Radhanath swami explains
In a meeting of learned men, when there are congratulations or addresses for the speaker, the qualifications of the congralulator should be as follows. He must be the leader of the house and an elderly man. He must be vastly learned also. Sri Saunaka rsi had all these qualifications and thus he stood up to congratulate Suta Goswami when he expressed a desire to present Srimad Bhagavatam exactly as he had heard it from Sukadev Goswami and also realised it personally. Personal realisation does not mean that one should out of vanity attempt to show one’s own learning by trying to surpass the previous acaryas. He must have full confidence in the previous acarya and at the same time he must realise the subject matter so nicely that he can present the matter with the particular circumstances in a suitable manner. The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it. Yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realisation. The leader of the assembly, Saunaka, could estimate the value of the speaker, Sri Suta Goswami, simply by his uttering ‘yathe gatam and yatha matir’. And therefore he was very glad to congratulate him in ecstacy. No learned man should be willing to hear from a person who does not represent the original acarya. So the speaker and the audience were bonafide in this meeting where Bhagavatam was being recited for the second time. That should be the standard of recitation of Bhagavatam so that the real purpose can be served without difficulty. Unless this situation is created, Bhagavatam recitation for extraneous purposes is useless labour, both for the speaker and for the audience.
Importance of atmosphere of proper Vaishnava Etiquette-
For transcendental knowledge to be properly presented these very important instructions must be carefully understood. The atmosphere of the surroundings where such recitation is to take place must be proper. Here we find the second reading of Srimad Bhagavatam taking place. The atmosphere of proper etiquette amongst Vaisnavas is herein being established. Without the proper observance of Vaisnav etiquette, even the highest knowledge, the greatest scholarship, will not have the proper effect. Because when we are discussing Krishna conscious subject matter, it is the presence of Krishna, the advent of Krishna into that sound vibration, that gives it potency. That transforms the hearts and purifies the minds of both the speaker and the hearer. It is not something material. In a material university, if a teacher simply knows his subject and speaks it and the student is willing to listen, then some learning takes place. But when we discuss Bhagavat philosophy we are not concerned with simply learning. We are concerned with puruification and realisation and that purification and realisation can only take place when Krishna, personally, by His own sweet will, appears within that transcendental sound. Many people they go to various study groups and they learn Bhagavat philosophy very nicely, but the purification and realisation is not necessarily there and I have known people who have had the entire Srimad Bhagavatam completely memorised and yet they could not convince another person to change their lives. Whereas we have children in this Hare Krishna movement who hardly know a sloka, but they could convince people to change their lives. Because although Krishna is personally present within every syllable of Srimad Bhagavatam, His presence is manifested, when the recitation is taking place according to the principles that we are reading of here today. Where Vaisnava etiquette is properly being followed, pleasure is given to all of those devotees who are concerned and by such pleasure, Krishna, Himself is satisfied and agrees to manifest Himself through the vibration which is being spoken.
The Etiquitte – external and also as an internalised meditation
And what is the etiquette that is required? The first, is that the speaker must be a humble servant of the previous acaryas. He should not dare to think that he knows better or has deeper realisations than the previous acaryas. He should consider himself to be simply the humble servant, the instrument in the hands of Guru and the previous acaryas. This is an internal form of etiquette, that before speaking, we should receive the permission of the senior Vaisnavas. We should not think that we have the right to speak without their blessings. If such senior Vaisnavas are present, we should receive their blessings. And if they are not physically present, in our heart, within our mind and within our prayers, we should not begin before begging them for their permission and their blessings. And what is the permission and blessing that we beg from them? That, “Now with your permission, let me, by your mercy, repeat your words. Repeat your transcendental message for their benefit and for your pleasure.” There’ are many reciters of Srimad Bhagavatam and Vedic literature and they may be beautiful musicians and they may speak very eloquently and with great great scholarship. They may even speak in such a way that they enthrall and captivate people’s minds and hearts. But for the message of Krishna and for the power of Krishna to be present, such a person must humble himself and repeat the words of the previous acaryas in the proper disciplc succession. Otherwise it is more or less just a pious form of entertainment. The real substance will not be imparted. Because bhakto’ si me sakha ceti rahasyam hy etad ttamam ‘evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh’. Unless one is really a devotee, Krishna will not appear from his mouth. Like a bullet that is blank. A blank bullet sounds exactly like a real bullet, but the difference is, there is no substance. A real bullet has the power to penetrate your heart. A blank bullet cannot penetrate but it sounds just the same. In the same way unless one is humble and surrendered to the previous acaryas, proper acaryas in disciplic line, whatever he speaks may sound exactly like Bhagavatam philosophy or Bhagavad Gita philosophy, but Krishna will not penetrate your heart through what he speaks. Even if such a speaker can make you cry tears by the very romantic and intensive way in which he speaks, still Krishna is not truly manifesting Himself through such a person, unless he has the blessings of the previous acaryas. And such a devotee, he must be speaking, not for his own profit, not for his own reputation, but he must be speaking to please the previous acaryas and to benefit all those living beings who have come to hear him. If such a devotee in the mood of a servant of the servant of the servant, speaks what he has heard, then his words have divine transcendental potency, unlimited potency, to change people’s lives, to create revolutions in a person’s heart. Because through his words, Krishna appears. And the hearer must, first of all be anxious to hear, eager to hear and not hearing simply as a matter of formality.
