct incarnation of Krishna (Cc. madhya 24.318). Just as Krishna is only known by pure devotion, so too is the Bhagavata. Bhaktya bhagavatam grahyam na buddhya na ca tikaya — one can only understand the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam by bhakti. One cannot understand them simply by scholarship or “ca tikaya” by reading commentaries. (Cc. madhya 9.102)
As Krishna famously tells Arjuna in the Adi Purana: “Those who claim to be My direct devotees are actually not My devotees. Those who are the devotees of My devotees are factually My devotees.”Like the Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada’s books are non-different from Krishna. They are also only known completely by one who has pure love. To develop a relationship with Krishna in his form as those books we have to go through a person. As Prabhupada said many times:
=============== The Puranas are also parts of the Vedas. And histories like the Mahabharata or Ramayana are also parts of the Vedas. The acarya or the gosvami must be well acquainted with all these literatures. To hear and explain them is more important than reading them. One can assimilate the knowledge of the revealed scriptures only by hearing and explaining. Hearing is called sravana, and explaining is called kirtana. The two processes of sravana and kirtana are of primary importance to progressive spiritual life. Only one who has properly grasped the transcendental knowledge from the right source by submissive hearing can properly explain the subject. (Purport to Bhag.
=============== … if one wants to learn the meaning of Srimad-Bhagavatam, one must take lessons from a realized soul. One should not proudly think that one can understand the transcendental loving service of the Lord simply by reading books. One must become a servant of a vaisnava. As Narottama Das Thakur has confirmed, chadiya vaisnava-seva nistara peyeche keba: one cannot be in a transcendental position unless one very faithfully serves a pure vaisnava. One must accept a vaisnava guru (adau gurv-asrayam), and then by questions and answers one should gradually learn what pure devotional service to Krishna is. That is called the parampara system. (Purport to Cc. antya 7.53) ===============
=============== Indian lady: How does one contact the spiritual master? Through a book can you contact the spiritual master?
Prabhupada: No, you have to associate.
Syamasundar: “Can you associate through a book?” she asked.
Prabhupada: Yes, through books, and also personal. Because when you make a spiritual master you have got personal touch. Not that in the air you make a spiritual master. You make a spiritual master concrete. So as soon as you make a spiritual master, you should be inquisitive…. if you simply try to understand what is God by reading scriptures, you cannot achieve. You must approach a guru. Just like a medical book. It can be available in the market. If you purchase one medical book and study and you become doctor, that is not possible. You must hear the medical book from a medical man in the college, medical college. Then you will be qualified. And if you say, “Sir, I have read all the medical books. Recognize me as a medical practitioner,” no, that will not be. (Lecture on the Appearance day of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, 23 Sept 1969, London) ===============
=============== Madhudvisa: One cannot become a medical practitioner by simply reading the books. He must study under a medical practitioner. So in the case of your books, is it possible to become a devotee without actually having personal association with you? Just by reading your books?
Prabhupada: No, it is not that you have to associate with the author. But one who knows, if you cannot understand you have to take lesson from him. Not necessarily that you have to contact with the author always.
Devotee: Just like the textbooks are not written by the teachers; they’re written by other professors.
Devotee: Usually you don’t even meet the author. Prabhupada: Simply one who knows the subject matter, he can explain.
Madhudvisha: But can your, would your purports, would that serve as explanation besides…
Prabhupada: No, no, anyone who knows the subject matter, he will be able to explain. It is not necessary that the author is required to be present there. [break] … to study from a medical man, I never said you have to study from the author. Or one who understood the author’s purpose. Just like we are explaining Bhagavad-gita as it is. Not that one has to learn directly from Krishna. One who has understood Krishna, from him. That is the parampara system. (Morning Walk, 21 May 1975, Melbourne) ===============
=============== One cannot become a devotee by one’s personal endeavor. Just like some rascals say, “What is the use of accepting a guru?” Of course, they have got very bad experience. Who is acarya? Acarya means one who has received Vedic knowledge through the parampara system. Evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh. He is acarya. An acarya cannot be manufactured or self-made. He must come in disciplic succession. One who is under the shelter of an acarya, he knows things. Krishna recommends that if you actually want to have real knowledge then you must worship the acarya, acaryopasanam. This is the Vedic system. Tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet. It is not that, “If I like I can go to a guru, and if I don’t like I can study books at home and learn everything.” No, that is not possible. It is practical. Just like if you purchase a medical book, study at home, and then begin to practice, you will be called a quack. The government will not recognize you. You will not get the practitioner’s registration. Unless you have passed through the medical college and had your medical examination you will not be accepted, even if you say, “I have read all the books.” Similarly, someone may say, “I have read Bhagavad-gita a hundred times.” But if you ask him what is Krishna he cannot say because he has not approached the acarya. This is the difficulty. He might have read Bhagavad-gita a thousand times but he will not understand a single word because he has not approached. Therefore Vedic literature says, tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet. Abhigacchet. This word is used when the sense is “you must”. It is the vidhilin form of the verb. “You must. There is no excuse. You cannot learn.” (Lecture on Bhagavad-gita in Mumbai on 5 October 1973) ===============
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