“Ocean of nectar” by Srila sriddhar Swami

Dhiralalita - December 29, 2004 5:09 pm

This is an excerpt from “Ocean of nectar” by Srila Sriddhar Swami. I am just giving my comments on certain parts of it. I find the spirit presented in this excerpt very mind broadening and very inspiring. I wanted to share it with all of you and see if you have anything to ad to it.

In the introduction, a reproduction of a lecture given by the Takhur is presented. I read this a long time ago and since then, have always read the scriptures in a different spirit. I don’t just take notes anymore, but I may write something about a thought and try to develop it in relationship to my life. Or I see the same thought repeated in several acharyas but presented in a different way and I know that a miracle has taken place. This literature has taken a life of its own. It is alive and ever expending, part of a big whole and we are also invited to take part in this expansion, this life.

"From a lecture delivered by Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur in 1896 at Dinajpur, West Bengal.

We love to read a book we have never read before. We are anxious to gather whatever information is contained in it and with such acquirement our curiosity stops. This mode of study prevails amongst a large number of readers, who are great men in their own estimation, as well as in the estimation of those who are of their own stamp. In fact, most readers are mere repositories of facts and statements made by other people. But this is not study."

This is the first statement that retained my attention. Maybe because I am very right brain and like to improvise on everything, and I do not think like left brain people, the fact is this is how we are told to study in school and college, by merely retaining the facts.

"The student is to read the facts with a view to create, and not with the object of fruitless retention. Students, like satellites, should reflect whatever light they receive from authors, and not imprison the facts and thoughts just as the magistrates imprison the convicts in the jail! Thought is progressive. The author’s thought must have progress in the reader, in the shape of correction or development. He is the best critic who can show the further development of an old thought, but a mere denouncer is the enemy of progress and consequently of nature. „Begin anew,“ says the critic, „because the old masonry does not answer at present. Let the old author be buried because his time is gone.“ These are shallow expressions. Progress is certainly the law of nature and there must be corrections and developments with the passage of time, as progress means going further or rising higher. If we follow our foolish critic, we are to go back to our former terminus and make a new race, and when we have run half the race another critic of his stamp will cry out: „Begin anew, because the wrong road has been taken!“ In this way our stupid critics will never allow us to go over the whole road and see what is in the other terminus. Thus the shallow critic and the fruitless reader are the two great enemies of progress. We must shun them. "

Here an element is added besides the fruitless reader who reads, retains facts ( and in many case forget facts as soon as possible) and does not “reflect” the book (and here we are, of course, interested mainly in gaudiya vaisnava literature). The other element is the shallow critic. This critic resembles those who have not absorbed what they read and received from the previous acharyas and want to start in a totally different venue without understanding the old. By exemple, we have seen some devotees deciding that our acaryas had not given them enough and had been inauthentic. Those devotees have gone to the sahajiya section and thrown away our parampara without absorbing its teaching. But there is another more interesting aspect to the shallow critic, closer to our understanding. This shallow critic is us or within us. This is what I understand from this, “our stupid critic” is our narrow mind.

"The true critic, on the other hand, advises us to preserve what we have already obtained, and adjust our race from that point where we have arrived in the heat of our progress. He will never advise us to go back to the point whence we started, as he fully knows that in that case there will be a fruitless loss of our valuable time and labour. He will direct the adjustment of the angle of the race at the point where we are. This is also the characteristic of the useful student. He will read an old author and will find out his exact position in the progress of thought. He will never propose to burn a book on the ground that it contains thoughts that are useless."

The true critic our controlled mind, or the intelligent student, is able to read books by Srila bhaktivinoda Thakur and Tripurari swami by exemple, one old book, one new book, and see the continuation of thought, the correlation, the continuation of progressive thought.

