The Key To Self-Realization
A lecture by
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
satatam kirtayanto mam
yatantas ca drdha-vratah
namasyantas ca mam bhaktya
“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, the great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” [Bhagavad-gita 9.14]
Lord Krsna is describing the mahatmas, or great souls, who worship the Supreme Lord by the process of kirtana. Kirtana means “chanting” or, more specifically, “describing.” You can describe with music; you can describe in writing. You can describe in speeches. Any sort of describing—that is called kirtana. Devotional service to the Lord begins with kirtana-and sravana, hearing. Unless you hear, you cannot describe. What shall you describe? If you do not know anything about the Supreme Lord, then how can you describe Him? Therefore, hearing is the first item.
All Vedic literature is called sruti-sastra. Sruti means “to receive through hearing.” If you want to know the Supreme Spirit, you do not need to qualify yourself materially. You can remain what you are. But you must simply hear. God has given you the power of hearing. If you hear about God from authoritative sources, you will become perfect. Simply by hearing. Therefore, the first principle—hearing—is essential.
Formerly, the Vedas were heard by students from their spiritual master. For instance, in the Bhagavad-gita you’ll find that Arjuna was hearing from Krsna. On the battlefield he was not studying any Vedanta philosophy. He was simply hearing. You can hear at any place. Even on the battlefield, you can hear from the authoritative source. So that has always been the process of acquiring knowledge.
Hearing means receiving the knowledge—not manufacturing knowledge. There are some persons who think, “Oh, why shall I hear from him? I can think. I can speculate. I can manufacture something new in my own circle of friends.” This is nonsense. This is not the Vedic process. The Vedic process is hearing. There are two processes of acquiring knowledge: the ascending process and the descending process. The “ascending” way means trying to go high—trying to elevate yourself—by your own strength. And the “descending” way means receiving pure knowledge from someone who is already elevated, from someone who already understands the Absolute Truth. So the ascending, or inductive, process is not recommended as the Vedic process of knowledge. The Vedic way of receiving knowledge is the descending, or deductive, process—the student gives submissive aural reception to the bona fide spiritual master. That is the way real knowledge comes to us.
As you have read in the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, evam parampara praptam imam rajarsayo viduh: traditionally this knowledge of self-realization was imparted in this way-from spiritual master to student. The Lord said, “I imparted this knowledge first of all to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and the sun-god imparted this knowledge to his son, Manu. And Manu imparted this knowledge to his son, Iksvaku.” At that time Iksvaku was the king of this planet. So from Iksvaku this knowledge is coming down-from father to son, or from master to disciple.
And now, because that disciplic succession had been broken, Lord Krsna was saying, “I am again speaking that old system of knowledge to you, Arjuna—because you are My devotee, because you are My dear friend.” So this is the way. Hearing is the first stage. Hearing is so powerful that simply by hearing from the authoritative source you can become completely perfect—simply by hearing.
Submissive hearing, of course. Jnane prayasam udapasya namanta eva. This is a verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. “Don’t be an upstart. Don’t try to understand the supreme knowledge, the Absolute Truth, by your own strength,” Your intelligence is limited; your senses are imperfect. You cannot understand. This should be given up—attempting to know the Supreme by the ascending process.
Nowadays, everyone is thinking, “Oh, I’ll manufacture my own way. Why shall I accept any authority? I shall decide myself what I am and what is my duty.” This is going on. But this is not the Vedic process. The Vedic process is sravana, hearing from the bona fide source. So if we simply give up this foolish process of trying to know the Absolute Truth by our own efforts and become submissive, then we will be successful on the path of enlightenment.
“Submissive” means—we must know our imperfection. As long as we are conditioned, we are subject to four kinds of imperfection. First of all, we must commit mistakes. As long as we are materially conditioned, nobody can say, “I’ll not commit a mistake; I never commit any mistakes.” It is not possible. You must. To err is human. So this is one imperfection.
Second, we become illusioned. We accept as true that which is false. For example, we identify with this body. If every one of us were asked what we are—”Oh, I am American.” But what is “American”? These bodies are American. But we are not, because we are not these bodies. So this is illusion.
