Hearing the Glories of the Supreme Lord is one of the great ways of executing Bhakti. This activity falls under Shravanam or Hearing as part of the Navanga Bhakti, one of the nine limbs of Bhakti. It is important to understand what aspect of Hearing “Hari Katha” (Glories of the Lord) is most beneficial and how one needs to take up Hari Katha so that life itself gets transformed.
There are 3 categories of Hari Katha. They are Tattva Katha, Leela Katha and Rasa Katha. However when people normally take up to the hearing process, these distinctions are not discernible and people are only concerned about simply hearing something related to the Lord. This is good too but not very useful if people are serious in ascending the ladder of Sadhana. The 3 bifurcations of Hari Katha are very important with respect to gradation and qualification of a devotee who is trying to develop the capability to connect with the Supreme. Tattva Katha is the most fundamental aspect of Hari Katha. The Bhagavad Gita is an expression of Tattva Katha that talks about principles of Godhead. Just like to understand the science of planet earth , it is important to understand the forces of nature like gravitation and winds that flow in various directions , that affect life on the planet, Tattva Katha gives one an insight into the phenomenon of God and His nature , in relation with one’s own nature. Who God is and what are the principles of Godhead. Tattva Katha is just like the laws of love. What does a boy need to do to impress the girl? What are the various impediments in doing so and how things need to get managed so that the output is favourable? In the Gita Bhagawan explains to Arjuna about the duties of human being, the various forms of Yoga that will enable one to execute those duties and also the highest duty that man can execute setting aside all other duties, especially with the sanction of the Lord. A person who is new to spiritual life should avoid going to Leela Katha and Rasa Katha. He should attend those lectures which discuss about the principles of Godhead. Even to understand and grasp Tattva Katha, one has to take up to chanting the holy names of the Lord to state the minimum. Aspects of Godhead can only be grasped by one who has surrendered at least one’s thoughts to the Lord. By regularly attending Tattva Katha, one will be slowly qualified to hear Leela Katha.
The Leela Katha deals with the pastimes or activities of the Lord. The Srimad Bhagavatham is the classic example of Leela Katha. The transcendental activity of the Lord has a sweetness of its own. Srimad Bhagavatham is a scripture that can only be savoured and relished by one who is at the stage of perfection, a Paramahamsa. Although today many people read the Bhagavatham, its real worth and import can only be grasped by a person on the liberated platform. Leela Katha is for those who are familiar with the ways of the Lord, people who with the mercy of Guru and Bhagawan are able to relate to the Lord’s personal moods. The first 9 Cantos of the Srimad Bhagavatham represents mainly Leela Katha. The 10th Canto represents mainly Rasa Katha and the 11th and the 12th Canto represents mainly Tattva Katha. However the 11th and 12th Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatham which is higher Tattva cannot be grasped by neophytes. The first 9 cantos cover a great deal of Leela as well as Tattva. The 10th Canto represents both Leela and Rasa. The 11th Canto is a combination of Leela, Rasa and Tattva. The Tattva in the 11th Canto represents the basis of Raganuga Bhakti.
Rasa Katha represents the transcendental mellows included in the Hari Katha. The Stavavali and the works of this nature namely Dana Keli Kaumudi or Gopala Campu represent Hari Katha which are full of Rasas. The transcendental flavours of this kind can be only relished by Paramahamsas of the highest kind, people who have transcended the modes of material nature. People who have realized their position as the eternal servant of Krishna, are only qualified in the real senses to hear or read such literature. “Rasa” is concentrated mellow of divine servitude, friendship, parenthood or conjugal love. A person who has no connection with the material world, who is steeped in Sadhana, a person of intense realization of one’s personal connection with the Lord, is a Rasika. He is totally identified with the Lord and has nothing to do with the world of material forms and relations. One should not attempt to artificially extract some pleasure from literature which belongs to the category of Rasa Shastra because by doing so one will only end up in Rasa Abhasa ( Semblance of Rasa)which means artificial appreciation of Shastra without being able to feel the mellow at the core of one’s heart. Then these Shastras will be falsely used for one’s own glorification and talking about one’s attachment to the Lord artificially. Unless one is a perfect Sadhaka and renounced in the highest sense both internally and externally for the sake of the Lord’s pleasure, one should not attempt taking up Rasa Shastra or Rasa Katha. It is also prohibited to openly discuss or render Rasa Katha. This is not in accordance with Katha Maryada or the bounds of regulated Hari Katha.
From whom should we hear Hari Katha? It is said that when one hears Hari Katha from a person who is not connected spiritually with an authentic Vaishnava Parampara, it is like drinking milk touched by the tongue of a serpent. This is true in the initial stages of Sadhana for a person who takes up hearing Hari Katha. When one goes deeper into Sadhana, connecting with an authentic Parampara and performs regulated Sadhana, one’s heart gets cleansed. The cleaning of the heart necessarily means being free of material contamination. To such a Sadhaka, the Lord makes arrangement to give pleasure to one’s spiritual senses. That is why one of the names of the Lord is Hrishikesha, the giver of pleasure to the senses. The Sadhaka then may be directed or inspired to hear Hari Katha from other sources which may not necessarily be based on an authentic Parampara. This happens with the will of the Lord. Under such circumstances, by divine will the Sadhaka will becomes filled with transcendental emotions for the Lord by attending such Hari Katha. Even a single utterance of the name of the Lord from any corner will fill the heart of the Sadhaka with other-worldly emotions. The goal of Hari Katha is to simply aid a Sadhaka. Hari Katha by itself cannot single-handedly cause transformation in the Sadhaka. It can definitely serve as a mild inspiration. Just hearing Hari Katha and discussing the stories will definitely charge up the Sadhaka, but it does not take time for the Sadhaka to discharge given the situation in this material world. The Sadhaka will lose momentum once he is out of Hari Katha. Hence it is important to take up Sadhana in an authorized Parampara with single-pointed attention. Hari Katha can simply be used as a means to add flavour to sadhana.