The Roads of the Foolish and the Wise
Kṛṣṇa is thus explaining Himself as He is. Yet we are not attracted to Him. Why is this? The reason is given by Kṛṣṇa Himself:
daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī
mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante
māyām etāṁ taranti te
“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Gītā 7.14)
The material world is pervaded by the three qualities of material nature. All living entities are influenced by these qualities. If they are primarily influenced by the mode of goodness they are called brāhmaṇas, and if they are influenced by the mode of passion they are called kṣatriyas. If they are influenced by the modes of passion and ignorance they are vaiśyas, and if they are influenced by ignorance they are śūdras. This is not an artificial imposition due to birth or social status but is according to guṇa, or the mode of nature under which one is operating.
cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.” (Gītā 4.13)
It is not that this system refers to the perverted caste system in India. Śrī Kṛṣṇa specifically states, guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ: men are classified according to the guṇa or mode under which they are operating, and this applies to men all over the universe. When Kṛṣṇa speaks, we must understand that whatever He says is not limited but is universally true. He claims to be the father of all living entities – even the animals, aquatics, trees, plants, worms, birds, and bees are all claimed to be His sons. Śrī Kṛṣṇa asserts that the entire universe is illusioned by the interactions of the three qualities of material nature, and we are under the spell of that illusion; therefore we cannot understand what God is.
What is the nature of this illusion, and how can it be overcome? That is also explained in the Bhagavad-gītā:
daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī
mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante
māyām etaṁ taranti te
“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered to Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Gītā 7.14)
No one can get rid of the entanglement of the three qualities of material nature by mental speculation. The three guṇas are very strong and hard to overcome. Can’t we feel how we are in the grip of material nature? The word guṇa (mode) also means rope. When someone is bound by three strong ropes, he is certainly very tightly secured. Our hands and legs are all bound by the strong ropes of goodness, passion, and ignorance. Are we therefore to abandon hope? No, for here Śrī Kṛṣṇa promises that whoever surrenders unto Him is at once free. When one becomes Kṛṣṇa conscious – whether in this way or that way – he becomes free.
We are all related to Kṛṣṇa, for we are all His sons. A son may have a disagreement with his father, but it is not possible for him to break that relation. In the course of his life he will be asked who he is, and he will have to reply, “I am the son of so and so.” That relation cannot be broken. We are all sons of God, and that relationship with Him is eternal, but we have simply forgotten. Kṛṣṇa is all-powerful, all-famous, all-wealthy, all-beautiful, all-knowledgeable, and He is full of renunciation as well. Although we are friends of such a great personality, we have forgotten it. If a rich man’s son forgets his father, leaves home, and becomes mad, he may lie on the street to go to sleep or he may beg money for food, but all of this is due to his forgetfulness. If someone, however, gives him information that he is simply suffering because he has left his father’s home and that his father, a very wealthy man and owner of vast property, is anxious to have him return – the person is a great benefactor.
In this material world we are always suffering under the threefold miseries – the miseries arising from the body and mind, from other living entities, and from natural catastrophes. Being covered by illusion, by the modes of material nature, we do not take account of these miseries. However, we should always know that in the material world we are undergoing so much suffering. One who has sufficiently developed consciousness, who is intelligent, inquires why he is suffering. “I do not want miseries. Why am I suffering?” When this question arises, there is a chance to become Kṛṣṇa conscious.
As soon as we surrender ourselves to Kṛṣṇa, He welcomes us very cordially. It is just like a lost child who returns to his father and says, “My dear father, due to some misunderstanding I left your protection, but I have suffered. Now I return to you.” The father embraces his son and says, “My dear boy, come on. I was so anxious for you all the days you were gone, and now I’m so happy you have come back.” The father is so kind. We are in the same position. We have to surrender to Kṛṣṇa, and it is not very difficult. When the son surrenders to the father, is it a very difficult job? It is very natural, and the father is always waiting to receive the son. There is no question of insult. If we bow down before our Supreme Father and touch His feet, there is no harm for us, nor is it difficult. Indeed, it is glorious for us. Why should we not? By surrendering to Kṛṣṇa we come immediately under His protection and are relieved of all miseries. This is validated by all scriptures. At the end of the Bhagavad-gītā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa says:
mam ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” (Gītā 18.66)
When we throw ourselves at the feet of God, we come under His protection, and from that time on there is no fear for us. When children are under the protection of their parents they are fearless because they know their parents will not let them be harmed. Mām eva ye prapadyante: Kṛṣṇa promises that those who surrender to Him have no cause for fear.
