DEVOTEES IN Krsna consciousness are seeking new ways to open and deepen their relationships with one another. They are not satisfied with the impersonal communications that often characterize human dealings in the material world. To become more functional and happy in Krsna consciousness, some devotees turn to personal counseling and even professional therapy. But what about that old forum of self-improvement hearing the Srimad-Bhagavatam from a self-realized speaker? Is the process of sravanam (submissively hearing the scriptures) still relevant? Can our sravanam be improved?
Personal counseling in Krsna consciousness takes place when one devotee seeks confidential guidance from another, trusted devotee. This method is implied in Rupa Gosvami's description of loving exchanges among devotees: ". . . revealing one's mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially" (Upadesamrta, Text 4). Sometimes I may act as the counselor for my friend, and sometimes I go to him to receive counseling. It is a practice that calls for mutual love and trust. It develops through honest exchanges, with reference to the Krsna conscious conclusion (siddhanta).
Persons with severe difficulties sometimes seek counseling from professional therapists. In a recent seminar at ISKCON's Gita Nagari farm, some devotees testified that therapy helped them, and they compared it to going to a physician whose treatment may help someone function better in devotional service. Other devotees at the seminar pointed out the risks of seeking help from persons who do not practice Krsna consciousness. A professional psychologist may strive to be neutral in his advice, but can he support celibacy or be sympathetic to a life of full dedication to Krsna?
Aside from counseling sessions, devotees seek meaningful encounters among themselves, both on a one to one basis and in community. Open discussion in a community is usually called ista-gosthi. In a news article about the Krsna consciousness movement, a journalist once described an ista-gosthi as a "transcendental gripe session." More precisely, at an ista-gosthi devotees can discuss problems that may have built up for want of sufficient communication. They are usually topics that affect the whole community, and the guiding principle is that we can discuss them candidly, looking for Krsna conscious solutions.
When devotees speak about the need for informal meetings, the already existing forms of communication may sometimes come in for criticism. Sometimes the daily Srimad-Bhagavatam class is singled out as lacking in inspiration.
Certainly, Bhagavatam lecturers and their audiences may improve their rapport. But hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam is still the best method for removing doubts and dirt from the heart. When a learned Vaisnava speaks from the scriptures and answers questions, the potency for self-improvement is unlimited.
Srila Prabhupada personally introduced the Bhagavatam class into ISKCON, and it is a time-honored method of communication. Thousands of years ago the sages at Naimisaranya heard Srimad-Bhagavatam from Suta Gosvami. Suta Gosvami had previously attended the original Bhagavatam classes held by Sukadeva Gosvami, who spoke to Maharaja Pariksit at a gathering of learned devotees.
The successful Srimad-Bhagavatam class requires an eager audience and a qualified speaker. Many of us have had the experience of enduring Bhagavatam classes we found boring. Sometimes we think a speaker has not prepared himself well, or he uses the occasion to air his personal opinions under the cover of scripture. Admitting this, both audience and speaker of Srimad- Bhagavatam can strive to improve their performance.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam class can be a most personal, relevant, and effective way of spiritual communication. Let other methods of communication be encouraged, as long as they can make us more fit to chant and hear about Krsna and perform devotional service. There is a time and a need to deal with topics that don't belong in Srimad-Bhagavatam class. But there is also a time to put aside all relative matters and hear the Absolute Truth.
We can never completely solve the difficulties of family, marriage, and community living. Human dealings are innately imperfect. The source of perfection is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, and He is represented by the teacher Vyasadeva, who is represented whenever a qualified devotee speaks the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Many devotees had their lives dramatically transformed by hearing a Srimad-Bhagavatam class. When Srila Prabhupada gave a lecture in January 1974 stressing the need to "distribute books, distribute books, distribute books," several devotees in the audience vowed on the spot to dedicate their lives to that instruction. The Nectar of Devotion relates the history of a brahmana who heard that devotional offerings could be made in the mind, practiced mental worship, and so was personally brought by Lord Narayana to Vaikuntha.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam message is most potent when spoken by a pure devotee like Srila Prabhupada. But as Prabhupada told us, the message is effective when spoken in disciplic succession by his representatives.
How can a speaker improve the Srimad-Bhagavatam presentation? I once wrote a letter to Srila Prabhupada asking if it was advisable to rehearse and carefully prepare my Bhagavatam lectures. Srila Prabhupada replied: "It is all right to prepare your lectures, but you should also be ready to speak at a moment's notice."
It's important for speakers to leave time at the end of their lectures so that the audience can ask questions. This is often the most enlivening part of the Srimad-Bhagavatam class.
As hearers, we should not demand novelty from Srimad-Bhagavatam. Even if we have heard the same teachings before, that doesn't mean we have fully realized them or we're practicing them perfectly. Hearing the Srimad-Bhagavatam is a comprehensive practice. Prabhupada states that one should hear the message with rapt attention, but for this one needs a pure mind. And for purity of mind one should be pure in one's activities, regulated in eating, mating, sleeping, and defending.
To be dissatisfied with superficial relations is a healthy sign. We should encourage one another to address and solve personal and community problems. Furthermore, we should realize the strength we can gain from the methods Prabhupada has given us. Prominent among these is the daily hearing of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
As stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.18), "By regular attendance in classes on the Bhagavatam and by rendering of service to the pure devotee, all that is troublesome to the heart is almost completely destroyed, and loving service unto the Personality of Godhead, who is praised with transcendental songs, is established as an irrevocable fact."
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of more than sixty books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.