Hearing and Chanting

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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.
1.1.6) ===============

=============== … 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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1 KKDasa

Let us suppose for instance, that I wanted to impress my audience from a motivated stance, and tell all that Srila Prabhupada was being inconsistent with his usual proclamation that Sabda is absolute, but cannot be heard from dvd’s and so on. I could quote the following, as taken from the above article:

“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)

If again I were to develop a biased form of reasoning and say that perhaps Srila Prabhupada can’t be such an elevated soul because of this, then what would that reveal about myself? I would have exposed myself as a biased motivated fool, for not having bothered to put these quotes in balance with the totality and aggregate of his teachings. I would also be an offender for assuming some deficiency in him and for – this is the important part – aiding my readers to lose faith in him.

Unfortunately there are motivated persons who consider themselves elevated enough to build up biased support, and mislead readers with some lop-sided philosophy, based upon Srila Gaura Govinda Maharaja’s occasional quotes about sabda being heard in certain ways.

Without putting his quotes into perspective of the totality and aggregate of his own teachings, such commentators expose themselves as biased and motivated. This is not pure devotion, but a divided, semblance of devotion based upon rajo-guna. Because it is divided it is divisive, in that it divides the faith of those who read such matter.

So we thank Madhavananda Prabhu for putting this into perspective for us and for telling of the need to be informed of the whole picture before attempting to pass judgement.

Ys, Kesava Krsna Dasa.

Comment posted by KKDasa on October 30th, 2010
2 Madhavananda Das (Orissa)

Thank you Kesava Krsna Prabhu. Like many of the topics in our line, this one is a scientific subject that can be seen from different angles.

Comment posted by Madhavananda Das (Orissa) on November 1st, 2010
3 Puskaraksa das

Thank you Madhavananda Ji for this useful compilation of verses and quotes from our acaryas…

This is particularly useful to preach Tattva to the followers of IRM and promoters of the ritvik system.

Indeed, nothing can replace personal association with a pure saddhu Vaishnava:

’sādhu-sańga’, ’sādhu-sańga’ — sarva-śāstre kaya
lava-mātra sādhu-sańge sarva-siddhi haya

The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment’s association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success. (C.C.2:22:54).

The following will enlighten us furthermore about:
• The importance of hearing transcendental sound vibration
• Receiving the teachings from the lips of a pure devotee
• Associating with and serving a pure saddhu

The advent of Thakur Bhaktivinode
by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura

…/…

Serious Misunderstandings
There have, however, already arisen serious misunderstandings regarding the proper interpretation of the life and teachings of Srila Thakur Bhaktivinode. Those who suppose they understand the meaning of his message without securing the guiding grace of the Acarya are disposed to unduly favour the methods of empiric study of his writings. There are persons who have got by heart almost everything that he wrote without being able to catch the least particle of his meaning. Such study cannot benefit those who are not prepared to act up to the instructions lucidly conveyed by his words. There is no honest chance of missing the warnings of Thakur Bhaktivinode. Those, therefore, who are misled by the perusal of his writings are led astray by their own obstinate perversity in sticking to the empiric course which they prefer to cherish against his explicit warnings. Let these unfortunate persons look more carefully into their own hearts for the cause of their misfortunes.

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on November 8th, 2010
4 Puskaraksa das

Service of the pure Devotee is Essential for Understanding
The personal service of the pure devotee is essential for understanding the spiritual meaning of the words of Thakur Bhaktivinode. The Editor of this Journal, originally started by Thakur Bhaktivinode, has been trying to draw the attention of all followers of Thakur Bhaktivinode to this all-important point of his teachings. It is not necessary to try to place ourselves on a footing of equality with Thakur Bhaktivinode. We are not likely to benefit by any mechanical imitation of any practices of Thakur Bhaktivinode on the opportunist principle that they may be convenient for us to adopt. The Guru is not an erring mortal whose activities can be understood by the fallible reason of unreclaimed humanity. There is an eternally impassable line of demarcation between the Saviour and the saved. Those who are really saved can alone know this.Thakur Bhaktivinode belongs to the category of the spiritual world-teachers who eternally occupy the superior position.

The present Editor has all along felt it his paramount duty to try to clear up the meaning of the life and teachings of Thakur Bhaktivinode by the method of submissive listening to the Transcendental Sound from the lips of the pure devotee. The Guru who realizes the transcendental meaning of all sounds, is in a position to serve the Absolute by the direction of the Absolute conveyed through every sound. The Transcendental Sound is Godhead, the mundane sound is non-Godhead. All sound has got these opposite aptitudes. All sound reveals its Divine face to the devotee and only presents its deluding aspect to the empiric pedant. The devotee talks apparently the same language as the deluded empiric pedant who had got by heart the vocabulary of the Scriptures. But notwithstanding apparent identity of performance, the one has no access to the reality while the other is absolutely free from all delusion.

