We have heard of offenseless chanting many times, but is there such a thing as offenseless hearing? Only if we hear properly, we can chant properly. Wouldn’t it be therefore proper to examine how to hear offenselessly?
Out of compassion for the conditioned souls, the great sage Srila Vyasadeva, who is the literary incarnation of the Lord, seeing the imminent coming of the age of Kali wrote down the Vedas. In this degraded age, people will have but short memories and limited brain power to understand spiritual topics and they are no longer spiritually inclined as it was in the previous ages of Satya, Treta and Dvapara. Thus the sage provided the eternal knowledge of the Absolute Truth in a written form for future reference.
The Vedas are therefore not a dogmatic set of beliefs created by a class of ordinary men who are subjected to the frailties of the conditioned mind and senses as it is the case in the world of modern science. The author of the Vedas, although ultimately explaining the Supreme Absolute Truth, the param tattva, took into consideration the levels and varieties of material conditioning amongst the various fallen souls and thus offered “many paths” to reach the same conclusion-namely that one should abandon all other engagements and simply surrender to the Lord, Bhagavan Sri Krsna and serve Him with love and devotion. The mayayapahrta-jnana, those whose knowledge has been stolen by maya however miss the purpose of the Vedas and instead come to a conclusion that the various fruitive activities, ritualistic performances for acquiring better material facilities mentioned in these books of knowledge are the essence and that the devotional service is not relevant. The reason for this is that they do not have the resolute determination (vyavasatmika buddhi) to come out of the clutches of material entanglement. They are unable to engage in the service to the Lord on account of being overly attached to their particular material circumstances. Krsna says:
O beloved child of the Kurus, the intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched. Men of small knowledge are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say that there is nothing more than this. In the minds of those who are too attached to sense enjoyment and material opulence, and who are bewildered by such things, the resolute determination of devotional service to the Supreme Lord does not take place.
By watering the root of a tree, automatically all the branches and leaves are nourished without separate endeavor. Similarly, by engaging in the devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krsna, the purpose of all the branches of Vedic knowledge is fulfilled because the purpose of the Vedas is to understand Krsna. Vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo (Bg 15.15).
But then why are these alluring portions included in the Vedas in the first place? Is this the purposeful attempt on the part of the great sage Vyasadeva to misguide us? Certainly not. The stricture says that one should not study the Vedas unless initiated into the brahminical life. Brahminical life brings one to the platform of goodness. People in the mode of passion and ignorance cannot assimilate higher knowledge. In the present age the mode of goodness is almost nil and so for the general mass of people the kind hearted powerful sage Srila Vyasadeva divided the Vedas in various ways so that it may be practically followed by less intelligent persons in the modes of passion and ignorance also. In the Vedas two different types of injunctions can be found –for the pravrrtas (those engaged in the matter of material enjoyment) and for the nrvrttas (those who are engaged in the activities for liberation) The path of the pravrrtas is meant to elevate them to the stage of liberation from material bondage through gradual process. For example, for persons who are in the lowest stage of ignorance and indulge in the matter of wine, woman and flesh, drinking by performing sroutamani yajna, association of woman by marriage and flesh eating by sacrifices are sometimes recommended.
But one man’s food may be poison for another. In other words, what is recommended for the persons in the mode of ignorance may be poison for the persons in the mode of goodness. Srila Jiva Goswami affirms that recommendations of the scriptures, for a certain class of men, are never to be considered irreligion, although such activities are indeed irreligious and they are never meant for being encouraged. The recommendation in the scriptures is not meant to encourage sinful activities but regulate them in order to gradually direct the conditioned soul towards the path of religion. This is the real purpose of these passages –to allure those who would be otherwise completely atheistic to somehow or other at least touch the Vedas and thus have a chance to one day come to the highest understanding in the form of devotional service.
