“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
पवित्रम् इदम् उत्तमम्
सु-सुखं कर्तुम् अव्ययम्
pavitram idam uttamam
su-sukhaṁ kartum avyayam
Friend1: This might be the strangest question I have ever asked you.
Friend2: Really? That would be saying something.
Friend1: I mean it makes no sense. There is no reason to bring it up. At the same time, it is nagging at me, so I would like to get an outside opinion on the matter.
Friend2: Listen, if you read Vedic literature you will find that people are sometimes reluctant to ask something, but due to the closeness of the relationship they open up. For instance, did you know that Arjuna later told Krishna that he forgot about their previous conversation?
Friend1: Later, as in after the Bhagavad-gita was spoken?
Friend2: Yes. You find the exchange towards the end of the Mahabharata. We are only human, after all. Even if we receive the most important, life-altering information, it is natural to forget. Other responsibilities take over. Situations change. I was happy one moment, and then worrying the next.
Friend1: I see. Did Krishna scold him? After all, not everyone gets to see the virata-rupa, the universal form. Not everyone is privy to the secret of all secrets, guhyatam, as Bhagavan describes it.
Friend2: The guru is tolerant and affectionate in that way. They are prepared to explain the same topic many times over. They take as much joy in describing the gunas of Bhagavan as the person on the receiving end does hearing about them.
Friend1: That’s nice to know. Alright, so here goes. There are these people I will describe as “celebrity devotees.” I can’t think of a better term. What do you think of them?
Friend2: I obviously need more information here.
Friend1: Let’s say that one person is expert at doing kirtana. They sing the maha-mantra very well: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Their ability is so exceptional, in fact, that they can put on concerts. They release audio recordings of the performances. Their services are in high-demand across the world.
Friend2: Wow. That sounds great, as long as it doesn’t go to their head. You have a problem with this?
Friend1: I cringe when I see such people advertising their services in so-called “training workshops.” For a fee, they accept students into this academy of sorts, where the basics of the kirtana experience are explained. The advertisement says something to the effect that no one else in the world can teach these ancient practices because the original teachers have all left this world.
Friend1: Let me give you another situation, just to get a general idea of where my problem lies. A temple has a weekly gathering open to the public. There is a full program, as we will call it. Kirtana. Chanting. Formal worship of the deities, which are the authorized, physical representations of the Supreme Lord.
Friend2: Meant to facilitate worship. Obviously, God is always more than stone. He is larger than this entire universe, in fact, but He is so merciful that He allows us to envision His transcendental features in a way that we can somewhat understand.
Friend1: This program has a lecture, too. It used to be reading from the Bhagavad-gita and then explaining. Lately, it has been inviting some “celebrity” devotee, as I call it. They have a resume, so to speak. A list of accomplishments to include in an email announcement, which will hopefully attract more people to the program.
Friend1: Sometimes the resume is properly focused, such as with opening temples, serving the guru, travelling the world distributing Vedic literature. Sometimes, to me, it seems the content is way off.
Friend2: How so?
Friend1: They may have published some book that became popular in the retail market. No mention of Krishna. No mention of bhakti-yoga. Just a bunch of platitudes, life lessons that are rooted in duality. You know, like “never criticize others, learn to listen, be humble”, and so on.
Friend2: I get the general idea. And all of this bothers you?
Friend1: It does.
Friend2: Is there a little envy, here? Perhaps you wish that you could advertise your services in the same way.
Friend1: Maybe, but I think it goes beyond that. I have been to a lot of temple programs. I have met many different people. I can’t tell you the impact they have made on me. It is absolutely true that taking the dust of the lotus feet of a Vaishnava is everything. The devotee of Vishnu can save you from this world of suffering through only a short interaction.
Friend2: That is very nice. Yes, nothing compares to the association of saintly people.
Friend1: The thing is, some of the best lectures I have heard have been from people who don’t speak regularly. They are not well-known, either. Maybe they were politely encouraged to give a talk since no one else was available that particular week. Here’s the other thing. Some of the most inspiring and heartwarming kirtanas I have heard are from people who have never done it before.
Friend2: Really? As in don’t sing in front of people or they don’t sing at all?
Friend1: Could be both. They are not expertly trained in music. They simply heard and repeated. The devotion carried them forward. I guess that is what I am getting at. Isn’t the level of devotion more important than any of these outside factors?
Friend2: Absolutely. Totally agree with you. The more one advances in their connection in consciousness to the Supreme Lord, the smaller they feel. While others may think they are big and famous, the individual becomes more humble as a result. It is because they properly see the world around them and how others serve Bhagavan so well.
Friend1: Right, so what is the need for such advertisements? Pick anyone in the congregation and let them speak. I don’t need a freaking seminar. Choose a verse from Bhagavad-gita at random and explain what it means. You should have some general idea through your devotional practices. Tell me what it means to you, at least in terms of impact.
Friend2: I get what you are saying. There is the story from Lord Chaitanya’s lila about the illiterate person who held onto Bhagavad-gita every day. He could not read the words but just from holding the book he always remembered Krishna and Arjuna on the chariot. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said that such an understanding was perfect.
Friends and family gather,
For important spiritual matter.
For celebrity-like devotee this week,
Who profound wisdom to speak.
Or expertly at kirtana music trained,
Only with fee the same by you gained.
But in truth level of devotion mattering,
The humble servant my illusion shattering.