By His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada Founder-Acarya of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness
Unerring knowledge of reality descends from God through His pure representatives.
“Others, who engage in sacrifice by the cultivation of knowledge, worship the Supreme Lord as the one without a second, as diverse in many, and in the universal form.”—Bhagavad-gita 9.15
Before this verse, Lord Krishna has just described the mahatmas, or the great souls, who worship the Supreme Lord by the process of kirtana. Kirtana means chanting. Or kirtana actually means describing. You can describe with music. You can describe with words. You can describe in speeches. Any sort of describing is called kirtana. And unless you hear, you cannot describe. If you do not know anything about the Supreme Lord, then how can you describe Him? Therefore hearing, shravanam, is the first of the nine processes of devotional service to the Lord.
The Vedic literature is called shruti-shastra. Sruti means to receive by hearing, and shastra means scripture. If you want to know the Supreme, you do not need to qualify yourself materially. You can remain what you are. God has given you the power of hearing. If you hear from authoritative sources, then you become perfect, simply by hearing. Therefore the first principle, hearing, is recommended.
Formerly, students heard the Vedas from the spiritual master. In the Bhagavad-gita you’ll find that Arjuna is hearing from Krishna. He’s not studying Vedanta philosophy on the battlefield. He is simply hearing. That is the process. You can hear at any place. Even on the battlefield you can hear from the authoritative source.
The process to acquire knowledge is hearing. Hearing means receiving the knowledge, not manufacturing it. Some persons think, “Oh, why shall I hear from him? I can think. I can speculate. I can manufacture something new and create my own group.”
These are nonsensical ideas. This is not the Vedic process. The Vedic process is hearing, the descending process. There are two processes of knowledge: ascending and descending. The ascending process means trying to go high by your strength, and the descending process means receiving the pure knowledge from above. The ascending process is not recommended in the Vedic way of knowledge. The Vedic way is to receive knowledge by submissive aural reception from the spiritual master to the student.
As we have read in the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita (4.2), evam parampara-praptam imam rajarshayo viduh: “In this way traditionally—from the spiritual master to the student—this knowledge was imparted.” The Lord said, “I imparted this knowledge first of all to the sun-god, and the sun-god imparted this knowledge to his son, Manu, and Manu imparted this knowledge to his son, Ikshvaku.” Ikshvaku was the king of this planet. So from Ikshvaku, this knowledge is coming down from the father to the son or from the master to the disciple. And because that disciplic succession was broken, therefore Lord Krishna said, “I am speaking again that old system of knowledge to you, Arjuna, because you are My devotee; you are My dear friend.”
Hearing is so powerful that simply by hearing from an authoritative source you can become completely perfect. It must be submissive hearing, of course. Jnane prayasam udapasya namanta eva. This is a verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.14.3). Don’t be an upstart, it suggests. Don’t try to understand the supreme knowledge, the Absolute Truth, by your strength. You are very poor. Your senses are imperfect. You cannot understand. You should give up that process. Jnane prayasam. Rather, attempt to know the Supreme by the descending process.
“Oh, I shall know. I’ll manufacture my own way.” This way is going on nowadays. Everyone is thinking, “Why shall I accept any authority? I shall think for myself to understand what I am and what my duty is.” This is going on. But this is not the Vedic process. The Vedic process is shravanam, hearing from authority.
We must give up the foolish process of trying to understand the Absolute Truth by our own attempt and become submissive. To be submissive means we must know our imperfectness.
Acknowledging Our Four Faults
In these meetings I have several times described our imperfectness. As long as we are conditioned, we have four kinds of imperfectness. One is that we must commit mistakes. Nobody can say, “I never commit any mistakes.” It is not possible. You must. To err is human. Another imperfectness is illusion, to accept one thing as something else. For example, we accept the body as the self. We identify with the body, every one of us. If we ask you what you are, you will reply, “Oh, I am American.” Your body is American, but you are not that body. This misidentification is illusion.
