Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #31 – Jumping to the Tenth Canto

July 30th, 2018

Śrīla Prabhupāda was once challenged about why at the beginning of his movement he jumped to publishing the Kṛṣṇa book, his summary study of the Tenth Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, when one is supposed to first study the first nine cantos before focusing on Krishna’s pastimes.  He hadn’t even yet completed and published beyond the First Canto at the time. His tongue-in-cheek response: “Just like the Gujaratis, they serve the sweets first.”[1] In other words, just as it is out of the ordinary to serve sweets before a meal, though it can be done, offering the Tenth Canto at the beginning of one’s spiritual life can also be done. The question remains, why is what Śrīla Prabhupāda did generally not recommended and why did he do it anyway?

 

Prematurely hearing the Tenth Canto is not recommended because perception, in this case hearing, is not just based on the senses, but also the mind, which interprets and ascribes feelings to what we hear. Therefore, although we may hear the Tenth Canto, we will misunderstand it unless properly educated and the mind is relatively pure.

 

Let me use a very stark example that illustrates how understanding something properly is way beyond just hearing or seeing it: Trump. People hear and see the same things in terms of the President, but the country is divided on how they perceive him. Let’s quickly move to a less polarizing and more spiritual example.

 

Recently, I was doing harināma kīrtana in Vilnius, Lithuania with the monks of the Holy Name Monastery. The kīrtana had devotion and enthusiasm, and the effect was powerful. Some smiled and clapped. Some were, at best, indifferent. As I marched down the main road of the city it was just so apparent how much proper perception is dependent on one’s mindset.

 

In a similar way, the main caution to jumping to a study of the Tenth Canto is that those not properly spiritually educated will hear the pastimes of Krishna with a type of prejudice and prejudge them as mundane love, rather than selfless devotion. Now back to the core concern, why, considering these cautions, did Śrīla Prabhupāda jump over the beginning cantos[2] to translate the Tenth?

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda was practical and had a mission. Due to his advanced age, he feared that if he waited to progressively translate and complete the preceding cantos before publishing Krishna’s pastimes, his disciples and followers might never get these important teachings in an appropriate way from him. In fact, he actually never finished translating the Tenth Canto. We are left with the poignant scene of Śrīla Prabhupāda lying on his back in his last days, whispering his translation and commentary of the Tenth Canto into a recorder to complete as much as he could before he left. He finished only the first thirteen chapters. Foreseeing this fate years before, he clearly shared his concern:

 

“Following in the footsteps of Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, I am trying to translate Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as quickly as possible. However, knowing myself to be an old man and almost an invalid because of rheumatism, I have already translated the essence of all literatures, the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, as a summary study in English. I started the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement at the age of seventy. Now I am seventy-eight, and so my death is imminent. I am trying to finish the translation of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as soon as possible, but before finishing it, I have given my readers the book Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so that if I die before finishing the whole task, they may enjoy this book, which is the essence of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. (Cc. Antyalīlā 1.11, purport)

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, wrote the Kṛṣṇa book very carefully to accommodate his audience by couching the stories of Krishna in an appropriate philosophical context, ensuring his immature audience would not miss the point and take the stories cheaply. He thus masterfully gave us both the stories of the Tenth Canto, including the description of the rāsa-līlā, and the proper frame of reference to understand them at the same time.

 

Conclusion: By Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mercy we have special access to Krishna’s līlā so that we can both relish and respect it at the same time. We should certainly take avail of his mercy. In fact, Śrīla Prabhupāda encouraged us:

 

“If you read the Kṛṣṇa book every day you will be happy.”[3]

 

 


[1] Usually in Indian fare the sweets are served last, but the Gujarati’s take them at the beginning of their meal.

[2] He had only translated and published the First Canto before writing his summary study of the Tenth Canto.

[3] This was an instruction given to my god-brother Visal Prabhu by Śrīla Prabhupāda, who personally related this exchange with Śrīla Prabhupāda to me.

 

 

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