"O hero, many times in the past You had spoken the same words of instruction to me. Of course how can anyone, be they even Brihaspati himself, be capable of instructing You?" (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.18)
Important facts and theorems need to be repeated again and again in order for others to understand them. This makes sense because it is our tendency to forget things, especially considering just how fast the human brain works and how quickly it processes ideas, memories, and experiences. Repetition is beneficial because sometimes even the givers of information, the teachers, can forget the relevant facts relating to their subject of interest. If a person repeats key concepts or finds new ways to explain the same ideas, they gain a better understanding of the subject matter. This principle especially applies to teachings relating to spiritual life.
The initial inclination is that such repetition will end up boring the intended audience. “Why would I want to listen to the same thing all the time? After a while, I’m just going to zone it out anyway.” This may certainly be true in many scenarios. We have a tendency to get bored very quickly, thus there is a plethora of television channels and internet websites for our perusal. Though there appears to be variety in material enjoyment, if we do a careful study, we’ll see that this variety is an illusion. Let’s take the news for example. We like to watch the news for the obvious reason that it gives us new information; things that we don’t know about. People who watch the news feel like they are in the know, ahead of the curve so to speak. But is today’s news really anything noteworthy?
Say we opened up a newspaper from five or even ten years ago. First off, hardly anyone would have any interest in reading a newspaper which is that old, for even yesterday’s news is of no interest. If we were to open up one of these old papers, we’d likely find a few stories relating to notable celebrity figures passing away, Congressmen declaring a crisis in some area of the economy, another person contemplating running for political office, a few gruesome murders here and there, and a new study saying that such and such food will cure cancer. The nature of the stories never really changes, though the exact details, facts, and proper names may vary. So while we may think we are getting variety in material life, we are more or less “chewing the chewed”, as the great devotee Prahlada Maharaja would say.
Material life has this effect on us. We try something out, get some enjoyment out of it, and then eventually cast it aside in favor of a new venture. But the nature of the activities doesn’t really change, for everything revolves around the four principles of animal life: sleeping, having sex, consuming food, and worrying about defense. Every new grandiose philosophy expounded by the latest intellectual is really no different than anything we’ve already heard. With each new activity, our enjoyment actually diminishes more and more. Since we have already “chewed” on such activities, there isn’t much left there to give us happiness.
When all the enjoyment is chewed out of a particular activity, what do we do? Naturally, we look for new activities. But if the nature of the activities doesn’t change, we’re not likely to derive any new enjoyment. Spiritual life is different though. When talking about Lord Krishna, or God, devotees derive pure transcendental pleasure. They can go on and on talking about the Lord – describing His glories, activities, and names – and never get bored. To see evidence of this, we need only consult the recorded teachings of two famous Vaishnava acharyas: Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada, and His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta was Shrila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, so we’ll look at some of his activities first. Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta was known as the genius of his time; he even received the nickname of the “living encyclopedia”. He could recite entire sections of Vedic literature straight from memory. Not only was he good at memorizing, but he could invoke relevant scriptural verses when needed, especially when debating other non-devotees. Aside from writing many books in several languages about devotion to Krishna, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta loved to lecture. It is said that he once spent two months giving lectures on just one verse from the Shrimad Bhagavatam. These verses aren’t very long; maybe a few sentences, so how could one person talk for that long about the same verse? It also must be noted that his lectures weren’t carbon copies of each other; he didn’t just repeat himself every day.
Shrila Prabhupada behaved in a similar manner. He authored a large number of books after he had reached the age of seventy, which itself is a remarkable achievement. Moreover, he continually travelled across the world giving lectures, engaging in conversations, and translating books every single day. Many of these lectures were recorded, and one can listen to them today at their leisure. A point of interest is that most of the Prabhupada lectures had the same meanings, touched on the same famous verses from scripture, and eventually reached the same conclusion. Yet one will never get bored listening to these lectures. How could this be?
An even more relevant question is how were these two great saints able to talk about the same subject matter every single day and not bore themselves? How were they able to remain passionate about what they were teaching and how were they able to keep others interested? As mentioned before, there is a difference between something that is material and something that is spiritual. Matter is part of God’s inferior energy, so even though it is related to God, it is subordinate in nature to spirit. Spirit is anything directly relating to God, thus it is considered the Lord’s superior energy. When we engage in any activity that is aimed at developing our material bodies, it is called karma. Spiritual activities are geared towards developing our spiritual bodies, so these activities are considered free of karma.
Since matter is inferior to spirit, it makes sense that the enjoyment derived from associating with the material energy would also be inferior. Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta, Shrila Prabhupada, and all the great devotees associate exclusively with God’s spiritual energy, so they never tire of teaching. They were able to talk so extensively about Krishna because they had the proper understanding of everything material and spiritual. A scientist may be enamored by how grass grows. They will study the chemical properties, how long seeds take to sprout, and what it takes to sustain the life of the grass. While this information is beneficial, it doesn’t really help in the grand scheme of things. The better way to go about learning about plants, trees, crops, etc. is to first understand the source of all life: God. This is the path taken by devotees. They try to find out who God is, where He lives, what He looks like, and what our relationship with Him should be.
