There are nine different ways to express devotion for the Lord. Shravanam is the first form of Bhakti.
Meaning of Shravanam
Shravanam literally means listening. Shravanam is about listening to God’s lilas which is an important step in the spiritual journey. Shravanam also includes listening to God’s virtues, glories, stories, sports connected with His Divine Name. Scriptures have encrypted truth of the universe in various forms, and listening to them will guide each individual towards enlightenment. In the Bhagavad Gita Sri Krushna counsels Arjuna, and instills in him his true duty towards the Almighty. While touching upon this aspect of devotion–Shravanam, the quote by Sri Chinmayananda becomes important.
“The universe is a cosmos and not a chaos. There exists a mental affinity, a scientific law, a rhythm of mental relationship in which the entire living world is held together, in one web of love. To assume differences in the world is to belie this great oneness in life”. Adapting the meaning of Shravanam in our daily lives will place us on the path of devotion.
Understanding the Depth of Shravanam
As a Bhakta dwells deeper in this form of devotion called Shravanam, he understands how to resolve the conflicts within himself, and hence makes a smooth transition from the chaotic to the spiritual world.
Listening to the devout is an important trait that each Bhakta of the Lord should have. Each individual should be able to imbibe knowledge while listening to the spiritually rich and inspiring stories of the Lord from a spiritual teacher. The guru having a greater closeness towards the lord recites the stories, ideas, thoughts that are interlinked with the name of the divine. All the faculties of the individual should be in tune with that frequency of the Lord. Such devotion will help in sowing a seed for the betterment of oneself and the society as a whole.
How does it Help Mankind?
The mind of a devotee who listens to God’s lilas and reminisces them even while executing daily mundane tasks grows empty. A Bhakta will only think of the divine. The mind of such a person grows empty, and loses interest towards material things that he once used to fancy. His mind is filled with effulgence, and the desire to be one with the lord. All the faculties of such a person are tuned towards the divine. Listening to stories that teach devotion and absolute faith will make the devotee more attuned to the almighty. There is a feeling of total surrender to the lord, and all his thoughts flow towards the divine.
Upon hearing the various kinds of stories that praise the Lord, eventually the devotee’s mind prompts him towards spiritual enquiry. He then questions the Lord as to when he, a humble devotee, can get closer to the Lord how can he direct all his services to him, how can he please the lord and what tactics should he concentrate on to reach the Lord. Once the devotee starts questioning the divine – who is the source of the universe, the nature of the universe, the nature of the mind, body and soul he reaches that stage of spirituality, wherein he can seek the sanctuary of a guru’s presence. While trying to gain insights from the scriptures, from the Bhagavat Gita and Upanishads his thirst for knowledge about the manifestation of the universe will increase multifold. The curiosity to gain further and further knowledge about the universe will lead him closer to self-realization.
Views of the Spiritual Teachers
Swami Chinmayananda explains that Shravanam elevates a devotee from mere passive listening to the wondrous teachings of the lord. In a similar vein he says reading of spiritual books alone is not enough to attain peace. Such should be the actions of humans that they should practice all the knowledge that is imbibed. The ideas therefore become their own. Intellectual awareness grows after reading the scriptures, and after being coached by teachers. Knowledge thus gained, should be practiced while living. It is important to bring the truth learnt into devotee’s everyday life.
The best way to facilitate Shravanam is to participate in Satsangs- fellow seekers and teachers.
Swami Chinmayananda says:
“To a young man who is tossed about the world among the exacting duties of life, thrust upon him by the world outside, or entangled by his own natural inner promptings – ‘listening to the discourses of true devotees’ is an easy method for lifting his tired mind out of the fatiguing ruts of the strenuous competitive world.”
Lord Krushna in Bhagavad Gita says: (Ch 4.34)
Know that by long prostration, by question and service, the wise who know the Truth shall instruct you in that wisdom.
Shravana Bhakti is incomplete without the company of the wise and learned. (Satsang). Satsang is crucial for a bhakta to gain enlightenment.
The Importance of Satsang
Satsang is an important form of Shravana Bhakti. Satsanga or Satsangam in Indian philosophy means the company of the “highest truth”, the company of a guru, or the company with an assembly of persons who listen to, talk about, and assimilate the truth.
As mortals there is a need to congregate and associate with good and noble souls. It is only then that the qualities of good conduct, self discipline, good morals, and ethics are imbibed. Through the company of the devout, one can learn a host of positive values.
Satsang is the easiest means for changing the mind from worldly affairs to spiritual matters. Satsang elevates the mind from tamasic thoughts to Sattvic thoughts and helps in the attainment of Jnana or Ultimate Knowledge and Moksha. Satsang helps an aspirant to eradicate any negative qualities and strengthen one’s mind to remain unaffected by the changes in the external environment. Satsang is a panacea for all the ills of worldly life.
