“We must always engage our minds in reading these Vedic literatures. Just as materialists engage their minds in reading newspapers, magazines and so many materialistic literatures, we must transfer our reading to these literatures which are given to us by Vyasadeva; in that way it will be possible for us to remember the Supreme Lord at the time of death.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)
“I understand that the concept of shastra, sacred text, is practically universal to all religions. They rely upon a book or two as their reference guide. It draws the line between good and bad, piety and sin. It is there to settle doubts, to bring clarity to situations where the proper course of action is otherwise unclear.
“I also acknowledge that in the Vedic tradition shastra is not limited to a single work. You could certainly accept Bhagavad-gita and derive a lifetime’s worth of satisfaction, knowledge, enjoyment, comfort, and strength from it, but this is not an exclusive book club or anything similar. Another person might read Shrimad Bhagavatam, Vishnu Purana, Hari-vamsha, or Ramayana and reach a similar level of enlightenment.
“What would your response be to the argument about living in the past? We are here, right now. This is our life. Sure, people before us have passed on. A similar fate awaits us moving forward. No one can stay here forever. Yet to constantly dwell on the past is to live in illusion, it seems. It is thinking that events which occurred thousands of years ago can come to life, that they can become permanent.
“Is there not a danger in spending too much time reading shastra? Is there not a vulnerability to mishandling current events? You see these nerds in school who make up their own reality. They live in these video games or role-playing adventures, completely shut off from society. I don’t think that is healthy.”
1. Avoiding the news
By reading shastra, you are essentially hearing. It is both recorded instruction and storytelling. It is like travelling into the past and sitting down with a famous personality. Their words have been preserved in written form because the sounds are important to hear. The major compilers, like Vyasadeva and Valmiki, took the time to consider who would be worthwhile in association for future generations.
By engaging in such hearing, I am automatically shut off from the noise around me. The news is one of the major culprits in bringing about dissatisfaction, malaise, ill-will, prejudice, consternation, ignorance, and fear. The other side argues that a person should stay up to date with current events, but when someone spends even a weekend away from the television and internet, their outlook on life tends to improve dramatically.
2. Less distracted
As described in shastra itself, the goal of the human birth is to finally achieve liberation, to be at one with the singular source of the spiritual and material energies. The oneness has different levels, such as a total merge and loss of identity or a singularity in terms of the relationship formed.
Devotees like Hanuman and Arjuna choose the latter. Vaishnavas consider this to be the real meaning of liberation, mukti. It is the superior form of escape from the cycle of birth and death. All other kinds of release have some sort of blemish to them, since they don’t align with the true nature of the individual, who is spirit soul.
To make the potential a reality, I should avoid distractions. Maya will have many avenues and tunnels of exploration, for me to curiously wind down this road and that, to the point that I completely forget my original intention. Even a little contemplation on one of the objects of the senses can cause me to veer off in the wrong direction, like a boat carried away by the wind.
इन्द्रियाणां हि चरतां
यन् मनो ऽनुविधीयते
तद् अस्य हरति प्रज्ञां
वायुर् नावम् इवाम्भसि
indriyāṇāṁ hi caratāṁ
yan mano ‘nuvidhīyate
tad asya harati prajñāṁ
vāyur nāvam ivāmbhasi
“As a boat on the water is swept away by a strong wind, even one of the senses on which the mind focuses can carry away a man’s intelligence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.67)
For the period of time spent in reading, at least the mind has reduced vulnerability to maya. This is due to the nature of the subject matter. Maya is that which is not, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead is that which is. He is the lone reality in this world of illusion.
3. Hearing sacred sounds
We don’t have a tape-recording available of the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna that constitutes the Bhagavad-gita. There isn’t video footage of Yashoda’s darling child holding up Govardhana Hill and saving the residents of Vraja from the vengeful wrath of Indra, the king of heaven. We don’t have a published vinyl record that plays the sweet sound vibrations emitted by Krishna’s flute.
Yet from reading we get a similar experience. This is because the words, preserved in the original language of Sanskrit, are like a key-pair translation. We see a word and that triggers the mind to create a sound. This sound is identical to the original. Even in the case of a translation, when done by an authorized and empowered representative of Krishna, the potency remains.
4. Following in the ways of the disciple
Though the human mind is capable of amazing things, though it may come upon amazing discoveries and unlock various secrets of nature through observation and experiment, there is no way to get a proper and complete understanding of the Supreme Lord through speculation alone.
भक्त्या त्व् अनन्यया शक्य
अहम् एवं-विधो ऽर्जुन
ज्ञातुं द्रष्टुं च तत्त्वेन
प्रवेष्टुं च परन्तप
bhaktyā tv ananyayā śakya
aham evaṁ-vidho ‘rjuna
jñātuṁ draṣṭuṁ ca tattvena
praveṣṭuṁ ca parantapa
“My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.54)
The devotional method flows through the spiritual master. The disciple should offer humble service and inquire submissively. To regularly hear from sacred texts, especially those published by the guru himself, is one way to properly engage as a disciple. The satisfaction of the spiritual master is everything; he can rescue me on the strength of his connection alone.
5. Always connected to the Supreme Lord
This is the best reason to make a routine of reading shastra. It is the easiest way to stay connected to Bhagavan, whose words and activities feature prominently in the preserved words. Vedic literature feeds the reading appetite both in the voluminous and omnivorous cases. The person who wants to focus on a single literature and subject matter will have their satisfaction met, as will the person who wants to consume everything that could be possibly known.
Advice of guru to heed,
That regularly shastra to read.
Benefits many abound,
Connecting through sound.
As if Bhagavan by my side,
In the present to reside.
And outside world put at arm’s length,
Without distractions spiritual strength.