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on November 8th, 2010
5 Puskaraksa das

Mechanical Repetition Condemned
Those who repeat the teachings of Thakur Bhaktivinode from memory do not necessarily understand the meaning of the words they mechanically repeat. Those who can pass an empiric examination regarding the contents of his writings are not necessarily also self-realised souls. They may not at all know the real meaning of the words they have learnt by the method of empiric study.Take for example the Name “Krishna”. Every reader of Thakur Bhaktivinode’s works must be aware that the Name manifests Himself on the lips of His serving devotees although He is inaccessible to our mundane senses. It is one thing to pass the examination by reproducing this true conclusion from the writings of Thakur Bhaktivinode and quite another matter to realise the Nature of the Holy Name of Krishna by the process conveyed by the words.

Thakur Bhaktivinode did not want us to go to the clever mechanical reciter of the mundane sound for obtaining access to the Transcendental Name of Krishna. Such a person may be fully equipped with all the written arguments in explanation of the nature of the Divine Name. But if we listen to all these arguments from the dead source the words will only increase our delusion. The very same words coming from the lips of the devotee will have the diametrically opposite effect. Our empiric judgment can never grasp the difference between the two performances. The devotee is always right. The non-devotee in the shape of the empiric pedant is always and necessarily wrong. In the one case there is always present the Substantive Truth and nothing but the Substantive Truth. In the other case there is present the apparent or misleading hypothesis and nothing but un-truth. The wording may have the same external appearance in both cases. The identical verses of the Scriptures may be recited by the devotee and the non-devotee, may be apparently misquoted by the non-devotee but the corresponding values of the two processes remain always categorically different. The devotee is right even when he apparently misquotes, the non-devotee is wrong even when he quotes correctly the very words, chapter and verse of the Scriptures.

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on November 8th, 2010
6 Puskaraksa das

It is not empiric wisdom that is the object of quest of the devotee. Those who read the scriptures for gathering empiric wisdom will be pursuing the wild goose chase. There are not a few dupes of their empiric Scriptural erudition. These dupes have their admiring under-dupes. But the mutual admiration society of dupes does not escape, by the mere weight of their number, the misfortunes due to the deliberate pursuit of the wrong course in accordance with the suggestions of our lower selves.

What is Shastra?
What are the Scriptures? They are nothing but the record by the pure devotees of the Divine Message appearing on the lips of the pure devotees. The Message conveyed by the devotees is the same in all ages. The words of the devotees are ever identical with the Scriptures. Any meaning of the Scriptures that belittles the function of the devotee who is the original communicant of the Divine Message contradicts its own claim to be heard. Those who think that the Sanskrit language in its lexicographical sense is the language of the Divinity are as deluded as those who hold that the Divine Message is communicable through any other spoken dialects. All languages simultaneously express and hide the Absolute. The mundane face of all languages hides the Truth. The Transcendental face of all sound expresses nothing but the Absolute. The pure devotee is the speaker of the Transcendental language. The Transcendental Sound makes His appearance on the lips of His pure devotee. This is the direct, unambiguous appearance of Divinity. On the lips of non-devotees the Absolute always appears in His deluding aspect. To the pure devotee the Absolute reveals Himself under all circumstances. To the conditioned soul, if he is disposed to listen in a truly submissive spirit, the language of the pure devotee can alone impart the knowledge of the Absolute. The conditioned soul mistakes the deluding for the real aspect when he chooses to lend his ear to the non-devotee. This is the reason why the conditioned soul is warned to avoid all association with non-devotees.

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on November 8th, 2010
7 Puskaraksa das

To understand one must hear from a pure devotee
Thakur Bhaktivinode is acknowledged by all his sincere followers as possessing the above powers of the pure devotee of Godhead. His words have to be received from the lips of a pure devotee. If his words are listened from the lips of a non-devotee they will certainly deceive. If his works are studied in the light of one’s own worldly experience their meaning will refuse to disclose itself to such readers. His works belong to the class of the eternal revealed literature of the world and must be approached for their right understanding through their exposition by the pure devotee. If no help from the pure devotee is sought the works of Thakur Bhaktivinode will be grossly misunderstood by their readers. The attentive reader of those works will find that he is always directed to throw himself upon the mercy of the pure devotee if he is not to remain unwarrantably self-satisfied by the deluding results of his wrong method of study.

The writings of Thakur Bhaktivinode are valuable because they demolish all empiric objections against accepting the only method of approaching the Absolute in the right way. They cannot and were never intended to give access to the Absolute without help from the pure devotee of Krishna. They direct the sincere enquirer of the Truth, as all the revealed scriptures do, to the pure devotee of Krishna to learn about Him by submitting to listen with an open mind to the Transcendental Sound appearing on His lips. Before we open any of the books penned by Thakur Bhaktivinode we should do well to reflect a little on the attitude, with which as the indispensable pre-requisite, to approach its study. It is by neglecting to remember this fundamental principle that the empiric pedants find themselves so hopelessly puzzled in their vain endeavour to reconcile the statements of the different texts of the Scriptures. The same difficulty is already in process of overtaking many of the so-called followers of Thakur Bhaktivinode and for the same reason.

