Shrewd is Hearing

23rd Oct 2004
Kalacakra Krsna das

Hare Krishna dear Vaishnavas,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudev. 

Yesterday I got a feedback mail from HG Devakinandan Prabhuji saying that some devotees felt "Shrewd" is not the right word to use for a devotee (they were refering to my 'moderator's note' for a couple of recent mails wherein I had used this word to refer to devotees), because according to normal usage and understanding, the word "Shrewd" is generally used to refer to one who is "cunning" or "smart in business dealings" and therefore it may project a negative idea about the devotee. 

At the first instance, I felt that may be the devotees were too picky, because I have seen people use this word more generously in a positive sense also, like say, for eg, "He is very shrewd in his studies". And moreover, I write the moderator's note only to reveal the positive side of the writer and seeing it in that particular context did not make that note look absurd. But by Krsna's mercy, as soon as I thought like this, I realized that may be I was getting a bit 'defensive' and there should be some sense in what the devotees say. But still, I felt that I should dig into this word further, not to prove any point to anyone but for my own understanding, because, I have noted several times in the past that all these words, cultures, traditions etc were originally used and practised with a certain idea and over the years the usage got modified to such an extent that the original intent is completely lost. The very famous example is the word "Enthusiasm" which we saw in Granthraj some months back. 

The dictionary entry for "Shrewd" gave meanings on both sides. On the positive side it gave meanings like astute, skilled, sharp-witted, artful etc with the usage - "One who is shrewd is keen to detect errors, to penetrate disguises, to foresee and guard against the selfishness of others. " On the negative (or not-so-positive) side, it had references as mentioned above by the devotees. 

But, as  soon as I became open-minded and eager to learn more, Lord Krishna, as He always does, revealed something interesting in relation to the word "Shrewd" that made me meditate on two beautiful purports of Srila Prabhupada. 

I found that the root of the word "Shrewd" is "śru", which means "proper or attentive hearing". We have so many beautiful words that originate from "śru" - śruti, śrūyatāṁ, śuśrūṣuḥ, śṛṇvatām, śrotavya etc. In other words, "Shrewd" means a person who hears attentively and applies it in his life. It is general understanding even in our material life that if someone hears attentively, then he will be able to apply it successfully. In spiritual life also, hearing is understood to be the foremost of all types of devotional activities as Srila Prabhupada reveals in his wonderful purport for SB 2.2.36: 

"Out of the nine different methods, the first one namely hearing, is the most important function in the process of Bhakti yoga. Without hearing sufficiently and properly, no one can make any progress by any of the methods of practice. And for hearing only, all the vedic literatures are there, compiled by authorized persons like Vyasadeva, who is the powerful incarnation of Godhead.

Having stressed the importance of hearing, Srila Prabhupada goes on to explain the effect of such perfect hearing in his punching statement thus:

"Hearing is solidified by the process of chanting. One who has perfectly heard from the perfect source becomes convinced about the all-pervading Personality of Godhead and thus becomes enthusiastic in glorifying the Lord.

I felt that the above golden words of Srila Prabhupada has a very deep meaning because it reveals a very tight inter-relationship between hearing (śrotavya) and glorifying/preaching (kīrtitavya). I was trying to understand it through an example. 

When the Engineers construct buildings, they first prepare a mixture of sand, cement and water in the right proportion. The mixture is in a liquid state in the beginning. The right proportion of the materials is very vital for the foundation. This is analogous to our hearing process. And then the mixture is applied around the stones/bricks of the building, and is then allowed to solidify. Once the cement mixture becomes dry and solidified, it becomes so strong that the structure stands for years withstanding heavy thunders, storms, heat, cold etc. This is analogous to preaching/glorifying. Just like constructing a building requires these two basic processes (right proportion of cement mixture and applying in on bricks & solidifying), in the same way in devotional service also these two basic processes hearing and glorifying are very vital. A person who hears properly will be able to preach. If one cannot preach nicely then it automatically implies that he has not heard properly. 

We have seen this in the life of so many saints and in the very recent example of Srila Prabhupada too. When Srila Prabhupada was a grhastha, he used to go to hear his spiritual master's discourse many times. Even when others had left, Srila Prabhupada would just sit for hours together, simply to hear his spiritual master speak. One day Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, his spiritual master commented, "He listens very attentively. He will preach nicely." We all have seen the effect of Srila Prabhupada's preaching, what it has done to the whole world!

Srila Prabhupada reveals the real mood of a preacher (in actuality it was his real mood too) in his purport for SB 2.5.9 thus:"The pure devotees are not only satisfied by knowing everything about the Lord, but are also eager to broadcast the information to others, for they want to see that the glories of the Lord are known to everyone. Thus the devotee feels satisfied when such an opportunity is offered to him. This is the basic principle of missionary activities.

In conclusion, I would like to propose that the origin of the word "Shrewd" must be the sanskrit root "śru". Of course I do not have any written evidence for that and it is open to discussion, research and argument. As far as I am concerned, by taking the devotees' feedback in a positive way and digging a bit deeper into this word, I benefitted immensely by spending 3 hours meditating on Srila Prabhupada's powerful purports and felt so thankful in the end for their valuable suggestion. 

Thank you very much.
Yours in service of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudev,
Kalacakra Krsna das.