Hearing (sravanam) is the conduit of knowledge. It is thus the first principle in the practice of spiritual life. Without gaining faith in a spiritual goal by first hearing about it from an authoritative source, why would anyone be inspired to take up an arduous path of spiritual practice? And even if one did, without sravanam how would one understand the intricacies of that practice?
Inspiration and instruction are just two of the ways in which sravanam purifies the mind. The following is an analysis of seven ways (including inspiration and instruction) in which hearing sacred bhakti texts purifies the mind of an aspiring bhakta:
- 1. As yoga: “Yoga” means to restrain the mind. When one attentively hears bhakti-sastra (sacred bhakti texts) the mind becomes concentrated with single pointed attention and neglects all other mental impulses. Sravanam is thus (bhakti) yoga.
- 2. As very effective yoga: The efficacy of a particular yoga process is gauged in its ability to facilitate absorption in the object of one’s meditation. When hearing, sastra (sacred texts), which is replete with appealing stories and philosophy about the all-attractive Divine, one’s mind spontaneously flows to the object of meditation. Hearing sacred texts is thus a far more riveting meditation than controlling the mind by one’s will power alone.
- 3. As an object of meditation with potency: Absorption in an object serves as a conduit to imbibe the qualities of that object, just as an iron rod absorbed in fire becomes fire-like. Sastra is sabda-brahman, divinity in its sound form. Meditation on sastra thus makes one divine-like.
- 4. As a source of knowledge: We have unlimited mental imprints (samskaras), many of them bad, which degrade our consciousness. Sacred texts elucidate dharma, the science of responding to the world to elevate the general tenor of the mind.
- 5. As effective teaching: Sastra exposes illusion and promotes detachment. In bhakti-sastra this challenge is often placed carefully within charming stories and illustrated by memorable examples, helping the reader to more effectively imbibe spiritual wisdom.
- 6. As a source of role models: The most powerful way to invoke positive self-transformation is the emulation of appropriate role models. Even adolescents who imitate the bravado of their favorite athletes, or follow the sensuous appeal of their favorite popular musician or movie star, gradually become like them. Similarly by sincerely hearing about the exemplars of devotion from bhakti-sastra, one naturally emulates their life and absorbs their devotion.
- 7. As a process where one’s spiritual attainment is not limited to the fruits of one’s endeavor: The Divine is naturally responsive to devotion. Thus by attentively hearing with devotion about the Divine (which is the subject of bhakti-sastra), the obstacles to one’s focus and meditation are naturally removed by Divine grace. This phenomenon—how the process of sravanam bears fruit beyond the limits of one’s effort by grace—is described in the bhakti-sastras themselves: “Sri Krishna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone’s heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted. (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.1.17)
The column Greetings From Vrindavan is Dhanurdhara Swami’s journal regarding the joys and challenges of the devotional path. A book of his journal entries, spanning the years 2000-2003, has been published with the same title and is available here.