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Acquiring Perfect Knowledge

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Logic and reason are useful in the search for the Absolute Truth.
But they’re not enough to obtain perfect knowledge,
we must overcome four basic human defects.

A lecture by
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

1985-05-03

Ladies and gentlemen. I thank you very much for coming here and participating in this great movement. This evening I shall present before you topics discussed in the Bhagavad-gita between Krsna and Arjuna.

I think most of you know the Bhagavad-gita. It is a conversation between Krsna and Arjuna that took place on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra some five thousand years ago. Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, was acting as the driver of Arjuna’s chariot; He played just like an ordinary human being as a friend of Arjuna’s. Arjuna became a little disturbed because the battle was arranged between two parties of his cousin-brothers. When he saw among the other party all his relatives and family members, he hesitated to fight.

When Arjuna was greatly perplexed as to whether to fight or not, he accepted Krsna as his spiritual master (sisyas te ‘ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam). “My dear Krsna,” Arjuna said, “just now we have been talking like friends, but this is a very important matter I have to decide. So now I accept you as my spiritual master. Please give me the right instruction.”

The whole Bhagavad-gita is simply the conversation between Krsna and Arjuna. Arjuna decided, “I am not going to fight with my kinsmen on the other side unless I am convinced that I have to do it. At that time he dropped his bow and arrows, said “My dear Krsna, I am not going to fight,” and became silent.

Then, as stated in the Bhagavad-gita [2.10],

tam uvaca hrsikesah
prahasann iva bharata
senayor ubhayor madhye
visidantam idam vacah

Krsna was smiling, thinking, “How is it that Arjuna, My friend, who is so advanced, has been overcome by this temporary illusion? His duty is to fight, and the other party is ready to fight, but My friend Arjuna is declining to fight.” So, Krsna was a little astonished, and therefore the Bhagavad-gita says, prahasann iva: “He was smiling.” Krsna was smiling because He thought how amazing it was that illusion sometimes overtakes even great personalities like Arjuna.

Then the next verse begins with these words: sri-bhagavan uvaca, “the Supreme Personality of Godhead said.” The word bhagavan is very significant. It means “the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” Bhaga means “opulence,” and van means “the possessor.” There are six kinds of opulence. First, wealth. If one is very rich, he is known as opulent, or if one is very powerful he is also known as opulent. Or if one is very wise, beautiful, famous, or renounced, he is also known as opulent. And when all these six kinds of opulence are possessed in full by somebody, He is called bhagavan. That is God.

We also have opulences. We have some riches, but no one can claim that he has all the riches. But God can claim that. A definition of God is given by Parasara Muni in the Vedic literature:

aisvaryasya samagrasya
viryasya yasasah sriyah
jnana-vairagyayas caiva
sannam bhaga itingana

One may ask, Who is Bhagavan, who is God? This verse gives the answer: God is the person who possesses all riches, all strength. all fame, all beauty. all wisdom, and all renunciation. Nowadays it has become a fashion that so many “Bhagavans” and “Gods” are coming. But here is the definition by which we can test who to accept as Bhagavan.

So, when Lord Krsna was present, He actually showed by His activities that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For example, it may be unbelievable. but from the history of Krsna we know that He married 16,108 wives. We cannot maintain even one wife, but He maintained 16,108, and each wife had a big palatial building. This is the description we find in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. So this means that as far as riches are concerned, Krsna showed that there is no comparison to His wealth. In the whole history of the world, we will not find anyone who has maintained more than sixteen thousand wives, each one with a special palace. But this is how Krsna is described in Vedic literature.

Therefore, Krsna is accepted as the Supreme Personality of Godhead by all the authorities of Vedic knowledge. Formerly, during Krsna’s time, such authorities as Vyasadeva and Narada accepted Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And you will find in the Tenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita [10.12] that Arjuna, after understanding who Krsna is, expressed the same opinion: param brahma param dhama pavitram paramam bhavan / purusam sasvatam divyam. Arjuna accepted Krsna as the Supreme Absolute Truth Absolute Truth and the supreme abode, and also as the supreme pure and the eternal, original person. Then Arjuna said, “It may be said that since I am Your friend I am accepting You as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But I am not accepting You in that way. Great, stalwart authorities like Parasara Muni, Vyasadeva, Asita, Narada, and Devala have also accepted You as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” In this way Arjuna gave evidence for his conclusion.