If surrender unto Kṛṣṇa is such an easy thing, then why don’t people do it? Instead there are many who are challenging the very existence of God, claiming that nature and science are everything and that God is nothing. So-called advancement of civilization in knowledge means that the populace is becoming more mad. Instead of being cured, the disease is being increased. People don’t care for God, but they care for nature, and it is nature’s business to give kicks in the form of the threefold miseries. She is always administering these kicks twenty-four hours a day. However, we have become so accustomed to being kicked that we think it is all right and consider it to be the ordinary course of things. We have become very proud of our education, but we tell material nature, “Thank you very much for kicking me. Now please continue.” Thus deluded, we think we have even conquered material nature. But how is this so? Nature is still inflicting on us the miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death. Has anyone solved these problems? Then what advancement have we really made in knowledge and civilization? We are under the stringent rules of material nature, but still we are thinking we have conquered. This is called māyā.
There may be some difficulty in surrendering to the father of this body, for he has limited knowledge and power, but Kṛṣṇa is not like an ordinary father. Kṛṣṇa is unlimited and has full knowledge, full power, full wealth, full beauty, full fame, and full renunciation. Shouldn’t we consider ourselves lucky to go to such a father and enjoy His property? Yet no one seems to care about this, and now everyone is making propaganda that there is no God. Why do people not seek Him out? The answer is given in chapter 7, verse 15 of the Bhagavad-gītā:
na māṁ duṣkṛtino mūḍhāḥ
āsuraṁ bhāvam āśritāḥ
“Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons do not surrender unto Me.”
In this way the fools are categorized. A duṣkṛtī is always acting against the scriptural injunctions. The business of current civilization is to break scriptural rules – that’s all. By definition, a pious man is one who doesn’t. There must be some standard to distinguish between duṣkṛtī (an evil-doer) and sukṛtī (a virtuous man). Every civilized country has some scripture – it may be Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist. That doesn’t matter. The point is that the book of authority, the scripture, is there. One who does not follow its injunctions is considered an outlaw.
Another category mentioned in this verse is mūḍha, fool number one. The narādhama is one who is low in the human scale, and māyayāpahṛta jñāna refers to one whose knowledge is carried away by māyā, or illusion. Āsuraṁ bhāvam āśritāḥ refers to those who are out-and-out atheists. Although there are no disadvantages to surrendering to the Father, people who are thus characterized never do it. As a result they are constantly punished by the agents of the Father. They have to be slapped, caned, and kicked severely, and they have to suffer. Just as a father has to chastise his unruly boy, so material nature has to employ certain punishments. At the same time nature is nourishing us by supplying food and other necessities. Both processes are going on because we are sons of the wealthiest Father of all, and Kṛṣṇa is kind even though we do not surrender to Him. Yet despite being furnished so well by the Father, the duṣkṛtī still performs unsanctioned actions. One is foolish if he persists in being punished, and one is low on the human scale if he does not use this human form of life to understand Kṛṣṇa. If a man does not use his life to reawaken the relationship he has with his real Father, he is to be considered fallen in the human scale.
Animals simply eat, sleep, defend themselves, have sexual intercourse, and die. They do not avail themselves of higher consciousness because that is not possible in the lower forms of life. If a human being follows the activities of the animals and does not avail himself of his ability to elevate his consciousness, he falls down the human scale and prepares for an animal body in his next life. By the grace of Kṛṣṇa we are given a highly developed body and intelligence, but if we do not utilize them, why should He give them to us again? We must understand that this human body has developed after millions and millions of years of evolution and that in itself it is a chance to get out of the cycle of birth and death in which over eight million species of life evolve. This chance is given by the grace of Kṛṣṇa, and if we do not take it, are we not the lowest among men? One may be a degree holder – M.A., Ph.D., etc. – from some university, but the illusory energy takes away this mundane knowledge. He who is really intelligent will apply his intelligence to understand who he is, who God is, what material nature is, why he is suffering in material nature, and what is the remedy to this suffering.