"No thought is useless. Thoughts are means by which we attain our objects. The reader who denounces a bad thought does not know that even a bad road is capable of improvement and conversion into a good one. One thought is a road leading to another. Thus the reader will find that the thought which is the object today will be the means of a further object tomorrow. Thoughts will necessarily continue to be an endless series of means and objects in the progress of humanity. "

This is a bold and interesting statement: No thought is useless. We can see how it works in our Tattva-vivek forum. One person will speak something and the next will be inspired to write about it. A third person maybe reading both and wonder how the second person may have extracted meaning from something, he or she, may see as useless.

"The great reformers will always assert that they have come not to destroy the old law, but to fulfill it. Valmiki, Vyasa, Plato, Jesus, Mohamed, Confucius and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu assert this fact, either expressly or by their conduct. Subjects of philosophy and theology are like the peaks of towering and inaccessible mountains inviting attention and investigation."

This mention of reformers always makes think of Swami. To me he is a reformer following in the footsteps of our paramapara.

"Thinkers and men of deep speculation take their observations through the instruments of reason and consciousness, but they take different points when they carry on their work. These points are positions chalked out by the circumstances of their social and philosophical life, different as they are in the different parts of the world. Plato looked at the peak of the spiritual questions from the West and Vyasa made the observation from the East. Confucius did it from further East and Schlegel, Spinoza, Kant and Goethe from further West. Their observations were made at different times by different means, but the conclusion is all the same, in as much as the object of observation was one and the same."

All roads lead to Rome, it seems. Time and circumstances force our Acharyas to make adjustments. But the spirit is the same. It has only taken a different garb and will lead to the same goal.

They all hunted after the Great Spirit, the unconditioned Soul of the Universe. They could not but get an insight into it. Their words and expressions were different, but their import is the same. They tried to find the absolute religion and their labours were crowned with success, for God gives all that He has to His children, if they want to have it. It requires a candid, generous, pious and holy heart to feel the beauties of their conclusions. The true critic is a generous judge, devoid of prejudices and party spirit, that great enemy of truth, will always baffle the attempt of the enquirer and will make him believe that Absolute Truth is nowhere except in his old religious book.

This is certainly an aspect of Srila Sriddhar maharja’s revolutionary thinking. He is very broadminded in his thinking, He is the true harmonizer. He is the enemy of this “party spirit”, the enemy of attachment to society. He is leading us to the quality of content, rather than form.

" What better example could be adduced that the fact that the philosopher of Benares will find no truth in the universal brotherhood of men and the common fatherhood of God? The philosopher, thinking in his own way of thought, can never see the beauty of the Christian faith. The way in which Christ thought of his own Father was love absolute, and so long as the philosopher will not adopt that way of thinking, he will ever remain deprived of the absolute faith preached by the Western Saviour. In a similar manner, the Christian needs adopt the way of thought which the Vedantist pursued before he can love the conclusions of the philosopher. The critic should, therefore, have a comprehensive, good, generous, candid, impartial and sympathetic soul."

I like this spirit very much and I hope to be able to imbibe it fully one day.

Vrindaranya Dasi - December 31, 2004 3:02 pm

This is such amazing writing.


If anyone has been inspired by this over the years, but still has trouble putting it into practice, there is a book called How To Read a Book that shows you how to read on a deeper level. It says that there are distinct levels of reading that you need to do. These levels are usually done separately. Srila Sridhara Maharaja once noted that he read very slowly but he retained what he read. You can't expect to buzz through reading and get to this level of penetration. It is very different than reading for pleasure, the kind of passive reading that you do to decompress. A lot of people don't really have the time (or would need to rearrange their schedules) to do what Bhaktivinode Thakur is really talking about.


Good teachers show their students how to read in an engaging way. It is very low-level college class that only expects you to retain knowledge and spit back information without processing it in some meaningful way.


It is also noteworthy that the scriptural geniuses of our line were widely read in not only Gaudiya literature but literature of the world's great thinkers. Studying other perspectives lets you see your own tradition in new light. For those interested in joining the "great conversation" with the people whose ideas help shape the course of history, another book to pack along for the journey is The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had.