The third fault is that our senses are imperfect. We are very much proud of seeing, but as soon as the light is turned off, we cannot see. So our seeing is conditional. All our senses are conditional. Therefore they are imperfect.
The fourth defect is our propensity to cheat. A person who does not know anything cheats others by claiming to know everything. He is fool number one, but he wants to start a group of students and teach them foolish things. This is cheating.
One must know from the authoritative sources and preach that knowledge. Krishna taught Arjuna, and that philosophy is still being transmitted. Those who accept Bhagavad-gita according to the same principle as Arjuna are real students of Bhagavad-gita.
Our attempt to understand the Absolute Truth by our faulty senses and experience is futile. We must hear. Sravanam. That is the Vedic process.
The student used to go to the master at his school, known as the gurukula. Every brahmana, every self-realized soul, every vipra, or expert in the knowledge of Vedic literature, would be provided with some brahmacharis, celibate boys. They would follow the rules and regulations of brahmachari life and live with the spiritual master, and the spiritual master would teach them real knowledge from Vedic literature. That is the process.
One should not adopt the ascending process. Jnane prayasam udapasya. Udapasya means “Give it up.” And namanta eva: “Be submissive.” Jivanti san-mukharitam bhavadiya-vartam. One must live in this way and hear from the self-realized soul—san-mukharitam.
Arjuna is hearing from Krishna, from the perfect person. One must hear from Krishna or His representative. His representative is a devotee of Krishna. Arjuna was made a representative of Krishna. How? Because, as Krishna said, bhakto ’si: “You are My devotee.” Nobody can become a representative of Krishna, or God, without becoming His devotee. One who thinks “I am God” cannot become the representative of God.
Suppose you are a businessman and you send your representative to secure business. If he represents himself to the customer, “I am the proprietor,” how long can he continue? As soon as the master knows “This foolish man is representing himself as the proprietor of this firm,” he will cancel his employment at once. Because the so-called representative is cheating; he’s not the proprietor.
Similarly, anyone who says “I am God” should not preach. To acquire knowledge of God one can think, “I am God.” But that is another thing. This “I am God” means to understand the quality of God, because I am qualitatively God. I am part and parcel of God; therefore my qualities are the same as God’s. A particle of gold is gold. It is nothing but gold. Similarly, although we are very minute fragments of the Supreme, still our quality is the same as the Supreme’s.
If I study myself, then I study God also, because I can understand the quality of God. But I may not understand the quantity. Suppose your want to buy rice. First you examine whether the item has the qualities of rice you desire. Then when you decide to buy the rice, you may ask about the quantity available.
You are qualitatively one with God. Therefore, if you study your propensities, your qualities, then you can understand God.
That is a process. But you cannot preach, “I am God.” Because if you promote yourself as God, then people may ask you, “If you are God, then show me your all-powerfulness.” That you cannot show. So you cannot preach, “I am God.”
The Universal Form
Krishna has proved that He is God. How? In the Bhagavad-gita. Now we are reading the Ninth Chapter. In the Eleventh Chapter Arjuna requests, “O Krishna, will You kindly show me Your universal form?” Krishna showed him. Arjuna was teaching the world that in the future so many fools would represent themselves as God. Don’t be fooled by them. Just ask, “Show me your universal form.” Only on seeing that should you accept him as God. Don’t very cheaply accept any fool as God.
The claim to be God is the highest imperfection. A person under the stringent laws of the material nature gets a toothache, becomes overwhelmed, and declares himself God. Only similar foolish people can accept this sort of thing.
God is supreme. Nobody can be equal with God. In the Vedic literature God is called asamaurdhva. Asama means that nobody’s equal to Him. And nobody is higher than Him. Urdhva means higher. Nobody can be higher than God, and nobody can be equal to God. However great they may be, everyone is lower than God.
A verse in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.5.33) states, shiva-virinci-nutam. Shiva means Lord Shiva, and virinci means Lord Brahma. They are considered to be the topmost demigods in the material world. This verse states that they also offer their respectful obeisances to Vishnu, or God.
