What is the best way to study shastra in a group with devotees?
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Transcriber: Dr. Suresh Gupta
Edited by: Sharan Shetty
Question: What is the best way to study shastra in a group with devotees?
Answer: Basically, there are three broad methods for studying shastra in a group of devotees:
(i) come together to read some pages
(ii) simultaneously read and share understanding
(iii) one devotee prepares in advance and leads the discussion on a rotational basis.
In terms of absorption, the first method is least while the third one is most effective.
In the first method, although there is some reading of the shastra, but there is not much absorption. In the second method there is some absorption, but a deeper understanding of shastra may not develop. In the third method, there is an opportunity to get a deeper understanding of shastra at least for some time for everyone because shastra is studied thoroughly.
The third method is very beneficial amongst equals and those who are committed to studying shastra. The effectiveness of the third method will go down if everybody in the group is unprepared. Then the quality of discussion is not very enriching. We need to be watchful if there is someone senior in the group. If the senior person starts to lead the discussion everyday out of seniority, then others may eventually loose spirit.
Group reading with one person leading the discussion can be very fulfilling. If such an arrangement continues for two or three months, then subject gets deeply churned and everyone gets to read and understand the subject from different perspectives. Such studies should have some time limit or else the discussion will just go on. During study, if a debatable issue comes up then some discussion can happen on the spot but if it remains unresolved then clarify with some senior devotee later. Decide a fixed amount of time for debate and move ahead if the debate exceeds the time limit.
It is good to have a sense of momentum in the study. Although our philosophy recommends lifestyle in the mode of goodness, but our mind at present is in mode of passion where we are driven by achievements. That is why, at least in the initial stages, if we set some targets and achieve them, then it will inspire us to move onwards. It is good to be time and target bound especially when it is a group activity. That way, it will not feel like a study which will go on eternally. It will also help maintain consistency.
These methods can also be tailored according to occasions. For example, if Narsimha Chaturdashi is coming up, then devotees can meet to study the entire Prahalad section of Srimad Bhagavatam.
At times when we get busy in services, the study activity may get disrupted but there is no need to stop it permanently. That way, when the festival arrives, everyone will be filled with more devotional consciousness, shastra understanding, purification and absorption.
Also, these studies should be voluntary and not mandatory (except when it is a formal brahmachari class) because some devotees might be able to study better when alone. However, sometimes neophyte devotees, who tend to study alone, may engage in studying something which might be bewildering for them. Hence, they should be guided but such guidance should be provided with good intentions. That way, some amount of allowance for individuality can be given in the study groups.
In general, group study for most devotees is a good idea because it forms a cohesive team where everyone is centred on Krishna and shastra. It also gives an external structure for the activity of studying shastra otherwise we may keep saying that we will study shastra someday but eventually that someday never arrives.
End of transcription.