A student applies her academic skills to the greatest book of all time.
LAST YEAR, when I was in high school, I finished reading the entire Srimad-Bhagavatam and most of the Caitanya-caritamrta. What mainly provoked me to read the Srimad-Bhagavatam was my honors English class. I used to have to read and analyze twenty to thirty books every year. I despised studying boring, worldly stories like Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye, which never gave me real happiness. Memorizing the characters' names and what they did and analyzing their actions in long essays made me feel like I was wasting precious time.
One day I was really fed up, and I thought, "What if I unexpectedly die tomorrow? Will all of this materialistic knowledge help me understand the real goal of life? Will this take me back to Godhead? All my years of straight A's in this education won't help me at the time of death. Only my devotional service to Lord Krsna will stay, and everything will be gone."
Starting that day I read two to four chapters of the Srimad-Bhagavatam every evening. I decided that along with my school education, I wanted to use my intelligence to get a spiritual education. I continued doing my school work, because I didn't want to show that devotees are dropouts who can't make it in the material world and can't compete. Lord Krsna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita (2.47):
karmany evadhikaras te / ma phalesu kadacana
ma karma-phala-hetur bhur / ma te sango 'stv akarmani
"You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of those fruits, and never be attached to not doing your duty."
My duties in this stage of my life are to be a good student and, most important, to be a good devotee. I have seen by my own experience that whenever I use my time and energy for Lord Krsna's service without expecting anything in return for instance, when I chant my sixteen rounds every day without fail and I read the Srimad-Bhagavatam He helps me more and makes my school work easier. I end up spending a lot less time and energy than my friends on my school work because I do devotional service. It really happens no kidding! In the Bhagavad-gita (9.22) Lord Krsna says,
ananyas cintayanto mam / ye janah paryupasate
tesam nityabhiyuktanam / yoga-ksemam vahamy aham
"Those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have."
This verse has done a lot for me. Lord Krsna really keeps His word.
When I started reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam, I felt immense satisfaction. I greatly enjoyed all the spiritual knowledge about Lord Krsna's incarnations, the creation of the world and the first living entities, what it's like in the spiritual world, how devotees are helped by Lord Krsna, and much more. The Srimad-Bhagavatam gave me answers to my questions about life in a pleasurable way. I learned how to pray to Lord Krsna properly and how to respect great devotees. I learned so much. I felt I was learning what I really wanted to learn.
I thought, "If I can study all that worldly literature and use all of my brain energy studying worldly books, I can surely use my intelligence for Lord Krsna." Then I remembered what Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (12.8):
mayy eva mana adhatsva
mayi buddhim nivesaya
nivasisyasi mayy eva
ata urdhvam na samsayah
"Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all of your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt."
I felt I could study the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta just as I study my school books. I could use my intelligence to memorize what each devotee in the Srimad-Bhagavatam did, spiritually analyze the outcome of each narration to learn a spiritual lesson from it, and apply my new understandings to daily life.
I really loved using Cliff Notes while studying my school novels and plays because they give a concise summary of the plot of the stories and list the characters and tell what they did. Just before an exam, I would quickly read over Cliff Notes and have an excellent review. So while reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta, I took similar notes and wrote up a seven- or eight-page summary of each canto, so that in the future I would be able to skim over all the narrations in the Srimad-Bhagavatam quickly and easily, just as with Cliff Notes. And for each canto, I listed all the devotees and demons and briefly explained what they did.
As I read, I sorted lots of verses from the Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta into several categories under many subheadings. For example, I made a subheading entitled "No Meat-Eating" and listed all the references (Sanskrit and English verses) that explain that it's wrong to eat meat and kill innocent animals. Now I'm going to memorize all those verses so whenever I'm talking to someone I'll have abundant verses to cite to support the point we're discussing.
I did something special with the Srimad-Bhagavatam that Cliff Notes never did. I wrote a detailed family tree that accurately shows the ancestors and descendants of each person in the Bhagavatam. I wrote the family tree as I read the Bhagavatam,so to keep straight in my mind how everyone is related. Now, just by one glance at the family tree, I can get a good overview of the entire Bhagavatam. I can recall each narration merely by seeing the family tree, and that helps me speak about any part of the Bhagavatam. I feel like it's a map of the Bhagavatam that helps me easily find my way into spiritual understanding.
The family tree is beneficial for everyone, especially first-time readers of the Bhagavatam. They can easily keep track of how people are related to one another. It's also a good memory refresher for devotees who have already studied the nectareanBhagavatam. Even kids can use and understand the family tree. I was sixteen years old when I made it, so its setup is simple and easy to follow. Several ISKCON spiritual masters liked the family tree so much they told me to print it for everyone to use as an aid to spiritual studies.
In the future, when I get married and have children, I'll help my children memorize the Srimad-Bhagavatam family tree. Then I'll test them by giving them the tree with random blank spaces for them to fill in with the missing names. This way they'll vividly remember all of Lord Krsna's incarnations and devotees and all the narrations in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, thus making them Krsna conscious.
I and my sister, Vrnda Devi Dasi, teach the family tree to our Sunday school students at the ISKCON temple in Potomac, Maryland. The students have already learned the Bhagavad-gita and most of the narrations in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. It took about two and a half years for them to learn all that. Now each student chants one round a day and studies the family tree at home and at Sunday school. I'll be giving them an exam of the family tree soon, so they'll have such great knowledge imprinted in their brains at an early age. I hope teachers all over ISKCON can use this as an idea for teaching their students the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Jahnavi Devi Dasi studies pre-law at the University of Maryland. Despite her demanding studies, she faithfully fulfills her own daily quota of chanting twenty-nine rounds on her beads and reciting one chapter of the Bhagavad-gita.