Vanity thought #938. Attentive hearing

I was listening to today’s lecture given in Mayapur and the speaker, HH Candramouli Swami, of whom I’ve never heard before, mentioned a very interesting verse from Padma Purāṇa.

Padma Purāṇa is three times longer than Śrīmad Bhagavatam so without śloka number or any other identifying marks it’s impossible to find the original. Mahārāja didn’t recite Sanskrit and didn’t say whose translation he used, I couldn’t find any references to this verse anywhere, Śrila Prabhupāda never mentioned it, so mahārāja’s words is all I have ATM. Luckily, the verse doesn’t seem to say anything controversial so there’s very little chance of it being false or misinterpreted.

The verse talks about four principles of effective hearing (staring at about 26.50 mark).

First is faith in the words of the speaker.
Second is humility.
Third is “destroying the faults of the mind”.

If these three are observed then fourth will happen, which is the effect consisting of two things – realization of the subject matter, and then one will start having questions about the subject.

Regarding this last point – if there are no questions at the end of the class, does it mean that there’s no realization and that the first three principles were not properly observed? Personally, I think this is true – realization should bring questions, passive acceptance, on the other hand, leaves one disinterested even if in agreement. Sort of like “Yes, prabhu, I’ve heard it all before, totally agree, but my mind is elsewhere right now, sorry.” If, however, realization is there then one wouldn’t stop thinking about what is being said and become very enthusiastic about learning more. This is the nature of the spiritual truth, after all, it is invigorating and inspiring, no one can remain calm when it “hits” him.

Questions aside, realization is what we all looking for and so the first three conditions are very important to consider in detail. Before I do that, however, I want to say how these principles remind me of a point made by Ravīndra Svarūpa about performative utterances (see here, for example).

Performative utterances are a thing – they are words that carry power and change the world, they perform actions. If I say to someone “go to hell” nothing will happen, if a judge says “convicted to jail” then to jail you will go. I can “convict” you to jail, too, but that won’t change a thing, but if judge does so then it will.

So, for an utterance to become “performative” certain conditions need to be there and Ravīndra Svarūpa investigated what those conditions are in relation to spiritual powers and spiritual effects. In short, they are as follows: first the speaker must be authorized, then the hearer must behave properly, too, ie be submissive and ready to serve, and then the hearer must be “present”, ie his mind must be in rapt attention. I might have missed something but this, I think, is all. If these conditions are present then one will be able to see Kṛṣṇa in the pages of Bhāgavatam, ie realization will happen.

Now, with these conditions for performative speaking of Bhāgatam in mind, it’s easy to see how Padma Purāṇa’s verse talks about exactly the same things.

First, one must have faith in the words of the speaker. Actually, this is about the hearer but it goes without saying that the words must be correct, ie be the spiritual truth, and one must accept them as such, with faith.

This looks a bit different from being in front of a judge because there you don’t require any faith, you’ll be jailed anyway, but we can think of “faith” here as acceptance of court’s jurisdiction. Similary, speaking spiritual truth WILL have an effect even on those who choose not to believe but it will be in the form of ajñāta sukṛti.

Just like a convict who does not accept judge’s authority will not be reformed as fast as a convict who accepts his guilt so a person refusing to listen to harināma saṅkīrtana will not be purified as quickly as a person who listens with faith and devotion.

We are not concerned with qualities of speakers anyway – anyone repeating words of our ācāryas delivers bona fide spiritual knowledge and we need only a split second (lava-mātra) to become purified if we hear correctly, so we should concentrate on having faith rather than on evaluating our lecturers.

This brings us to the second point – humility. Humility and faith in the words of the guru go hand in hand. They both mean that we must consider ourselves to be utterly insignificant in face of the spiritual truth. We cannot have a challenging attitude, we cannot show any insubordination, and we cannot think of ourselves as knowing better, or better yet, as knowing anything at all.

We might have faith in the words of our children telling us they’ve done their homework and this faith doesn’t require humility but when we talk about Absolute Truth then humility is unavoidable because accepting Absolute Truth means accepting our subordination and insignificance.

Faith and humility also means that we do not question, we accept the words of the speaker unconditionally. Atheists might chide us for that but we know that question time will come later. It will come for us as we learn more about the Absolute Truth but it won’t come for them because their pride and defiance will not lead to any learning at all. Let them have it their way if they think it’s better, we have ours.

Then we come to “destroying faults of the mind”. This is the rapt attention that was Ravīndra Svarūpa’s third condition. We cannot allow our minds to wonder away, they must be “present” when we listen to our guru or to Bhāgavatam class or even to our own japa.

Mind control is difficult but possible, I’ve wrote so many posts about it I can’t summarize it in one sentence or even a paragraph. There are many ways and methods, whatever works, we should use it. One way or another our mind should be fully absorbed in listening to the message of our ācāryas or to the sound of the Holy Name.

In this particular class, at about 28.15 mark, mahārāja mentions how Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura said that mind is a non-devotee therefore we should avoid its association, something I advocated just a day before yesterday – ignore it. Now I have an authority to back it up, great.

Anyway, if these three conditions are present than realization is sure to follow and with it further inquiries into the Absolute Truth.

One more thing, it’s not clear from this rendition of Padma Puraṇa verse if these principles are applicable to japa or only to hearing from a guru/Bhāgavatam speaker. I hope they are – we must have faith in the Holy Name, we must be humble, and we must chant with rapt attention, I don’t see any indications that realization won’t come if we follow these simple rules.

It is slightly more difficult because extent of full faith in the Holy Name is difficult to comprehend – how the words coming out of our mouths are non-different from Kṛṣṇa in each and every respect. Likewise, it’s hard to show humility to the speaker when the speaker is ourselves. And uninterrupted attention to chanting is impossible to achieve, but none of that should stop us from trying.

If, one way or another, we manage to hit this trifecta we will be on the home stretch and nothing will ever stop us, we’ll be moving into the stages beyond liberation.

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