Sometimes chaos arises when people use these scriptural “allowances” as a license for sinning. For example prior to the appearance of Lord Buddha or Lord Jesus Christ, people have been justifying massive slaughtering of animals on the pretext of the holy scriptures. The Lord sends the bona fide acaryas, who come in succession of disciplic line to revive the original purpose of the Vedas and to accomplish this they give relevant instructions to the masses according to time, place and circumstances. As the flux of time never ceases to stop and as conditioned souls never cease to succumb to the temptations of the age, the explanations of Vedas by the compassionate saintly persons never fail to break the gates of ignorance created by the chaotic situation of misinterpretation. Such pure devotees cannot tolerate when the general mass becomes deviated from the devotional service to the Lord.
Srila Vyasadeva as one of these compassionate saints, at one point also felt, despite his numerous writings, that there is still an inefficiency in them, especially when it comes to bringing people to the supreme engagement of devotional service to the all-attractive Lord and thus, in the maturity of his realization, wrote the Bhagavat Puranam(Srimad Bhagavatam), or as Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu says the Amalam Puranam (spotless Purana). The Srimad Bhagavatam can be defined as the pure nectar derived from the complete Vedic body of knowledge. He has done this after being chastised by his spiritual master Narada Muni. His spiritual master told him that by writing the Vedas without emphasizing the goal of the Vedas, namely rendering devotional service to Krsna, he has encouraged the general populace in materialism. If the essence of the Vedas, namely Krsna consciousness is not emphasized sufficiently, the portions of the Vedas which are meant to simply attract the unwilling to the highest engagement of devotional service, will become all in all for them and cause them their own degradation. Similarly, when pure siddhanta (conclusion) of the devotional philosophy becomes adulterated by the speculative mind and fruitive mentality, it becomes an obstacle for a serious practitioner of devotional service. Srila Prabhupada says:
The superior quality of occupation is sometimes obstructed by mixing it up with inferior quality of occupation. For example adoption of devotional service for some material gain is certainly an obstruction to the progressive path of renunciation. Renunciation or abnegation for ultimate good is certainly better occupation than enjoyment in the diseased condition of life which aggravates the symptoms of disease and its duration. As such devotional service of the Lord must be pure in quality i.e. without the least desire for material enjoyment by accruing the fruits of work or enjoying a sense of knowledge only without any practical purpose.
SB 1.2.6 purport
In the Introduction to this wonderful literature, the author Srila Vyasadeva therefore establishes that the Srimad Bhagavatam is a literature which does not contain any passages directly unrelated to Sri Krsna, the Supreme Lord and gives the pure essence of the Vedas. One simply has to be sincere to understand it properly. In the Srimad Bhagavatam it is said:
In this Bhagwat Puranam all so called religious activities, covered by fruitive intentions, are completely rejected and the highest Truth, understandable by the cent per cent pure hearted devotees, is inculcated.
It is therefore of the top most importance that while studying the conclusion of the Vedic knowledge, one does so faithfully under the guidance of the bona fide spiritual master. He should never study them independently by taking shelter of the imperfect speculative mind and false ego. Svetasavatara Upanisad (6.23) says:
“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.”
Just as the beauty of the sun cannot be understood by the blind even if it is right in front of them, similarly unless the heart, or consciousness are pure, the import of the Vedic knowledge will not be revealed despite repeated readings. Such revelation is called diksa or as Srila Prabhupada defines it in a letter to Nayanabhirama Prabhu from Bombay 30 April, 1971, “the beginning of spiritual realization”. In the Caitanya–Caritamrta, such spiritual initiation by the bona fide spiritual master is described as follows:
“According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krsna. By the mercy of both Krsna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.”