We may apply our intelligence to manufacture an automobile, radio, or television for sense gratification, but we have to understand that this is not knowledge. Rather, this is plundered intelligence. Intelligence was given to man to understand the problems of life, but it is being misused. People are thinking they have acquired knowledge because they know how to manufacture and drive cars, but before the car was here people were still going from one place to another. It is just that the facility has been increased, but along with this facility have come additional problems – air pollution and over-crowded highways. This is māyā; we are creating facilities, but these facilities in their turn are creating so many problems.
Instead of wasting our energy to supply ourselves with so many facilities and modern amenities, we should apply intelligence to understand who and what we are. We do not like to suffer, but we should understand why suffering is being forced on us. By so-called knowledge we have simply succeeded in manufacturing the atomic bomb. Thus the killing process has been accelerated. We are so proud to think that this is advancement of knowledge, but if we can manufacture something that can stop death, we have really advanced in knowledge. Death is already there in material nature, but we are so eager to promote it by killing everyone at one drop – this is called māyayāpahṛta jñāna knowledge carried away by illusion.
The asuras, the demons and proclaimed atheists, actually challenge God. If it were not for our Supreme Father, we would not see the light of day, so what is the point of challenging Him? In the Vedas it is stated that there are two classes of men, the devas and asuras, the demigods and demons. Who are the devas? The devotees of the Supreme Lord are called devas because they also become like God, whereas those who defy the authority of the Supreme are called asuras or demons. These two classes are always found in human society.
Just as there are four types of miscreants who never surrender to Kṛṣṇa, there are four types of fortunate men who worship Him, and they are categorized in the next verse:
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ su-kṛtino ’rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
“O best among the Bhāratas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me – the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Gītā 7.16)
This material world is full of distress, and both the pious and impious are subject to it. The cold of winter treats everyone alike. It does not care for the pious or impious, the rich or poor. The difference between the pious and the impious, however, is that the pious man thinks of God when he is in his miserable condition. Often when a man is distressed, he will go to church and pray, “O my Lord, I am in difficulty. Please help me.” Although he is praying for some material necessity, such a man is still to be considered pious because he has come to God in his distress. Similarly, a poor man may go to church and pray, “My dear Lord, please give me some money.” On the other hand, the inquisitive are usually intelligent. They are always researching to understand things. They may ask, “What is God?” and then conduct scientific research to find out. They are also considered pious because their research is directed to the proper object. The man in knowledge is called a jñānī – one who has understood his constitutional position. Such a jñānī may have an impersonal conception of God, but because he is taking shelter of the ultimate, the Supreme Absolute Truth, he is also to be considered pious. These four types of men are called sukṛtī – pious – because they are all after God.
teṣāṁ jñānī nitya-yukta
priyo hi jñānino ’tyartham
ahaṁ sa ca mama priyaḥ
“Of these, the one who is in full knowledge and who is always engaged in pure devotional service is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me.” (Gītā 7.17)
Out of the four classes of men who approach God, he who is philosophically trying to understand the nature of God, who is trying to become Kṛṣṇa conscious – viśiṣyate – is best qualified. Indeed, Kṛṣṇa says that such a person is very dear to Him because he has no other business than understanding God. The others are inferior. No one has to pray to God to ask for anything, and he who does so is foolish because he does not know that the all-knowing God is within his heart and is well aware when he is in distress or in need of money. The wise man realizes this and does not pray for relief from material miseries. Rather, he prays to glorify God and inform others how great He is. He doesn’t pray for his personal interest, for bread, dress, or shelter. The pure devotee, when he is distressed, says, “Dear Lord, this is Your kindness. You have put me into distress just to rectify me. I should be put in much greater distress, but out of Your mercy You have minimized this.” This is the vision of a pure devotee who is not disturbed.