Then, our senses are imperfect. We are very proud of seeing, but as soon as the light is put off, we cannot see. So our seeing is conditional. And similarly, all of our other senses are conditional. Therefore they are imperfect.
And finally, we have got a cheating propensity. We do not know anything, but we want to cheat others into thinking that we know everything. I may be Fool Number One, but I want to start a group of students and teach them foolish things. This is cheating.
One must learn the Absolute Truth from the authoritative sources and then speak that knowledge to others. Arjuna was taught by Krsna, and we are still speaking that same philosophy, even today. And those who are following Arjuna’s submissive attitude—they’re the real students of Bhagavad-gita.
So our attempt to understand the Absolute Truth by our faulty senses and experience is futile. We must hear. That is the Vedic process. Formerly the student would go to the home of the spiritual master, which was known as the gurukula. Every brahmana, every self-realized soul, every vipra (or expert in the knowledge of the Vedic literatures) would be provided with some brahmacaris, celibate students. They would follow the rules and regulations of brahmacari life and live at the home of the spiritual master, and he would teach them real knowledge from the Vedic literatures. That is the process. So, one should not adopt the ascending process. Jnane prayasam udapasya. Udapasya means, “Give it up.” and namanta eva—“Be submissive.” Namanta eva jivanti san-mukharitam bhavadiya-vartam: if one hears from the realized soul—just as Arjuna heard from Krsna, the perfect person—then one will attain the perfection of life without any difficulty.
One may also hear from Krsna’s representative, the devotee of Krsna. For instance, Arjuna was made the representative of Krsna. Why? Krsna said, bhakto’si—“Because you are My devotee.” But nobody can become the representative of Krsna, or God, without becoming His devotee. One who thinks, “I am God”—he cannot become the representative of God.
Suppose you are a businessman and you send your representative for securing business. Now, if the representative presents himself to the customer, “I am the proprietor—I am the proprietor,” how long can he go on like this? As soon as the employer finds out that this foolish man is presenting himself as the proprietor of the firm, at once he’ll fire the man. Because that man is cheating. He’s not the proprietor. Similarly, anyone who says, “I am God”—he should not teach.
Of course, one may think himself capable of acquiring knowledge of God. That is another thing. “I am God” has to do with the quality of God. Because I am part and parcel of God, I am qualitatively the same as God.
For example, even a molecular particle of gold is also gold. It is nothing but gold. Similarly, although we are very minute fragments of the Supreme, our quality is the same as His. So if I study myself, then I can study God, also, because I can understand the quality of God. But I may not understand the quantity.
Suppose you receive some good grains of rice. At first you are not concerned with the quantity of rice in stock, but from the sample you can understand the quality of the rice, and you can purchase. Then you make your transaction: “How many pounds have you got in your stock that I can take?” So quantity is another thing. But from the quality you can make your selection of what sort of rice you shall purchase. In the same way, you are qualitatively one with God—but quantitatively you are different. God is great, and you are small.
Therefore you cannot claim, “I am God.” Because if you advertise yourself as God, then people may ask of you, “If you are God, then show me your all-powerfulness,” and that you cannot show. So you cannot claim, “I am God'” As far as Krsna is concerned, He proved that He is God. How? In the Bhagavad-gita. In the Eleventh Chapter Arjuna requested, “O Krsna, will You kindly show me Your universal form?” So Krsna showed him.
This was Arjuna’s lasting message to the world: “In the future so many fools will represent themselves as God. So don’t be fooled by them. Just ask them, ‘Show me your universal form.’ If they can do that, then accept them as God. But don’t very cheaply accept any fool as God.”
This is the highest imperfection: someone is under the stringent laws of material nature—if he simply gets a toothache he becomes overwhelmed—yet he advertises himself as God. This sort of thing can be accepted only by people of a similarly foolish nature. God is supreme. Nobody else can be God, and nobody else can be equal with God.
