Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #9 – A Tip for Learning Śāstra

February 27th, 2023

Śrīla Tamal Krishna Goswami was too busy assisting Śrīla Prabhupāda in a managerial capacity to have time to study. He brought his quandary to His Divine Grace. I love the answer he got: “Find a way to give more classes. Fifteen minutes of teaching is worth two hours of study.” Many years ago, Maharaja personally shared this story with me, and I took it to heart. Every day for the last thirty-five years, especially when in India—and I was there at one time for almost twenty years straight—at 4:00 PM I would give class systematically on śāstra for not more than an hour.


I don’t so much have the nature to sit down and concentrate and study. I am amazed, however, how many books I was able to teach and study in this way.[1] Of course not everyone has the opportunity or nature to teach. After elaborating on this principle of study somewhat further, at the end of this post I will share a method that hopefully makes what I am talking about applicable for everyone.


Of note to this discussion is what appears to have been Śrīla Prabhupāda’s own example of study while leading and managing the Krishna consciousness movement. When I first came to Vrindavan, I could look down from the third-floor guest house where I resided and see Śrīla Prabhupāda in the wee hours of the morning sitting on his upstairs porch writing his commentary on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. He would first read a section of the book he carried with him, which contained ten commentaries on each verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and then dictate his own commentary based on what he read. Later in the morning, around 7:30 AM, he would leave his house and give a thirty-minute class in the temple. In other words, although he read the commentaries on the verses he would be writing about, it appeared that a great deal of his contemplation and realization of śāstra came by immediately reproducing it through writing and teaching about it.


On the path of bhakti, the most powerful practice to bring devotion into our hearts is kirtan, which is the oral reproduction of what we hear about Śrī Krishna.


Although we usually think of kirtan in terms of hearing and chanting the names of God, writing and speaking about the stories and philosophy of Krishna is also kirtan. Therefore, reproducing what we have heard or read by writing or speaking about it is not only an excellent way to learn śāstra but also a very powerful process of absorbing ourselves in Krishna and bringing devotion in our hearts.


One time I was visiting Śrīla Narayana Maharaja around 9:00 in the morning. By his regular schedule, I thought he would have finished his morning practice of chanting, but when I came in, he appeared to still be engaged in his morning sādhana, though I saw he was writing. When he saw me, he looked up, smiled, and said in a charming way, “Oh writing is such a good kṛṣṇānuśīlanam!” I immediately recognized what he said as the third line of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmi‘s definition of uttama-bhakti where the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa, or primary characteristic of bhakti, is described—that one’s activities, whether mind, body, or words, are absorbed in or follow the pleasure or will of Krishna.


I believe that for these reasons, both to assimilate what he taught and to absorb oneself in Krishna consciousness, Śrīla Prabhupāda encouraged his disciples to write every day:


“Realization means you should write, every one of you, what is your realization…You write your realization, what you have realized about Kṛṣṇa. That is required. It is not passive. Always you should be active. Whenever you find time, you write. Never mind, two lines, four lines, but you write your realization…This is cultivation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Hear, write, remember, try to understand. Don’t be dull, dull-headed. Very intelligent. Without being very intelligent, nobody can have full Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It is for the most intelligent man.”[2]


For those reading this that feel they need to be encouraged in their study of Krishna consciousness I am sharing an excerpt from an article I wrote[3] about a method of reading śāstra that takes only fifteen minutes but could well be your “two hours of study”!


  1. Set a time and place exclusively for reading shastra. If you don’t yet have the time or taste for it; even fifteen minutes is sufficient. More time, of course, is better, but whatever you can do is adequate to begin. During that time vow that nothing else will enter your sacred space, whether it’s email, Facebook, or even family.
  2. Before beginning your study, pray to the teacher or teachers that you will encounter during your reading. Whoever it is, whether it be the book’s main speakers, like Śukadeva or Sūta Gosvāmī, or its prominent commentators, like Śrīla Prabhupāda, pour your heart out to them. You will be in the presence of a pure devotee, and a true saint is nondifferent than their vāṇī, or teachings. Ask them for inspiration, guidance, or whatever you feel you need spiritually.
  3. Slowly and prayerfully read out loud in the mood of your entreaties and in the consciousness of being before the persons that are instructing you.
  4. If any sentence or point in the text strikes you as exceptionally significant or relevant, read it over three times.
  5. When the allotted time is up, close the book and offer obeisances to the saintly people in whose presence you have just learned. Express your gratitude.
  6. Optional: Add three to five minutes of free writing. Free writing means that without referring to the book, just begin to write about whatever point in your reading of the Bhāgavatam impressed you, or even just write anything you remember. The trick is to keep the pen moving and never stop writing, even if you have to say, “I don’t know what to write.” In my experience that will not happen, for just moving the pen mystically connects you to your memory. You will have plenty to say.


Busy all day in Govardhana with guests today but managed to speak on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam at the end of the day to three eager listeners for thirty minutes. And that was my “hours of study” in a very busy day![4]



[1] These are some of the books I remember covering systematically over those years by teaching daily and speaking for not more than forty-five minutes: First Canto, Second Canto, Sixth Canto, Bhagavad-gītā. Complete Nectar of Devotion, Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha, Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, Nārada-bhakti-sūtra, Yoga Sūtras, Jaiva Dharma, Krishna janmalīlā, Brahma-vimohana-līlā, The Killing of Dhenukāsura, Kālīya-līlā, Akrūra-līlā, Antya-līlā. Rāmānanda-saṁvāda, Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Caitanya-bhāgavata, five chapters of rasa-līlā, Uddhava-līlā, Govardhana-līlā (presently).

[2] Lecture, August 14, 1972, Los Angeles

[3] From Monday Morning Greetings November 27, 2017 “The Talking Book”

[4] Śrīla Prabhupāda gave many instructions to read his books. Ideally, we should be absorbed for hours in reading his books. As I move forward in my devotional life, I have become increasingly absorbed in reading Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, but I still marvel how relevant and effective is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s insight is to reproduce by speaking and writing what we have heard.


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