When Suta Gosvami spoke the Srimad-Bhagavatam to the sages in the Naimisaranya forest, the atmosphere was so intensely respectful that even the birds ceased their songs. The sages didn't cough or shuffle their feet; they were enraptured. Lord Krsna Himself had appeared in the form of the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Those sages have long since crossed the great ocean of material illusion and happily returned home, back to Godhead, on the boat of transcendental sound. Although we stay here, apparently marooned, we can also take advantage of the boat. It still lies on our side, and the simple act of approaching this mystical boat reduces the material ocean to a puddle. As the sages crossed, so can we, by following in their footsteps, by hearing as they heard.
We'll find the boat of transcendental sound safely moored in the harbor of Srila Prabhupada's books. We can recognize this boat by its brilliance, which destroys the darkness of ignorance and doubt; by its beauty, which captivates the mind and heart; and by its breadth, for it easily encompasses the entire world in a small corner of its hold.
We cannot replicate the scene in the forest of Naimisaranya, but we can learn and perfect the art of reading Srila Prabhupada's books. We can read as he wrote, pondering each word.
Srila Prabhupada's books are transcendental sound. When he spoke into the dictaphone, Lord Krsna and the members of the disciplic succession spoke through him. That spiritual sound was then transformed into the printed word, which, when read and assimilated, can once again manifest the full potency of the original sound.
Nondevotees cannot unlock the code of spiritual words, for Lord Krsna, the Absolute Truth, reveals Himself to whomever He chooses. On the pretext of mere scholarship, we cannot force our way into the mysteries of Krsna. Yet even the least educated person with the right attitude can understand the highest philosophical truths.
The Caitanya-caritamrta relates the story of a devotee in South India whose guru advised him to read the Bhagavad-gita every day. He would read at the local temple, and because he often made mistakes in reading and pronunciation, people made fun of him. But he didn't care. He felt happy as he attended to his guru's order. In fact, as he read, tears some-times welled up in his eyes, and his body trembled in ecstatic emotion.
Lord Caitanya once visited the devotee's village and saw him reading.
"Excuse Me, My dear sir," the Lord said, "How have you developed such ecstatic love? What portion of the Bhagavad-gita gives you so much bliss?"
The devotee shyly replied, "I am illiterate and therefore do not know the meaning of the words. Sometimes I read correctly and sometimes incorrectly, but in any case I just picture Lord Krsna as Arjuna's charioteer. When I think how the Supreme Lord so humbly serves His devotee, I can-not help but cry."
Lord Caitanya declared, "You are the actual authority in reading Bhagavad-gita. Whatever you know constitutes its real meaning."
This fortunate, humble person had faith in his guru's words and the scripture. To have faith in the Gita, one must have faith in Krsna, the speaker of the Gita. In the Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srila Prabhupada says that to understand theGita one must at least theoretically accept Lord Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Unless we do, how can we take His statements seriously?
Taking the Bhagavad-gita seriously is like stepping outside into the full sunshine. As the sun does not need anything else to prove its existence, so the Bhagavad-gita is its own proof. For the doubtful there is enough logic and reason to help coax them out of the darkness of their houses of skepticism and ignorance.
Some Practical Suggestions
To help us develop the necessary reverence toward the scriptures, we can keep our books in a special place. In Burma some temples place the Srimad-Bhagavatam on the altar as the main murti, or form of God. Imagine a complete set of Srimad-Bhagavatams installed in your home! Once one of Srila Prabhupada's disciples asked if he and his wife could worship small Deities as they traveled and preached. Srila Prabhupada advised them to worship his books.
The books should not be put on the floor or the seat of a chair, or used as a resting place for other things. Sometimes devotees keep the book they are currently reading wrapped in a piece of fine cloth.
It's also a good idea to offer prayers before we begin reading. In our ISKCON temples, before reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam devotees chant om namo bhagavate vasudevaya: "O my Lord, O all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You." It's also good to have a prayerful attitude as we read. We can follow the example of Sanatana Gosvami, who prayed to Lord Caitanya that whatever the Lord had taught him would be manifest in his heart.
The sages of Naimisaranya, the devotee Lord Caitanya met, and Srila Prabhupada all had a service attitude as they heard, read, or wrote transcendental literature. When we read, let us remember that we are also Lord Krsna's servants.
When we read, it is important to remember that we are not alone. In a purport in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada thanks Narada Muni for kindly appearing on the pages of this great literature. In other words, when we read Srila Prabhupada's books we are directly associating with Srila Prabhupada, all the previous spiritual masters, and the Supreme Lord Himself.
As with chanting, it's best to read daily, either a certain number of pages or for a certain amount of time. We can make a thorough study, noting interesting or difficult passages, or we can simply read our way through, confident of our spiritual purification. If we are surrounded by our children, we can paraphrase and dramatize the stories.
Srila Prabhupada explains that besides reading, when we discuss spiritual topics with others we become even more enlivened and make rapid spiritual progress. He tells us that the way to assimilate the knowledge of the revealed scriptures is to hear and explain them. Giving this essential knowledge to others will help us understand it ourselves. And anyone who makes a gift of the knowledge of Srimad-Bhagavatam will surely attain the highest perfection of life by returning home, back to Godhead.
Rohininandana Dasa lives in southern England with his wife and their three children. Write to him at Woodgate Cottage, Beckley Nr. Rye, E. Sussex TN31 6UH, UK