By Ananda Vrndavanesvari Devi Dasi
From the moment we are born we are knowledge-seekers. We want to know where we can find food, shelter, love, and happiness. We want information to help us avoid pain, suffering, and loss. We spend our lives building on that knowledge, adding information gained by study and experience.
Perhaps in earlier times society was more inclined to seek knowledge of truth. Today it seems we are after happiness, more than truth or no matter what the truth. And of course, the search for the self is generally not the first order of the day. “Know thyself”, as the ancient Greeks taught, doesn’t make many of our bucket lists.
The goal of a good spiritual practice is the search for the self. However, we should be aware that the human body, which is our primary search engine for knowledge, comes with four defects. They are: we make mistakes, we are prone to illusion, we have a propensity towards cheating, and our senses are imperfect. So keep these in mind as you seek any kind of knowledge, especially transcendental knowledge.
Who has not made a mistake? I make them everyday – in judgment of time, in forgetting to buy something at the grocery store, in calling someone the wrong name! Mistakes keep us humble, and knowing we can and will make them, makes us more careful.
The Sanksrit word for illusion is “maya’ and means ‘that which is not’. The world, according to the Bhagavad-gita, is an illusion that we take it to be real. We think we are Irish, or Spanish, or Bengali but we are not. We are so not who we think we are. We are all happily (or unhappily) playing our part in a grand illusion.
Who has not cheated? Prabhupada calls the propensity to cheat a great disease. In small and big ways we let this happen, sometimes to save face, sometime to boost our ego, sometimes for some temporary gain. Be careful not to be cheated out of complete spiritual information. Don’t sell yourself short or settle for less. Krishna told Arjuna everything in the Gita, and then invited him to make his decision. Incomplete knowledge brings an incomplete result.
And last but not least, our senses are imperfect. We say we won’t believe the existence of God unless we see Him, but how reliable are our eyes? When the lights go off we can’t even see our hands. When two people witness a car accident, each sees something different. Our hearing, touch and taste are all different and limited.
Accepting our four defects we should be careful how we move in the world. We don’t know it all, we are not always right, and we are often very wrong. When we live like that we can laugh more and let life walk around us rather than trample us.
To get knowledge of Krishna and our relationship with Him, we need to receive it from sources beyond the world of these four defects. This is something we tend to resist. It seems too ‘far out’ or demands too much faith. This is a blog in itself. But suffice it to say that given our faulty nature, it makes sense to access and gain spiritual knowledge in a way different than we are used to.
Of course to yogis, and the culture of yoga, this process of acquiring transcendental knowledge is quite normal. Accepting a teacher, quieting our senses, offering selfless service, listening within, meditating with deliberate attention on Krishna’s name, and trusting the way of grace and realization is the work of gaining knowledge of the absolute truth. It’s not, however, blind acceptance. We feel and use our body, mind and intelligence in the process.
Ultimately it’s about knowing where we need to go, and knowing that we need help to get there. And letting trust, grace, service and surrender lead the way. It’s really quite an adventure if we can get over our fear and step out of the everyday roles we usually play. Just be a servant and find a service. Everything starts there.