So, as far as the Vedic literature is concerned, and as far as the acaryas [spiritual authorities] are concerned, Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. More recently—within, say, the last two thousand years—such acaryas as Sankaracarya, Madhvacarya, Nimbarka, and Ramanujacarya have all accepted Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And within the last five hundred years, Lord Caitanya has also accepted Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Therefore when Krsna is speaking in the Bhagavad-gita, the words sri bhagavan uvaca are used to indicate that it is the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is speaking, not some ordinary man. The point is that we should receive knowledge of God from the highest, perfect person. Now our knowledge is imperfect because we have four defects. We have imperfect senses, we commit mistakes, we fall into illusion, and we have a tendency to cheat. Everyone commits mistakes. And because we commit mistakes we are sometimes illusioned. The greatest illusion is to think, “I am my body.” Everyone in the whole world is under the impression that he is his body. But I am not my body: I am a spirit soul. Krsna explains this to Arjuna in the second chapter of Bhagavad-gita.

It is the spirit soul that makes the difference between a living body and a dead body. The difference between a living body and a dead body is that when the soul, the living entity, is not in the body, the body is simply a lump of matter. If I call out, “Father!” then Father immediately replies, “Yes, my son. But when the soul of my father is no longer in his body, then that body—which I was thinking is my father—cannot reply, although that body is lying there on the bed. So Krsna is saying, “Arjuna, you are afraid of killing your kinsmen, but you are mistaken: the soul can never be killed.”

Everyone is mistaken as to his real identity because of the four defects of conditioned life. As long as we are within the material body, we must live under certain conditions. But actually we are all spirit souls, part and parcel of God. As soon as we become free from the conditioned life, our real life will begin. That is called liberation.

The human form of life is meant forgetting liberation. We have achieved this human form of life only after passing for a long, long time through the evolutionary process. First we experienced aquatic life, then plant life, then tree life, then insect life, then bird life, then beast life, then human life, and finally civilized human life. This is the process of evolution. Now we are supposed to be civilized human beings, and therefore we should know that this human life is especially meant for getting out of the evolutionary process.

Evolution means transmigration of the soul from one body to another. We do not wish to die, but we have to accept death. This is our conditioned stage of life. We do not wish to take birth, but still we are forced by the laws of nature to go into the womb of a mother. After giving up one body, we must enter another body, and there is no certainty about what kind of body we shall get. It may be a human body, an animal body, or a tree body, or it may be a body better than a human being’s. There are three divisions: one division includes the demigods, or devas, who are highly advanced in knowledge; they are God conscious, Krsna conscious. Another division includes the human beings, and the third division includes those lower than human beings.

So, perfect knowledge, knowledge of how to get out of the evolutionary process. is imparted by the perfect person, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, not by an ordinary man defective in the four ways I have already explained. The four defects are that our senses are imperfect. we commit mistakes, we become illusioned, and we have the propensity to cheat. Although sometimes we may not know a subject matter very clearly, still we speak of it like an authority. That is cheating.

We should not cheat in this way. If we want to give knowledge to people we must give perfect knowledge. How can we give perfect knowledge? Perfect knowledge comes from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the process of acquiring perfect knowledge. Evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh: perfect knowledge comes from Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, through the disciplic succession. And if we are receiving that knowledge with a cool head and assimilating it, then our knowledge is perfect.

For example, we are teaching the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, and this is perfect knowledge. Yet if you inquire whether I am perfect or whether my disciples are perfect, we will answer, “No, we are not perfect.” We accept that we are imperfect. But we are distributing perfect knowledge. Kindly try to understand. We may be imperfect, but because we have assimilated perfect knowledge, what we are teaching is perfect.