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on November 8th, 2010
8 Puskaraksa das

The person to whom the Acarya is pleased to transmit his power is alone in a position to convey the Divine Message. This constitutes the underlying principle of the line of succession of the spiritual teachers. The Acarya thus authorised has no other duty than that of delivering intact the message received from all his predecessors. There is no difference between the pronouncements of one Acarya and another. All of them are perfect mediums for the appearance of the Divinity in the Form of the Transcendental Name Who is identical with His Form, Quality, Activity and Paraphernalia.

The Absolute appears on the lips of a pure sadhu
The Divinity is Absolute Knowledge. Absolute Knowledge has the character of indivisible Unity. One particle of the Absolute Knowledge is capable of revealing all the potency of the Divinity. Those who want to understand the contents of the volumes penned by the piece-meal acquisitive method applicable to deluding knowledge available to the mind on the mundane plane, are bound to be self-deceived. Those who are sincere seekers of the Truth are alone eligible to find Him, in and through the proper method of His quest.

In order to be put on the track of the Absolute, listening to the words of the pure devotee is absolutely necessary. The spoken word of the Absolute is the Absolute. It is only the Absolute Who can give Himself away to the constituents of His power. The Absolute appears to the listening ear of the conditioned soul in the form of the Name on the lips of the sadhu. This is the key to the whole position. The words of Thakur Bhaktivinode direct the empiric pedant to discard his wrong method and inclination on the threshold of the real quest of the Absolute. If the pedant still chooses to carry his errors into the Realm of the Absolute Truth he only marches by a deceptive bye-path into the regions of darker ignorance by his arrogant study of the scriptures. The method offered by Thakur Bhaktivinode is identical with the object of the quest. The method is not really grasped except by the grace of the pure devotee. The arguments, indeed, are these. But they can only corroborate, but can never be a substitute for, the word from the living source of the Truth who is no other than the pure devotee of Krishna, the concrete Personal Absolute.

…/…

[The Harmonist, December 1931, vol. XXIX No.6]

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on November 8th, 2010
9 Puskaraksa das

From the quotes provided by Madhavananda Prabhu, we could understand that the teachings of Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja are, as expected, perfectly in line with those of Srila Prabhupada.

From these comments of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur Maharaja Prabhupada, in regards to the teachings of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, we can clearly observe that the same message is being conveyed through our whole parampara…

Transcendental sound vibration, sabda-brahma, pure chanting of the Holy Name emanating from the lotus lips of the premi bhakta should never be minimized and treated in a mundane way. Whatever our acaryas have taught has deep meaning and should never be interpreted via our own limited and still materially conditioned intelligence and senses.

For instance, when Srila Prabhupada was giving some lecture in Hindi, he would still order his western disciples to sit and listen, as he said: “the transcendental sound vibration will purify you…”.

So, after so many lifetimes wandering in the material world, who would be there to say that he or she doesn’t need to receive the book Bhagavata from the person Bhagavata…?

Jnana has to become vijnana, theoritical knowledge has to be turned into realized knowledge.
This can only be achieved by performing pranipatena, pariprasnena and sevaya at the lotus feet of a tattva darshi…

In this way, one will not only receive general instructions as by reading sastras and purports, but specific instructions from a liberated soul, who can only free us from our own conditioned state, undo the knots of our particular karma and enable us to overcome all obstacles and personal resistance so as to lead us on the devotional path, up to the ultimate stage of saranagati, full surrender…

The same analogy may also apply as to become one’s own doctor, i.e. one’s own guru, and writing one’s own prescription from reading books, versus receiving specific instructions from a qualified doctor, i.e. a sat guru, which will transcribe for instance into receiving our seva rather than granting ourselves some seva, being corrected rather than pretending to be in a position to correct ourselves, etc.

As a matter of fact, how can one in the conditioned stage, being tied up by the hard knots of material desires, both on the gross and subtle level, and being prisoner of his own ahankara (false ego) be able to liberate oneself and reach the stage of unalloyed pure devotion…

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on November 8th, 2010
10 Puskaraksa das

Thereby, association with a liberated soul, a sat guru, is a must – abigacchet:
“tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet”

However,

tulayama lavenapi
na svargam napunar-bhavam
bhagavat-sangi-sangasya
martyanam kim utasishah
Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.18.13)

Saunaka Rishi says: “The association of a bhagavadbhakta – that is to say, of one who has attained the direct association of Bhagavan – is very rarely achieved in the course of the jiva’s destiny. We see thousands of saints and ascetics wandering about in groups; but to get the association of one who has in fact attained the association of Bhagavan, has received His darsana and has entered into His lila, is very difficult. What to speak of such a person, it is extremely rare to attain the association even of one who has associated with such a person.”

Das dasanudasa
Puskaraksa das

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on November 8th, 2010

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    "Artwork and photos courtesy of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc. www.krishna.com. Used with permission"