Begin Bhakti With Reading or Chanting? Part one

Mahanidhi Swami

Many newcomers to Krishna consciousness are confused. “Should I start my spiritual life by reading books like Gita and Bhagavata and hearing from learned devotees? Or should I chant japa of the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra?”

The confusion arises from the Chaitanya-caritamrta verse (3.4.71) which says, “Of the nine limbs of bhakti, the most important is nama-sankirtana [which means chanting japa or kirtana]. If one chants without offenses, he gets the wealth of Krishna prema, sarva-shreshtha nama-sankirtana, nir aparadhe nama laile, paya prema-dhana.”

Of course, this is a fact, but in bhakti-sadhana there are nine steps to prema. The first one is hearing, then comes chanting, remembering and on to absolute, total surrender and dedication in Krishna prema, shravanam, kirtanam, atma-nivedanam.

This is a logical sequence based on common sense. In this world, you cannot do anything without knowhow, and that comes from hearing and reading. Hearing is the source of inspiration, which at one point arises in your mind. That is why hearing is the basic principle of Krishna consciousness. Hear first, then act; act and then realize!

By hearing, you become enthused to surrender to Sri Guru, serve Sri Krishna and chant Hare Krishna in japa and kirtana. Your heart thrills with a new, fresh and tasty cherished ideal: “Someday, little old me will attain Sri Krishna’s sweet love in the land of eternal play, Sridhama Vrindavana!”

Many things happen to us when we passively read about Krishna or hear Hari katha. Our hearts become purified of lust, anger and greed; clarity, conviction and determination arise in our minds to destroy our doubts and confusions; and most importantly, our solid, iceberg hearts start melting with drops of affection and loving attraction to that beautiful, sweet and charming Prince of Love named Krishna.

Without a strong foundation in hearing and reading, no one will be able to sustain his effort to chant Hare Krishna japa. Hearing about Krishna results in detachment from worldliness. If you are hearing new facts and truths of reality, and other exciting, amazing, interesting and sweet topics, then your mind will naturally and effortlessly become absorbed in them. This is the logical, solid and most beneficial way to begin the practice of Krishna consciousness—hear and read about Sri Krishna.

After one is firmly established in the teachings of Krishna bhakti, then he can intelligently and enthusiastically begin bhakti sadhana. At that time, it is certainly a fact that among all the practices, chanting the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra is the best of all, sarva shrestha sadhana!

However, Srila Prabhupada and all our Gaudiya Vaisnava acharyas agree that in the beginning of bhakti-sadhana, HEARING IS MOST IMPORTANT!

So now let’s hear/read their insightful and realized statements on this topic:


Sri Jiva Goswamipada:

“Hearing comes first, before glorifying or the other limbs of bhakti [like kirtanam, chanting japa and so]. Without first hearing one cannot attain knowledge of Krishna or the different activities of bhakti.” (Bhakti San. 262)

Srila Prabhupada:

“Hearing is the basic principle for understanding.” (Bg. 4.26) “The first item, hearing [also means reading scriptures], is the most important item of all.” (Bg. 4.26) “The Vedic literature is called shruti-shastra. Shruti means to hear or listen. If you simply hear [the shastras], then you will become perfect.” (661201BG.NY.)
“But out of all the nine different methods [nava-vidha bhakti], the first one, namely hearing [shravanam], is the most important function in the process of bhakti-yoga. Without hearing sufficiently and properly, no one can make any progress by any of the methods of practice [i.e. chanting japa].” (SB 2.2.36)

“Serious devotional service can develop by hearing for long periods of time. One should associate with devotees and hear from them about Krishna’ transcendental appearance, activities and instructions.” (SB 3.27.21)

“One begins spiritual activities for advancement in devotional service, or Krishna consciousness, by hearing. Indeed, hearing is the most important method for advancement in Krishna consciousness, and one should be very eager to hear favorably about Krishna.” (TLC 12)

Hearing Krishna-katha ki jai! Jai Jai Sri Radhe!

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