Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sravanam, The Process of Hearing

"upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah"

    Sravanam, hearing, is the first item of the nine processes of bhakti-yoga mentioned by Prahlada Maharaja:


sri-prahrada uvaca

sravanam kirtanam visnoh

smaranam pada-sevanam

arcanam vandanam dasyam

sakhyam atma-nivedanam


“Prahlada Maharaja said: Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Visnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words) — these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 7.5.23, SB


Srila Prabhupada often emphasises that hearing is the most important point:

“But out of all the nine different methods, the first one, namely hearing, is the most important function in the process of bhakti-yoga. Without hearing sufficiently and properly, no one can make any progress by any of the methods of practice.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 2.2.36


And of all the different methods of hearing, he emphasises the following one:


“Hearing from the text of Srimad-Bhagavatam is considered the most important process of hearing.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase =>  SB 7.5.23-24


But sometimes Srila Prabhupada also used to warn  that animal-like hearing will not do:


“Simply to hear like the hogs is not sufficient; one must be able to understand from the authorities.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Bg 15.19


One must seriously try to understand who is qualified to speak Bhagavatam, how to hear and what the results of such hearing are.


          In many places such as Vrndavana, professional Bhagavata-saptahas are almost a fashion, and sometimes several of them are going on simultaneously, but is that a bonafide hearing process?


“Thus there is now a system of Bhagavata business, with recitations called bhagavata-saptaha that continue for one week, although this is not mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Nowhere does Srimad-Bhagavatam say that the Bhagavatam should be heard for one week from professionals.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Antya 5.131


So, this is the first lesson:


“And hearing from whom? From a loafer? No. From Krsna or Krsna's representative. That will effect. Hearing, there must be hearing process also from the authorized person.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Bhagavad-gita 7.1 -- Los Angeles, March 12, 1970


In other words, to speak Bhagavata one must be Bhagavata. And what are the symptoms of a Bhagavata? That is described by Yudhisthira Maharaja:


bhavad-vidha bhagavatas

tirtha-bhutah svayam vibho

tirthi-kurvanti tirthani

svantah-sthena gadabhrta



“My lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.13.10


Such a Bhagavata is a narottama:


yah svakat parato veha

jata-nirveda atmavan

hrdi krtva harim gehat

pravrajet sa narottamah


“He is certainly a first-class man who awakens and understands, either by himself or from others, the falsity and misery of this material world and thus leaves home and depends fully on the Personality of Godhead residing within his heart.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.13.27


This is a proper description of a person qualified to speak, and even though this statement is made by Vidura, it describes very well his own qualities. And how did Vidura become such a Bhagavata?


suta uvaca

viduras tirtha-yatrayam

maitreyad atmano gatim

jnatvagad dhastinapuram



“Sri Suta Gosvami said: While traveling on a pilgrimage, Vidura received knowledge of the destination of the self from the great sage Maitreya and then returned to Hastinapura. He became as well versed in the subject as he desired.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.13.1


This is the process:  by hearing from a Bhagavata, one also becomes Bhagavata.


“So one who is serious about hearing, he can become a future nice preacher. Sravanam kirtanam. Next stage is developed. That is development. If one has actually heard nicely, then he will speak nicely.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Room Conversation -- May 10, 1969, Columbus, Ohio


And how to recognize such a Bhagavata? By his look?


“My Guru Maharaja used to say, "Don't try to see a saintly person by your eyes. You see a saintly person by the ear." Because if you hear from the saintly person and if he is speaking from the experience which he has heard from the, another saintly person — this is called guru-parampara — then the knowledge is perfect.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.42 -- Los Angeles, June 8, 1976


Now, let us say that someone is still fond of hearing from professionals or unqualified people, what would be the benefit?