While materially conditioned, Krsna in the form of the Supersoul is fulfilling all our desires. This is the cause of repeated birth and death on various planets –higher or lower. The more we desire materially, the more times we have to take birth in this miserable world. The Lord does not wish that we continue our material existence, but because we are living spirit souls, He is obliged to supply us all the necessities we demand, in order to give a full meaning to our minute independence. The Upanisads compare this to two birds sitting on one tree. One of the birds (the individual atomic soul) is eating the fruit of the tree, and the other bird (Krsna) is simply watching His friend. The individual soul is struggling very hard on the tree of the material body and as soon as he agrees to accept the other bird as the supreme spiritual master, the subordinate bird immediately becomes free from all lamentations. Although the two birds are in the same tree, the eating bird is fully engrossed with anxiety and moroseness as the enjoyer of the fruits of the tree. But if in some way or other he turns his face to his friend who is the Lord and knows His glories, he at once becomes free from all anxieties.
Therefore, if the living entity by chance or fortune comes in contact with the Krsna consciousness movement and wishes to associate with that movement, Krsna, who is situated in everyone’s heart, gives him the chance to meet a bona fide spiritual master. This is called guru-krsna-prasada. Krsna is prepared to bestow His mercy upon all living entities, and as soon as a living entity desires the Lord’s mercy, the Lord immediately gives him an opportunity to meet a bona fide spiritual master. Such a person is fortified by both Krsna and the spiritual master. He is helped from within by Krsna and from without by the spiritual master. Both are prepared to help the sincere living being become free from this material bondage.
The propensity to serve the Lord is there eternally with every living entity, but in a dormant position. When one hears submissively from the bona fide pure devotee spiritual master and applies his instructions in his daily life, the seed is awakened and begins to sprout. Srila Prabhupada says: “Dormant devotional service to Krsna is within everyone. Simply by associating with devotees, hearing their good instructions and chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, dormant love for Krsna is awakened. In this way one acquires the seed of devotional service. Guru-krsna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija.” (Madhya 19.151 purport)
There are certain prescribed methods for employing our senses and mind in such a way that our dormant Krsna consciousness will be invoked. This can be compared to a child, who begins to walk simply by a little practice by the virtue of his intrinsic walking capacity. One who has no such walking capacity cannot walk by practice. But Krsna consciousness cannot be aroused simply by practice. Actually, there is no such practice, because in the purified stage our Krsna consciousness is spontaneous. An analogy can be given of that of young girl and young boy. As soon as they reach puberty, there is a natural sex desire awakened. They do not need to practice this separately. But it is only when we wish to develop our capacity for devotional service more there are certain processes which, if we accept them and execute them, will invoke it faster. Srila Prabhupada explains:
The methods, rules and regulations by which one is perfectly trained in devotional service constitute the bhakti-lata-bija, or seed of devotional service. This bhakti-lata-bija is received from the spiritual master by the grace of Krsna. Other seeds are called anyabhilasa-bija, karma-bija and jnana-bija. If one is not fortunate enough to receive the bhakti-lata-bija from the spiritual master, he instead cultivates the seeds of karma-bija, jnana-bija, or political and social or philanthropic bija. However, bhakti-lata-bija is different from these other bijas. Bhakti-lata-bija can be received only through the mercy of the spiritual master. Therefore one has to satisfy the spiritual master to get bhakti-lata-bija (yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah). Bhakti-lata-bija is the origin of devotional service. Unless one satisfies the spiritual master, he gets the bija, or root cause, of karma, jnana and yoga without the benefit of devotional service. However, one who is faithful to his spiritual master gets the bhakti-lata-bija. This bhakti-lata-bija is received when one is initiated by the bona fide spiritual master. After receiving the spiritual master’s mercy, one must repeat his instructions, and this is called sravana-kirtana-hearing and chanting.
