Knowledge by Way of the Mahātmās, Great Souls
The presence of Kṛṣṇa in all aspects of the creation is perceived by the mahātmās, the great souls, who are always engaged in the worship of Kṛṣṇa. As Kṛṣṇa Himself states, these great souls are conversant with the confidential knowledge found in the ninth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, and they know Kṛṣṇa to be the source of all things.
daivīṁ prakṛtim āśritāḥ
jñātvā bhūtādim avyayam
“O son of Pṛthā, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.” (Bhagavad-gītā 9.13)
The great soul knows without a doubt that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the origin of all emanations. The Vedānta-sūtra states, athāto brahma-jijñāsā: Human life is meant for inquiring about Brahman. At present we are engaged in studying temporary, small things. Brahman means the greatest, but instead of concerning ourselves with the greatest, we are enmeshed in trying to solve the animal problems of eating, sleeping, defending, and mating. These small problems are automatically solved. Even the animals enjoy mating, sleeping, eating, and defending. The arrangements are all provided. These bodily demands are not really problems, but we have made them problems. The Vedānta-sūtra enjoins us not to concern ourselves with these problems, for they are satisfied in any form of life. Our problem is to inquire about the source of these manifestations. The human form is not meant for struggling hard to solve material problems, which even a hog, a stool-eater, can solve. The hog is considered the lowest among animals, yet it has eating facility, mating facility, sleeping facility, and facilities for defense. Even if we don’t strive for these things, we will have them. Man is meant, rather, to find out the source from which all these things are coming. The Vedānta-sūtra states that Brahman is that from which everything is emanating (janmādy asya yataḥ). Philosophers, scientists, yogis, jñānīs, and transcendentalists are all trying to find out the ultimate source of everything. This source is given in the Brahma-saṁhitā, sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam: Kṛṣṇa is the cause of all causes.
Understanding Kṛṣṇa to be the primal source of everything, how do the great souls act? Kṛṣṇa Himself characterizes them in this way:
yatantaś ca dṛḍha-vratāḥ
namasyantaś ca māṁ bhaktyā
“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Bhagavad-gītā, 9.14)
That glorification is this process of bhakti-yoga, the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa. The great souls, understanding the nature of God, His descent, and His mission, glorify Him in so many ways, but there are others who do not accept Him. Kṛṣṇa also mentions them in the ninth chapter:
mānuṣīṁ tanum āśritam
paraṁ bhāvam ajānanto
“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be.” (Bhagavad-gītā 9.11)
The mūḍhas, or foolish men, who are lower than the animals, deride Him. Any person who doesn’t believe in God must either be a madman or fool number one. There is no reason not to believe in God, and there is every reason to believe in Him. Man may say that he doesn’t believe in God, but who gives him the power to say this? When death comes, this speaking power ceases – so who is giving the power of speech? Has the speaking power come automatically from stone? As soon as the speaking power is withdrawn by the Supreme Authority, the body is no better than stone. The very power of speech is proof that there is a Supreme Power who is giving us everything. A Kṛṣṇa conscious person knows that whatever he has is not under his control. If we do not believe in God, we must believe in some power beyond us which is controlling us at every step, call that power God, nature, or whatever. There is a controlling power in the universe, and no sane man can deny it.
Kṛṣṇa was present on earth and appeared just like a human being with supernatural power. At that time, however, 99% of the people could not recognize Him as God because they had no eyes to see (paraṁ bhāvam ajānan-taḥ). How is it possible to recognize God? He can be recognized through His supernatural power, by the evidence of authorities and of the scriptures. As far as Kṛṣṇa is concerned, every Vedic authority has accepted Him as God. When He was present on earth, His activities were superhuman. If one does not believe this, it is to be concluded that he will not believe whatever evidence is given.
One must also have the eyes to see God. God cannot be seen by material senses, therefore the bhakti-yoga process purifies the senses so we will be able to understand what and who God is. We have the power of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and so on, but if these senses are blunt, we cannot understand God. The process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is to train these senses through regulative principles, specifically by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa further characterizes the mūḍhas:
rākṣasīm āsurīṁ caiva
prakṛtiṁ mohinīṁ śritāḥ
“Those who are thus bewildered are attracted by demonic and atheistic views. In that deluded condition, their hopes for liberation, their fruitive activities, and their culture of knowledge are all defeated.” (Bhagavad-gītā 9.12)
The word moghāśā indicates that the aspirations of the atheists will be baffled. The karmīs, or fruitive laborers, always hope for something better to gratify their senses. There is no limit to where they will stop. They are trying to increase their bank balance and are hoping to be happy at a certain point, but that point never comes because they do not know the ultimate point of satiation. Those who are enamored by the attractions of the illusory energy cannot understand the ultimate aim of life. The word mogha-karmāṇaḥ indicates that they are laboring hard but in the end that they will only meet with frustration. Unless we are established in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, all of our activities will be baffled at the end.
