The question of language I mentioned yesterday is a big one – if we say glorification of the Holy Name is our dharma shouldn’t we be very good at it? We can’t emulate sweetness of the Brijabasis and that’s understandable but we are supposed to be engaged in saṅkīrtana twenty four hours a day and must attain certain level of proficiency. What’s our actual situation?
We have Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and Caitanya Caritāmṛta to give us plenty of examples of what is expected of devotees in terms of glorification of the Lord. Offering elaborate and beautiful prayers is the first thing they do when the Lord reveals Himself and, since they are recorded, we can get the idea of how long they should be and their possible content.
Prahlāda Mahārāja chanted over forty verses on the spot, each four lines long, about the same in English, fifteen-twenty words per line. This works out to two-three thousand words in total, twice as long as my posts here. It takes hours for me, Prahlāda didn’t have any time to prepare and was in a far more difficult position.
Lord Nṛsiṁha just slaughtered Hiraṇyakaśipu and was still in a very angry mood. The present demigods were shaking in their boots and were more inclined to soil their pants rather than offer appropriate prayers. Even the goddess of fortune, Lakṣmī, did not recognize her husband and refused to step forward. The Lord looked so fierce that Lord Brahmā gently pushed little Prabhlāda forward to speak on everyone’s behalf. “You called Him, it was your father who caused all these troubles, you go talk to Him now.”
In our usual retelling of the story Prahlāda was brave and didn’t see any danger in presence of Lord Nṛiṁhadeva but Bhāgavatam is a bit more restrained. Prahlāda approached the Lord very slowly and first thing he did when he reached the Lord was to fall on the ground in obeisances. I bet it looked like the safest option to him, he wasn’t going to stand in front of the Lord and feel Lord’s hot breath on his face and absorb Lord’s anger. That was clearly too much even for Prahlāda, so he fell down and surrendered himself completely, he didn’t want to appear as equal to the Lord in any sense as standing in front of each other and exchanging words, even if they are prayers, is still a sign of equality.
Prahlāda prostrated himself in obeisances and probably didn’t even dare to look at Lord’s lotus feet, let along Lord’s face. He gave up the very idea that “I can look at things”, in Lord’s presence we are not seers, we are to be seen. We don’t look at the Lord, the Lord looks at us. We do not caste glances as we do when we are in illusion that we are masters of everything we see.
Lord Nṛsiṁha was very affectionate to Prahlāda, He lifted him up and put His hand on little boy’s head to make him feel safe and eradicate all his fears. This also cleansed Prahlāda of all the remnants of material contamination and all material desires and it is on this platform that devotees and the Lord can finally start communicating.
This was the effect on Prahlāda as recorded in Bhāgavatam (SB 7.9.6):
… he at once became transcendentally situated, and all the symptoms of ecstasy became manifest in his body. His heart filled with love, and his eyes with tears, and thus he was able to completely capture the lotus feet of the Lord within the core of his heart. Prahlāda Mahārāja fixed his mind and sight upon Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva with full attention in complete trance. With a fixed mind, he began to offer prayers in love with a faltering voice.
Note that Prahlāda’s voice was still faltering, it took him some time to get going with his prayers, but he manifested all the symptoms of ecstasy, his mind was in full samādhi, and Lord’s lotus feet captured his heart.
This gives us some leeway – our abilities must magically improve, too, if we ever come to the point where we have to offer prayers to the Lord in person. We won’t be able to talk to the Lord from our current platform so whatever prayers we can compose now will necessarily be contaminated and unsuitable to offer and we won’t be allowed to talk until purified by Lord’s mercy.
Next step for us is to allow the Lord Himself speak through our mouths. Plenty of devotees in Caitanya Caritāmṛta gave this explanation for their abilities. Srīla Prabhupāda was speaking what Kṛṣṇa was dictating to him, transcribing Lord’s words into humanly intelligible language that could be captured on tape. I suppose we can expect the same thing happening to us – some words magically appearing on our tongues and us wondering how it was even possible for us to speak like that.
While this can happen, wouldn’t it be cheating? Can we claim that these were our prayers if we don’t know ourselves how they manifested? We might as well start speaking in “tongues”, probably in Sanskrit, understand everything we say for the moment but lose this ability afterwards. Can we honestly say these were our prayers then?
It is perfectly okay to channel someone else’s words and become instruments in someone else’s hands in order to server the Lord properly but can we rely on this forever? Shouldn’t saṅkīrtana be OUR service, not someone else’s? It’s fine for someone else to take over every now and then but what are we going to do for the rest of our lives? We already ARE instruments of our guru, everything we say and think is dictated to us by our books, lectures, personal instructions etc, it’s just still not good enough to be offered to the Lord. What can we do about it?
Obviously, we shouldn’t rush to order “Prayers for Dummies” and try to artificially increase our proficiency, we won’t fool anybody this way. I think we should humbly admit that eloquence is not our gift and even when time to pray comes it will be someone else putting words into our mouths, we’ll never become as good as Sarasvatī (if it’s her who controls this kind of intelligence) and so we shouldn’t try to usurp her service. What we actually should strive for is maintaining the necessary level of purity that enables prayers to come out of our mouths in the first place.
In the example of Prahlāda above it’s not the eloquence that was his biggest achievement at the time but purification of all material desires and samādhi. Ability to compose prayers might come and go, but the samādhi should stay. If Lord’s feet manifest in our hearts we should hold on to them with our dear lives, who cares what sounds come of out mouths then?
Our only contribution is our devotion, we are not in the position to increase transcendental opulences of Lord’s abode, and eloquence is just one of these opulences. We can’t really add anything to it but we can offer our hearts, that’s the only thing that is missing there, and once this offer has been accepted it will finally complete the puzzle. We are never going to serve the Lord directly but always in cooperation with others, so we bring hearts and working mouths, they bring the words.
Of course, on the material platform it looks as if it’s just one person speaking and he is then credited with the speech but we should know better than that. We never serve alone and we never take any credit.
And we could always say that the extent of our eloquence is in properly enunciating every word in the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra, that’s enough for now.