Study Shastra Properly

Question: Sometimes devotees argue that there is no need to study shastra. They give examples, such as the story from Caitanya Caritamrita of the simple devotee who could not even read Bhagavad Gita properly. He was ‘reading’ it upside down and crying, but even so, Lord Caitanya was pleased with him.

Jiva Gosvami writing on palmleaves
Jiva Gosvami writing

Answer: Some people think Lord Caitanya is praising the person because he is illiterate. However, this is not true. If that were the case, He would have also have praised many other people who were illiterate. Why do people only give the example of this illiterate person? Why not also see that He praised Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis, Sarvabauma Battacarya, Kavi- karnipura, and all these learned people? Did Mahaprabhu say that this illiterate person understands His heart, or did He say that Rupa Gosvami understood His heart? It is Rupa Gosvami who understood His heart. So do you want to understand the heart of Caitanya Mahaprabhu or do you want to be like that illiterate person?

The point is that He is praising devotion to Krsna. He did not say that one should not study. If that were the case, He would have asked that illiterate man why he had Bhagavad Gita in his hand. The point there is that this person was very eager to study but was unable. So we should have eagerness like that. It is this eagerness to study which interests Mahaprabhu. How great a devotee would this man have been if he was actually able to study?

So the point to take from this story is not that you remain illiterate and are thus unable to read Bhagavad Gita. The point is that you should have a bhava like this devotee. Caitanya Mahaprabhu is not praising the illiteracy of the person, but his bhava. But people will not understand this point because they themselves want to remain illiterate or not study. Studying takes some effort. From such stories you take the meaning which suits your nature.

Moreover, people who cite this example as an argument, how did they come to know about this? By studying and not be remaining illiterate. If they had not studied Caitanya Caritamrita, they would not be able to cite this story. Thus they are contradicting themselves.

Question: Well, it doesn’t take much study to know that…

Answer: Yes, but they studied that much. And because they only studied that much, they studied it wrongly and missed out on the real import of the story. If their argument was true, Krsnadas Kaviraja Gosvami could have said, “Just don’t study, I am writing this book to tell you not to study, and I am giving this one example as proof.” But on the contrary, he recommends from the very beginning that you try to understand Caitanya Mahaprabhu. It is for this reason that he compiled the book. He did not compile CC so that you can hold it upside down and have tears in your eyes.

Sri Gadadhara reciting Bhagavatam, copyright Jiva Institute
Sri Gadadhara Pandit reading from Bhagavatam

He writes that one should not be lazy in studying shastra. In his book he cites many other shastras and tries to explain the esoteric meaning behind Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s lila. It is difficult to understand it even reading this, what to speak of it you don’t study it. So such an understanding only comes because one did not study properly. The people who don’t want to study take this example from the whole book and thus try to make the effort of Sri Krsnadas Kaviraja Gosvami to explain the personality of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu futile.

If the argument of no need to study was correct, then why did Caitanya Mahaprabhu study Himself and why was He keeping Svarupa Damodara with Him? If anybody wanted to come and read a poem to Him, He first sent them to Svarupa Damodara because he himself was a scholar, and he would not tolerate any fault in the poetry. So Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted him to first screen it and then relish the poem which passed the litmus test of Svarupa Damodara.

Question: Unfortunately most devotees are not interested in studying …

Answer: Yes, that is true. If I am not interested in studying, then I will find something in shastra to support my notion. Shastra is kalpa taru, a wishfullfilling tree. So whatever you want to believe, you will always find some support for that in shastra. But this is not the real purpose of shastra. The purpose of shastra is not to support your beliefs but to demolish them.