“In fact, newspapers are read for less than an hour and then thrown in the dustbins as rubbish. The case is similar with all other mundane literatures. But the beauty of transcendental literatures like Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam is that they never become old. They have been read in the world by civilized man for the last five thousand years, and they have never become old.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.5.7 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
Things haven’t been going your way. From the frustration you’ve grown a little surly. You’re quick to pull the trigger on your anger now. When in the company of a coworker or friend, it’s not as easy to hold back your thoughts. In your mind, you go over every single offense they’ve ever made. You remember all the times they made you angry. You never said anything back then, because you knew it was wiser to keep your cool.
But on this day they really tick you off. It’s the last straw. You’ve had enough. You unleash a verbal tirade at them in response. You’re so angry that you can feel the color of your face turning to red. You have trouble breathing after the argument, since your blood pressure increased so rapidly. These were just words said out loud, but now you’re tempted to vent your frustrations in writing. You craft a very nasty email, and you’re on the verge of sending it, when you decide to think the matter over.
In Latin there is the phrase “littera scripta manet.” This means “the written word remains.” Your argument with this person will eventually pass. After all, you know that you’ve had other arguments over the years with your friends. The people involved remember what was said and what triggered the argument, but there is no way to go back and actually look up the words that were used. The written word is different, though. That will remain. Many years into the future someone could read that nasty email and get the wrong idea about you:
“Boy, they must have been a very mean person. They must have been angry all the time. How could they write such things about another person, a friend no less? This email gives me insight into this person’s personality, and I don’t like what I see.”
As if knowing the written word’s ability to transcend time, the Vaishnava saints of the past all carefully chose their words. In the voluminous Vedic literature, you will not find much hate. There may be some temporary anger directed at offensive parties in the form of a back and forth verbal debate, a sort of transcript of a conversation, but there is no hate presented as a philosophy. The most famous of Vedic works, the Bhagavad-gita, contains only valid truths. Absent is blanket criticism of an entire society. The properties of the demons are described, for sure, but then in the philosophy itself one learns that a demon doesn’t have to stay that way forever.
“Prahlada Maharaja said: O Supreme Lord, because You are so merciful to the fallen souls, I ask You for only one benediction. I know that my father, at the time of his death, had already been purified by Your glance upon him, but because of his ignorance of Your beautiful power and supremacy, he was unnecessarily angry at You, falsely thinking that You were the killer of his brother. Thus he directly blasphemed Your Lordship, the spiritual master of all living beings, and committed heavily sinful activities directed against me, Your devotee. I wish that he be excused for these sinful activities.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.10.15-17)
Due to their envious nature, such folks are cast into the lower species. Since the soul is eternal and since the bodies are temporary coverings akin to shirts and coats, residence in such species does not have to continue indefinitely. Even the villainous characters of infamy have a shot at redemption. The five year old boy named Prahlada had every reason to speak ill of his father Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada could have filled volumes of books with the offenses his father had committed. But instead we find Prahlada’s request for pardon for his demon-father. Thus the written words of Prahlada contain only golden gems, giving insight into his character that makes one more attached to him.
And Prahlada is best known for his glorification of God. This will live on as well. It is a much better thing to carry into the future than a tirade against a person who has fallen into the pool of ignorance and made many offenses. The glorification of God not only helps countless others in finding the true purpose in life, but it also helps the person doing the glorifying. It means that their best face will shine forth into the future, enduring through every era. No one can say a bad word about Prahlada. His words that live on today endear him to all.
In the words that live on, one can actually form an attachment to the author. Have you ever missed someone whom you have never met? Have you ever felt attached to a person whose physical association has never come your way? This is only possible through the written word. With the help of modern technology, the written word can also be passed on through recorded sound vibration, i.e. audio recordings. These are both the same, as written words are nothing more than sound. The Vedic literature is the sound recording of the speech of saintly personalities. The Bhagavad-gita is the recording of God Himself, making it the most valuable literature.
“Littera scripta manet” is a valuable phrase. It clears up the confusion as to whether or not one should libel someone else. The slanderous words live on, even if you change your mind afterwards. Every person is on the train towards enlightenment, though it may take many lifetimes for some to reach the end. Therefore all ill feelings are destined to vanish, meaning that every person will regret that their unkind words lived on. On the other side, the benefits of devotional service to God remain. Even if a person accidentally falls back into the material ocean, forgetting the lotus feet of the divine master, Shri Krishna, if they ever come upon their written glorifications again those words can act as a saving grace.
For this reason the Vaishnava saints record as much of their glorifications as possible. They pass on this life raft to save even people they will never meet, who are born hundreds of years after the fact. They know the secret that the glories of the Supreme Lord are immeasurable, which allows them to write on and on. They know that others might judge them in the future, and that others will speculate as to their true nature. Therefore through the kind words offered to God and His devotees, others will have no choice but to consider these writers to be great devotees, which is the highest honor to receive. To be known as a servant of the servant of the Supreme Lord is the pinnacle achievement of fame, and through the lasting written word this can be achieved very easily.
To curse one who caused me pain,
But pause since written word to remain.
Others upon that tirade to glance,
And for knowing me missing the chance.
Vaishnavas power of recorded words understand,
So glorifications of God off to future generations hand.
Benefit even if of Krishna later forgetting,
Powerful words right again their mind setting.