How to hear by Radhanath swami-
Of course at the beginning we may not have any real enthusiasm to hear Srimad Bhagavatam but we must hear as a regulative principle, to carry out the order of the spiritual master, we must continue to hear, every single day. It is a regulative principle. But gradually by hearing Bhagavat in this mood, we become eager to hear, anxious to hear. We should pray for that eagerness. And when we really want to hear the Bhagavatam and we are willing to offer all respect to the person who is speaking, then Krishna, Who is within our heart, as the Paramatma, seeing that we are properly respecting His devotee, and seeing that we are anxious to hear from him, willing to perform tapasya and make sacrifices, to offer this respect and to hear this message, when Krishna sees that we have that consciousness, then He opens our ears and opens our hearts in such a way that the message can truly enter and change our lives and realisation takes place. So this is so very important.
The seat is not mine-
When the speaker of the Bhagavatam sits on an elevated seat, he should never think that this seat is mine, because according to Bhagavatam philosophy nothing is mine. The seat called the Vyasa asana belongs to Ved Vyasa and no one else. And as a viceroy on His behalf, that great avatar of Vishnu, we are permitted to sit there, only on the condition that we absolutely without compromise, repeat His words without adulteration or concoction. That was Sukadev Goswami’s qualification and that is the only qualification that can be accepted. We are given respect when we recite Srimad Bhagavatam, not because of who we are but because of who we represent and what we represent and that is all of the previous acaryas and the divine sound vibration of the Bhagavat itself and we should know that when we offer respect to such a person this is the principle that is being followed. Just as Srila Prabhupada explained that when you offer your obeisances to a sannyasi, you are not simply offering obeisances to a person, but you are offering obeisances to what that person represents. He represents the disciplic succession of renunciation and detachment, which means a vow of complete surrender of body, mind, words and life to the service of the Lord without any diversion. That is what the tridanda represents, that is what the cloth of a sannyasi represents and this is what we are offering our obeisances to, this most sacred and holy principle. And similarly when we come to offer our respects to whoever is reciting Bhagavatam according to the principles we have mentioned, we should know that we are hearing and respecting the divine teachings of all the previous acaryas. This is the beauty and glory of disciplic succession or parampara, which completely differs from any particular personality who simply speaks his own words on his own behalf. We do not accept knowledge from such persons, however scholarly and however expert they may be in their presentation. Because this is the Vedic system. We were speaking. that one should never think that anything is mine. The elevated seat of the reciter of Bhagavatam does not belong to him, it belongs to Krishna. One’s disciples-one should never think that these disciples are mine. That is an illusion and that is an offense. Sometimes one may speak like that, just as a matter of communication, with the limitation that words have in this world, but within one’s mind and heart one should believe that, ‘Nothing is mine”. Everything we do is on behalf of our spiritual master. Everything we have, we are offering to our spiritual master. So how could anything be yours if you are offering everything to your spiritual master? As soon as we think ‘something is yours or mine’, that means we are keeping it for ourselves and that means we are in Maya, we are in illusion. If we are offering everything to Guru Maharaj and through him, everything is ultimately being offered at the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha Shyamsunder, then we can claim no proprietorship and have no attachment for anything of this world, save and except service. A devotee’s only attachment is to service. Whether he is a disciple or whether he is disciple engaging in service as a Guru, or as a pujari, or book distributor, or preacher, we must know that we are simply representatives and that we have no claim to proprietorship over anything. Even the knowledge we are speaking is not our property. We are simply delivering it. Sometimes devotees with a desire for false prestige, they want to speak something that nobody has ever heard before, thinking that this is something unique, that I have, that others do not know about. They even hide transcendental knowledge from others, so that, “They can only hear it from me”. But actually this is another illusion and impediment. Because it is not yours. All your knowledge, it is Krishna’s knowledge and we only have a right to hear it submissively and on the order of our spiritual master, to distribute it humbly to others. And one who repeats transcendental knowledge in that spirit can actually be empowered. We should never claim proprietorship over anything or anyone. The temple president should not think, “These are my devotees”. The Guru should not think. “These are my devotees”. The counselor should not think, “These are my devotees”. Nothing is mine. Everything belongs to Krishna. Everything belongs to our Guru Maharaj. And this is the real spirit of detachment. We are attached to the service, we are attached to what we are giving them, but we are not attached to any selfish proprietorship. Because if we become attached to any of, even transcendental paraphernalia for ourselves, to that extent we cannot be attached to Krishna. And the goal of life is to be attached to Krishna and to be attached to His devotees in a mood of service and to be attached to His holy name.
