Ask questions that help you understand the APPLICATION of what you have understood.
As well as asking questions that help clarify Srila Prabhupada’s intended meaning and questions that address our doubts and misgivings, we also need to ask how we are personally going to apply the truths we have understood.
“We just have to try to understand by hearing and then try to put the process to practice in our daily lives. By becoming submissive, hearing from the right source, and trying to apply the teachings in our daily lives, we can become conquerors of the Supreme. For one who does this, Lord Krishna becomes easily available.” Path of Perfection 9: Destination After Death
“One who follows the principles and instructions enjoined by the great sages of the past can utilize these instructions for practical purposes. Such a person can very easily enjoy life and pleasures.” SB 4.1.4 verse
“Brahmana must be well-educated, jnana, and he must apply the knowledge in practical life and believe in the Vedic injunctions.” Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 2.2-6 — Ahmedabad, December 11, 1972
“And the essence of Vedic knowledge is Bhagavad-gita because the Supreme Personality of Godhead is speaking personally. Take advantage of it. Apply it practically life and be happy not only in this life, but the next life.” lecture Bhagavad-gita 13:22 — Hyderabad, August 17, 1976
If we are content to simply know the truths of the Gita theoretically, but not inquisitive how to personally apply these truths, then we will not make progress:
“Everyone is expected to follow these rules and regulations. If one does not follow them and acts whimsically according to his lust, greed and desire, then he never will be perfect in his life. In other words, a man may theoretically know all these things, but if he does not apply them in his own life, then he is to be known as the lowest of mankind. In the human form of life, a living entity is expected to be sane and to follow the regulations given for elevating his life to the highest platform, but if he does not follow them, then he degrades himself.” Bg 16.23 purport
In Jaiva Dharma we hear Vrajanatha meditating on the practical value of the knowledge he has attained from Sri Raghunatha dasa Babaji:
“What have I attained so far? I have come to understand that acintya-bhedabheda-tattva is the ultimate truth, but what have I gained through this knowledge?” Jaiva Dharma (Gaudiya Vedanta Publication); chp 19, pg 427
In our discussions at home and with our friends, the last question we ask is “so what?” By this we mean exactly what Vrajanatha meant when he asked, “what have I gained”. By asking “so what?”, we are asking what practical value does the knowledge I have just assimilated have in my life? How can it change how I perceive reality; how I feel, speak or act?
The following are some quotes that demonstrate some of the many ways the knowledge should be practically impacting on our lives:
The knowledge could be helping us to perceive that Krishna is controlling everything:
“When Krishna says, “I am the Supreme Lord,” we have to accept Him with faith, not foolishly, but with full knowledge, and practically apply this acceptance in our daily life.” Matchless Gift’ chp 5: Learning Steadiness in Krishna Consciousness
“A learned scholar who has studied the Vedas perfectly and has information from authorities like Lord Chaitanya and who knows how to apply these teachings can understand that Krishna is the origin of everything in both the material and spiritual worlds, and because he knows this perfectly he becomes firmly fixed in the devotional service of the Supreme Lord.” Bg 10.8 purport
The knowledge we hear can help us feel more eager for regular sat sanga, regular discussion of Srila Prabhupada’s books:
“Well, sanga means execution. When you associate with medical association or sharebrokers’ association, simply go there and sit down is not your business. You have to do something. You have to do something. Sat-sanga means that. Tad-yosanat asu apavarga-vartmani. Sat-sanga means you have to take the knowledge and use it for practical purpose. That is sat-sanga. So our this Krishna consciousness movement is trying to give the sat-sanga, opening centers all over the world. If people take advantage of it they’ll be benefited.” Morning Darsana and Room Conversation Ramkrishna Bajaj and friends — January 9, 1977, Bombay
“If we associate with saintly persons and hear from them Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures, then hrt-karna-rasayanah kathah, it becomes appealing to the heart, hrt, and pleasing to the ear. Hrt-karna-rasayanah kathah taj-josanad. And if you bring them into practical purposes, apply in your life, then sraddha bhaktir ratir anukramisyati. Then gradually you’ll become faithful to the Supreme. Sraddha bhaktir. You’ll develop your natural instincts of devotional service.” Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 13.6-7 — Bombay, September 29, 1973
The knowledge we are understanding can also induce us to reduce our indulgence in sense gratification:
“Jnana means theoretical knowledge, and vijnana refers to practical knowledge. for instance, a science student has to study theoretical scientific conceptions as well as applied science. Theoretical knowledge alone will not help. One has to be able to also apply this knowledge. Similarly, in yoga one should have not only theoretical knowledge but practical knowledge. Simply understanding “I am not this body” and at the same time acting in a nonsensical way will not help. There are so many societies where the members seriously discuss Vedanta philosophy while smoking and drinking and enjoying a sensual life. It will not help if one only has knowledge theoretically. This knowledge must be demonstrated. One who truly understands “I am not this body” will actually reduce his bodily necessities to a minimum. When one increases the demands of the body while thinking “I am not this body,” then of what use is that knowledge? A person can only be satisfied when there is jnana and vijnana side by aide.” Perfection of Yoga 5: Yoga as Freedom from Duality and Designation
The above are just a few of the myriad ways that the knowledge we assimilate can practically impact on our seeing, feeling, speaking and doing.