In the Vedic literature, God is called asamordhva. Asama means, “Nobody is equal to Him.” And urdhva means, “Nobody is higher than Him.” Nobody can be equal to God, and nobody can be higher than God. Everyone is lower than God, however great one may be. There is a nice verse in this connection: siva-virinci-nutam. Siva means Lord Siva. And virinci means Lord Brahma. They are considered to be the topmost demigods in this material world. But they also offer their respectful obeisances to Visnu, or God. So nobody can be equal to God. Therefore, instead of trying to become God, or instead of trying to understand God personally by our tiny knowledge and imperfect senses, we would do better to become submissive. Jnane prayasam udapasya: “Just give up this foolish habit of thinking, ‘I can know God by speculation. Just become submissive, and try to hear from bona fide authorities.”
Who is the authority? Krsna—God—or His representative, like Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is a representative of God. So he’s an authority. And similarly with any other authorized incarnation. That incarnation will never say, “I am God.” Rather, “I am a servant of God.” That is his credential for representing God. He’ll never say, “I am God.” He’ll say, “I am a servant of God” or “I am a son of God” or “I am a devotee of God.” He’s a real representative.
So we have to hear from him submissively, sthane sthitah. Sthane sthitah means “keeping oneself in one’s position.” For instance, you are hearing Bhagavad-gita. Some of you are medical men. Some of you are engineers. Some of you are businessmen. Some of you are clerks. That doesn’t matter. You can remain in your occupational position. You remain an American. You remain a Christian. It doesn’t matter. But there is no harm in hearing Bhagavad-gita. There is no harm. You’ll get knowledge—you’ll get knowledge. You’ll become a better Christian. You’ll become a better American. You see? We are not trying to convert Americans into Indians, or Indians into Americans, or Christians into Hindus. That is not our mission. We are just teaching the science of Krsna, the science of God, Krsna consciousness.
So everyone can learn this science. For example, when you go to college, there is no question of whether a man is American or Indian or African. Everyone in the school or college or university is allowed to receive scientific knowledge. So this is Krsna consciousness, the science of God. Everyone can take part. Sthane sthitah—there is no need of change. Sruti-gatam tanu-van-manobhir: just try to assimilate the knowledge with your body, with your mind, and with your intelligence.
If you do this, then the result will be prayaso ‘jita jito ‘py asi tais tri-lokyam: you will conquer the unconquerable Lord. Another name for God is Ajita. Ajita means “unconquerable.” Because, after all, everyone is lower than God. Who will conquer Him? What to speak of God-we cannot conquer even the energy of God. We are all under the influence of the material energy of God in our present conditioned life. We cannot conquer even the energy. So how can we conquer God? It is not possible. So therefore another name of God is Ajita, or “one who is unconquerable.” But that unconquerable person sometimes becomes conquered. How? By this process of submissively hearing about God and trying to assimilate the knowledge nicely. That’s all.
God is neither Christian nor Hindu nor Muslim nor anything else. God is God. If you hear Bhagavad-gita submissively and try to apply it with your body, mind, and intelligence, then you’ll understand God so nicely that although God is unconquerable, you’ll conquer Him. You’ll conquer Him. By this simple process. This is why sravana—hearing—is so important, and why in devotional service the first step is hearing. Then whatever you learn, if you describe it, that will help you to elevate yourself on this path of knowledge. Whatever we have discussed here today—if you have heard it in the proper consciousness, and if you try to repeat it amongst your friends and your family members—then you’ll be established in this knowledge. That is called kirtana, describing. Sravanam kirtanam: hearing and describing.
Every day and night we are hearing something. There is television. There is radio. There are newspapers. There are so many things to hear about. But that is not the hearing that will help us to become self-realized. Sravanam kirtanam visnoh. You should devote your time to hearing and chanting about Visnu, Krsna. Krsna-kirtanam. Kirtanad eva krsnasya mukta-sangah param vrajet. If you simply do this—hear and chant about Krsna—then you shall become free from this material entanglement, and you shall be elevated to the supreme place, the kingdom of God. Hearing and chanting-this is the remedy suggested in this age. You cannot successfully practice anything else. You cannot practice sacrifice. You cannot practice speculation. You cannot practice mystic yoga. Nothing. You can simply practice this: submissively hear the science of Krsna from authoritative sources. Try to assimilate it. And become perfect.