Learning versus studying

Learning isn’t sitting down, being told harikatha or listening to lectures “very hard”. Learning is when you have assimilated the teaching, know it by heart – and in our sampradaya, live it.

So how do you learn? I have read so many spiritual books, but ask me a question about it and I will stutter and try to my best to answer. I will not be happy with my answers because I will not find them sufficient, I will not feel content with the answers I’ve given. If I’m not content about it, then the one asking the question probably haven’t gotten much out of my answers either.

Some years ago I asked Syamarani didi this question “How do we learn the philosophy enough to speak about it properly?”

Answer: You have to just cram it, learn it by heart by forcing the mind to remember it. Trying again and again until it sits.

I got that answer, I think I expected it. The trouble was, it doesn’t work for me. I have  half-hearted attempts behind me that have failed – for years. The reason I work within IT and have a masters degree is because it’s practical learning. You program something and it either works or not. When learning IT there is certainly theory to learn, but even the theory is practical and relates to the world and how things work.

Yesterday, I read something that must have been brewing in my mind:

Raghunatha Bhatta dasa: Yesterday you were speaking about our Sripada Tirtha Maharaja. You described how he became a good devotee.

Srila Narayana Maharaja: He was not learned in the beginning. (At the present moment he knows several thousands verses -ed.)

Walking with a saint 2008

I connected this conversation to learning today.

It’s all about the verses. The ability to quote verses from the vedas is the basis. When we speak some philosophy, we are supposed to quote a verse to substantiate our statements. We are not supposed to concoct our own philosophy, and quoting vedic verses validates that we are not speaking bullshit.

But moreover, by learning verses by heart it will be easier to speak the philosophy and what is meant by the verses. I still have to do cramming to learn the verses, but I think it will flow easier then.

I suddenly understand why Kirtana is so important. Kirtana is singing of the vedic verses,  they are the gems of our philosophy. There you get the learning, the praying, the moods, the absorption.

So I will try this approach now – learn a new verse by heart. Cramming it – thinking about it’s meaning and go from there. That seems like a practical approach for me. Studying – the practical way.

But it can’t be those verses that is most used by Gurudeva – the most important ones. It have to be verses on themes that I’m interested in for the moment.

I think I know which one will be the first. The one that speaks to me for the moment since I have no progress in spiritual life.

hena kṛṣṇa-nāma yadi laya bahu-bāra
tabu yadi prema nahe, nahe aśrudhāra

tabe jāni, aparādha tāhāte pracura
kṛṣṇa-nāma-bīja tāhe nā kare ańkura

“If one chants the exalted holy name of the Lord again and again and yet his love for the Supreme Lord does not develop and tears do not appear in his eyes, it is evident that because of his offenses in chanting, the seed of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa does not sprout.”

Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta Ādi 8.29-30