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
Vaishnava Etiquete of honouring-
So we find here that Vaisnava etiquette is not simply something very superficial and external. Vaisnava etiquette is not simply a matter of offering a person a seat, but also a very internalised meditation on how we approach Krishna and the Vaisnavas and how we approach our own service. We cannot ever neglect the external principles of Vaisnava etiquette, but we must also understand the consciousness in which they are performed. And when that proper etiquette is being followed then such a miraculous, wonderful descent of Krishna takes place. So here Srila Ved Vyasa is explaining how Saunaka rsi in such a very cultured, sensitive and humble manner, is praising Suta Goswami. And how is he praising him? “O Suta Goswami, you are the most fortunate and the respected of all those who can speak and recite. Please relate the pious message of Srimad Bhagavatam, which was spoken by the great and powerful sage, Sukadev Goswami.” First he is honoring Suta Goswami for his good fortune and his empowered respectability and then he is begging him to kindly speak the Srimad Bhagavatam. “Saunaka rsi who is the elder and learned leader of all the rsis engaged in that prolonged sacrificial ceremony congratulated Suta Goswami as follows”. And of course here Srila Prabhupada puts great emphasis on the principle of humility in regard to the speaker. Prabhupada says, “Suta Goswami, when he expressed his desire to present Srimad Bhagavatam, exactly as he heard it from Sukadev Goswami and also realised it personally. Personal realisation does not mean that one should out of vanity, attempt to show one’s own learning by trying to surpass the previous acarya. He must have full confidence in the previous acarya and at the same time he must realise the subject matter so nicely that he can present the matter for the particular circumstances in a suitable manner. The original purpose of the text must be maintained.” Is there any questions?
Spirit of Examples being given by Speaker
Qn: Sometimes when we are listening to Srimad Bhagavatam from the speaker, the speaker tries to give elaborate descriptions on the purport and he tries to bring in his own examples and experiences and sometimes we experience the examples taken by the spekaer are not be very suitable. Then what should be the consciousness of the listener? It states here that one should be very humble while the Srimad Bhagavatam is being spoken?
Ans: The most important thing is that the examples being given, are in the spirit of giving a deeper understanding of the subject at hand. It does not obscure that message, nor does it divert one’s attention away from that message. Srila Prabhupada explains here that the subject matter should be spoken so nicely that he can present the matter for the particular circumstances in a suitable manner. So that is what is most important, i.e., According to time, place and circumstance, Srila Prabhupada explained, we should speak according to our realisations. If we speak a particular experience or use a particular analogy and it truly does give the hearers a practical, deeper understanding of the message, then it is to be accepted and it is to be appreciated. That is relatively subjective. We should not speak anything offensive. If a person is giving his own concocted ideas, then that should not be tolerated.
Activities which can be performed while hearing Srimad Bhagwatam-
Qn: What about being engaged in some other devotional activity while listening to Srimad Bhagavatam? How should the listener be? For example making garlands or cutting vegetables, writing the Mahamantra or doing embroidery. Are all these bonafide?
Ans: Not writing Mahamantra, but all other activities are proper. Writing Mahamantra, what is the use of writing if your mind is not completely engrossed in that activity. But as far as making garlands or cutting vegetables or making embroidery, these activities do not completely absorb one’s consciousness, they are basically very simple physical activities and many people can hear Srimad Bhagavatam far better if they are doing these things. It is better to hear in that way than to be falling asleep or to be leaning against walls with your mind wandering. It is certainly proper.
