Srila Sarasvati Thakura wanted his disciples to imbibe a service attitude and not simply become bookworms. He would say that the ability to turn the pages of books and cast one's eyes on their contents does not constitute the qualification to comprehend them, particularly the esoteric works of self-realized acharyas. He gave the example that without meaningful engagement in Krsna-seva, inordinate poring over texts is like licking the outside of a honey jar, for the taste and nourishment derived from Krsna-bhakti cannot be attained merely by studying it; one must actually perform bhakti to experience it. He repeatedly quoted the stanza sevonmukhe hi jihvadau, explaining, "Out of His own mercy Krsna reveals all scriptural conclusions to those who please Him by their service attitude. Trying to understand the absolute truth merely by learning and cerebration is like trying to see the sun at night by holding a torch."'
Once he related how he himself had imbibed sastriya conclusions: From early childhood I heard from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura about the unique qualities of Lord Caitanya. The Thakura would say that only he who has greed, taste, and respect for unmotivated service to the Lord can overcome ignorance. In my childhood he also taught me the method for chanting the holy names, and thus from that time I had opportunity to hear about offenses to the name, namabhasa, and the special characteristics of the name. He was not in favor of excessive study. He would say that people who study too much often lose their intelligence, and their pride increases. Erudition rat is incongenial to Hari-seva has no value.
At this point a college student, one of several persons to whom Srila Sarasvati Thakura was speaking, interjected, "If we do not learn reading and writing then how can we study sastra?" Srila Sarasvati Thakura replied, "I have imbibed the meaning of all the scriptures by observing the exemplary character of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and my gurudeva Paramahamsa Babaji. One cannot realize the true purpose of sastra by expertise in grammar or by memorizing the roots and endings of words. If that were so, then the great worldly professors would have comprehended the factual import of sastra."
Not that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati did not want his disciples to read sastra, but he was concerned that they do so with the proper attitude. He accepted study as genuinely devotional only if undertaken for self-purification and to gain knowledge for preaching, and warned against the desire to become a pandita for self-aggrandizement or intellectual sense enjoyment: "Hear from the lips of a pure devotee. Your guru will tell you which books to read, one by one. Those who pore through myriad texts without the instruction of the guru will never get bhakti. On the other hand, if you do not read at all, you will become a prakrta-sahajiya."*