One method of allowing Srila Prabhupada's books to help us become devotees.
THIS approach is one of attitude. As aspiring devotees, we might approach Srimad-Bhagavatam for varying purposes, but in all cases eagerness to hear the Bhagavatam is itself favorable, because eagerness added to our reading inspires Krsna to help our attempts for purity and advancement in Krsna consciousness.
Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone's heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.17)
The goal of prayerful reading is less an intellectual gathering of information and more an attempt to allow sastra (scripture) to affect us. It is an attempt to gain association, to listen carefully to Krsna's message, to let potent transcendental words sink deeply into the core of our consciousness. When reading in this way, one doesn't attempt to read a specific quantity. That goal is superseded by a desire for depth of purification through associating with Srila Prabhupada, our acaryas, and Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Even a small step toward such a lofty goal requires a correct attitude when approaching the book.
An essential attitudinal element is to approach Srila Prabhupada's books as being non-different from Srila Prabhupada. When he returned to Sri Vrndavana Dhama in ill health in May 1977, he gravely said, "So there is nothing to be said new. Whatever I have to speak, I have spoken in my books. Now you try to understand it and continue your endeavor."
Prabhupada once said that he would never die but would live forever in his books.
In addition, Krsna Himself is fully present within the Bhagavatam. Indeed, the sages of Naimisaranya asked, "Since Sri Krsna, the Absolute Truth, the master of all mystic powers, has departed for His own abode, please tell us to whom the religious principles have now gone for shelter." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.23)
Srila Suta Gosvami replied: "This Bhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krsna to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the age of Kali shall get light from this Purana." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.43)
In the purport to the next verse, Srila Prabhupada comments: "One can certainly see directly the presence of Lord Sri Krsna in the pages of the Bhagavatam if one has heard it from a self-realized great soul like Sukadeva Gosvami. . But somehow or other if someone hears with rapt attention from the right person, at the very beginning one can assuredly see Lord Sri Krsna in person in the pages of the Bhagavatam.
For me at present, the most interesting quotations about hearing from the Bhagavatam are from Srila Prabhupada's purports to Canto Seven, Chapter 14, verses 4 and 8. (The emphasis added in bold is my own.)
Another specific description here is srnvan bhagavato 'bhiksnam avatara-kathamrtam. It is not that because one has once finished the Bhagavad-gita he should not hear it again. The word abhiksnam is very important. We should hear again and again. There is no question of stopping: even if one has read these topics many times, he should go on reading again and again because bhagavat-katha, the words spoken by Krsna and spoken by Krsna's devotees about Krsna, are amrtam, nectar. The more one drinks this amrtam, the more he advances in his eternal life.
In the sastras the Puranas and other Vedic literatures there are so many narrations describing the transcendental activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and everyone should hear them again and again. For example, even if we read the entire Bhagavad-gita every day, all eighteen chapters, in each reading we shall find a new explanation. That is the nature of transcendental literature.
To me, these two quotations indicate the amrta freshness and life that each reading of transcendental literature can offer. To help us truly realize the potency of Srila Prabhupada's books, and therefore understand his stress on both reading and distributing them, and to help us increase our own devotion, we may honestly, humbly, and prayerfully seek instruction, association, and mercy each time we read Srimad-Bhagavatam. Attitude assists our receptivity.
Suggested Steps When Beginning To Practice Prayerful Reading
1. Decide on what you will read. Mark the place. Decide how long you will spend reading. The time can be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, or one hour or more. It's up to you.
2. Go to a quiet place where you can be alone and uninterrupted for a specific time. Make whatever arrangements you need to avoid interruptions, including taking care of bodily needs. Arrange that no one will visit you and the phone won't ring. Shut the door. This is important time for you to be alone with Srila Prabhupada's book.
3. Make yourself comfortable, but not so comfortable that you'll fall asleep. You may sit in a chair or on the floor; your goal is to arrange a situation where you can uninterruptedly concentrate on sastra without physical distractions.
4. Take time to cultivate an appropriate attitude of approach to your reading. Again, the proper mood is to think that you will soon associate with Sri Krsna, through the potent transcendental words spoken by Srila Prabhupada and other great Gaudiya acaryas (spiritual masters in the line of Lord Sri Caitanya). Therefore, your mood should be that of a soul in need of association, guidance, and mercy. Be humble.
5. Before starting, you may offer prayers to those you will associate with in your reading, for example, Srila Prabhupada, Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga, or Sri Sri Radha and Krsna. By their mercy your reading can assist in purifying and illuminating your consciousness.
6. When you're ready, begin reading, aloud or silently, but slowly. You have already chosen where your reading will begin. It doesn't matter where you stop, even if you read only a single sentence. This is not the time to "get through a chapter" or a specified section. Yet, if you are inspired to do so, you may read a larger amount of text. How much you complete may depend upon the book or section you are reading. Again, the purpose of this kind of reading is not quantity but meaningful association.
7. Read until a word, a phrase, or an idea strikes you or catches your attention. Stop at that point. You may repeat that meaningful phrase to yourself over and over. You may think aloud or silently about what you've read, but simple repetition often helps more to inspire insights. Repetition going over a point a second or even a third time can assist deep assimilation (and even memorization) of the point that caught your attention. Just stay with that point until you've meditated upon it enough or it no longer holds your attention. Pauses in reading may assist in deepening and assimilating what you have read.
Then move along, slowly reading again until another point strikes you as special. Repeat the process as often as you wish, or for as long as your allotted time allows.
8. There is no need to rigidly adhere to the above steps. They are offered as guidelines to assist you in getting started. If your reading inspires you to directly pray to or glorify Krsna, His associates, and devotees, then do so. Our interest, again, is to accept the assistance of Prabhupada's books so that we may actually become devotees.
9. When your time is up, offer obeisances and, if you like, words (either aloud or mentally) of appreciation for any realizations that may have been offered to you.
If we have been receptive, our reading will most probably have been successful and, as Srila Prabhupada writes, "in each reading we shall find a new explanation. That is the nature of transcendental literature."
10. As much as you can, assimilate into your life what you have read and realized. If this method of reading suits you, read Srila Prabhupada's books in this fashion regularly daily, weekly, each Ekadasi, monthly, occasionally. You may also wish to keep a journal to help you recall your thoughts.
Bhurijana Dasa joined ISKCON in 1968 and has been active in ISKCON education since the late 1970s.
Encouragement from Srila Prabhupada
In these excerpts from letters to his disciples, Srila Prabhupada stresses the importance of regular reading of the scriptures.
I am requesting all of my students to read my books very seriously every day without fail. In this way, if your mind becomes absorbed at least one or two hours daily in the transcendental subject matter of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and other books then very easily you will make your advancement in Krishna consciousness. (June 13, 1972)
I am stressing at this point that all of my students shall be very much conversant with the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, and that they should read our books very diligently at least one or two hours daily and try to understand the subject matter from varieties of angles. (June 16, 1972)
The instruction given in my books is supposed to be personal instruction. When we read the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, it is understood that we are receiving personal instructions of Krishna. No physical barrier is there in the case of spiritual affairs. (October 14, 1974)
In my books the philosophy of Krishna consciousness is explained fully, so if there is anything which you do not understand, then you simply have to read again and again. By reading daily the knowledge will be revealed to you. . . . You may please me the most by reading my books and following the instructions therein. (November 22, 1974)