I shall give you an example. Suppose a postman delivers you one hundred dollars. The postman is not a rich man; he cannot deliver you the hundred dollars on his own account. But the money is sent by one of your friends, and the postman is honestly carrying the money and delivering it to you. That is the postman’s duty. Similarly, our duty is to receive perfect knowledge from Krsna and distribute it. That is our perfection.

The knowledge we are distributing has not been created by our research work or by some other inductive process. No. Our knowledge is gained from the deductive process: Krsna says something, and we accept it. This process of acquiring knowledge is the basis of our Krsna consciousness movement. We may be imperfect, but Krsna is perfect. Therefore, whatever Krsna says, we accept. Now, we should not accept blindly; we can apply logic and argument to understand. Then our knowledge is perfect.

In the Bhagavad-gita [2.11], when Lord Krsna saw that Arjuna was not willing to fight, He said,

asocyan anvasocas tvam
prajna-vadams ca bhasase
gatasun agatasums ca
nanusocanti panditah

Because Arjuna accepted Krsna as His spiritual master, Krsna said in a very gentle way, “My dear Arjuna, you are lamenting for something that should not be the subject of lamentation.” Arjuna was hesitating to fight because he was absorbed in bodily relationships. He was thinking that he was his body and that his relatives on the other side—his brothers, his nephews, his grandfather—were also their bodies.

This bodily concept of life is animal life. A dog is in the bodily concept and cannot know anything else. He simply knows that he is the body. But by cultivating knowledge, by logic, by argument, a human being can understand, “I am not this body.” Therefore, if you point to a child’s finger and ask, “What is this?” the child will reply. “It is my finger.” The child will never say, “I finger.” He will say, “My finger.” So everything is mine: my body, my head, my leg. But where is the I? That should be our inquiry. Every part of my body is mine, but where am I? As soon as we come to this point—asking where that I is—our human intelligence has developed. Otherwise, we are in the animal stage of life.

So, Krsna is instructing Arjuna: “My dear Arjuna, you are lamenting for something that is not the real subject for lamentation.” And prajna-vadams ca bhasase: “At the same time you are speaking like a very intelligent, learned scholar.” In the previous chapter Arjuna had argued with Krsna, giving evidences from the scripture to support the bodily concept of life. But Arjuna did not know that the scripture says that one who is in the bodily concept of life is no better than an ass or a cow. That he did not know.

Today there are so many big, big scholars who are in the bodily concept of life. I shall give you one instance. I once talked with a big professor in Moscow—Professor Kotofsky. He said, “Swamiji, after death everything is finished.” That is the bodily concept of life. Even big, big scholars, big, big doctors, philosophers, and scientists, are all in this bodily concept of life. So Krsna is first of all trying to remove Arjuna’s bodily concept of life.

Therefore, Krsna states, “My dear Arjuna, you are speaking like a very intelligent man, but you are lamenting for what is not at all lamentable.” What is that? Gatasun agatasums ca

nanusocanti panditah means “a person who is learned.” So Krsna is saying that a highly intelligent man will not lament for the body, which is not the proper subject for lamentation, whether it is in the living condition or in the dead condition. This is the essential point in spiritual life—understanding that the body is actually dead already, and that it is moving and acting only because of the presence of the soul.

As long as the soul is in the body, the body moves. But the body is still a lump of dead matter. And when the soul leaves this body and accepts another body, this body remains a lump of matter. So at the present moment the body is a lump of matter, and after death, after the soul has gone from the body, the body is the same lump of matter. Therefore, why should there be lamentation or jubilation over this body? This is the first understanding required in spiritual life.

Actually if you soberly analyze the body, what is it? It is a combination of bones, blood, flesh, urine, stool, nails, hair, and soon. What else can you find in it? Do you mean to say that by combining these ingredients—bones and flesh and urine and stool—you can manufacture a very learned scholar? If you think that these bodily ingredients are actually the living entity, then find a dead body, take all these ingredients, and manufacture a person. But that is not possible. So, the bodily concept of life is simply ignorance.

