In the Vedic disciplic succession, the spiritual masters always base their statements on what they have heard from authoritative sources, never on personal experience. Trying to understand things by one’s own direct experience is the material process of gaining knowledge, technically called pratyakña. The Vedic method is different. It is called çruti, which means “to hear from authoritative sources.” That is the secret of Vedic understanding. With your imperfect senses you should not try to understand things that are beyond your experimental powers. That is not possible. Suppose you want to know who your father is. Can you find out by experimenting? Is it possible? No. Then how can you know who your father is? By hearing from the proper
authority, your mother. This is common sense. And if you cannot know your material father by the experimental process, how can you know the Supreme Father by the experimental process? krsna is the original father. He is the father of the father of the father, all the way down to you. So if you cannot understand your immediate father, the previous generation, by the experimental process, how can you know God, or krsna, in this way? People search for God by the experimental process, but after much searching they fail. Then they say, “Oh, there is no God. I am God.” But the Éçopaniñad says that one should try to learn about God not by the experimental process but by hearing. From whom should one hear? From a shopkeeper? From fanatics? No. One should hear from those who are dhéra. Dhéra means “one whose senses are not agitated by material influence.”
There are different kinds of agitation—agitations of the mind, the power of speech, and anger, and agitations of the tongue, belly, and genitals. When we become angry, we forget everything and can do any nonsense and speak so much nonsense. For the agitation of the tongue there are so many advertisements: “Here is liquor, here is chicken, here is beef.” Will we die without liquor, chicken, or beef? No. For the human beings krsna has given so many nice things to eat—grains, fruits, milk, and so on. The cow produces milk abundantly, not for herself but for human beings. That is proper human food. God says, “Mrs. Cow, although you are producing milk, you cannot drink it. It is for the human beings, who are more advanced than animals.” Of course, in the infant stage animals live off their mother’s milk, so the calves drink some of the cow’s milk. But the cow gives excess milk, and that excess is specifically meant for us.
We should accept whatever God has ordained as our proper food. But no, because of the agitation of the tongue, we think, “Why should I be satisfied eating grains, milk products, vegetables, and fruits? Let me maintain a slaughterhouse and kill these cows. After drinking their milk, just as I drank my mother’s milk, let me kill them to satisfy my tongue.” You shouldn’t think such nonsense but should hear from the dhéras, or svämés, who have controlled their senses. A svämé, or gosvämé, is one who has control over the six agitations: the speech, the mind, anger, the tongue, the belly, and the genitals. There is a nice poem by Kälidäsa called Kumära-sambhava describing how Lord Çiva is dhéra. When Lord Çiva’s wife, Saté, heard Çiva being blasphemed at a sacrifice performed by her father, she committed suicide. Upon hearing
about his wife’s suicide, Lord Çiva became very angry and left this planet to meditate elsewhere. During that time there was a war between the demons and the demigods. The demigods needed a good general. They concluded that if Lord Çiva were to beget a son, the son would be able to lead them in the fight against the demons. Lord Çiva was completely naked while meditating. So Pärvaté, the reincarnation of Saté, was sent to agitate his genitals for sex. But he was not agitated. He remained silent. At this point Kälidäsa remarks, “Here is a dhéra. He is naked, and a young girl is touching his genitals, but still he is not agitated.”
Dhéra means that even if there is some cause for agitation, one will not be agitated. If there is some very nice food, my tongue should not be agitated to taste it. If there is a very nice girl or boy, still I should not be agitated sexually. In this way one who is dhéra is able to control the six agitating forces mentioned above. It is not that Lord Çiva was impotent: he was dhéra. Similarly, krsna danced with so many girls, but there was no sex appetite. So, you have to hear from a person who is dhéra. If you hear from the adhéra, from those who are not self-controlled, then whatever knowledge you learn will be useless. In the Éçopaniñad, a student has approached his spiritual master to inquire from him, and the spiritual master is saying, “This is what I have heard from authoritative sources.” The spiritual master is not inventing something from his own experience. He is presenting exactly what he has heard.
So we have nothing to research. Everything is there. We simply have to hear from a person who is dhéra, who is not agitated by the six urges. That is the Vedic process of gaining knowledge. And if we try to use some other process, we will remain covered by nescience.
