“In Sanskrit the parrot is also known as shuka. When a ripened fruit is cut by the red beaks of such birds, its sweet flavor is enhanced. The Vedic fruit which is mature and ripe in knowledge is spoken through the lips of Shrila Shukadeva Gosvami, who is compared to the parrot not for his ability to recite the Bhagavatam exactly as he heard it from his learned father, but for his ability to present the work in a manner that would appeal to all classes of men.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.3 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
Friend1: You ever meet people who have verses from the Bhagavad-gita memorized?
Friend2: Just a few or many?
Friend1: It doesn’t matter. Say they know four or five verses. They can recite them when called upon.
Friend2: Who is calling? Is it in the context of a larger discussion, say on the science of self-realization? Is it a way to show off some higher knowledge?
Friend1: As in, “See what Sanskrit I know.”
Friend1: For this discussion let’s say that they can recite the verses when called upon. They don’t necessarily know the context. This is not a lecture, where they drop a verse here and there. They are good at completion, such as when a public speaker quotes a verse.
Friend2: They are in the audience, and they essentially mouth along.
Friend1: There you go.
Friend2: Okay, so what is wrong with that?
Friend1: I didn’t say there was.
Friend2: Then why are you bringing this up?
Friend1: I guess I’m asking if there is some good to just memorizing the verses. Say that you can repeat words from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Is that considered bhakti?
Friend2: I’m glad you mentioned the source. The words of Bhagavan are non-different from Him. This is amazing potency not found anywhere else. In that respect the person repeating, like a parrot, is gaining some benefit, for sure. They have association with God the person.
Friend1: Okay, but doesn’t everyone have that association already? There is the expansion of Supersoul residing within the heart.
Friend2: Each person has God within, but it doesn’t mean they get any benefit from the close proximity. Think of it like being hungry and standing next to the refrigerator. Food is nearby, in as short a distance as you can imagine. But this doesn’t mean the hunger will automatically subside.
Friend1: You have to open the fridge and get food.
Friend2: Precisely. The sound representation of God, either through His holy name or the words He speaks in works like the Bhagavad-gita, brings the personal association. I know that you will say that sound has no perceivable form, but this is another amazing aspect to Bhagavan. Even something subtle like air can carry His presence.
Friend1: Should everyone memorize verses, then? What if the person is of bad character?
Friend2: As in, you have a person who knows many verses but the words haven’t really influenced their behavior in a positive way?
Friend1: Right. They eat meat. They get intoxicated. They lie. They are absorbed in material life. What is the benefit to learning the verses, then?
Friend2: Of course there should be practical application, vijnana, to accompany jnana, theoretical knowledge.
Friend1: In this case there might not even be jnana. They just memorize sounds.
Friend2: Okay, but I still say there is a benefit. Someone else may hear those words and become inspired to take up devotional service, bhakti-yoga. At least there is no deviation. The person in your example is not changing the verses around. They are not twisting the words.
Friend2: There is much to be learned from the parrot. Take the Shrimad Bhagavatam, for example. It is spoken by the parrot-like Shukadeva Gosvami, who is a mahajana, or realized soul. He presents the ripened fruit of Vedic literature as it is, as it was passed on to him by the father, Vyasadeva.
Friend1: There is question and answer, though. That part isn’t like a direct transcript.
Friend2: Exactly. There is the parrot-like behavior of repeating, and there is also consideration taken for time and circumstance. As long as there is deference to the original spirit of the work, there is no harm. Countless people benefit. The speaker associates directly with God through sound. The same for the recipient. Then there is further appreciation, acknowledgment and expanded realization through explaining the concepts as you have learned them. That is the secret to the guru parampara. Hear from the tattva-darshi, the person who has seen the truth. Repeat what you have heard. In addition, share your own realizations, as they are appropriate. Then everyone involved in the process benefits.
Friend1: What about the opposite behavior? Say there is a flaw in the chain; someone in the succession deviates from precedent.
Friend2: Then everything can get spoiled. The person is a cheater themselves and they cheat others. Even though there is close proximity to God, the true benefit of His association is missed. It is something like licking the outside of the bottle containing honey. Taste the real nectar through following the trail blazed by the acharyas, those who lead by example.
From memory verses to recite,
Verbatim, with timing precise.
From Bhagavad-gita benefit is there,
Since emanating from Bhagavan where.
Better when understanding in addition,
Explaining while respecting tradition.
Like Shukadeva the parrot in bhakti repeat,
Otherwise both yourself and others cheat.