The Self-Evident Vedas
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu referred to the Vedic literature as “self-evident” (svatah-pramana). By that He meant that its teachings are axiomatic and don’t require validation by some other authority. In common speech, followers of the Vedas as well as other scriptures might refer to them as the word of God, a phrase that implies the same idea: When God speaks, we’re obliged to accept His words as definitive.
Many people balk at the idea of accepting scriptures as unerring authority on ultimate questions. One argument they put forward is that the supposedly perfect scriptures don’t all teach the same thing, so why should anyone prefer one religion’s holy books over another’s?
One reply to that question is that because God is by definition beyond our ability to grasp fully, He reveals Himself in different ways throughout history, taking into consideration the receptivity of the audience. But if we study the world’s scriptures, we find agreement on most essential points.
While it is true that people generally stick to the religion they were raised in, some feel compelled to search elsewhere. That was the case for most of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples outside India, and it continues to be so for most non-Indians coming to Krishna consciousness today.
The dynamics of why someone becomes a devotee of Krishna are complex. I sometimes look back at my own transition and marvel at how quickly it took place. Unlike many of Prabhupada’s disciples, it wasn’t the result of a long, circuitous search. Secularists would surely point to some psychological need on my part, but my conviction is that the main factor was the instant appeal of the philosophy, my attraction to it being the unearned blessings of Prabhupada and Krishna.
When I committed to the practice of Krishna consciousness, I was an officer in the U.S. Air Force, so I couldn’t move into the temple ashram right way as I wished. I wanted to leave the Air Force at once, but I had to wait for my resignation to be approved. While I waited, I wasn’t given any work to do, but I had to stay in my room on the base all day. So for the six months before I could move into the temple, I used my time to study Srila Prabhupada’s books, especially Srimad-Bhagavatam, the ripe fruit of the Vedas. My experience was that the more I read, the more my faith in the truth of the Bhagavatam grew. Despite my initial unfamiliarity with most of what I was reading, the self-evident nature of the authority of the Bhagavatam became clear.
When we read the Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and other books that Prabhupada gave us, we discover so much information about God and the nature of reality that dismissing it as mere conjecture becomes difficult. The picture is just too complete. We get to the point, often quite quickly, where we have to say, “This must be true.” Prabhupada’s full faith in the message, revealed in his purports, no doubt nourishes our conviction.
Even with non-theological topics, a reader can often sense when an author is speaking with authority, demonstrating mastery of the subject. A similar response awaits any openminded person who carefully reads Srila Prabhupada’s books.
It’s unfortunate that many people today find it difficult to read books, but there’s still hope for them. They can receive the information revealed in Prabhupada’s books in other ways and in easily digestible doses. And besides the book Bhagavatam, there are exemplars of the Bhagavatam, “book bhagavatas,” who embody its truths and can thus inspire conviction in its unerring words.