Please note: “one who is faithful to his spiritual master gets the bhakti-lata-bija.” and “This bhakti-lata-bija is received when one is initiated by the bona fide spiritual master.” Some persons nourish the idea that the formal initiation ceremony one undergoes when he officially accepts the spiritual master is the time when one actually connects with the spiritual master for the first time. For such persons, the above mentioned purport must appear confusing. How can one be faithful to his spiritual master before actually accepting him as his spiritual master in the first place? These two consecutive statements appear to be contradictory. However, when we consider these statements in the light of Srila Prabhupada’s clear definition of diksa as “beginning of spiritual realization” they immediately become complementary. Unless we please the spiritual master, we won’t be able to realize the knowledge he is kindly imparting to us. Just as the less intelligent followers of Vedic rituals, we will become sidetracked by details on how to execute and how not to execute his instruction and ultimately fail to execute the instruction. Instead of serving the spiritual master by repeating his instructions, we cultivate the materialistic bijas and thus become misled by illusion. Our acceptance of official initiation will then become as much useless as the Vedic study for the ritual-mongers. We become simply speculative arm-chair philosophers, who are so to speak licking the outside of the bottle of honey without any taste. Therefore, in order to understand the instruction properly, one should serve the spiritual master in a submissive spirit according to the injunction of the sastra. Krsna says:
Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized spiritual master will initiate you into knowledge because he has seen the truth.
If one submits to the spiritual master, asks proper questions and serves him, Krsna from within will give him intelligence on how to understand the knowledge. However, if one is not submissive and does not render service, his hearing and his inquiries from the spiritual master will not be effective. Although the spiritual master might give the proper answer, still the person will not be able to assimilate it because the illusory potency will cover his vision. Misguided by his material hankering for name, fame and prosperity, such speculator might also misuse the instruction of the Vedas for material purposes and create spiritual violence by misleading the general mass. For this reason, the bona fide spiritual does not instruct those who are not submissive.
Ultimately, the purpose of accepting a spiritual master is to conquer one’s eternal enemy called lust, which lurks in one’s heart. No one, including the spiritual master can extract the deep rooted desire to become the lord and master of the material energy except ourselves. In order to be initiated, one has to therefore take the initiative and make a resolute decision to purify oneself from ulterior motives and the Lord does not interfere with our independence. Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga is spontaneous and not mechanical as the other yoga processes. If our desire to purify ourselves and serve the Lord depended on some other external cause, we could not be called living beings. We would not have any free will then. It does not matter how much contaminated we might be, the free will to serve the Lord is always available for those who are sincere. Srila Prabhupada explains: “Some scholars recommend that knowledge and renunciation are important factors for elevating oneself to devotional service. But actually that is not a fact. Actually, the cultivation of knowledge or renunciation, which are favorable for achieving a footing in Krsna consciousness, may be accepted in the beginning, but ultimately they may also come to be rejected, for devotional service is dependent on nothing other than the sentiment or desire for such service. It requires nothing more than sincerity.” (NOD14-1970: Devotional Qualifications)
One should however not misunderstand this initiative for one’s own purification to be like the puffed-up attitude of the offensive Mayavadis who aim for liberation from the material tabernacle by falsely depending on their own strength. The seed of devotion might be there, but it needs water to grow. Those who sincerely desire to come out of the entanglement will surely be helped by the Lord. Krsna will send them to the bona fide spiritual master. How this is so has already been stated before.
The relevant instructions from the spiritual master are then compared to the watering process. They water the seed of devotion and enable it to grow more and more. But still, one has to direct the water properly in order to water the seed of devotion, otherwise he will water the unwanted weeds, who might later on choke up the plant. One should not misunderstand a surrender to be negligence of one’s spiritual discrimination in exchange for pretentious adoration of the spiritual master. These weeds have been described as material enjoyment, merging of the self in the Absolute without separate individuality, desires in the field of religion, economic development, sense enjoyment, emancipation, disobedience to the tenets of the revered scriptures, unnecessary engagements, killing animals, and hankering after material gain, prestige and adoration. If sufficient care is not taken, then the watering process may only help to breed the weeds, stunting the healthy growth of the main creeper and resulting in no fructification of the ultimate love of God. The devotee must therefore be very careful to uproot the different weeds from the very beginning. Only then will the healthy growth of the main creeper not be stunted.
