Continuing from yesterday, someone asked a question after class about how to stay faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda. The answer was to read his books, and I expanded on that in the previous post. The follow up question was how to develop taste to read the books. I think it’s a very important question that many of us prefer not to deal in real life.
It takes some honesty to admit that we don’t have the taste for reading. Many would protest this assessment, too, but it’s not different from the second sloka of Lord Caitanya’s Śikṣāṣṭaka which ends with “I have not taste for the Holy Name.” It doesn’t mean that we might not have the taste for chanting but might have a taste for reading instead. On the spiritual level both these activities are equal. Externally we might prefer kīrtana to japa or reading to kīrtana but these are only external considerations. Most likely what we really prefer is the beating of drums or self-confidence of accomplished yogis absorbed in meditation on the Holy Name, or we simply like to sit alone and read, doesn’t really matter what.
Not having taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books is a default state of a conditioned living entity. There are many times when we do like to read or chant or sing, of course, but those are displays of the Lord’s mercy when He tries to attract us despite our stubborn absorption in materialistic enjoyment. We should clam no personal credit for this.
So, having admitted that we’d often rather do something else then to read, how do we develop the taste for reading? The answer given after class was that there are many forms of reading and that listening to Bhāgavatam lecture can be counted towards one’s daily requirement of one or two hours with Prabhupāda’s books. Listening to Prabhupāda’s tapes (lectures, not bhajans) can also be counted as reading, and we can do that everywhere. The speaker said that he, personally, listens to tapes every day while doing various household chores. In this connection I heard that Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmi famously listened to tapes while in the bathroom. Or maybe it wasn’t him, I don’t remember exactly.
There’s nothing wrong with this answer – if we don’t like reading we can take our daily doze of philosophy in other forms, too. I see some other considerations that, I hope, could expand our understanding of what is actually going on here.
First, the philosophy. We read, and we were instructed to read by Prabhupāda himself, so that we become strong in our understanding of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and gain the ability to refute any objections. This is important, or rather WAS important, because these days hardly anyone is concerned with philosophical arguments when we preach, and even if they do they quickly become defensive about their own, highly cherished understanding, and no amount of solid arguments can change their minds. It’s the sign of our times – people are very proud of their own intellectual achievements, however meager they are, and anyone else with any other ideas is seen as an enemy rather than as a source of possible enlightenment. Point is, knowing philosophy is important but relatively less so when we preach. For many of us most of our preaching is to ourselves anyway and we read Prabhupāda’s books to stay in personal spiritual shape rather than to convert the rest of the world.
There’s also a point that after so many years we know our philosophy inside out, so much that we think we can forget some minor details or ślokas because keeping them all in memory is not as important as seeing philosophical principles manifest themselves in real life around us. We definitely know all that we can possibly need to explain things on the streets and much more. Reading for knowledge, therefore, is not a consideration, maybe for those who are only beginning their path to Kṛṣṇa. The devotee asking that question looked like he already knew what an average devotee is expected to know.
What we really read books for is for Prabhupāda’s association. We absorb his attitudes, follow the train of his thought, appreciate the turn of phrase and construction of arguments not to learn something new but to be with him in our minds if not in our hearts. The opposite of this kind of reading would be searching Vedabase or Folio for specific information we need in our own mental battles with someone. We might find it and it might turn useful, or we might misconstrue the meanings as I discussed yesterday, but what we won’t get is Prabhupāda’s association.
The association of a pure devotees is extremely important, no one would argue with that, but it does not always bring material results in the form of winning arguments. It has value that often has no value in the material world and we won’t gain any visible benefits, but those who got it won’t exchange it for all the wealth of the universe.
The next point to consider is how to develop taste for Prabhupāda’s association, because that is not automatically given, as I explained earlier. The answer about listening to tapes is fine, but it’s given from the position of Prabhupāda’s disciple. Second and third generation devotees should rather find this taste in the words of their own gurus rather than try to approach Prabhupāda personally.
Different Prabhupāda disciples see him differently. Take the incident with canopy over Rādhā-Londonīśvara deities during their installation, for example. The design had it rested on four columns but columns themselves were not fixed in any way. During the ārati one of the columns gave in and Prabhupāda had to personally step in and hold it in place. The class speaker told this story but he probably wasn’t there personally and heard it many times from devotees who were present (because he joined in London, too). Yamunā Mātājī was there and she remembered Prabhupāda’s uncommon agility and how he was faster than lightning to jump up and catch that falling column. She suddenly saw that the Deities were not marble statues for him and he cared about them as one would care for his own child.
Mukunda Gosvāmi noticed the speed, too, but he also thought that Prabhupāda stepping on the altar itself was unusual and he saw it as a necessary infringement on deity worshiping rules. He also remembered how angry Prabhupāda was and how he ordered to take that canopy away immediately. There was no place for it, though, and so Mukunda had to get help and carry it out on the street through the room packed with visitors. Some even thought it was a part of the ritual.
Śyāmasundara Prabhu probably has his own take on this story because he was the one who designed the altar and the whole temple room, too. It was a very complicated design that made the room look like inside of an upside down wooden ship. It was very intricate work and many had doubts it was necessary and that Śyāmasundara could pull it off, even Prabhupāda was skeptical. He did pull it off but the column incident was certainly an unfortunate oversight.
I’m using this as an example how disciples of different gurus can find different appreciations for Prabhupāda, and one’s own guru take on these stories should serve as primary input. In igniting interest in spiritual matters our own guru’s mercy is primary so it’s the surest way to gain appreciation for Prabhupāda, too. Then we can enrich our taste by taking in stories told by other people but we should never forget whose input is the source of all our understanding.
My suggestion here is that if we don’t feel the taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books we should fix the problem with hearing our own guru first. If we do that right then interest in listening to Prabhupāda will appear naturally. Then we can read or hear his tapes and we’ll take Prabhupāda’s association through the medium of our spiritual master and it all will become perfect.