While “researching” that new twist to jiva origin topic I had to read a lot of stuff posted by adherents of no-fall-vāda, and this made me think – what is the actual value of reading in devotional service. Coming off this binge I declare “None whatsoever!”
Maybe I’m being overly dramatic and I’m prepared to modify that statement a little bit, but not its essence. Our ācāryas might have spat on thoughts of sex, I’m far from that realization, but I’m getting close to spitting on thoughts of reading.
What about reading devotional literature? Aren’t we supposed to read one or two hours a day? Important question but my answer to this is simple – it’s not really reading, it’s taking association of Śrīla Prabhupāda through books. It’s not the knowledge and the ideas that we should be seeking when we do our daily “reading” routine, we seek Prabhupāda’s attitude to them, it doesn’t even matter which ideas in particular, any would do.
When reading Prabhupāda’s books we should be perfectly content with going over the same old passages over and over again and it shouldn’t matter if we might come across the same facts and solutions. Intellectually, we might not add anything to our bank of knowledge anymore but spiritually we hope that Prabhupāda’s pure devotional approach might rub off on us, too.
We shouldn’t read to improve our memories, we shouldn’t read to memorize ślokas, we shouldn’t read to improve our self-image of learned scholars, we shouldn’t be proud if we can manage two hours daily, not any more than we should be proud of completing sixteen rounds of japa.
All these things are unavoidable but they are anarthas, we should eventually let them go, they have no value.
What about dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ promise given by Kṛṣṇa (BG 10.10)? Well, what about it? Prabhupāda’s translation and purport make it unambiguous – the knowledge will be given so that one can come back to Him, not for any other purpose, and it will be given, not developed through analyzing reading material.
Whatever we need to know for our devotional progress will be illuminated from within without any efforts to obtain this knowledge on our part. The conditions Kṛṣṇa places are also unambiguous – constantly devoted to serving Me with love. Satisfying our egotistic thirst for knowledge is not “serving with love and devotion”, it will be responded to as any other karmic activity – by further entrapping us in this world and by strengthening our taste for enjoyment, which in this case would come in the form of academic pride, for example.
We’d better hope Kṛṣṇa does not take these attempts seriously and carefully guides us to eventual realization that they are materialistic in nature, just as we hope He does with all our other anarthas.
We can approach this subject from another angle, too – desire to know things is a contamination by jñāna and as such it won’t lead to devotion but to impersonalism, which in our age would probably manifest as dreaded māyāvāda rather then innocence of the Kumāras.
To me it seems like a straighforward argument not opened to interpretations because it goes to the heart of devotional process – it should be jñāna karmādy-anāvṛtam, free from karma and jñāna, can’t get any more basic than that, there are no shortcuts and no ways go around this injunction.
There’s a way to question classifying reading devotional literature or devotional discourse as jñāna, however. Śrīla Prabhupāda translated jñāna in this verse as it appears in Caitanya Caritāmṛita (CC Madhya 19.67) as “knowledge of the philosophy of the monist Māyāvādīs” – I hope none of us ever reads māyāvādī books, so it doesn’t apply. Elsewhere, however, Prabhupāda rendered jñāna in this verse as mental speculations, empirical speculations, speculative knowledge, and even philosophical speculations, which I’m still very found of, I must admit. Checking if our reading material is speculative in nature is very easy.
On the surface the discourse might revolve solely around Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy and all of the participants would strongly disagree if accused of expounding māyāvāda inducing impersonalism, what would I answer to that?
Well, māyāvādīs are also very fond of Kṛṣṇa, we’ve been told, they are not averse to describing His glories and activities, but their attitudes are fundamentally wrong and their glorification only causes pain to the Lord and to pure devotees who happen to hear it. This is an often repeated theme that I don’t need to find supporting quotes for, I hope. What I want to say is that our “devotional” discourses can be exactly the same – overtly about Kṛṣṇa but completely devoid of devotional substance.
Take this passage I had a misfortune to recently read, for example:
It seems that you believe that Srila Sridhar Maharaj, BVT etc should not be challenged. But if that is so, then you will have to relinquish the claim that Gaudiya Vedanta tradition is scientific. Rather it is dogmatic. Dogmas cannot be challenged, science can be challenged. I acknowledge the great contribution of BVT and Shridhar Maharaj and they are truly heroes. But that dosen’t mean that whatever they said should be cast in stone. If ideas no longer make sense, they should be revised. And the idea proposed by BVT has logical flaws as is being pointed out by many people here, hence it needs to be revised.
The worst part is that this outrageous view wasn’t challenged, unlike all other “misconceptions” pounced on in that community, the person who commented on it actually supported the general thrust of the rest of that posting.
This cavalier attitude to our ācāryas (Śrīla Prabhupāda and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura) is evident from another quote from that community:
I hope we are not stuck with SP’s interpretation for eternity and reject BVT’s interpretation. Is SP the end of thought? Who knows what SP would have done in today’s time?
When accused of disrespecting Śrīla Prabhupāda the poster defended himself and even his guru didn’t see anything problematic with it:
My disciples may have any number of opinions, as long as they can support them reasonably with sastra or the writings of previous and present acaryas. None of them disrespect SP.
That’s what māyāvādī do, too – they do not count their attitude towards Kṛṣṇa as offensive, they just don’t see it that way.
Here devotees talk about our ācāryas as mere contributors to our pool of knowledge and put themselves in the pole position to decide what to accept and what to reject. They don’t need no illuminations from within and they reject illuminations from outside, too – guru does not provide spiritual illuminations but only suggestions they are free to reject at will.
With this attitude ANY spiritual illumination becomes closed to them and so all their discourse turns into worst kind of speculations that poisons everything. It will never ever lead to bhakti growing in their hearts, no more than it grows in the hearts of māyāvādīs, and it can externally grow pretty big there, so we shouldn’t be fooled. I mean they might become like mini-Ramakrishnas and impress everyone around them but in the eyes of our ācāryas this kind of “devotion” has no value whatsoever. Why our ācāryas say things like that against apparent evidence of advancement is a whole different topic, however.