While hearing from the spiritual master we should therefore make sure that we are hearing from him for the right reason, namely for the purpose of purification of our own heart and for developing our eternal relationship with Krsna-nothing else. Hearing from the spiritual master with the motive to stock knowledge in order to establish yet another false conception of supremacy in this temporary world under the disguise of religious title, denomination, group, race, caste, etc. is the misuse of the spiritual master’s mercy and this will produce effect contrary to the ecstasy of devotional service. This is why along with hearing, it is of utmost importance to keep such material desires separate. This however is not possible unless we cultivate sense control.
Lord Caitanya gave us very simple method how to control the senses and mind in the form of the chanting of the holy name and eating Krsna prasadam. If one simply becomes engaged in chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra and taking nothing but prasadam he will very soon be able to abstain from illict sex, intoxication, meat eating and gambling and thus be eligible to conquer more subtle material desires. One who is not able to follow these basic principles, especially one who is not willing to chant the holy name of the Lord, is satisfied to keep things dirty. Such a person, although hearing and quoting Vedic references cannot awaken anyone to his original constitutional activity of devotional service and thus he becomes useless. Srila Prabhupada explains:
Professional preachers cannot create pure devotees. There are many professional preachers of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam who read this work to earn their livelihood. However, they cannot convert materialistic people to devotional service. Only a pure devotee can convert others to pure devotional service. It is therefore important for all the preachers in our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement to first become pure devotees and follow the regulative principles, refraining from illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling and intoxication. They should regularly chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra on their beads, follow the devotional process, rise early in the morning, attend maṅgala-ārati and recite Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Bhagavad-gītā regularly. In this way, one can become purified and free from all material contamination.
sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate
To make a show of devotional service will not help one. One must be a pure devotee following the devotional process; then one can convert others to devotional service. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu practiced devotional service and preached (āpani ācari’ bhakti karila pracāra). If a preacher behaves properly in devotional service, he will be able to convert others. Otherwise, his preaching will have no effect.
Cc. Madhya 24.98
For this reason Sanatana Goswami warns that one should not hear anything about devotional service from a person who is not following the regulative principles. For him, the essence of the Vedas is lost. Instead of tasting the ecstasy of devotional service, he becomes overly attached to the portions of the Vedas which are not relevant to cure his diseased condition. In this connection the prakrta sahajyias, who indulge in the exclusive discussion of the Lord’s intimate pastimes with the cowherd girls may be also mentioned.
The Bhagavad-gita or any other Krsna-katha is like a medicine and in order to take the full benefit of the medicine we have to follow the direction of the medical man. The medical man spiritual master can diagnose our disease and administer the proper medicine. If we take whatever medicine we like, without proper discrimination, we will not get cured, but quite the opposite, we risk poisoning. Similarly, if a conditioned soul is envious of principle of accepting a bona fide spiritual master, his study of the Vedas is just like taking poison voluntarily.
Foolish people will argue: Are you saying that the Vedas are poison? After all, the Vedas are coming from the Lord, how can you say that one becomes poisoned by taking the instruction of the Vedas? To answer such a challenge we can give another example. Milk is a very pure and nutritious beverage, but when touched by the lips of a snake, it turns into poison. Similarly, if the Vedas are not received through the proper channel of disciplic succession and from the lips of a bona fide spiritual master, they might become poisonous for the conditioned souls. The spiritual master knows the art how to extract the Vedic knowledge in consideration of time, place and circumstances and thus is able to convert unwilling conditioned souls into their eternal occupational duty -namely devotional service to the Lord and therefore those, who are sincerely trying to understand the Vedas, will happily accept the shelter under his lotus feet. Srila Prabhupada concludes:
Devotional service is dynamic activity and for its acceptance the expert devotees can find out competent means to inject into the dull brain of the materialistic population. Such transcendental activities of the devotees for the service of the Lord can bring in a new order of life to the foolish society of materialistic men. Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His subsequent followers exhibited expert dexterity in this connection and following the same method the materialistic men of this age of quarrel can be brought into order for peaceful life and transcendental realization simultaneously.
SB 1.5.16 purport