Nobody can be equal to God. Therefore, instead of trying to become God or instead of trying to understanding God with our tiny knowledge and imperfect senses, better to become submissive. Give up this foolish habit of “I can know God.” Just become submissive and hear from authorities. San-mukharitam.
Who is the authority? Krishna—God—or His representative. Lord Jesus Christ is the representative of God. So he’s an authority. Any incarnation of Krishna is an authority. God’s representative will never say, “I am God.” He will say, “I am the servant of God.” That confirms that he’s the representative of God. The authority or representative does not say, “I am God,” but he says, “I am the servant of God. I am the son of God. I am the devotee of God.” He is the real representative. We have to hear from him.
I am just trying to explain to you the process of hearing. We must submissively hear from the authorized source, the representative of God.
Remain in Your Position
The verse I’ve been quoting (jnane prayasam . . .) goes on to say, sthane sthitah: keep yourself in your position. 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. Keep yourself in your position. Remain as Americans. Remain as Christians. It doesn’t matter. But there is no harm in hearing Bhagavad-gita. You’ll get knowledge. You’ll become a better Christian. You’ll become a better American. You see? It is not that we are trying to convert Americans into Indians, or Indians into Americans, or Christians into Hindus. That is not our mission. We are just preaching the science of Krishna, the science of God: Krishna consciousness.
Everyone can learn this science. When you go to college there is no question of whether you are American or Indian or African. Everyone is allowed in the schools, colleges, and universities to learn scientific knowledge. Krishna consciousness is the science of God. Everyone can take it. Sthane sthitah. Keep yourself in your place. There is no need of change.
Sthane sthitah sh ruti-gatam. Sruti means by hearing, with these ears. Tanu-van-manobhih: “Just try to assimilate with your body, with your mind, with your intelligence.” If you do this, then the result will be prayasho ’jita jito ’py asi tais tri-lokyam: you’ll conquer the unconquerable.
One of God’s names is Ajita. Ajita means that nobody can conquer Him. Because everyone is lower than God, who will conquer Him? Therefore His name is Ajita, “unconquerable.” What to speak of God, you cannot conquer even the energy of God. In your present conditioned life, you are under the energy of God, the material energy. You cannot conquer even the energy, so how can you conquer God? Not possible. So one name of God is Ajita.
Krishna is another name of God. Of course, according to Vedic literature Krishna is the principal name. God has many names. According to His work, according to different persons’ understanding, He has got innumerable names. But in the Vedic literature it is said that Krishna is the principal name. Because Krishna means “the highest pleasure.”
Ajita means one who is unconquerable. So that unconquerable becomes conquered. How? By this process. What is that process? Just submissively hear and try to assimilate it nicely. That’s all.
Hear Bhagavad-gita submissively. Do not be puffed up with false knowledge. Every one of us should think that we are ignorant and have to receive knowledge. That should be the first step. Receive knowledge, try to assimilate it, try to apply it with your body, with your mind, with your intelligence. Then you’ll understand God so nicely that although God is unconquerable, you’ll conquer Him by this simple process.
When you are able to do so, then you can make kirtana. Whatever you learn, if you describe it then that will help you to elevate yourself on this path of knowledge. Whatever you are hearing tonight, if you try to repeat it amongst your friends, amongst your family members, then you’ll be established in this knowledge. That is called kirtana. Sravanam kirtanam.
Every day and night we are hearing something. There is television. There is radio. There is newspaper. There are so many things to hear. But devotional service doesn’t begin with that kind of hearing. Sravanam kirtanam vishnoh. The word vishnoh here means Vishnu, the Supreme Lord. You should devote your time to hearing and chanting about Vishnu, Krishna. If you simply do that, then you shall become free from material attachment and shall be elevated to the supreme place, the kingdom of God.
This is the remedy suggested in this age. You cannot practice sacrifice as was done in a previous age. You cannot practice speculation. You cannot practice yoga. You can simply practice this: Submissively hear from authoritative sources, try to assimilate what you’ve heard, and become perfect.
Thank you very much.