Therefore, Krsna says to Arjuna. “You are lamenting for a thing that is not at all lamentable.” The body is dead matter and it will remain dead matter, just like this apartment. I am in this apartment. but I am not this apartment. When I vacate this apartment, I will go to another apartment. but this apartment will remain. Similarly, as Lord Krsna will explain in a later verse [2.13],

dehino ‘smin yatha dehe
kaumaram yauvanam jara
tatha dehantara-praptir
dhiras tatra na muhyati

In this body (asmin dehe) there is the proprietor, the soul, and because the soul is in the body, the body changes. It changes from childhood to youth to old age. Similarly, the soul goes to another body when the present body dies.

Now, without the soul, the body does not change. Suppose a child is born dead. Then his body will never grow. You may apply any chemical or any science. but the body will remain the same. But as long as the soul is within the body, the body will grow from babyhood to youth. In this way the body will change.

We have changed so many bodies—each one of us. I remember that I once had a child’s body. But that body is no longer existing. But I am existing. Therefore the conclusion is that as souls, You, I, and everyone are eternal. But our bodies are changing, and the body is our source of suffering. Because of the body, we must suffer birth, death, old age and disease. As soon as you accept a material body, you are subjected to these four pangs of material nature. Accepting a body means you must also accept death. because anything that is born must eventually meet death. Birth, death, and in the interim old age and disease—these are the four pangs of material life.

So the science of Krsna consciousness teaches that we are spirit souls part and parcel of the Supreme Lord and as the Supreme Lord is eternal we are also eternal We are as good as God—but only in quality, not in quantity. We are just like a drop of seawater in comparison to the whole sea. The drop is as good as the vast mass of seawater in quality. The mass of sea water is salty, and the drop is also salty. Similarly, we have the “chemical composition” of God’s qualities. Therefore, since God is eternal, we must also be eternal. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gita [2.20]: na hanyate hanyamane sarire. “After destruction of the body, the spirit soul is not destroyed.”

So our real, constitutional position is eternal life, spiritual life. Then why have we accepted this changing process—birth, death, old age, and disease? Because we have accepted material life. We should understand what is material life and what is spiritual life. Spiritual life means sac-cid-ananda-vigraha. Sat means “eternal,” cit means “full of knowledge,” and ananda means “full of jubilation, pleasure.” This is our constitutional position. This is God’s constitutional position, and this is also our constitutional position. The difference between God and us is that God never accepts a material body, but sometimes we, under certain circumstances, have to accept a material body. But never mind; although we have accepted this material body, we can get out of it. The process for getting out of it is the process of Krsna consciousness.

The Krsna consciousness movement is teaching people how to get out of the entanglement of birth, death, old age, and disease and become as good as God. It is a very scientific movement, an authoritative movement. And not only is it authoritative, but it is accepted by millions and millions of people in India. Also in the Western countries people have accepted this movement, because it is authorized and scientific.

So, our request is that you not think this movement is some sentimental, religious faith. No. It is a very scientific, educational movement. Take advantage of it. That is our request. You can understand this Krsna consciousness movement by reading our many books.

And in addition to the study of our books, we have an alternative method, which is very simple and easy: chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. If you chant this mantra—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—everything will gradually become clear. We are not selling this mantra; we do not ask any price for it. It is open for everyone. And there is no loss on your part if you chant it. So kindly take this mantra and chant.

Begin chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, and the result will be that all the misgivings within your heart will gradually be cleansed away (ceto darpana marjanam). And as soon as your heart is cleansed, you will be able to understand you are not the material body but rather a spirit soul. The body is like a superficial shirt and coat, and as long as we work only for the maintenance of the body, we are simply wasting our time. One should not take care only of one’s shirt and coat. Of course, you should take adequate care of your shirt and coat, but you should not think that you are your shirt and coat.

So, the present civilization is a “shirt-and-coat” civilization. People do not know what is within the shirt-and-coat of the body. That they are missing. This Krsna consciousness movement is therefore very important, because it is presenting that missing point, the spirit soul. This movement is saying to everyone, “You are not the body. You are the spirit soul within the body. Just try to come out of the entanglement of birth, death, old age, and disease and go back home, back to Godhead.”

Thank you very much.

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