At home we do this ‘so what’ question in two phases: ideal application and personal application. The ideal application of something we have understood may be to reduce our eating to simply enough to keep body and soul together. But if we are gluttonous (as I am) then to go from ‘zero to hero’ overnight is impractical. So after discussing the ideal application of a point we have understood, we then ask: “what realistic and manageable steps can I take in the right direction?” It is unrealistic to think that as neophytes we are going to be able to perfectly apply the teachings, but it is important that we make our best effort to improve our application:
“We should not try to imitate the activities of a maha-bhagavata or Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Our best efforts should be exerted in trying to follow them according to our ability.” Madhya 17.31 purport
When discussing in small groups of two or three people it is quite feasible to do detailed discussions on personal application. My husband and I have used this part of our daily Bhagavatam and Gita discussions to make most of our important life decisions and to seriously address our individual life challenges. In larger groups it will not always be so viable to go into detail about personal application, but we can at least discuss the ideal application.
If we are understanding correctly, working through our doubts, confusions and misgivings properly, and thinking about realistic practical applications then gradually our character will transform from the lower modes of nature, to the mode of goodness and then to pure goodness. In his Saranagati, Srila Bhaktivinode sums up the consciousness of the conditioned soul as follows:
“I remain deeply absorbed in the quicksand of ever-changing, uncertain opinions. Therefore, devotion to You has remained distant from me. In this heart of mine dwells only envy and malice towards others, false pride, the desire for fame and honor, and deceitfulness.” (Song two of Bhajana-Lalasa)
However, as our understanding of sastra improves and we consider the application of what we understand, the above unwanted qualities will be slowly but surely replaced with the four virtues which are conducive to bhakti:
“Knowing that Lord Krishna resides within all living creatures, one should with great respect consistently show honor to all beings. By possessing these four qualities – humility, mercifulness, respect toward others, and renunciation of desires for prestige – one becomes virtuous. In such a state you may sing the glories of the Supreme Lord.” (Gitavali; Sri Siksastaka; song 3)
By properly hearing, understanding and considering the application in our lives gradually we will rise above all fear and also transform every aspect of our lives into bhakti:
“Therefore, if one desires freedom from this vicious circle, then one must cease to act as a karmī or enjoyer of the results of one’s own work, good or bad. One should not do anything, either good or bad, on his own account, but must execute everything on behalf of the Supreme Lord, the ultimate proprietor of everything that be. This process of doing work is recommended in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.27) also, where instruction is given for working on the Lord’s account. Therefore, one should first of all hear about the Lord. When one has perfectly and scrutinizingly heard, one must glorify His acts and deeds, and thus it will become possible to remember constantly the transcendental nature of the Lord. Hearing about and glorifying the Lord are identical with the transcendental nature of the Lord, and by so doing, one will be always in the association of the Lord. This brings freedom from all sorts of fear. The Lord is the Supersoul (Paramātmā) present in the hearts of all living beings, and thus by the above hearing and glorifying process, the Lord invites the association of all in His creation. This process of hearing about and glorifying the Lord is applicable for everyone, whoever he may be, and it will lead one to the ultimate success in everything in which one may be engaged by providence. There are many classes of human beings: the fruitive workers, the empiric philosophers, the mystic yogīs and, ultimately, the unalloyed devotees. For all of them, one and the same process is applicable for achieving the desired success. Everyone wants to be free from all kinds of fear, and everyone wants the fullest extent of happiness in life. The perfect process for achieving this, here and now, is recommended in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, which is uttered by such a great authority as Śrīla Śukadeva Gosvāmī. By hearing about and glorifying the Lord, all a person’s activities become molded into spiritual activities, and thus all conceptions of material miseries become completely vanquished.” SB 2.1.5 purport