How to Find Real Knowledge
By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Lecture given in Los Angeles, May 16, 1970
Knowledge of this world, acquired from sources within it, will always be imperfect and limited
vidyam chavidyam cha yas
tad vedobhayam saha
avidyaya mrityum tirtva
“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.”
—Sri Ishopanishad, Mantra 11
People do not understand what immortality is. Because they have no knowledge of the subject, they think it is a vague idea.
Nowadays we are very proud of our advancement of knowledge. But there are so many things we do not know, and can never know, even by our modern experimental knowledge. If you want real knowledge, you must go to the source of knowledge: the Vedas. Veda means “knowledge.”
There are 108 Vedic Upanishads, out of which nine are very important. And out of those nine, this Ishopanishad stands first, then Taittiriya Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad. Upa means “nearing.” This knowledge will take you nearer to Krishna.
For the acharyas, the most learned members of society, the best evidence is shruti, which means the Vedas. They are not experimental knowledge. They are not knowledge established by the research work of contaminated, conditioned souls, whose senses are imperfect and who cannot see things as they are. They simply theorize: “It may be like that.” They can say only that much. “It may be like that.” That is not knowledge. Knowledge must be definite, with no mistake.
Conditioned souls commit mistakes, are deluded, have imperfect senses, and cheat. One who does not understand Bhagavad-gita but writes a commentary on it is cheating the public. Because he has a name as a scholar, he takes advantage of the popularity of the Bhagavad-gita and writes a commentary.
Such people claim that anyone can give his own opinion. But that is not the process. You cannot give any opinion. Suppose I am a preacher of Krishna consciousness—how I can give an opinion on medical science? That is ludicrous. I can give opinions within my jurisdiction. That’s all right. But if somebody asks for my opinion about some medical treatment or some legal implication, what can I do?
The Need for a Guru
To get real knowledge one has to go to the right person. Therefore it is said, tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigachchet: “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.” [Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.12]
And in the Bhagavad-gita (4.34) Lord Krishna says,
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” Tattva-darshinah means one who has seen, or realized, the Absolute Truth. You have to go to such a person.
In today’s verse it is said, avidyaya mrityum: if you do not go to the spiritual master, then you remain in darkness. In the Mundaka Upanishad verse I quoted, the word gachchet means “must go.” One cannot think, “Oh, I may accept a spiritual master, or I may not. There are books. I shall learn from them alone.” No. In order to understand spiritual knowledge, you must go to a spiritual master. Otherwise you remain in avidya, ignorance.
Vidyam avidyam cha: two sides, darkness and light. You must know two things: what is maya, or illusion, and what is Krishna. Then your knowledge is perfect.
Of course, Krishna is so nice that if somehow or other you surrender to Him, then all your business is finished. If you fully surrender to Krishna, you will automatically learn what maya is. Krishna will give you intelligence from within. Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya 19.151) says, guru-krishna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija: By the mercy of the spiritual master and Krishna, one enters into devotional service. How is that? The mercy comes in parallel lines. If you have not found a spiritual master but are sincere, then Krishna will take you to a bona fide spiritual master. And if you get a bona fide spiritual master, then he will take you to Krishna.
Krishna is always sitting within your heart as caitya-guru, the spiritual master within the heart. And that spiritual master within the heart manifests himself externally as the spiritual master. Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura writes, sakshad-dharitvena samasta-shastrair uktas tatha bhavyata eva sadbhih. Sakshat means “directly.” The spiritual master is directly the representative of Krishna. This is the verdict of all scriptures: samasta shastraih. And it is not only stated, but it is accepted as such by all great devotees: sadbhih.
Vidya and Avidya
We should learn what vidya and avidya are. Avidya means materialistic knowledge. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has sung, jada-vidya jato, mayara vaibhava: “Advancement of material knowledge means advancement of maya’s jurisdiction.” The more you become implicated and entangled in material knowledge, the less you can understand Krishna consciousness. People who are supposed to be very advanced in material knowledge think, “What is this Krishna consciousness movement?” They have no attraction. For example, Indian boys who have come to America to learn technology question why we are interested in Krishna consciousness. They have rejected these things. When they see that I have introduced the things they have rejected in India, they are surprised.
I came to America because modern India has rejected spiritual knowledge. Indians are thinking that if they can imitate Western technology, then they will be happy. Such thinking is maya. They do not see that those who are advanced three hundred times more than us in technology—what do they really have? They do not see that.
India cannot advance in technology like America or Europe because people in the Western countries have undertaken this business for a very long time. But Indian culture, beginning from the creation, is a spiritual culture.
Consider Vyasadeva. He is the original guru of Vedic knowledge. How was he living? In a cottage at Badarikashrama in the Himalayas. But just see his knowledge! He has written so many Puranas, and Bhagavata Purana is one of them. The Vedanta philosophy, Mahabharata—if you study each verse, you can study for your whole life. In some book he has written 100,000 verses, and many are not less than 20,000 or 25,000 verses. Each verse is so full of meaning that one has to learn it throughout his life.
This is Vedic culture. There is no comparison to the knowledge contained within Vedic culture. And the knowledge is not only spiritual knowledge, but knowledge in other departments as well, such as astronomy and mathematics. It is not that in the olden age there were no airplanes. We get information about airplanes from the Puranas. They were so powerful and fast that they could easily reach other planets. Arjuna went to the heavenly planet.
It is not that there was no advancement of material knowledge in the Vedic age. The opulence was far beyond what we have now. Gold, jewels—every city, every person, had them, and what to speak of kings and rich men. Material advancement was there, but the people did not care much for it. They were interested in spiritual knowledge.
If we advance in avidya, or material science, then we have to suffer repeated birth and death. And there is no guarantee where you shall get your next birth. That is not in your hands. You cannot dictate. Now you are a happy American, but after quitting this body you cannot dictate, “Please give me another American body.” No. That is not possible. You may get an American body, but you may get an American animal’s body. Then you are meant for the slaughterhouse.
Material knowledge, nationalism, socialism—they are simply spoiling time. Real knowledge is Vedic knowledge and knowledge of Krishna. Bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyante [Bhagavad-gita 7.19]. Therefore one who is in real knowledge after many, many births comes to Krishna and surrenders unto Him. Such a person realizes, vasudevah sarvam iti: “Vasudeva, Krishna, You are everything.” [Bg. 7.19]
We are trying to distribute that knowledge freely, without any charge. Our mission is very great. You should be conscious of this responsibility. We are giving this highest thing to human society. Try to understand it thoroughly and distribute it. That will make you very dear to Krishna. He says in the Bhagavad-gita, na cha tasmad manushyeshu kashcid me priya-krittamah: “No one is dearer to Me than one who is preaching knowledge of Krishna consciousness.” So if you want to be very dear to Krishna quickly, preach this Krishna consciousness movement very nicely.
Thank you very much.