How to correct a mistake of speaker-
Qn: If in a humble and sincere effort of speaking, some devotee makes a small mistake in the philosophy, while all the listeners are devotees. Is it offensive if a devotee tries to correct him for the benefit of all other?
Ans: It depends on the circumstance. If it is a serious deviation then for the sake of the others who are attending, we can challenge or correct or enquire deeper into that particular deviation. If it is a slight deviation, then it is better that we may ask a question at the end to clarify it or speak to that person afterwards and try to give him a higher understanding. But how we go about it, is also a matter of Vaisnava etiquette. If you are in a superior position to that person then you certainly have every right to correct him. If that person is in a superior position to you, you have to approach with great humility, as an act of service or consult with a devotee who is in a superior position to him, to discuss the matter with him. But we must also be very careful to know, that what you may think to be a deviation may not be a deviation. He may have a higher realisation and understanding that you are not acquainted with. And it may appear to be a deviation to you, but actually it is perfectly authorised according to higher principles. For instance Srila Prabhupada may have explained things in a certain way, but often times there is more than one way to explain something. Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur may have explained the same things, in the same spirit, but in a different way. There is no contradiction, but for your small mind, it may appear that there is a contradiction. You may not be acquainted with Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur’s commentary, so if you challenge and say, “This is wrong. This is the way Prabhupada said it”, then you are wrong. So what may appear to be a deviation may not at all be a deviation. It may just be our limited perception. So we have to be very careful. The most important thing is that the siddhanta is correct. The conclusion is correct. And if a superior person with a higher realm of knowledge than you, is speaking something, that may appear different, better to enquire submissively about what it means and what is its origin, than to declare it to be a deviation. Because in this way many aparadhas can be committed. So we have to be very careful, especially when they are aparadhas to very senior Vaisnavas. Some.of Srila Prabhupada’s godbrothers , they have the same message and the same siddhanta but they present things in a different way. We may be accepting everything as Prabhupada has given us. That may be our chastity and our faithfulness to our acarya, but if someone is speaking different, we should not criticise. We should not belittle. We should not think that he is wrong. We should have all respect, but we continue hearing according to the way Guru Maharaj has given. Srila Prabhupada presented things in a certain way and he wanted us to understand and remain faithful to the way in which he is teaching. We don’t have to go looking for all other ways, to fascinate our curiosity. We should be satisfied and continue on. But at the same time he very carefully warned us”Do not commit offenses to my godbrothers”.
How to console a suffering person to accept Krishna’s plan when we ourselves have not realised-
Qn: Sometimes, we see a person is helpless, materially he is suffering. We philosophically see that Krishna is perfect. We have not realised it. How do we preach to that person that he should take shelter of the holy name or how Krishna is kind and He is perfect, when we have not yet realised it?
Ans: First of all the predicament that you aren’t should impel you to work so much harder to follow the principles of bhakti, so that you can realise it. Not only for yourself but so that you can do such greater service to others. Sometimes due to the influence of material energy we just begin to feel, “Krishna consciousness is just so difficult to follow, the way it should be and I do not really mind if I take another birth. Its not so bad. I don’t really mind so much if I have to suffer.” That may be, but what about all the other people who are suffering. To the degree you have realisation, to the degree you are purified, you can help them. It is actually cruelty towards all living beings, to be lethargic or inattentive in the execution of your Krishna consciousness When you know that Krishna is that person’s only relief but you do not have the realisation to tell it properly, it should impel you to think that, “I have to become more serious, so that I can help these people.” That is first. Second of all is, if you are with humility repeating the words of the previous acaryas, their realisations will help that person to understand Krishna consciousness. Even if you have very little, yourself. The postman delivers the message. To the degree you have realisation that will give more potency to what you say and will be more convincing. There is no doubt but even if you have the one realisation of faith in the previous acaryas, if you deliver that message with that faith, then you will give them, their realisations. If you give someone Srila Prabhupada’s books, you are giving them Srila Prabhupada’s realisations. There is no doubt to the degree you have realisation you can convince that person to take the book seriously. But what you are giving them is perfect. And if you repeat the words of the previous acaryas even without much realisation, if you do it with faith in those words, it can change a person’s life. Therefore at whatever level of Krishna conscious realisation we are on, we must preach. We must preach by simply delivering them the words of Krishna, but at the same time strive to become more pure so that we can serve those words in a higher and more beneficial manner.