“We receive knowledge from the perfect person. There is no use getting knowledge from imperfect person. That is useless waste of time.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Bhagavad-gita 7.2  -- Nairobi, October 28, 1975


“Don't go and hear Bhagavata-saptaha by a professional man. That is useless waste of time.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.44 -- Mayapura, October 24, 1974


          Before illustrating this point with a personal example, let us first expand our concept of hearing:


“These are not ordinary books. It is recorded chanting. Anyone who reads, he is hearing.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Letter to: Rupanuga:  --  Mayapur 19 October, 1974


Srila Prabhupada used to say that in the last two hundred years many hundreds of translations of Bhagavad Gita were done, but not a single person turned into a devotee by reading them. However, when Bhagavad Gita As It Is was published, it ignited a Hare Krishna revolution in the whole world. When I was fifteen years old, I read one of those many translations by so-called scholars. Although I found it an interesting book, upon finishing it, I just put it aside and everything was over. There was no vivid result nor any perspective of practical spiritual life. It was just like any other interesting book. But a few years later, when I read Srila Prabhupada’s translation and commentary, a new universe was opened before my eyes. And that was only the beginning. So this is the proof of a bonafide hearing process— there must be some cognitive, visible or even tangible outcome. The example we find in the Bhagavatam is Dhrtarastra, who despite being said to be ‘vadhira’, hard-hearing (SB 1.13.22), some way or other became impressed upon hearing from his brother, the maha-bhagavata Vidura, and the result was most beneficial for him.


“This is the way of spiritual realization. The message should be heard attentively, and if spoken by a realized soul, it will act on the dormant heart of the conditioned soul. And by continuously hearing, one can attain the perfect stage of self-realization.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.13.14


Here the word ‘attentively’ is very  significant, because the way one hears is very relevant to have the proper result.


“Simple hearing is not all; one must realize the text with proper attention. The word nivista means that Suta Gosvami drank the juice of Bhagavatam through his ears. That is the real process of receiving Bhagavatam. One should hear with rapt attention from the real person, and then he can at once realize the presence of Lord Krsna on every page. The secret of knowing Bhagavatam is mentioned here. No one can give rapt attention who is not pure in mind. No one can be pure in mind who is not pure in action. No one can be pure in action who is not pure in eating, sleeping, fearing and mating. But somehow or other if someone hears with rapt attention from the right person, at the very beginning one can assuredly see Lord Sri Krsna in person in the pages of Bhagavatam.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.3.44


The next important word is ‘continuously’—


srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah


hrdy antah stho hy abhadrani

vidhunoti suhrt satam


“Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone's heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.2.17


nasta-prayesv abhadresu

nityam bhagavata-sevaya

bhagavaty uttama-sloke

bhaktir bhavati naisthiki


“By regular attendance in classes on the Bhagavatam and by rendering of service to the pure devotee, all that is troublesome to the heart is almost completely destroyed, and loving service unto the Personality of Godhead, who is praised with transcendental songs, is established as an irrevocable fact.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.2.18


The process of hearing should always go on, if possible twenty-four hours a day.


“Caitanya Mahaprabhu said that we must hear about Krsna twenty-four hours. Not that a particular time I hear and then stop. Don't stop.”  

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.3.15 -- Los Angeles, June 1, 1972


By such hearing from a bonafide guru, Yudhisthira Maharaja got rid of all lamentations (SB 1.13.60) and Arjuna also became pacified and free from all material contamination (SB 1.15.27-28). But the real outcome of the hearing process is described thus:


yah sraddhayaitad bhagavat-priyanam

pandoh sutanam iti samprayanam

srnoty alam svastyayanam pavitram

labdhva harau bhaktim upaiti siddhim


“The subject of the departure of the sons of Pandu for the ultimate goal of life, back to Godhead, is fully auspicious and is perfectly pure. Therefore anyone who hears this narration with devotional faith certainly gains the devotional service of the Lord, the highest perfection of life.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.15.51


Srila Prabhupada is the perfect maha-bhagavata, therefore the perfect speaker of Bhagavatam, giving everybody the chance to hear:


“We are opening all over the world hundreds of centers. Why? We are giving chance to the people to hear about Krsna.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.6 -- Calcutta, February 26, 1974


I am one of those who thus benefitted and I keep on trying to improve daily by hearing Srila Prabhupada through his books and lectures, in this way taking benefit of another result from the hearing process— the satisfaction of the spiritual master:


“So when a person comes to a transcendentalist to inquire about sreya uttamam — uttamam means transcendental subject matter — he becomes very happy. He becomes very happy. One who hears very attentively about the spiritual subject matter, the spiritual master becomes very happy.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.12 -- Bombay, November 12, 1974

This essay was originally submitted for assessment during the first year of the Bhakti Vaibhava course at VIHE, on the first canto of Bhagavatam, on 07/09/02

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