Sometimes strange things happens. Since Syamananda made me aware that reading books can be considered seva, I have been contemplating it, but not understanding how reading is seva. I love reading, I read a lot, but it has felt more like the authors are serving me by giving me this wonderful literature to absorb. Even though Syamanada gave me such a great explanation, I just couldn’t get it.
Then this came up:
Srila Gurudeva has mentioned:
“We should treat all the books of the Gosvāmīs as our śikṣā-gurus. We should offer praṇāma to the books, and then read them. If we do this, we will realize that all siddhānta is coming automatically in our heart. This is the process of reading ‒ not reading, but serving ‒ the books.”
“When you are reading these books, don’t ‘read.’ Serve. Offer praṇāma, place the book on your forehead and heart, and pray, “O Prabhu, you are personally Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī. Please be merciful to me.” This is the process of reading.”
“When you are reading the dialogue between Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Rāya Rāmānanda on the bank of the Godāvarī, you can think, “I am on the bank of Godāvarī. Rāya Rāmānanda and Mahāprabhu are sitting here. I am also peacefully sitting with them, and hearing all their topics. O Mahāprabhu, O Rāya Rāmānanda Prabhu, please be merciful to me. Please sprinkle your mercy upon me so that I can understand this high-class siddhānta.” Without praying in this way, you will have doubts and you will not be able to realize anything.”
“When reading the books of Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja, you should think, “He is instructing me.” If you are reading a book of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, think that Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī is speaking to you; and if you are reading Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, think that Śrīla Śukadeva Gosvāmī and Śrīla Vyāsadeva are speaking to you. And, always pray to Lord Krsna and Śrī Gurudeva to sprinkle their mercy upon you.”
So I’m told very specifically to do certain actions while reading and this I can do. By working on doing this correctly every day I might end up doing some seva. This excites me. It seems like there is some hidden depths to reading I can uncover. This is so exciting!
But of course, I had to ask a follow-up question:
“Can serving the books give progress in spiritual life or do you need the physical association of a pure devotee to achieve progress?”
“If you want to read anything, don’t read on your own. Your mind is not controlled, and it is not pure. You should therefore go to any realized person and serve that tattva-vetta purusa (a self-realized soul, who is a knower of all truths). And then hear from him.
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
[“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.”
You should go to a person who has realized all spiritual truths. Serve him, and after that you may ask a question. With folded hands you may ask him, “If I am qualified to hear, then please explain such and such.” Then he will speak, and then there will be no doubt. On the other hand, if you will read by yourself so many doubts will come. If you will read Mahabharata, you may say, “Oh, Krsna has left His body and died.” If you will read Ramayana, you may think that Rama died, Laksmana died and all the monkeys died. This doubt may come; and if it comes, you will be ruined. Your bhakti will disappear.”
Srila Svami Prabhupada:
“So if you read different scriptures, you will be bewildered…But there is adjustment. If you go to the authorized person, he can adjust. But you cannot see. You see, you’ll see contradiction.”
“So Caitanya Mahaprabhu says the medium is sastra, and direction is the guru. Sastra also we cannot understand any book, what to speak of the scripture. Sometimes we find contradiction in the scripture. That is not contradiction; that is my poor fund of knowledge. I cannot understand; therefore assistance of guru, a spiritual master, is required.”
It seems like a bit of a contradiction that one can serve the books, but only have progress by association with a guru. So again I asked and got the answer:
It seems that definition of ‘progression’ is the point of contention here.
“Yes, in the general, reading Vaisnava literatures can bring progression in spiritual life, in that it can stimulate the desire to associate with sadhus and follow the path they have delineated. From there, perfection can be achieved, not by the reading itself.”
Well, I hope I’m getting massive amounts of sukriti going for me.