The Éçopaniñad states, “Only one who can learn the process of nescience and that of transcendental knowledge side by side can transcend the influence of repeated birth and death and enjoy the full blessings of immortality.” People do not understand what immortality is. They think it is a mythological idea. They are proud of their advancement of knowledge, but there are many things they do not know, nor can they ever know them by their modern system of experimentation. So if you want real knowledge, you should take knowledge from the literature known as the Vedas. (The word veda means “knowledge.”) Part of the Vedas are the 108 Upaniñads, out of which eleven are very important. Of those eleven,
the Éçopaniñad stands first. In the word upaniñad, upa means “near.” So the knowledge in the Éçopaniñad will take you nearer to krsna. In learned society the Vedas are accepted as çruti, or primary evidence. The Vedas are not knowledge established by the research work of contaminated, conditioned souls. Such people have imperfect senses, and so they cannot see things as they are. They simply theorize, “It may be like this. It may be like that.” That is not knowledge. Knowledge is definite, without any doubt or mistake. Conditioned souls commit mistakes, become illusioned, and cheat. How do they cheat? When one who does not understand the Bhagavad-gétä writes a commentary on it, he is cheating the innocent public. Someone has a title as a scholar, so he takes advantage of the popularity of the Bhagavad-gétä and writes a commentary. Such so-called scholars claim that anyone can give his own opinion. But in the Bhagavad-gétä krsna says that only His devotee can understand the Gétä. So these so-called scholars are cheating. The conclusion is that if you want genuine spiritual knowledge you have to approach a bona fide spiritual master who has realized the Absolute Truth. Otherwise you will remain in darkness. You cannot think, “Oh, I may or may not accept a spiritual master. In any case, there are books that I can learn from.” No, the Vedic injunction is tad-vijïänärthaà sa gurum eväbhigacchet [MU tad-vijïänärthaà sa gurum eväbhigacchet samit-päëiù çrotriyaà brahma-niñöham “To understand these things properly, one must humbly approach, with firewood in hand, a spiritual master who is learned in the Vedas and firmly devoted to the Absolute Truth.”
[Muëòaka Upaniñad 1.2.12]
1.2.12]. The word gacchet means “one must go,” not that one may or may not go. To understand transcendental knowledge, one must go to a spiritual master. That is the Vedic injunction. You must know two things: what is mäyä (illusion) and what is krsna. Then your knowledge is perfect. Of course, krsna is so nice that if you somehow or other fully surrender to Him, all your searching for knowledge will be finished: not only will you know what krsna is, but you will automatically learn what mäyä is. krsna will give you intelligence from within. So, by the mercy of both the spiritual master and krsna, one takes up devotional service. How is that? Their mercy runs on parallel lines. If you have not yet found a spiritual master but are sincere, krsna will direct you to a bona
fide spiritual master. And if you get a bona fide spiritual master, he will take you to krsna. krsna is always sitting in your heart as the caitya-guru, the spiritual master within. It is that caitya-guru who manifests Himself externally as the spiritual master. Therefore the spiritual master is the direct representative of krsna.
The Éçopaniñad says we should learn what vidyä and avidyä are. Avidyä is ignorance under the guise of materialistic knowledge. Çréla Bhaktivinoda Öhäkura writes in one of his songs that “advancement of material knowledge is simply the advancement of mäyä’s jurisdiction.” The more you become implicated in material knowledge, the less you can understand krsna consciousness. Those who are advanced in material knowledge think, “What use is this krsna consciousness movement?” They have no attraction for spiritual knowledge; they are too absorbed in avidyä. Some Indian boys reject the spiritual culture of India and come to the West to learn technology. When they see that I have introduced in the West the things they rejected in India, they are surprised. One reason I came to the West is that modern India has rejected spiritual knowledge. Today Indians think that if they can imitate Western technology, they will be happy. This is mäyä. They do not see that those who are three hundred times more technologically advanced than the Indians are not happy. India will not be able to equal American or European technology for at least three hundred years because the Western countries have been developing technology for a very long time. But since the time of creation Indian culture has been a spiritual culture.
Vidyä, or genuine spiritual knowledge, does not depend on technology. Çréla Vyäsadeva is the original guru of Vedic knowledge. How was he living? In a cottage in Baòarikäçrama. But just see his knowledge! He wrote so many Puräëas, including the Çrémad-Bhägavatam. He also wrote the Vedänta-sütra and the Mahäbhärata. If you studied every single verse written by Vyäsadeva, it would take your whole life. The Çrémad-Bhägavatam alone has no less than eighteen thousand verses. And each verse is so full of meaning that it would take a whole lifetime to fully understand it. This is Vedic culture. There is no knowledge comparable to that contained in the Vedic literature— not only spiritual knowledge, but material knowledge also. The Vedas discuss astronomy, mathematics, and many other subjects. It is not that in ancient times there were no airplanes. They are mentioned in the Puräëas. These
airplanes were so strong and swift that they could easily reach other planets. It is not that there was no advancement of material knowledge in the Vedic age. It was there. But the people then did not consider it so important. They were interested in spiritual knowledge. So, one should know what knowledge is, and what nescience is. If we advance in nescience, or material knowledge, we will have to undergo repeated birth and death. Moreover, there is no guarantee what your next birth will be. That is not in your hands. Now you are happy being an American, but after quitting this body you cannot dictate, “Please give me an American body again.” Yes, you may get an American body, but it may be an American cow’s body. Then you are destined for the slaughterhouse.
So, cultivating material knowledge—nationalism, socialism, this “ism,” that “ism”—is simply a dangerous waste of time. Better to cultivate real knowledge, Vedic knowledge, which leads one to surrender to krsna. As krsna says in the Bhagavad-gétä (7.19), bahünäà janmanäm ante jïänavän mäà prapadyate. After many, many births, one who is in genuine knowledge comes to krsna and surrenders to Him, realizing, “O krsna, You are everything.” This is the culmination of all cultivation of knowledge.