“Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has very favorably stressed the importance of this process of hearing. According to His method, if people are simply given a chance to hear about Krishna, certainly they will gradually develop their dormant awareness or love of Godhead.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.141 Purport)
Who would have thought that one of the most passive activities could prove to be the most potent form of spiritual activity? Something as simple as hearing can actually aggressively attack the wall of nescience surrounding the conditioned soul. This wall of ignorance precludes one from rekindling their original purified consciousness. Since consciousness, or one’s state of mind, is the driver of activity, if it is clouded or lost in a bottomless pit, naturally the activities that result from such a condition will also be of the lowest variety. In order for activities to be purified, a better way of thinking must be adopted. This mindset can be quickly achieved through the hearing process. Of all the topics that aural reception can focus on, none is more pleasing to the mind than the transcendental subject matter of Shri Krishna. Simply by hearing about Krishna regularly, one can remove all unwanted things in life.
We are already accustomed to the hearing process. Though television and internet have gained in popularity, the hearing process is still at the forefront of the exchange of information. When watching a television newscast, we are taking in information through the words delivered by the news anchor. When watching a sporting event on television, the broadcasters are feeding information to us constantly. Music is also a form of the hearing process; a way to give pleasure to the mind through the reception of sequences of notes.
Though hearing is a passive activity, it has long lasting results. If we hear of a tragic news story, we will likely talk about it with others. Most people remember where they were and what they were doing when the Twin Towers in New York City were attacked on September 11th, 2001. Immediately upon hearing the news, people started talking about the event with others. The same sequence of activity occurs with anything else that is heard, either intentionally or unintentionally. In this way, we see that hearing plays a vital role in the exchange of information.
Since we hear about so many different topics and subjects, which one is superior? What should we focus our attention on? Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is also known as Gaurahari, recommends that we listen primarily to topics relating to Krishna. In the Vedic tradition, there is no equivalent term for the English word “God”. Rather, the Supreme Divine Entity is described in terms of His limitless attributes. His original form is known as Bhagavan Shri Krishna. Bhagavan refers to the Almighty’s possession of every opulence imaginable to the fullest degree. The word “Krishna” speaks to the Lord’s all-attractive nature. Taking the two words together, the Supreme Lord is taken as the most attractive person who possesses every desirable attribute at the same time.
Lord Gaurahari is a famous historical personality, preacher, and exponent on the science of self-realization known as bhakti-yoga. Gaurahari is also considered an incarnation of Krishna by His devotees. Another name for the divine in the Vedic tradition is Hari, which means one who removes distresses. No one is more capable of removing all unwanted things from a person’s life than Krishna. Hari, Krishna, and Vishnu are interchangeable names for the original Personality of Godhead. What these forms have in common is that they possess a transcendental body which is of a bluish complexion. Therefore Krishna is commonly addressed as Shyamasundara, or the beautiful one possessing the complexion of a dark raincloud. Lord Chaitanya is known as Gaurahari because He is the same Hari who appeared on earth with a fair complexion.
Lord Chaitanya’s recommended spiritual practice is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. While chanting is an active engagement, hearing is more of a passive activity. Lord Chaitanya stated that simply by hearing, just by sitting down and listening to the transcendental sound vibrations of Krishna’s names and descriptions of His activities, one can achieve perfection in life.
What is that perfection? As mentioned before, consciousness drives activity. When consciousness becomes purified, when it returns to its original constitutional position, it drives one towards spiritual activities. By their outward appearance, activities of the spiritual variety aren’t very different from normal activities. The difference lies in the identification of two key entities: the enjoyer and the enjoyed. By default, the living entities take themselves to be the enjoyers. This identification drives them towards activities that will satisfy the self. These activities can either involve the acquisition of material objects, relationships, or pleasures. Sometimes the activities can also be deemed as unselfish; engagements where the intended recipient of such service is someone besides the self. Yet even in these situations, the ultimate enjoyer is taken to be the individual performing the activities.
