On Reading Non-KC Books
by Suhotra Swami, 7th November 1993
This highly elusive thing, pure devotional service, I want it. I want it so badly it creates and ache in me. It is becoming almost the only thing I can talk about and because of this I can see that people are thinking I have made advancement in Krishna consciousness. I wish I had. It is not that I am advanced and therefore I am able to speak on pure devotional service with feeling. The real story is that I am convinced that pure devotional service, that is to say pure Krishna consciousness, is the only answer to the problems of life; the problems of inter-relationships; the problems that inevitably crop up in the pursuit of society, friendship, and love.
Pure devotional service alone is the answer. Everything else is, as Prabhupada used to say, "A patchwork solution". A bandaid over a leak in the dam. A diversion and a waste of time. The real thing is krishna bhakti karile sarva karma krta haya--devotional service destroys all one's store of karma. One has to study the philosophy more and more and gain conviction on this point more and more. Devotional service when properly understood needs no aid or help from other disciplines or understanding. Devotional service is perfect and complete.
But then the question comes, "What about the fact that you read books by non devotees? What are you gaining from them? Why waste your precious time reading what they have to say, if they have nothing important to say?"
It is not that I learn from such people what is devotional service. But from them I learn how to better apply my preaching about devotional service. I don't learn a thing about the Absolute Truth from such sources. Only the parampara is a satisfactory source of such wonderful transcendental knowledge. What I learn from the mundaners is how to better address and preach about the Absolute Truth to them.
Actually, what I learn from them is twofold--I learn more accurately the art of diagnoising the varities of illusion covering the conditioned souls and how to better articulate the points of Krishna consciousness in language that would reach them.
And, this is very important for my preaching to devotees, to the extent that the devotees themselves have baggage from their conditional existence, and they tend to have quite a bit in the first five years or even considerably longer. I am able to preach more accurately to them, addressing their specific hang ups and obstacles by first understanding the different kinds of dysfunctional psychological bubbles people may have over their heads, so to speak. People may say, "But Prabhupada did not do that." True. He had the benefit of age and advanced realization in devotional service and Supersoul to guide him. We, on the other hand, cannot imitate. We have to use the tools Krishna provides, according to our individual guna and karma. It may not be feasible that all devotees follow my example. Just as it may not be feasible that all devotees do what Sadaputa prabhu does for his service. If I have not the right to do like this, then what is the meaning that everything can be used in Krishna's service?
If, let us say, I came to ISKCON from a background in psychology and now I was to use all my learning in this area in preaching Krishna consciousness and serving devotees, everyone would say, "Wonderful, this is the perfection of all your learning. You can become a pure deveotee simply by dovetailing your propensity in Krishna's service." But if I joined at 20, say, before I had the chance to sort our my propensity for psychology and after some years of basic training in Krishna consciousness my inclination towards psychology begins to show itself, should I now deny it? What is the difference between my dovetailing it now and the first example?
The problem in our society is that there is a tendency for me to envy others whom I percieve as having an opportunity that I deny or is denied from me. Therefore devotees have to be all secretive and/or guilt ridden if they have interest in anything other than "Prabhupada's books". It does not work for me. And people may criticize me with all their might, but I see practically it improves my preaching and the public and devotees respond with appreciation. Therefore why should I deny it's utility when we say utility is the principle? Why should I cut off my nose to spite my face?
It is interesting how this little essay came out so spontaneously just now. I had no idea what was going to come out when I began speaking about pure devotional service. But this is in fact quite nice and instructive. It certainly explains in clear terms why I read things like Scott Peck. I will get lots of mileage for my preaching out of reading his books. Of this I have no doubt. But that does not mean all other readers will. For me it is learning and increasing my tools for preaching. For another person it may be just sense gratification, out and out maya. I cannot be held responsible for someone else's muck up. The above little essay demonstrates in one stroke the benefit of this journal keeping exercise.
This small essay speaks for itself. For those interested in "non KC reading" we are giving here a small glimpse into Suhotra Maharaja's reference library. It is just a few books out of a huge amount of literature which came through his hands. There was hardly any area of knowledge he wouldn't be familiar with. He was known as a walking encyclopedia, so to speak. He had always few bags of books with him while traveling; studying and making research for his writing, lecturing and university preaching.
However, as Maharaja himself is indicating in the essay, "...it may not be feasible that all devotees follow my example." At least we can appreciate how Maharaja was embodying the advice of Canakya's Niti sastras: nicad apy uttamam vidyam - one may learn even from a low-born person (or a non-devotee). And he was doing that expertly, without being philosophically deviated even an inch from the topmost teachings of Srila Prabhupada, whose books he knew by heart.
And for skeptics, we may recall Maharaja's words: "...people may criticize me with all their might, but I see practically it improves my preaching and the public and devotees respond with appreciation. " So, judge by the results, phalena pariciyate... The final Maharaja's lesson for us is in taking full shelter in the Srimad Bhagavatam, the topmost literature in the universe. He was absorbed in it sometimes for days straight, without eating or sleeping. The fruit of his Bhagavatam research are Bhagavatam Study Guides (1st and 2nd Cantos), which you may download in the section LIBRARY.