MARSHMALLOWS AND THE POWER OF SHRAVAN, MANAN, AND NIDIDHYASAN
Katha is important because it provides us with the spiritual strength and knowledge to become brahmarup and ekantik. However, those benefits of katha usually accrue over time and are sometimes difficult to perceive. So, when results are expected instantly, it is easy to become discouraged from listening to katha. To this end, Gunatitanand Swami apprises, “If you plant a mango sapling today, how can mangoes grow by tomorrow? But ten years later that mango tree will give mangoes.” Similarly, the benefits of listening to and doing katha may not be seen in one or two days. But, over time, listening to katha will bear fruits equal to tens of millions of spiritual endeavours.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Walter Mischel conducted an experiment at Stanford University, famously known as the “marshmallow experiment”. In the experiment, four-year-old children were offered a choice. The child could choose one small reward (a marshmallow) provided immediately, or the child could choose two small rewards (a second marshmallow) if he or she waited fifteen minutes. Years later, studies found that the children who waited for the second marshmallow were, among other things, healthier, better educated and more successful.
Like the marshmallow experiment, many spiritual endeavours provide an immediate, tangible reward. When you take a guest on a tour of Swaminarayan Akshardham, Delhi, you may immediately see joy in his or her demeanour. When you clean a bathroom at your mandir, you may instantly feel gratified. But, to see the results of katha requires patience. Even a cursory study of Hinduism’s age-old tradition of giving discourses demonstrates that katha makes the listener and speaker spiritually healthier, better educated, and more successful.
While the gratification from katha may be delayed, one way to markedly enjoy the benefits of katha is the system of shravan, manan and nididhyasan. When we listen to katha, it is called shravan. After the katha, as we contemplate on the main ideas of the katha, it is known as manan. As we repeatedly contemplate upon these main ideas, it is called nididhyasan. As we follow this process, the katha we listen to will become more deeply ingrained within us, allowing us to more easily notice how it is making a positive change in our life.
A FISH OUT OF WATER AND THE METAMORPHOSIS OF KATHA
And yet, a third obstacle exists that is perhaps more common, arduous to overcome, and inconvenient than the aforementioned obstacles: listening to katha is typically a solitary experience. Sitting in katha feels even more cloistered when the rest of our friends are doing seva or hanging out. And, paradoxically, when we are in sabha with our friends, out of respect for the speaker, we usually keep to ourselves.
The YMCA faced a similar dilemma at the turn of this century. It needed to stay competitive with other gyms because its membership was gradually falling. So, the YMCA spent millions of dollars on fancy equipment, modern facilities and yoga studios. But, as it turned out, the members weren’t looking for new equipment. Although the new equipment was nice, the members wanted a human connection and a comfortable, familiar environment. Smiles and greeting members by name correlated more positively with keeping YMCA members from changing gyms than snazzy equipment and facilities.
As Aristotle wrote, “Man is by nature a social animal.” In Satsang, by implication and truism, our progress can be helped by the people around us. According to Shriji Maharaj, if we “keep the company of devotees of God as well as the company of the [Satpurush]”, then our “bhakti for God [will] gain tremendous vigour.” Accordingly, if listening to katha feels out of place and misaligned from our social habits, it is possible that there may be a reason we do not enjoy it.
If this is the case, you may wish to brainstorm routines that make listening to katha more social. You can listen to katha with others, or after you listen to katha, you can have a discussion about it with friends – and even start a katha club (like a book club). In the end, the key is to find a way to make listening to katha more enjoyable for you.
FINAL REMARKS: EFFORT IS HALF THE BATTLE
Listening to katha purifies the senses, and “as one’s inner faculties are purified, the talks are understood and one experiences happiness”. This is the purpose of katha, so “set aside all work and become free to listen to these spiritual discourses”.
We can do so only if we overcome the barriers discussed in this guide, as well as others you may encounter. In order to reap the benefits of katha, we must “understand that we are doing tens of millions of tasks…. But we [must] not think we are sitting idly”.
This undoubtedly requires our personal effort. Do not become discouraged, but persevere in listening to katha. If we do so, then as Maharaj says, we will “never become satiated with spiritual discourses, devotional songs, talks related to God or meditation of God”. And that is the crux of achieving spiritual victory.