Spiritual practice consists of three stages: shravana, manana, and nididhyasana. Since the Upanishads exhort one to do shravana, it is necessary to know the meaning of this word and what exactly is meant by the practice of shravana. This is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.  


The word shravana is derived from the root shru, which means to hear, listen, attend, learn, attend to, obey, to be celebrated, to be renowned, known as, pronounced, announce, declare, inform, communicate, relate, and tell. Shravana means hearing, that which is heard, learning, study, understanding the true meaning, fame, and reputation. Shravana does not mean just listening to the Vedantic sentences, but it means determining the true meaning of Vedanta contained in the Upanishads by the use of six lingas, signs: upakrama-upasamhara, beginning-conclusion; abhyasa, repetition; apurvata, originality; phalam, result; arthavada, eulogy; and upapatti, logical determination of meaning.


First, one has to see the correlation between the beginning and the conclusion of a particular section and that they relate to the same subject. Second, one has to repeat the same thought or deliberate on the same thought over and again till it makes a strong impression and leads to conviction regarding the subject. Third, the meaning of the Vedantic sentences should be something that is not mundane, but original and one has to find out this meaning, even though it is covered with ordinary knowledge. Fourth, such analysis should lead to a result that is attainable and should not be a fanciful thought. Fifth, one should be able to distinguish between the subject and eulogy and should know the reason for such eulogy and should concentrate on that which is being eulogised and not on the eulogy. Sixth, one should be able to logically follow the illustrations to find their implication and come to a definite conclusion about the subject.


Therefore, shravana does not mean mere hearing of knowledge, but understanding and assimilation of such knowledge after logically analysing it. It means that there can be no room for doubt, even at this stage. Shravana has to be considered as a logical and natural stage in the whole process of understanding one’s true nature, and has to be followed by the processes of manana, contemplation and nididhyasana, meditation. By shravana, the spiritual aspirant has to find the true meaning and significance of the mahavakyas, great Vedantic sentences that proclaim the identity of the Atman and Brahman, for example, ‘tat tvam asi, you are that’. In this sentence, the process of shravana would involve a careful analysis of the words ‘you’ and ‘that’ and how they are identical. Hence, shravana does not signify a passive listening but an active understanding.


From a devotee’s perspective, shravana would mean listening to the names and greatness of the Lord through the recounting of divine play. Here too, shravana requires complete faith and surrender to the Lord so that when the devotee listens to the names of the Lord, one is convinced that these names would lead one to freedom from repeated births and deaths.


Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata

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This article was first published in the August 2017 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe http://advaitaashrama.org/pbSubscription

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