“How can I ensure that the purpose of my task does not get destroyed? How shall I avoid mental disparity, and how do I ensure that my crossing of the ocean does not go for naught?” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.41)
Friend1: It’s good to ask questions.
Friend2: Especially when you’re trying to learn.
Friend1: I’ve noticed that even the experts ask a lot of questions.
Friend2: Such as?
Friend1: Doctors. Nurses. They are trained in the medical profession, but when they see patients the first thing they do is run through a series of questions. They don’t make assumptions. They perform a thorough investigation.
Friend2: A wise person applies discrimination. Steer clear of hasty generalizations. I believe that is one of the fallacies of logic.
Friend1: The hasty generalization? Yes. Some others are ad hominem, tu quoque, and straw man.
Friend2: There you go.
Friend1: Of course, I have a question about questions.
Friend1: At satsanga programs…
Friend2: Can also be called sadhu-sanga.
Friend2: An association of devotees, or saintly people. Sat refers to that which is eternal. Asat is temporary and thus not really important. Those who are aspiring after the eternal truth are also sat.
Friend1: And sadhu is the saintly person. Essentially satsanga and sadhu-sanga are synonymous.
Friend2: Yes. So, what about these programs?
Friend1: The format may vary slightly, but there is a general sequence. You get some sort of talk, discourse, discussion, what have you.
Friend2: Yes. Sometimes there is only chanting of the holy names, sankirtana. That is just as powerful, especially in this age of Kali where man is generally fallen. Only one leg of dharma, or righteousness, remains, so the attention span required to learn higher topics isn’t what it used to be. You can still get the same message across through a simpler method: transmission of sacred sound.
Friend1: Yes. I am well aware of the power of the holy names. In most of these gatherings those names are prominent, even within the teachings. There is heavy emphasis on the constant chanting of those names, especially the sequence found in the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Friend2: The great deliverer of the mind.
Friend1: After the discourse the floor is open for a few questions.
Friend2: Of course. The speaker wants to make sure everyone in attendance understood the message. No one should go home with doubts.
Friend1: I don’t really ask questions. I reserve those for you.
Friend1: Here’s something I noticed. Though the wording may vary, and even the exact subject matter, the questions are always the same.
Friend2: What do you mean? How is that possible?
Friend1: The discussions are often based on the Bhagavad-gita. The speaker takes a specific verse, reads it, and then discusses it. As you know, the Bhagavad-gita covers a wide range of topics.
Friend1: Right. So just imagine that no matter the verse of focus, the questions asked afterwards are identical.
Friend2: Now, are these questions really the same or is this a general impression you’re getting?
Friend1: It’s the latter. I’m not sure other people even pick up on it.
Friend2: Ah, I see. So what makes you think the questions are identical?
Friend1: Basically, each person is asking about their own practices. They feel they are deficient in some way. They maybe don’t chant as many rounds on a set of japa beads as recommended. Perhaps they aren’t thinking of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as often as they should. Some of them feel guilty about still having a job. Another person has material desires.
Friend2: Sounds pretty normal to me. You expect these people to be uttama-adhikaris, at the highest level of spiritual understanding?
Friend1: No, that’s not it. I’m trying to figure out what bothers me about the whole thing. Hmm, you know what it might be? Even if they are feeling guilty about not living up to the standard they seek, what is asking a question in a gathered assembly going to do about it?
Friend2: What do you mean? Shouldn’t they feel open to share their concerns with a respected personality? Isn’t that the benefit of having the teacher there?
Friend1: But the solution is always the same. “More devotional service. Stay on the path of bhakti-yoga. Don’t give up.” Honestly, after hearing these people, in my head I’m always thinking, “Stop being such a baby. Seriously. So you’re not perfect. Why are you bothering us about it? Did you not have trouble in college? Is raising children a picnic? Somehow you managed to succeed in those things. You didn’t have someone there holding your hand the entire time. Why are you being such a baby now?”
Friend2: Wow, that is a harsh reaction. You’re overlooking another factor here.
Friend1: What is that?
Friend2: Time. The loss of progress. Fear of a wasted effort. They want to make sure their time is being spent wisely. They don’t want to practice spiritual life and have it prove unfruitful. Otherwise it seems like a waste of time.
Friend1: Right, but in the Bhagavad-gita Krishna assures the unsuccessful yogi that there is no wasted effort. They get to continue in the next life from the same spot; not going backwards.
Friend2: You and I know that, but maybe these people don’t want to risk rebirth. They want to make the most of the practice right now. Look at the example of Shri Hanuman. When he was in Lanka looking for Sita, the missing wife of the Supreme Lord Rama, a few times he worried about the effort not going to waste.
Friend1: As in the search?
Friend2: As in all he had done up until that point. Remember, he leapt over a massive ocean. An amazing feat. It’s like a team staging an epic comeback in the final minutes of the game to tie the score, only to then lose in overtime. The effort essentially goes to waste. Hanuman did not want that to happen.
Friend1: But he is so dear to Sita and Rama. Even if he didn’t succeed, no one would blame him. He wouldn’t be considered any less of a servant to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Friend2: Try telling him that. He was worried about letting Rama down. He knew the other Vanaras counted on him to succeed. It’s the same way with people who follow bhakti-yoga as a spiritual practice. They don’t want to let the guru down. They want to please Krishna. It’s only natural for them to ask such questions. Look at how genuine they are. You should appreciate their humility and their dedication. Bhakti-yoga is so important to them that they don’t want to fail. How many other people can say that?
At sadhu-sanga, for guru questions to come,
Variety in wording, but having meaning one.
“Despite so dedicated to try,
Deficient in this service am I.”
But why needed someone their hand to hold?
Be fearless in devotion, courageous and bold.
But even great Hanuman having doubt,
Worried that long time success without.