“Maharaja Prithu was well conversant in transcendental science, yet he presented himself before the Kumaras as one ignorant of it. The idea is that even if a person is very exalted and knows everything, before his superior he should present questions. For instance, although Arjuna knew all the transcendental science, he questioned Krishna as if he did not know. Similarly, Prithu Maharaja knew everything, but he presented himself before the Kumaras as if he did not know anything. The idea is that questions by exalted persons put before the Supreme Personality of Godhead or His devotees are meant for the benefit of the general people.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.22.18 Purport)
Friend1: Maybe I have asked you this before…
Friend1: At a Krishna-katha event, gathering, or what have you, at the end the speaker sometimes asks if there are any questions.
Friend2: Right. That makes sense. Discourses about the Supreme Personality of Godhead constitute the highest subject matter. Just the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita alone can be studied, questioned, analyzed, contemplated for an entire lifetime.
Friend1: For sure. The most profound truth I encountered when first reading it was the deathless nature of the soul.
Friend2: “For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
Friend1: There you go.
Friend2: If you just read that one verse out loud, the talk qualifies as Krishna-katha.
Friend1: You are quoting from the Supreme Lord. That verse can trigger endless discussion.
Friend2: Absolutely. So what was the issue you wanted to bring up?
Friend1: Okay, so having attended many of these discourses, sometimes there aren’t any questions afterwards.
Friend2: People are shy. They don’t want to look foolish in front of an esteemed speaker.
Friend1: Sure. Many reasons. What happens next is where it gets interesting. If it looks like no questions are forthcoming, one of the regulars will chime in.
Friend2: By “regulars” you mean a person who attends on a regular basis or someone whose knowledge is beyond that of the novice?
Friend1: The latter. Basically, I know that they know the answer to the question they’re asking. Sometimes it gets a little ridiculous. They’ll ask, “What is soul?”
Friend2: When you know for a fact that they know exactly what the soul is.
Friend1: There you go. The discourse may not even have touched upon the nature of the basic functional unit of life, the identifying agent within every animated being.
Friend2: And you want to know why they are intentionally asking a question they know the answer to?
Friend1: Yeah. I mean, come on. You can do better than that, no? I get a kick out of it.
Friend2: I can see why you get amused, but you should know that the practice is keeping with tradition.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: Etiquette, to be more specific. The question gives an opportunity for the speaker to look good. If they look good, then the cause of bhakti-yoga is furthered. That is the whole objective. Esoteric understanding of this topic or that, knowledge of the spirit soul, consciousness of the guaranteed nature of death – this information is only valuable if it sparks service to the Divine, who is ultimately and originally a person, purusha.
Friend1: But isn’t the behavior disingenuous? You’re presenting yourself as less knowledgeable when you are not. It is deception, is it not?
Friend2: There are many examples from history that support the practice. The Bhagavad-gita itself is one. Arjuna was wise. He was a lifelong friend to Krishna, after all. With many of the questions he already knew the answer. The discourse was an opportunity to benefit future generations of man.
Friend1: I’ve also heard it said that Arjuna’s ignorance was only temporary, being under the influence of yogamaya, which is the good kind of illusory energy, controlled directly by Krishna.
Friend2: That’s true. There is also the case of Maharaja Prithu. He one time presented himself to be ignorant in front of the four Kumaras. They appreciated his humble attitude. Again, the purpose was the same, to benefit the people in general. The etiquette may look odd at first, but if you try to place yourself in the role of speaker, you start to see how endearing it is. It is something like a pitcher intentionally throwing you a hanging curveball, for you to knock out of the ballpark. When the devotee of the Supreme Lord shines in their glorification of Him, everyone benefits.
Beneficial when speaking to look good,
More than just topics to be understood.
That others fire of devotion to ignite,
Hopes in bliss of devotion to alight.
So sometimes asking that already known,
For further explanation in public shown.
Etiquette since King Prithu coming,
Who ignorant with Kumaras becoming.