A devotee presented a copy of Srila Prabhupada lilamrta to his cousin brother. Noting the size of the book, his brother declined to read. Later this devotee was surprised to find the same brother reading a book of similar size on improving English grammar. Srila Prabhupada writes, “People in general have a taste for literatures by instinct. They want to hear and read from the authorities something about the unknown, but their taste is exploited by unfortunate literatures which are full of subject matter for satisfaction of the material senses.” The perfection of this propensity to read books is to develop an attraction for reading spiritual literature. One of the most important contributions of Srila Prabhupada is his books. Let us see some reasons which can inspire us to read his books.
Qualification for Devotional service
In the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Srila Rupa Gosvami says that the qualification for devotional service is to have a taste (ruci) or attraction for it. Srila Jiva Goswami comments that ruci mentioned here particularly refers to reading scriptures like Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam etc. Srila Prabhupada writes in his Nectar of Devotion, “… for persons who have a natural taste for understanding books like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, devotional service is easier than for those who are simply accustomed to mental speculation and argumentative processes.” Thus, whereas the act of preaching Krishna consciousness is to make people interested, the activity of reading books is to elevate people who are already interested.
To come to Krishna consciousness in this Kali-yuga is rare and difficult. But it is even more difficult to stay in Krishna consciousness and it is even rarer to stay happy in Krishna consciousness. In order to stay happy in Krishna consciousness, it is very important that one studies Srila Prabhupada’s books very scrutinizingly.
We should read scriptures with a desire to purify our own tongue and for the glorification of Supreme Lord. In this regard the attitude of Maitreya Rishi in Srimad-Bhagavatam is worth noting. Maitreya Rishi comments (SB 3.6.36), “In spite of my inability, whatever I have been able to hear [from the spiritual master] and whatever I could assimilate I am now describing in glorification of the Lord by pure speech, for otherwise my power of speaking would remain unchaste.” Thus, by reading scripture and explaining it to others, we maintain our chastity to the Lord and prevent ourselves from going astray.
Suta Goswami informs in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.18.18) that simply by conversing with a great soul, one can cleanse oneself of all disqualifications resulting from lower births. Srila Prabhupada comments in the purport that reading a book full of words of great devotees is equivalent to conversing with them.
Even if one may not have a chance to associate directly with Srila Prabhupada, even a person of lower birth can cleanse himself of all disqualifications by associating with him by reading his books.
Surviving even with scanty resources
Sometimes, a devotee may find himself in a situation where there is very little or no association of his spiritual master (guru) or some senior devotees (sadhu) from whom he seeks inspiration. If he is used to seeking inspiration from scriptures (shastra), then he will not be disturbed. He will continue to remain nourished.
His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami writes, “We should seek a healthy interdependence between guru, sadhu and shastra. It is healthy to avoid both an attitude of extreme dependence on any of these three as well as one of extreme independence.” Usually, we are attached too much to guru and sadhu and not much to shastra. But shastra is available to us all the time and it will benefit us to take its shelter.
Full of substance
People today want to have good relationships. They are reading many self-help books thinking that the books will give them the required formula. Most of the time, such books are just old wine in a new bottle. On the other hand, Srila Prabhupada’s books can enlighten a person to such an extent that he finds new light every time he reads the same book.
Arjuna mentions in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.15.27), “Now I am attracted to those instructions imparted to me by the Personality of Godhead [Govinda] because they are impregnated with instructions for relieving the burning heart in all circumstances of time and space.” This verse was spoken by Arjuna when he experienced the most difficult time of his life when he was defeated by some infidel cowherd men. For a honorable kshatriya, dishonor is worse than death. In this verse Arjuna addresses Krishna by the word Govinda. Srila Prabhupada translates the word Govinda as “The Supreme Personality of Pleasure”. This means that Arjuna experienced great pleasure and relief by remembering the instructions of Bhagavad-gita when he had passed through the most difficult situation. That is why he remembered Krishna specifically as Govinda, The Supreme Personality of Pleasure. This reflects Arjuna’s mood nicely. If a word-to-word translation can give such deep meaning, then what to speak of the purports? This is why Srila Prabhupada encourages us to read every word of his books. Srila Prabhupada writes in Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.12.44), “A sincere devotee should read every chapter and every word of Srimad-Bhagavatam, for the beginning verses describe that it is the ripened fruit of all Vedic literature. Devotees should not try to avoid even a word of Srimad-Bhagavatam.”