He who is in Kṛṣṇa consciousness does not care for material distress, insult, or honor because he is aloof from all these. He knows well that distress, honor, and insult pertain to the body only and that he is not the body. Socrates, for instance, who believed in the immortality of the soul, was condemned to death, and upon being asked how he would like to be buried, replied, “First of all you may have to catch me.” So one who knows he is not the body is not disturbed, for he knows the soul cannot be caught, tortured, killed, or buried. He who is conversant with the science of Kṛṣṇa knows perfectly well that he is not the body, that he is part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa, that his real relationship is with Kṛṣṇa, and that somehow or other, although he has been put in the material body, he must remain aloof from the three qualities of material nature. He is not concerned with the modes of goodness, passion, or ignorance but with Kṛṣṇa. One who understands this is a jñānī, a wise man, and he is very much dear to Kṛṣṇa. A distressed man, when he is put into opulence, may forget God, but a jñānī, who knows the real position of God, will never forget Him.
There is a class of jñānīs called impersonalists who say that because worshiping the impersonal is too difficult, a form of God has to be imagined. These are not real jñānīs – they’re fools. No one can imagine the form of God, for God is so great. One may imagine some form, but that is a concoction; it is not the real form. There are those who imagine the form of God, and there are those who deny the form of God. Neither is a jñānī. Those who imagine the form are called iconoclasts. During the Hindu-Muslim riots in India, some Hindus would go to the Muslim mosque and break statues and images of God, and the Muslims would reciprocate in like manner. In this way they were both thinking, “We’ve killed the Hindu God. We’ve killed the Moslem God,” etc. Similarly, when Gandhi was leading his resistance movement, many Indians would go to the street and destroy the mailboxes and in this way think they were destroying the government postal service. People of such mentality are not jñānīs. The religious wars between the Hindus and Muslims and Christians and non-Christians were all conducted on the basis of ignorance. One who is in knowledge knows that God is one; He cannot be Muslim, Hindu, or Christian.
It is our imagination that God is such and such and such and such. That is all imagination. The real wise man knows that God is transcendental. One who knows that God is transcendental to the material modes truly knows God. God is always beside us, present in our hearts. When we leave the body, God also goes with us, and when we take on another body, He goes with us there just to see what we are doing. When shall we turn our face toward Him? He is always waiting. As soon as we turn our face toward God, He says, “My dear son, come on – sa ca mama priyaḥ – you are eternally dear to Me. Now you are turning your face to Me, and I am very glad.”
The wise man, the jñānī, actually understands the science of God. One who only understands that “God is good” is in a preliminary stage, but one who actually understands how great and good God is, is further progressed. That knowledge is to be had in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and the Bhagavad-gītā. One who is actually interested in God should study the science of God, the Bhagavad-gītā.
idaṁ tu te guhya-tamaṁ
yaj jñātvā mokṣyase ’śubhāt
“My dear Arjuna, because you are never envious of Me, I shall impart to you this most conﬁdential knowledge and realization, knowing which you shall be relieved of the miseries of material existence.” (Gītā 9.1)
The knowledge of God imparted in the Bhagavad-gītā is very subtle and confidential. It is full of jñāna, metaphysical wisdom, and vijñāna, scientific knowledge. And it is full of mystery also. How can one understand this knowledge? It must be imparted by God Himself or a bona fide representative of God. Therefore Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that whenever there is a discrepancy on understanding the science of God, He incarnates Himself.
Nor does knowledge come from sentiment. Devotion is not sentiment; it is a science. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says, “A show of spirituality without reference to the Vedic knowledge is simply a disturbance to society.” One must taste the nectar of devotion by reason, argument, and knowledge, and then he must pass it on to others. One should not think that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is mere sentimentality. The dancing and singing are all scientific. There is science, and there is also loving reciprocation. Kṛṣṇa is very dear to the wise man, and the wise man is very dear to Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa will return our love a thousandfold. What capacity do we finite creatures have to love Kṛṣṇa? But Kṛṣṇa has immense capacity – unlimited capacity – for love.
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