Spiritual activities are inherently different because they are performed for the pleasure of Krishna. Knowing that Krishna is the ultimate enjoyer and acting off this information are two different things. In order for a person to be considered truly religious, they must abide by the principles of the faith they espouse. If we outwardly acknowledge that Krishna is the only enjoyer, our activities must back up this claim. But due to the cloud of nescience which envelopes us, taking to spiritual activities is not an easy thing. It requires a change in consciousness; something which can easily be acquired through hearing about the Lord.
Why should we hear about Krishna in lieu of other topics? What if we don’t believe in Krishna? What if we have our own God or are not even religious? In truth, every single person in the world is religious. Being spiritually inclined simply means acknowledging a higher power, an authority who serves as the ultimate object of worship and also the ultimate enjoyer. This object doesn’t have to be a divine figure in order for the principle of religiosity to remain valid. For example, one person may take to worshiping their dog by humbly offering it service on a daily basis. The faithful dog owner will rush home to walk their “best friend” on a timely basis, scooping up whatever waste deposits are left by the dog during its walk. The faithful servant of the dog will gladly bend down and offer obeisances in the form of setting up food, cleaning up after accidents, and playing with the dog on the floor.
Others follow a similar mindset. Fans of fictional movie series such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings will camp outside movie theaters in anticipation of getting tickets. They will also dress up as their favorite characters and imitate their activities and speaking patterns. This is all a form of worship which involves some sort of hearing. Lord Chaitanya’s recommendation is that we should simply shift the focus of our hearing towards topics relating to Krishna. Since He is the Supreme Pure, He will provide all the happiness that we already get from hearing about other topics and so much more.
So what do topics relating to Krishna deal with? The Lord has been kind enough to appear on earth many times in the past in various guises. During such times, Krishna took on many roles that are familiar to us, such as father, son, husband, prince, king, preacher, spiritual master, warrior, brother, etc. Simply by hearing of His activities in these various roles, we can relate to the Supreme Lord and garner an attachment to Him. This attachment helps change our consciousness. If we constantly hear about Krishna, we will naturally talk about Him with others. Information relating to the Lord is perfect in every respect, for one of Krishna’s names is Achyuta, which means infallible.
“Listen Rama, I will now tell You where You, Sita, and Lakshmana should reside. Those whose ears are like oceans which are constantly replenished by, and never overflow from, streams represented by stories of Your wonderful activities – in their hearts You should make Your charming abode.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Ayodhya Kand, 127.1-2)
During one of Krishna’s most famous advents on earth, the Lord took on the guise of a handsome prince named Rama. While travelling through the forests of India alongside His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana, Rama came upon the hermitage of the illustrious sage Valmiki. Asking the sage if he knew of a good place to set up a camp, Rama was greeted with a description of the qualities of a pure devotee of God. Upon listing each characteristic, Valmiki asked Rama to live in the heart of any person who possessed such noble traits. One of the first characteristics mentioned by Valmiki was the insatiable appetite for hearing about the Lord. The great sage was saying that Lord Rama, along with Sita and Lakshmana, should reside in the hearts of those who eagerly anticipate hearing about God and His glories. Not only do such people take pleasure in hearing of transcendental topics, but they relish every word they are fortunate enough to take in. They also never tire of hearing such stories, no matter how many times they are heard. These stories are like rivers which flow into an ocean that can never overflow. This means that God rewards those who take the hearing process to be their life and soul. This fact alone should be enough to convince us of the potency of hearing about Krishna.
We should most certainly heed Shri Gaurahari’s advice. Since hearing is a simple and passive activity, there is no reason to shun it. We simply need to spend a few minutes every day to listen to Krishna or descriptions of Him given by great devotees. Hearing can also take place through reading great texts such as the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana, and Shrimad Bhagavatam. The transcendental descriptions contained within these texts represent the sword of knowledge which can help us cut away the cloud of ignorance that surrounds us. By holding on to Krishna, His name, and the transcendental sound vibrations which describe Him as our most valuable possessions, the Lord will make sure that such precious commodities remain protected and ever-increasing in value.