Too repetitive and boring
For a criminal being interrogated by police officers, asking him critical questions repeatedly are disturbing and annoying. The officers are doing so to check consistency of his answers at different times. Similarly, for a conditioned spirit soul temporarily identifying himself with matter, Srila Prabhupada’s words informing us about our original spiritual nature seem disturbing. But this repetition is compassion to expose our rebellious attitude. These same statements will become a source of pleasure when we are purified just as ointment applied over a wound hurts, but when the wound heals, the same ointment has a cooling effect. Srila Prabhupada states, “Repetition of something is necessary in order that we understand the matter thoroughly, without error” (Bg. 2.25, purport).
In the second chapter of Bhagavad-gita, difference between soul and body is discussed in a repetitive way by the Lord Himself from different angles of vision. Similarly, in his books, Srila Prabhupada often repeats the same concept over and over again in different ways to make us realize the importance of those concepts.
Reading leading to Jnani platform?
Someone may think that one who reads books is a jnani and not a bhakta. But Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita (18.70), “I declare that he who studies this sacred conversation of ours worships Me by his intelligence.” Thus, we can please Lord Krishna by studying His words. If our reading effort is just to become expert in becoming scholarly at quoting different slokas when required, then we may be considered to be on jnana-marga. However, if we are trying to study scripture to become well-versed with the concepts and deepen our understanding to represent the parampara properly, then such efforts may be considered to be rightly situated on bhakti-marga. Such reading in a proper mood will not contaminate us. Instead, due to greater knowledge we will experience more purification.
for personal conviction
Sometimes one may think that people are more convinced about sense enjoyment than one is about Krishna consciousness. We are surrounded by atheistic propaganda all around. We are bound to meet people who might confront us for belief in God. By not being well-versed in Krishna conscious philosophy we may end up being outwitted in a conversation. Even if we become successful in defeating such a person in argument, if we ourselves are not well read, we may be shaken from within. Thus, we should read Srila Prabhupada’s books regularly for our own nourishment. When there is a fire accident, a common man will panic seeing the fire but a trained fire-fighter will not panic. Similarly when we train our eyes to see through the scriptures, even in adverse situations, we will not panic.
Lord Krishna mentions in the Bhagavad-gita (18.69) that there is no one more dear to Him than he who preaches devotional service. Inspired by this, if someone wants to give Krishna consciousness to someone, one is bound to meet opposition. We can’t spend time studying books at such a crucial time. In a hunting excursion, after seeing an animal, one cannot say, “Let me search for a gun.” A hunter should go well prepared with all his arms in place. Similarly one’s intelligence must be sharpened to face the arguments of opponents by reading shastra. Srila Prabhupada comments in Srimad-Bhagavatam (6.1.38), “One who represents someone else must fully know that person’s mission. The devotees in the Krishna consciousness movement must therefore be fully aware of the mission of Krishna and Lord Caitanya; otherwise they will be considered foolish. All devotees, especially preachers, must know the philosophy of Krishna consciousness so as not to be embarrassed and insulted when they preach.”
It is said in Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.22.62) that Prthu Maharaja, a great devotee of the Lord, was like Brhaspati in spiritual knowledge. Srila Prabhupada elaborates in his purport, “Maharaja Prthu, although a great devotee constantly engaged in the loving service of the Lord, could defeat all kinds of impersonalists and Mayavadis by his profound knowledge of Vedic scriptures. We should learn from Maharaja Prthu that a Vaisnava, or devotee, must not only be fixed in the service of the Lord, but, if required, must be prepared to argue with the impersonalist Mayavadis with all logic and philosophy and defeat their contention that the Absolute Truth is impersonal.” So we need to read Srila Prabhupada’s books thoroughly in order to defeat all misconceptions against devotional service. This is not a diversion from devotional service but this in fact preserves the sanctity of devotional service.
Remembrance of Krishna
Srila Rupa Goswami says in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu that the purpose of following all rules and regulations is to always remember Krishna and to never forget Him. Similarly the purpose of reading Srila Prabhupada’s books is to always remember Krishna and to never forget Him. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura mentions in one of his bhajanas, Vidyara Vilase, “All the so-called knowledge of this world is born of the flickering potency of Your illusory energy (maya). It is an impediment to the execution of devotional service to You. Indulgence in mundane knowledge verily makes an ass of the eternal soul by encouraging his infatuation with this temporary world.” King Kulasekhara also mentions in Mukunda-mala-stotra(21), “Without remembrance of His (Lord’s) lotus feet, recitation of scripture is merely crying in the wilderness.” By reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, one is always reminded of Lord Krishna in the right mood.
Thus, we can understand that regular reading of Srila Prabhupada’s books is absolutely essential for our survival and flourishing in Krishna consciousness.
Radhika Vallabha Dasa is a full-time resident devotee at ISKCON Mumbai and teaches Krishna consciousness to the youth.