If one has not had the habit of reading books but likes to hear, how can one develop that habit in bhakti?
Transcribed by: Shalini Ahluwalia
Question: How can we increase our interest in studying books especially when we already have interest more in hearing but not in studying.
Answer: There are three different points over here. First is, one’s basic nature. Second is, one’s cultivable interest. Some interests are cultivable some interests are not cultivable and third is one’s specific necessity. So we will have to deal with all of them separately. That means lets look at the first – one’s basic nature. Some people are by nature what might be called negatively as bookworms, they like to read a lot. And those people even if they come to Krishna consciousness, they may also read a lot but whether that reading a lot is leading to spiritual advancement, is leading to deeper spiritual understanding that will have to be seen from individual point of view. Just the quantity of reading doesn’t necessarily determine spiritual advancement or even depth of understanding. But those people who have had the habit of reading a lot will be able to easily read a lot. Those people whose basic nature was not to read much, they were more like discussion people, more like activity people who may be travelling, doing practical things, for them reading might almost be something alien. And in today’s culture it happens that many people don’t read, they don’t have that habit of reading. So the whole message of Bhagvad Gita is that we cannot change our basic nature. A Kshatriya cannot act as a Brahmana thats what Arjuna was trying to do in the Bhagavad Gita. An was supposed to as a Kshatriya do violence when it is required for the cause of dharma. He basically wanted to avoid fighting, act like a Brahmana. So we cannot change our basic nature. That means a Shudra, i don’t mean the word Shudra in a negative sense, a person who is more into doing actions with the hands and actions with the body basically that kind of person, will find it not just difficult but impossible, to sit and study shastra like a Brahmana. And a Brahmana will find it very difficult if not impossible to do physical work like a Shudra or even to do monetary work like a Vaishya or even to do managerial work like a Kshatriya which will be required. Thats why if we see before the fifteenth or sixteenth century when the printing press was discovered, after that writing of books became common. Before that the primary spiritual culture was disseminated through hearing. So actually written books were very rare, the manuscripts. We have an incident of Shri Chaintanya Mahaprabhu lila that when Srinivasacharya wanted to study the Shrimad Bhagvatam, he went to Jagannath Puri as Gadadhar Pandit was there and Gadadhara Pandit said my manuscript, because of crying tears out of separation Lord Chaitanya (Lord Krishna) and because of the ?? of Bhagavatam, the print has gone off now. Just to get another print of the Bhagavatam he had to go from Jagannath Puri to Bengal again so that means that the written copies were not there but we do know that people were spiritual, how were they spiritual – by hearing. So one should not minimise the potency of hearing. Now should one consider that the inability to read is like a crippling deficiency? We can still go on healthily in our spiritual life just by hearing also. Its not that we can’t. But then we just have to be careful about what kind of hearing we do. So for example we can get Prabhupada association through his books, we cannot at present get his association by direct live lectures. He is not there with us that way. But still if we find that difficult then there are Prabhupada lectures which we can hear. So hearing is what we like to do then we can hear Prabhupada lectures. So what we could do is prepare ourselves to hear the audio books of Srila Prabhupada so that some basic reading we can do. Ofcourse, there are also machines which convert text to audio, I use that quite extensively, but many devotees find the voice too flat and find it difficult to use but thats also an option for those who want to hear more rather than read. So the point is that we need to stay in touch with Prabhupada vani to atleast some extent and if it is through purport that is the best because thats what he considered his most defining contribution. Now, with respect to our basic nature, if our basic nature was not to study, never had a great fondness for studying, it is unlikely that because of being devotees we will be able to suddenly develop a habit of studying and an interest in studying. If we have an interest in hearing that itself is a matter of good fortune and through that we are staying connected with Krishna and that is good but as I said we should have some habit of reading then we can start with 15 minutes per day and gradually we can increase it to 30 minutes or whatever. So there is no need to feel uncomfortable or guilty if reading was never a part of our DNA and suddenly we find that as devotees we are expected to read regularly and we are not able to do it. We should have some habit of reading and we can have improvised reading or modified reading as I said through hearing or whatever, having the audio hearing of Srila Prabhupada’s books – the audio books and things like that. Second is one’s cultivable interest. So especially by associating with devotees who have a habit of studying and seeing how and why they relish it. We can also change our perception of studying and thereby get interest in it. Studying especially is essential for deep and contemplative connection with the subject. Hearing is more like receiving some one else’s contemplation in an almost pre-registered format. It is easier and it may be more easily collectible also and also we should especially remember that in the early days of our spiritual life, i would say atleast in the first five years or so, sometimes more also, most of our understanding will come by hearing than by reading because in hearing often the issues that we are primarily concerned with, those are the issues that come up and often the examples are contemporary and the style is relatable. It is a fact that hearing gives often a far clearer understanding and a more breadth of grasp of subject, but it is studying which gives depth of grasp. So to the extent that it is cultivable we can try to associate with devotees who have that inclination or interest in deep study and see how it benefits them. Studying not only increases our understanding of shastra, it also increases our thinking capacity, it increases our ?? capacity, actually it deepens our living capacity at large. So ofcourse, in the past before books were printed since the time of Gutenberg discovering the printing press, most of the religious instructions or for that matter secular (?? Or regular??) instruction happened through the oral medium. So the oral tradition has indeed sustained people for a long time and it can sustain us also. The important point is that we have to be connected with Krishna and through sound vibration. So we can try to develop some habit of reading and also associate with devotees who are reading to get further interest in reading and beyond that as far as one’s specific interest is concerned often during different stages of our spiritual life, different phases, we may find ourselves interested in different subjects. So sometimes we may feel interest in Bhagavad Gita, sometimes we may feel interest in Chaitnay Mahaprabhu’s pastimes, sometimes we may feel specifically interest in certain characters of the Bhagavatam. So at that time we can do a focussed sort of research where we read on the subject and also hear about that subject and that way gain a deeper understanding and a deeper connection with that theme, that subject and that character. Now one of the best ways to develop a reading habit, if we already have a hearing habit but don’t have a reading habit, is to hear focussed classes on books. For example, now there is online bhaktishastri course or even if we have live bhaktishastri course which is there then the course is based on certain books, so we have classes based on those books and then after we have heard the classes then we can feel the books in a broader context and then we feel more inspired to read the books. So channelizing our interest in hearing to the interest in reading, can be done by doing courses which allow us or which require us and involve us to do both reading and hearing. So hearing which we like to do and hearing which we can do as a part of the course and as the interest is stirred by hearing in the classes. So in this way we can nourish ourselves. Ultimately, we have to remember that it is our responsibility to nourish ourselves and whether it is hearing or reading its not a matter of ritual that we are doing, we have to make sure that we ourselves are nourished and we feel inspired by devotional service, we feel strong enough to resist temptation, we feel resilient enough to face the challenges in certain parts of life and keep moving forward determinedly and whichever form of nourishment suits us whether it is hearing or reading, we can take that and especially in times when we need shelter, at that time most important thing should be we take shelter and not bother too much about whether it is through reading or through hearing but at other times it does matter that we should also try to cultivate as much possible without giving ourselves a guilt complex or anything like that. Within our limitations we can try to cultivate the reading habit also in addition to the hearing habit.
Thank you, Hare Krishna !