“The brahmana replied, ‘I am illiterate and therefore do not know the meaning of the words. Sometimes I read the Bhagavad-gita correctly and sometimes incorrectly, but in any case I am doing this in compliance with the orders of my spiritual master.’” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 9.98)
विप्र कहे,–मूर्ख आमि, शब्दार्थ ना जानि
शुद्धाशुद्ध गीता पडि, गुरु-आज्ञा मानिऽ
vipra kahe,–mūrkha āmi, śabdārtha nā jāni
śuddhāśuddha gītā paḍi, guru-ājñā māni’
Friend1: Growing up, did you get lectured on the importance of reading books?
Friend2: As in, that is something we should be doing?
Friend1: Yes. It was sort of a shaming, always in the context of sitting around and doing nothing. More often than not, the juxtaposition was to watching television.
“Don’t just sit around and stare at that tube the entire day. You are turning into a zombie. You are not learning anything. Turn it off now and go read a book.”
Friend2: Wow, you sound exactly like a parent. I think everyone growing up in that era heard things like that. It’s probably reinforced even more today, with the rise of smartphones and the internet. You know, we didn’t even have a computer in the house growing up.
Friend1: Same with us. I think they were just taking off in popularity, but you couldn’t do much with them. They were more for adult use, like doing finances and printing important documents.
Friend2: Accompanying the encouragement for reading was the sanctity with which the library was viewed. If you were going to the library instead of the shopping mall, you were somehow more virtuous. You were like the best kid ever. The parents would ask their other children to be like you.
Friend1: What I wanted to bring up today was a common joke you used to hear. If someone said that they liked to read, another person might say that they only read books with large pictures in them. It is a self-deprecating statement, implying that they are not smart enough to understand literature by itself.
Friend2: Sure, I heard that many times. As you enter the teenage years, you realize that the books stop having pictures. Maybe the cover and some additional plates inserted, but that’s it. You are forced to read like an adult, after that.
Friend1: In the context of understanding the Almighty, we see that within the bhakti tradition there is so much imagery.
Friend2: Absolutely. It is because of the unlimited nature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There are pictures based on historical events, but He is not limited by time or space. The same pastimes are taking place in another universe at this precise moment.
Friend1: You have the pastimes of His associates, also. Many incidents depicted in paintings and posters. They become worshipable, placed on the altar in the home. There are accompanying descriptions from literature. That is to say the images are authorized; they are not the product of imagination.
Friend2: That is important to remember.
Friend1: Do we have a correlation here, though? If it is considered less-intelligent to rely on reading books with large pictures, are we not limiting our understanding of God through images?
Friend2: Every popular faith has their own imagery, as far as I know. When you walk into a church, the walls are not blank. It is not an empty room. The images are not meant to be a distraction. They do not lessen the significance of literature. As you said, they are based on authority. They represent real-life events. It is an art form, to tell stories through images.
Friend1: Okay, but can we learn everything we need through them?
Friend2: You can reach perfection in consciousness through a single word. Say the holy name, over and over. It may only take hearing the word just one time. That is why the acharyas emphasize the importance of chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Friend1: If I see a picture of Krishna, that might be enough?
Friend2: You have that famous story involving Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He met a person who was illiterate. That person was holding Bhagavad-gita. He could not read the book that he was holding, but he felt great ecstasy nonetheless. It was because he constantly pictured Krishna serving as Arjuna’s charioteer, and he marveled at that.
Friend1: How God could be so nice.
Friend2: Sure; so many emotions. Mahaprabhu declared that illiterate person’s understanding of Bhagavad-gita to be perfect. That is sufficient evidence. Too many images is neither a disqualification for validity nor an indication of a lack of intelligence. The bhakti tradition opens many doors for understanding the all-attractive one, who is our greatest well-wisher since before anyone can remember.
Told a book to read,
Not the television to need.
Considered superior and wise,
What if with bhakti tries?
Books creating images so,
Many ways Krishna to know.
Like illiterate brahmana holding,
Kurukshetra in mind unfolding.