In Anuccheda 256 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, writes about the importance of hearing the name of Bhagavān before engaging in meditation on pastimes, līlā-smaraṇam. In the preceding anucchedas, he described the process of hearing about the name, form, qualities and pastimes of Bhagavān. Here he describes the importance of the order. Below I give my translation of the anuccheda and my commentary on it.
Hearing Is To Be Undertaken in Sequence
We have thus described the practice of hearing (śravaṇam) about the names (nāma), forms (rūpa), qualities (guṇa), and līlās of Bhagavān. Hearing about Bhagavān’s liberated associates (parikaras) is also understood to be included within this practice, as Śrī Vidura confirms:
śrutasya puṁsāṁ sucira-śramasya nanv añjasā sūribhir īḍito’rthaḥ
tat-tad-guṇānuśravaṇaṁ mukunda- pādāravindaṁ hṛdayeṣu yeṣām
To repeatedly hear the virtues of those in whose hearts the lotus feet of Mukunda perpetually reside has been rightly esteemed by the wise as the true aim of the extensive effort undertaken by human beings in studying the scriptures. (SB 3.13.4)
It is a fact that by hearing even about just one of these four—the names, forms, qualities, or līlās of Bhagavān—and in any given order, perfection ensues. Yet in order for the heart (or “the affective-cognitive faculty,” antaḥ-karaṇa) to become purified, it is necessary to begin with hearing the name. When the heart is thus purified, and by then hearing about Bhagavān’s form, the heart attains fitness for the self-disclosure of His form. When Bhagavān’s form fully manifests, there follows the revelation of His qualities that are implicit in His form. Thereafter, when Bhagavān’s name, form, and qualities have fully manifested along with Bhagavān’s associates, the līlās of Bhagavān are disclosed in the appropriate manner. It is with this intention that the order of execution of sādhana practices has been stated. The same order is understood to be applicable in regard to singing (kīrtana) and remembering (smaraṇa) the names, forms, qualities, associates, and līlās of Bhagavān.
If hari-kathā is received from the mouth of greatly realized devotees (mahat), this practice of hearing attains to its most exalted state of being (mahā-māhātmyam) and grants supreme delight (parama-sukhadam) to those in whom the relish (ruci) for such topics has arisen. Additionally, hearing from mahat devotees is of two types—to hear sacred works brought forth by a great devotee (mahad-āvirbhāvitam) and to hear hari-kathā sung by a great devotee (mahat-kīrtyamānam).
Among these two, an example of the first is found in Śrī Sūta’s statement in reference to Śrīmad Bhāgavata:
idaṁ bhāgavataṁ nāma purāṇaṁ brahma-sammitam
uttama-śloka-caritaṁ cakāra bhagavān ṛṣiḥ
For the highest benefit of humanity, the divine seer [Vyāsadeva] brought forth into being this Purāṇa called Śrīmad Bhāgavata, which is equal to all the Vedas, which is filled with the narrations of Uttamaśloka, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, which bestows all aspired for aims, which is productive of the highest wellbeing, and is supremely preeminent. (SB 1.3.40)
In this verse, the author’s name has been mentioned simply to make evident the exalted state of being (māhātmyam) of Śrīmad Bhāgavata.
Just as hearing about the name, form, qualities, and līlās of Bhagavān can award perfection in the form of divine love, so too hearing about His associates (parikaras) can grant the same perfection. The associates of Bhagavān, being direct manifestations of His own intrinsic potency, are equal to Him in power. This was discussed in Bhagavat Sandarbha (Anu. 76).
Here it may be added that hearing about contemporary devotees is similarly purifying. Indeed, hearing about them may be even more inspiring than hearing about Bhagavān or His direct associates, because a practitioner can more readily relate to contemporary devotees and develop an affinity with them. The listener can empathize with the struggle undergone by such devotees and feel inspired by it.
Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī also singles out the importance of hearing and chanting the name. Hearing and chanting the name are two of the most important spiritual practices in the Gauḍīya School. He recommends that one should first hear the name for purification of the heart. Unless the heart is first purified by hearing and chanting the name, the other practices will not easily yield their result. Oftentimes, a disproportionate amount of stress is placed on līlā-smaraṇam, “recollection of, or meditation on, Bhagavān’s līlās.” But this practice requires the heart to be firmly established in sattva, or purity of being. If the heart is not sāttvika, līlā-smaraṇam becomes an impossibility. Instead of granting the desired result, it leads to degradation. There have been many practical examples of this in the recent history. Unqualified people take to līlā-smaraṇa and end up materially implicated. For this reason, Śrī Jīva recommends following the approved order, beginning with hearing the name.
Śrī Jīva further advocates that one should hear hari-kathā from the mouth of great devotees (mahat). He remarks that hearing of this nature exhibits two qualities, the first of which is that it attains to its most exalted state of being (mahā-māhātmyam). Śrī Jīva’s use of the latter compound could also imply that hearing from the mahat becomes of the nature of the exalted state of being (the māhātmyam) of the mahat. The second quality of hearing from the mahat is that it grants supreme delight (parama-sukhadam). This hearing from the mahat is then said to be of two types—hearing the sacred works that have been brought forth by great devotees (mahad-āvirbhāvitam) and hearing narrations that are sung by them (mahat-kīrtyamānam). Out of these two, Śrī Jīva gives an example of the first in reference to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa’s being manifested by the sage Vyāsa. In this case, the Bhāgavata’s being of the most exalted state (mahā-māhātmyam, the first of the two qualities referred to above) is indicated by mention of the author’s name, the mahat Vyāsa.