“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)
Girish: So tell me about the hearing process?
Shankar: What do you want to know?
Girish: Well, I hear, no pun intended, that hearing is the most effective way to absorb information about self-realization.
Shankar: Yes, it’s the quickest way towards transcendence.
Girish: Does that mean that seeing is useless?
Shankar: It’s not as effective.
Girish: So if I watch someone on television talking about the need for satisfying the soul and how there is an always changing body, including at the time of death, I won’t be as benefitted as if I were to hear the same information?
Shankar: Right. Reading goes along with hearing. Though you’re seeing the words, it’s essentially a translation. You see the word, read it in your mind, and thus hear. Seeing is different. Not that it’s ineffective entirely, but hearing is the traditional path, and it is less vulnerable to defects.
Girish: What are the defects?
Shankar: If you’re watching the guy on television, you’re judging his appearance. If he seems very young to you, you might not appreciate the message as much as you should. If you’re stuck on his appearance, you won’t pay attention as much to what he’s saying. Then you’re assessing whether he’s mean or nice, whether he’s interesting or not. You’re also looking at the people looking at him. There’s so much going on to serve as distractions.
Girish: And with hearing I have to pay attention. If there’s a distraction, I won’t be able to hear, which will make me upset.
Girish: So I’ve also read, or heard, in the commentaries by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada that in order to figure out how to use the body given to us by nature we similarly have to hear.
Shankar: Yeah, and that shouldn’t surprise you. There are preconceived materials. Sort of like a jumble of objects on the floor of a room. Unless someone tells you the right way to use those objects, you won’t be able to figure it out.
Girish: That makes sense, for sure. I mean someone had to teach me how to drive. I didn’t know what all the different parts to the car were and how they worked together. Someone had to teach me how to read and write. These are all preconceived materials, and without hearing I wouldn’t have known how to use them.
Shankar: There you go.
Girish: There is one thing to consider, though.
Shankar: What is that?
Girish: Invention. Think of all the great inventors in history. They learned from hearing; there’s no denying that. But then they also experimented. They went beyond what others were doing. They tried out new things and made amazing discoveries in the process.
Shankar: That’s true. If it weren’t for their fearless exploration, so many things today wouldn’t exist. They also passed on that information through hearing, though.
Girish: What do you mean?
Shankar: The light bulb, the telephone, the automobile – these things were invented, but we only know how they work today by referencing the information passed on by the inventors. Hearing is required.
Girish: No, that’s true, but the origin was exploration, trial and error. It wasn’t hearing entirely.
Shankar: It is good that you mention this. So we have these amazing inventions. There is no denying that. I can hear a voice from thousands of miles away in an instant by picking up a device. How cool is that? When Prabhupada speaks of hearing for using preconceived materials for spiritual paraphernalia, he’s referring to the ultimate objective of life.
Girish: And that is? I know what it is, but I want to see if you do [smiling].
Shankar: Your question says it all. If we don’t know what the aim of life is, we’ll never figure it out by trial and error. No amount of scientific experimentation is going to give us the reason for our birth. We may make so many advancements and then pass on our findings through the hearing process, but this does nothing to solve the problem of birth and death. Thus the superiority of hearing is proven once again.
Girish: I knew you were going to say that. And didn’t the first living entity take everything in through hearing?
Shankar: Yes. Lord Brahma. The information came to him within the heart. The Supreme Lord helped Brahma out. Brahma then returned the favor by passing on the same information to others. He is the leader of one of the four sampradayas, or chains of disciplic succession, which teach the bona fide spiritual science.
Girish: So the iPhone, the iPad, the HD television, the streaming video service, the central air conditioning system – these things won’t help me reach the ultimate objective in life?
Shankar: Not independently. If you hear about how to use the materials of this world properly, then of course you can reach the right destination. But it starts with hearing, and that hearing originates from the sound created by the Supreme Lord Himself, who is known as Krishna among many other endearing terms. That name means “all-attractive,” and it applies to His sound as well. The sound of transcendental wisdom is stored in the ancient texts of India, and the person who unlocks that sound and gives proper respect to hearing it will very quickly learn how to make use of the various materials they see around them.
From hearing knowledge to come,
Without it not knowing what to be done.
Even with many an amazing invention,
Not alone causing birth and death’s prevention.
From the Vedas coming the original sound,
In it knowledge of proper use to be found.
For service to God only this precious life meant,
That knowledge from disciplic succession sent.