“By hearing only can we make proper use of that which already exists. The principle of hearing to properly utilize preconceived materials is applicable to spiritual paraphernalia as well. We must hear from the proper spiritual source.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.26.32 Purport)
In the Vedic tradition hearing is very important. One might say that hearing is identical to the tradition itself, for knowledge originally comes from the highest authority source and then makes its way down to the future generations. Hearing is more important than seeing; which helps to explain why there’s a difference in knowledge-retention between those information consumers who primarily watch television versus those who primarily listen to radio and read books.
Hearing takes place through reading also, as the mind simply creates sound from looking at the written words. Therefore the authoring, publishing and distribution of transcendental literature is important in increasing the scope of the hearing process, which has proved to be the best way to give spiritual understanding to the otherwise ignorant living entity. Man is like a savage when exiting the womb; any good behavior assumed afterwards is learned.
The acceptance and subsequent assimilation of information offered from authority figures is a form of hearing. Joe was trying to get this point across to one of his friends one day. Not only did Joe want his friend to be familiar with the basic truth of the living entity being spirit and not their body, he also wanted his friend to regularly sacrifice some time for hearing the transcendental subject matter. To this end, he relayed a story from his own life.
I’ll never forget the first time I sat behind the wheel of a car. I’m ashamed to admit how it happened, but I feel it is necessary to share with you. It happened one day when I was very young, likely not even a teenager yet. My dad played on a recreational baseball team, and he took it very seriously. He wanted to improve his hitting, so he purchased this machine that would throw balls consistently into the same place. This would help with his technique. “If you can repeat the same action time after time, the muscles develop memory,” is what he would tell me.
One Saturday afternoon he headed over to the local high school to practice with this machine. My mom was out running errands, so there was no one home to watch me. This meant that my dad had to take me along. At the time, I was not much into sports, so I was dreading the trip with him. He had tried to get me into baseball before and it never worked. Fearing that I would be bored sitting on the bench outside watching him hit baseball after baseball, he let me stay in the car by myself.
“If you’re going to listen to the radio, then turn the car on. I’m leaving the keys with you. If there is any trouble, then honk the horn. I shouldn’t be long.” These were his parting words to me. They seemed kind of ridiculous at the time, as the parking lot at the school was completely vacant. Not a car in sight. The baseball field was adjacent to the parking lot. Yet it was still far enough away that you couldn’t see the players and the players couldn’t see the cars. Nevertheless, I was not worried.
I don’t know what came over me, but after some time, I got antsy and curious. I had always wanted to sit behind the wheel. I had no idea what anything was, but it looked really cool. Plus, the driver got to choose where to go. They were in charge. It looked easy enough. Thinking that this was my one opportunity to drive and that it shouldn’t be missed, I finally mustered the courage to move over to the driver’s seat.
I had no idea what I was doing, but there was a rush of adrenaline flowing through me. The car was already on since I was listening to the radio; that part was taken care of. I had seen other drivers move the knob from park to drive, so I gave that a shot. Suddenly the car started moving forward. I reached for one of the pedals, and then the car started moving fast. Oops. Just as I was about to run into some bushes, I figured out which pedal was the brake. Luckily I stopped in time.
I knew enough to put the car in reverse, so that’s what I did next. Still, I needed to get the car back into the previous spot; otherwise I was going to be in big trouble. But that wasn’t so easy. I needed to turn and move forward for that to happen. Turning was enough to get the job done; I was lucky that the parking lot was so empty. The car seemed to go very fast also. At one point when I thought I had everything figured out, I was headed straight for a lamppost. This looked bad. I slammed on the brake and stopped the car just inches from contact. Scared out of my mind, I finally put the car back in park and just sat there in shock.
My dad eventually made it back over to the car and was quite angry, as I’m sure you can imagine. He yelled and yelled at me on the way home. He told me that I wasn’t old enough to drive. He said that I needed instruction, that I had to learn what the different parts were and how they worked. He said to me, “You can’t just get behind the wheel and figure out all this complicated stuff on your own. You need someone to tell you what everything is. What you did was very irresponsible.” Many years later my dad’s recollection has changed a little. He now laughs about the incident, telling the story to guests that come over the house, using it as a way to embarrass me.
After telling this story, Joe explained to his friend that every object in the material world is sort of like the machine that is the car. One has to hear in order to figure out the proper use. That’s why there is so much instruction. There are years of instruction for education on the basics, and then more education on top of that for specialization in a particular field.
The material creation features endless nuance, and so without hearing from the proper authority source, man has no idea what to do. He has hands, legs, a mouth, and ears for a reason. These are all meant to be used in service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Every part of the living entity, and every aspect of the material creation, can be utilized in that service. It is an art form for sure, and thankfully there are many artists to provide guidance. The original artist Himself, Shri Krishna, gives the foundation in the Bhagavad-gita, and the acharyas, the experts who specialize in the field, expand on that foundation to suit the time and circumstance. The reward for the person who hears properly is the ability to make life truly fulfilling, building the best afterlife at the same time.
Your chance to drive, this is it,
Quickly behind the wheel you sit.
But the controls you do not know,
Car then without control forward to go.
Must hear first about part each,
An instructor techniques to teach.
Lesson of driving to all of life take,
Hear for sense of this world to make.
For service to God everything is meant,
To help you guru from Krishna is sent.