INTRODUCTION: KATHA IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SCHWARZWÄLDER KIRSCHTORTE
Have you ever tried a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte? If you have, you may agree that this mouth-watering German dessert (known the world over as Black Forest cake) is, in fact, quite deliciously important. But, would you believe that a detail as trivial as eating Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte played a crucial role in winning World War II?
During the six years of World War II (1939-1945), more than sixty million people perished – a number equal to nearly half the population of Europe at the time. Throughout Europe, the German-led Axis powers battled against the British-led Allied powers time and again, and the casualties steadily increased on both sides with no end to the war in sight.
As the war progressed, both sides became proficient at communicating with their military outposts and secret agents using encrypted telegraphic messages. The information in the messages was so significant that whoever cracked the enemy code first would secure a notable, strategic advantage. Naturally, the British hired thousands of telegraph operators to intercept and decrypt the German communiqués.
However, the British were confounded. Even with their vast resources allocated to hacking the German’s communications, the progress was frustratingly slow. Then, a curious thing happened. By listening to the messages repeatedly, the British operators noticed that the German operators mentioned unique and sometimes personal facts around the important part of a telegraphic transmission. Although the British still could not decipher the information in the message, they quickly learned to analyze the information surrounding the telegraphic transmission – and that proved equally valuable.
To illustrate: A particular German operator might routinely mention the scrumptious slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte he had for breakfast. Soon, the British operators could identify that German operator as the “one who always eats Black Forest cake”. Once it was known who was sending the message, it was simple to track where the messages came from, and where they were being sent. Together with their gathered intelligence vis-à-vis enemy movements, the British were able to piece together a winning battle plan for the Allied powers.
Let us now consider a different type of battle. On the path to moksha, we are in a perennial battle with maya. Shriji Maharaj succinctly says, “Maya is anything that obstructs a devotee of God while meditating on God’s form.” In skirmishing with the maya within us and the maya of the surrounding world, we often face seemingly insurmountable odds. And, although we have a winning spiritual strategy, “Nijãtmãnam brahmarupam deha traya vilakshanam, vibhãvya tena kartavyã bhaktihi Krushnasya sarvadã”, we need the Satpurush, mandirs and scriptures to effectuate our plan.
Unfortunately, a scripture is not always easy to understand or interpret correctly. In the same way that decrypting the Germans’ transmissions was integral to winning the western front, making sense of scripture is important for obtaining Akshardham. Even though at first the British were unable to understand the contents of the Germans’ messages, by constantly listening to the messages they culled important, contextual information that gave them a strategic advantage. Similarly, while doing satsang, we may not immediately understand the significance of every incident, principle, and scriptural passage, but by continuously listening to katha, we gain a toehold from which we may build a strong infrastructure for our spiritual knowledge.
In the Swamini Vato, Gunatitanand Swami says that an “individual who studiously engages in spiritual discourses…progresses quickly[,] gains spiritual strength”, gains “firm spiritual knowledge”, and becomes detached from the world. Through katha, we become familiar with spiritual knowledge, even when we can’t fully comprehend it. As we engage more in listening to and even in delivering katha, we progress spiritually and gain a deeper realization about those crucial messages necessary to attain moksha. In this way, katha helps us to become pure, brahmarup and ekantik .
Yet, if “tens of millions of spiritual endeavours may be performed, they are not equal to delivering and listening to” katha, then why is it sometimes so difficult to stay awake or sit attentively through katha? Despite the importance of katha, we constantly encounter roadblocks that prevent us from fully benefiting from and paying attention during katha. This guide will discuss three such impediments.
CLEANSING THE MIND: THE TRIUMVIRATE OF KATHA, SEVA AND BHAKTI
When we sit in katha, our minds wander. For example, instead of listening carefully, we may envisage dinner or hanging out with friends or other thoughts unrelated to the katha. To concentrate continuously is a difficult endeavour. Because we spend our time among worldly concerns and endeavours, our minds are clouded with myriad worldly thoughts. And these thoughts impair our ability to reap the rewards of katha.
Yogiji Maharaj often told a value tale of two friends, a bee and a worm. One day the bee invited the worm to his garden. “My friend, the worm, spends all his time in dung,” thought the bee. “It would be nice for him to smell some fragrant flowers and see my beautiful garden for a change.”
However, when the worm was brought to the garden, he told the bee he was not impressed. “You promised me an amazing experience,” said the worm disappointedly. “This garden looks nice, but it smells just like my pile of dung.”
The bee was astounded! After a moment’s thought, the bee took his friend to a nearby pool of water. “I have an idea,” said the bee, and he immediately dunked the worm’s head in the pool. The worm became furious, but, as his head emerged from the water, the worm suddenly inhaled all the wonderful aromas of the garden!
Having spent so much time burrowing in filth, the worm could only smell the dung that had been stuck in his nose. When the bee pushed his friend’s head underwater, muck in the worm’s nose was washed away and it was then able to enjoy the beauty of the garden.
In the same way, our hearts and minds are filled with worldly desires. Like the worm, we spend our time “burrowing” in the muck of worldly pursuits. As a result, our minds become attached to those worldly experiences via the five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste and touch). In order to cleanse the mind and heart, an individual must engage in seva, bhakti and katha. The triumvirate of katha, seva and bhakti are like the pool of water. Just as the act of dipping the worm in water cleared the filth from it’s nose, that trio works together to clear away our worldly thoughts.
Imagine, for a moment, that a person spends the entire day building a wall. And, when the wall is complete, another person throws a heavy stone and breaks the wall. If this continued every day, eventually the builder would tire. Gunatitanand Swami explains, “If one engages in worldly activities all day and listens to [katha, does seva or bhakti] for even a short time, then all worldly actions are nullified.” Eventually, worldly activities will tire, and spirituality will carry on.