After finding the answers to these questions, devotees immediately gain a perfect understanding of everything else in life. The same example of grass can be used here. The devotees look at the growing of grass in this way: “Oh this grass is so nice. It grows because of the sunlight produced by Krishna. It needs fertile soil in order to grow, thus it requires high quality dirt, which is also emanating from Krishna. Once the grass grows, it can be eaten by the cows, who will then freely supply milk to mankind. This milk will then be used to prepare foodstuff to be offered to Krishna. Once the Lord eats the food, the resultant prasadam [the Lord’s mercy] can be distributed to others. Thus the grass helps everyone in becoming Krishna conscious, which is the ultimate goal in life.”
Devotees not only look at grass through this prism of devotional service, but everything else in the world as well. Thus we see there are unlimited ways to describe the Lord. At this point, one may ask, “Okay, so you can describe God in so many ways, but why is this needed? Why do you constantly need to find new ways to explain the same concepts of spiritual life?” The reasons are twofold. The first is that devotees like to find ways to relate everyday things to spiritual life for the benefit of the non-devotees. In the grand scheme of things, every person is a devotee of Krishna, but they just might not be aware of it. Also, the objects of their devotion may vary. One person may be worshiping Krishna’s illusory energy known as maya, while another is worshiping the mind, the body, etc. Though every person is a devotee, since their objects of worship vary, so do the results of their worship. When we speak of devotees of Krishna, we refer to those people who worship Krishna directly, either in His personal form or one of His vishnu-tattva expansions such as Rama, Narasimha, Narayana, etc.
Perfection in life can be achieved only when we take to direct worship of Krishna, because only through this worship can we develop a permanent spiritual body. This development is essential because only in a spiritual body can we enjoy pure transcendental bliss; something which gives us enjoyment that never runs out. In order to persuade people to take to direct worship of Krishna, intricate explanations are required. Moreover, not every person is of the same mindset, so it is up to the spiritual master, or guru, to tailor his message to the specific audience. For example, some people may be strict karmis who are after sense gratification. When speaking to such people, a devotee may choose to focus on the temporary nature of material sense gratification and how karma is a never-ending cycle. Then there are others who may believe in God, but may not want to accept the fact that He has a permanent form. They’d rather spend their time sitting in silent meditation or studying Vedanta. For these people, devotees would focus their attention on the fact that merging into Krishna’s impersonal energy, Brahman, doesn’t provide spiritual satisfaction since all spiritual activity is eliminated in the Brahman effulgence. If one wants transcendental bliss with activity and individuality, things which are natural for the soul, it is better to worship God’s personal form.
The second, and probably more important, reason that devotees love to explain the same concepts over and over again is that it gives them great pleasure. An example of this was seen many thousands of years ago with Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. During the Treta Yuga, God personally appeared on earth as one of His vishnu-tattva expansions named Rama. Appearing as the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Lord Rama was a great warrior and pious soul from birth. Not only was He adept at fighting enemies, but He also had a full grasp of Vedic concepts and truths. This shouldn’t be surprising, as Rama was God Himself. Since He was the eldest son of the king, Rama had added responsibilities. He had to set a good example not only for the citizens of Ayodhya, but also for His three younger brothers. His brothers all looked at Rama as a father, and the Lord would oblige by giving them instruction on dharma.
The Lord is the most merciful after all, so He doesn’t like to always be the one providing instruction. Sometimes He likes to glorify His devotees by giving them the opportunity to teach. This was the case when Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped from the forest by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rama pretended to be very distraught. He was playing the role of an ordinary human. Seeing that his beloved brother was distressed, Lakshmana stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. Though his teachings were intricate and detailed, the sum and substance was that Rama should not overly lament over bad fortune and that He should remain fixed on the righteous path, performing His duties as a prince and husband with detachment. These teachings, which are a central part of Vedic wisdom, are also found in the famous Bhagavad-gita delivered by Lord Krishna Himself.
At the conclusion of his statements, the sweet and kind-hearted Lakshmana was somewhat remorseful for having instructed his superior brother. In the above referenced statement, he makes note of the fact that Rama had many times previously offered the same instructions to him and that no one in the world was capable of telling Rama what to do. These weren’t just flattering words but undeniable facts. God is the original spiritual master of the world, so no one can surpass Him in intelligence. Yet Lakshmana’s statement is quite noteworthy since it tells us that Rama had previously offered the same words of advice to Lakshmana. This means that the Lord enjoyed discussing the same spiritual topics over and over again, and Lakshmana, being the great devotee that he was, also enjoyed hearing them. So we see that even though Lakshmana had already understood everything perfectly, there was still a need for repetition. Additionally, Rama enjoyed hearing the same teachings repeated to Him by His younger brother.
The devotees, as their primary business in life, try to get others to take up the discipline of devotional service. They subscribe to this dharma because they know that only through the execution of devotional service will mankind find the permanent happiness that currently eludes it. One of the simplest ways to perform devotional service is to discuss topics relating to Krishna with others. The easiest way to discuss Krishna with others is to simply chant His names out loud, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This is by no means the only option available to us. In today’s advanced technological age, simply typing out Krishna’s name and sending it to others is also a form of Krishna-katha, or discourses about God. We can also find a nice story on the internet relating to Krishna and forward the link to all of our friends. The possibilities for igniting spiritual discourses are endless.
So we see that talking about Krishna pleases four distinct entities: the people we are talking to, other great devotees, ourselves, and the Supreme Lord. Knowing this fact, it would be a crime not to continue talking about Krishna and discussing transcendental topics over and over again. As long as the life breath remains in our body, we should make this our primary activity.
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