When I remembered yesterday that the roots of our saṅkīrtana movement are right there in the Bhagavad Gītā it made me think twice about it. However special saṅkīrtana feels to us, it isn’t, but it doesn’t mean that all the other spiritual paths are the same either.
Specifically, I meant last verses spoken by Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna and they start right after sarva-dhramān parityajya, from 18.67 on:
- Bg 18.66 — Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.
- Bg 18.67 — This conﬁdential knowledge may never be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.
- Bg 18.68 — For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me.
- Bg 18.69 — There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.
There are three more left, including the important one about studying the Gītā, but they are just concluding verses not particularly relevant here.
Bhagavad Gītā is pretty detailed on certain subjects, many topics are covered in multiple locations and there are verses that are repeated twice, too, but it doesn’t mean that these three bolded ones are insignificant in the overall scheme of things, especially the last one where Kṛṣṇa says that there’s no one more dear to Him than one who preaches on His behalf.
Lord Caitanya didn’t introduce anything new in this regard but He inaugurated actual fulfillment of this promise and brought it to the masses. It was staring right into everyone faces but hardly anyone could do anything about it, it was more of an academical proposition. People fancied the next verse more: “..he who studies this sacred conversation of ours worships Me by his intelligence.” That they can do but I would argue that it’s not the same thing, not even close.
Let’s see what Kṛṣṇa’s instructions on preaching are first. There are two – don’t do this and please do that. We are explicitly prohibited from explaining Bhagavad Gītā to sense enjoyers, non-devotees, and atheists. Those who are “not austere” are the ones who are too attached to sense gratification and openly laugh in our faces that there’s no way they are giving up meat, sex, or alcohol. If people cannot contemplate or appreciate such “tapasya” they are not ready for the message and we are forbidden from preaching to them.
This makes sense. Bhagavad Gītā starts with establishing our spiritual nature and supremacy of the soul over the body. Those who are not ready to accept this message are still animals and for them there are other appropriate ways of advancement. Bhagavad Gītā is called the essence of all upaniṣads for a reason, it’s not meant for animals. Consequently, the first thing to tell people about it is that they are not their bodies. Not about Kṛṣṇa, not about the holy name, not about devotional service, but the simple truth about not being these bodies. If that doesn’t register it’s time to move on and look for someone on a more appropriate stage of evolution.
One thing we shouldn’t do is to walk away smug and proud. There’s a similar prohibition against denigrating nascent spiritual activities of those in the lower form of consciousness. We should never ever disturb them but rather encourage them following their rules and regulations which would gradually elevate them to the point where they are finally ready to listen to Bhagavad Gītā. We must accept this with utmost humility and be people’s genuine well-wishers, it’s a great loss that despite their outwardly human form of life they are not ready for Gītā yet.
Lord Caitanya’s mercy for them manifests in the form of prasādam and chanting of the holy name as a leisure activity – let them have fun with it if that’s what they like. Let them come to concerts where the holy name is sung in public, at this point it doesn’t matter much if the performers are devotees themselves. Let them hold Bhagavad Gītā in their hands and let them feel our own respect and appreciation for it, maybe some of it will rub off on them, too.
Second condition is against preaching to non-devotees. On the surface it disqualifies practically everybody but what we should look for is people’s favorable attitude towards God, however they understand the concept. We say the word, people know it, and we can judge their devotion by their reactions. Those who even tacitly agree that God must be served and worshiped are devotees. It’s that simple.
Alternatively, everybody is a devotee, they just don’t know it yet, it’s their constitutional position. Expert saṅkīrtana devotees can awaken this dormant quality in people and find a platform where they are comfortable with acknowledging it in public, even if by mere silence. When we learn to see everyone as a devotee people will behave accordingly and we will create a good company anywhere we go. If we see them as envious atheists they will behave accordingly, too. It’s quantum mechanics of human relationships – the behavior of the observed object depends on the observer himself. Not always and not in full but enough for saṅkīrtana devotees to get a foot in the door of their soul and pry it open.
If we fail to do so and people remain envious of God as we subtly breach the subject there’s nothing to do for us there anymore, we should just move on, time is short, there are people out there who would benefit if we bring our books to them instead.
In the next verse we have Kṛṣṇa giving a guarantee that one who preaches Bhagavad Gītā will return to Him, but, most importantly, Kṛṣṇa guarantees bhakti. No other process deserves that, there’s no yoga to achieve bhakti, no other method that works. One could say that by the mercy of Lord Caitanya those who chant the holy name can achieve bhakti but that chanting must be congregational, it must be saṅkīrtana, which only confirms uniqueness of Kṛṣṇa’s promise here.
Saṅkīrtana means preaching, it means discussing Lord’s glories in the company of devotees, it means teaching others. One could argue that congregational chanting is not preaching per se but he would be wrong. This is the topic I wanted to cover initially but I ran out of space today.
Here’s the summary of how these three verses fit into a bigger picture – preaching is our shortcut to bhakti. Those who say that Bhagavad Gītā is only preliminary spiritual knowledge and we should learn more from Bhāgavatam, Caitanya Caritāmṛta and Gosvāmī’s books miss the point that those advanced scriptures are meant for those have bhakti already, who have already surrendered to Kṛṣṇa and thus achieved liberation. If we approach these books in a lower consciousness we won’t get their benefit. Moreover, if we approach those books thinking that we are so must more advanced than students of Gītā we will only further sink in ignorance and deprive ourselves of true spiritual life forever.
So we should take a piece of straw in our mouths, bow down before Bhagavad Gītā and humbly take these simple Kṛṣṇa’s instructions as our life and soul. Those chasing “higher” truth might as well be chasing butterflies, we should pay no attention to them and their boasting. Properly dealing with those people requires considerable skill but this topic is also beyond the scope of today’s post, too.