On interacting with such people, a number of questions that remain unanswered get resolved. It is difficult sometimes to be in the company of good and the pious, but when fortune favors the devotee the presence of such noble people, will bring in strength, and lucidity which in turn will invigorate him. On getting a chance to be one amongst the noble, it becomes a little difficult to recognize their greatness. Yet, given time, the seeds of knowledge, detachment and devotion bear fruit; it is then when we achieve peace and happiness.
Sri Sankaracharya says “the company of the wise, even for a moment, becomes the boat to cross across the Samsara”. There is no meaning of Sadhana without one being in the midst of satsang. Sadhana should be built on the foundation of satsang. It is not only austere worship that accomplishes enlightenment the pious man should be a fellow member of satsang. Satsang helps people become pure, and removes all the impurities existing in their minds. It is at this time, that the subtle truths of our lives become revealed.
It is said that when Lord Krushna met Uddhava he is believed to have said that only satsang would put an end to worldly desires and attachments. In the Bhagavata Mahatmya it is said that a devotee should immerse his mind on hearing the Lord’s stories. In doing so one attains the divine abode.
In the Bhaja Govindam, Sri Sankaracharya also encourages his disciples to maintain the company of the good and the noble. Such mingling with noble souls increases a Bhakta’s strength and courage multifold. Satsang therefore makes the man more open to the good sources of energy. The man would therefore be protected from rising passions. For making a human being stronger to resist the wicked forces, and temptations it is important for him to build a fortress around him. Such a fortress can be built if he associates with noble souls, spiritual gurus, learned pundits etc.
Only a person with a heart full of devotion towards the almighty can envelop all individuals with the love for the lord. In the midst of noble souls, individuals become open to receiving their blessings without any effort. In the event of not being able to mingle with such souls, it becomes important to read books that would alleviate us from all suffering. Listening to the recorded discourses of blessed people is also one way of imbibing their goodness. To reach an elevated state there comes a need to shun the bad. Only satsang opens a devotee’s mind to the glories of god. If there is no chance to be amongst the good, then devotion to the Lord is incomplete. Through the influence of good company, the human mind becomes more detached from worldly desires and temptations. When the sense of attachment is removed from the mind delusion and all delusionary false values disappear. It is the mind which focuses on the greed of attaining objects of desire; when inert objects catches one’s fancy it is then that individuals become fallible.
Swami Chinmayananda rightly says – To be in the company of the good is to be with those who are devotees of the Lord and are themselves seekers of the Highest. In such an assembly there is power created, which in the congregation, erects a powerful fortress against the harmful magic of the world outside.
During the battle of Mahabharat, Abhimanyu’s wife Uttara is in the family way. She carries in her womb the only heir to the Kuru dynasty. At about the same time Ashwatthama, the son of Dronacharya makes a vow that he will kill the baby which is growing in Uttara’s womb. His anger stems from the fact that his father Dronacharya had been killed by the Pandavas in the Kurushektra war; from that time on Ashwatthama fosters his hatred towards the Pandavas. When Uttara comes to know about this curse, she pleads with Lord Krushna for help. Lord Krushna in turn changes his form to that of a small baby and enters the womb of Uttara. Uttara’s unborn child thus has the protection of the Lord himself. The baby sees the Lord in all his magnificence, while still in the womb. Later at the time of the birth of the child, the Lord leaves Uttara’s womb. He then visits Uttara and the baby, ensuring the safety of both mother and son. The baby grows up to be king Parikshit. When Parikshit comes of age, and becomes the king, the Pandavas leave to the Himalayas. Parikshit has both the qualities of virtuosity and courage in him. The Pandava kingdom flourishes under his rule.
After many years, when Parikshit goes for a hunt in the forest, he comes across a sage who is in deep meditation. Parikshit asks for water, but the sage doesn’t budge. Parikshit then to test the sage’s concentration puts a dead snake over the sage’s neck. Parikshit then leaves the place. When the sage’s son sees the dead snake around his father’s neck, he curses the doer saying that “Seven days from now, the person who committed this dastardly act will die”.
Parikshit gets terribly upset when he realizes his wrong deed. He comes to hear of the curse. He leaves his kingdom to his son Janmejaya and retires to the forest. He then practices Nirjala Vrata a fast without water for seven days. The news of Parikshit’s penance brings many sages and saintly people near him. Parikshit then says that the curse has indeed relieved him. He says that he has enjoyed many physical comforts while he was the king. He now is truly blessed. He then requests the sages to recite a tale which would bring him peace. Saint Shukadev then recites the Shrimad Bhagawatam for seven days to him. After the story is complete Parikshit’s mind gets totally focused on the Lord. It is then that Takshak the snake arrives and bites Parikshit. The poison incinerates the body of the king. Parikshit feels no pain because he is already free from the bondage associated with his body. He attained the Divine abode by Shravanam.