Hearing (reading): The Real Tradition

by Vidura dasa

The standard method of receiving Vedic knowledge is through the chain of disciplic succession. This is a tradition of hearing. In this age of Kali-yuga, with the common man’s memory being very weak, this hearing is still there but in the form of books.

“All Vedic knowledge is based on the principle that one must approach a bona fide spiritual master and hear from the authoritative statements of the Vedas. It is not necessary for one to be a highly polished literary man to receive knowledge; to receive perfect knowledge from a perfect person, one must be expert in hearing. This is called the descending process of deductive knowledge, or avaroha-panthā.” (Cc Adi-lila 16.52)

“The Vedic process of getting education is by hearing. Therefore it is called śruti. The Vedas are called Śruti. Formerly… Just like we are reading books. The books were not needed because the memory was so sharp—simply by hearing from the teacher, they’ll remember. That is… That is called tradition by hearing.” Lecture — Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.44 — Mayapura, October 24, 1974

“Vyāsadeva is the first man who wrote this Vedic knowledge into writing. Before that, there was no writing. Only by hearing, by memory, the students will grasp the whole thing and coming down, tradition, tradition. Yes. Śruti, by hearing.” Lecture — Cc, Madhya-lila 20.121-124 — New York, November 25, 1966

“Formerly there was only one Veda, Atharva-veda. And this Atharva-veda was learned by tradition, by hearing from the spiritual master. There was no book. Therefore Veda is known as śruti. Śruti means hearing. The spiritual master will recite Vedic mantra, and the disciples will hear. Just like we chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra or any other Vedic mantra. You hear. But there was no need of book. His memory was so sharp that once heard from the lips of the spiritual master, the students become completely well versed. There was no need of book.” Lecture — Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.21 — Los Angeles, September 26, 1972

“So tyaktvā deham. Kṛṣṇa says that “Anyone who understands Me in truth …” So how you will understand? Simply if you hear about Him, then you will understand. Then you will understand. So hearing is not very difficult job. But you must hear from the realized soul. That is… Satāṁ prasaṅgān mama vīrya-saṁvidaḥ. If you hear from a professional man, that will not be effective. Hearing must be from sādhu, from devotee, from the lips of the devotee. Just like Śukadeva Gosvāmī was speaking to Mahārāja Parīkṣit. So … Or even if you hear yourself, you read books, you will save your life. If you simply read Kṛṣṇa book or Bhagavad-gītā or Teachings of Lord Caitanya, then you know the… As long as you are reading, the sun is unable to take your life. It is not possible for the sun to take your life.” (Lecture — Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.3.17 — Los Angeles, June 12, 1972)

“These are not ordinary books. It is recorded chanting. Anyone who reads, he is hearing.” (Letter — 19/10/74)

Conclusion: The Parampara or Disciplic Succession is the standard process of receiving Vedic knowledge. This knowledge must be received from a bonafide, self-realized spiritual master coming in the disciplic succession [authorized by his predecessor]. Today, knowledge received from the spiritual master must practically be in the form of books due to our inability to retain the knowledge by hearing once (or even dozens of times!). Academic scholarship or “book knowledge” only comes into play when the spiritual master is not actually self-realized, or when there is no genuine desire on one’s part:

Inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding. Unless there is submission and service, inquiries from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding.” (Bg 4.34 Original, Unedited — Purport)

Unless one is submissive and ready to render service to the guru, the genuine spiritual understanding needed to truly ascertain what is being read will not be imparted unto one. This is where the term Book Knowledge can be applied. Book Knowledge refers to the plain act of studying a book just for the sake of studying it. If one reads Srila Prabhupada’s books today with submission and service their inquiries will be most effective.

It should be understood that the spiritual master is eternal and is always living; his instructions are always potent, regardless of whether or not he is physically present. The instructions of the spiritual master are identical with the spiritual master himself. Indeed, the very purpose of the spiritual master is to leave instructions which can be directly perceived by a devotee in order to attain perfection. Are Srila Prabhupada’s books not able to be directly perceived by us? This is the direct connection to the parampara and our method for success.

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