This is not the verdict of an ordinary man but of Kṛṣṇa Himself. If we search for knowledge, we should research to find out whether Kṛṣṇa is not God. Without any object-ive, what is the point of thousands of years of speculation? The Supreme Lord is so vast that one cannot reach Him by mental speculation. If we travel at the speed of mind and wind for millions of years, it is not possible to reach the Supreme by speculation. There is not a single instance in which someone has arrived at the Supreme Truth by means of his own speculation. Therefore the word mogha-jñānāḥ indicates that the process of mundane knowledge is bewildering. Through our own endeavor it is not possible to see the sun after it has set. We have to wait until the sun reveals itself in the morning at sunrise. If it is not possible with our limited senses to perceive a material thing like the sun, how is it possible to perceive the nonmaterial? We cannot find out or understand Kṛṣṇa by our own endeavor. We have to qualify ourselves through Kṛṣṇa consciousness and wait for Him to reveal Himself.
dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ
yena mām upayānti te
“To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Bhagavad-gītā 10.10)
Kṛṣṇa is within, but due to our material conditioning, we do not realize it. Those who are of the nature of fiends and demons (rākṣasīm āsurīm) think that this material life is all and that it is the purpose of human life to squeeze out as much pleasure from matter as possible. They try squeezing, but they are constantly baffled. Squeezing material nature is not the process for finding out real pleasure. If we are searching for real pleasure, we have to take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. All happiness in the material world has a beginning and an end, but happiness in Kṛṣṇa is unlimited, and there is no end. In order to get this happiness we simply have to sacrifice a little time and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. In former ages, the great sages and demigods used to sacrifice their whole lives for realizing the Supreme, and still they would not attain success. For this age Caitanya Mahāprabhu has given an easy process for God realization. All that is necessary is careful listening. We have to listen to the Bhagavad-gītā, and we have to chant the names of Kṛṣṇa and listen to them carefully. We should not be puffed up, falsely thinking that our knowledge is great or that we are very learned. We need only become a little gentle and submissive to hear the messages from Kṛṣṇa.
At present, this world is being managed by the Rākṣasas. The Rākṣasas are man-eaters who eat their own sons for the satisfaction of their senses. Now great regimes have been created to smash so many people for the satisfaction of the Rākṣasas’ senses, but they do not realize that their senses will never be satisfied in this way. Nonetheless, the Rākṣasas are prepared to sacrifice everything to satisfy their whimsical desires. It is very difficult for them to understand the real situation because they are overly enamored with material civilization. Who, then, can understand? Those who are mahātmās, whose hearts have become magnified, understand that “everything belongs to God, and I also belong to God.”
Such mahātmās are not under the control of material nature (mahātmānas tu māṁ pārtha daivīṁ prakṛtim āśritāḥ). God is great, and the mahātmā’s heart also becomes great by serving the great. Mahātmā is not a stamp for a political leader. One cannot be stamped mahātmā by votes. The standard for mahātmā is given in the Bhagavad-gītā: The mahātmā is one who has taken shelter of the superior energy of the Lord. Of course, all energies are His, and He does not make distinctions between the spiritual energy and the material energy, but for the conditioned soul who is situated marginally between the material energy and the spiritual energy, there is a distinction. The mahātmās see this distinction and so take shelter under the spiritual energy (daivīṁ prakṛtim).
By serving the great, the mahātmās also become great through identifying with the superior energy: ahaṁ brahmāsmi, “I am Brahman-spirit.” It is not that they become puffed up and think they are God. Rather, if one becomes Brahman, he must show his activities in Brahman. Spirit is active, and to become Brahman is not to become inactive. Brahman is spirit, and these material bodies are active only because Brahman is within them. If we are active despite our contact with material nature, do we cease to be active when we purify ourselves of the material contamination and establish ourselves in our proper identity as pure Brahman? Realizing “I am Brahman” means engagement in spiritual activity because we are spirit, and our activities are exhibited even though we are contaminated by matter. To become Brahman does not mean to become void but to establish ourselves in the superior nature, which means superior energy and superior activities. To become Brahman means to be completely engaged in rendering devotional service to the Lord. Thus the mahātmā understands that if service is to be rendered, it is to be rendered to Kṛṣṇa and no one else. We have so long served our senses; now we should serve Kṛṣṇa.
There is no question of stopping service, for we are meant for service. Is there anyone who does not serve? If we ask the President, “Who are you serving?” he will tell us that he is serving the country. No one is devoid of service. Service we cannot stop, but we do have to redirect our service from the illusion to the reality. When this is done, we become a mahātmā.
This process of kīrtana (kīrtayantaḥ), always chanting the glories of the Lord, is the beginning of becoming a mahātmā. That process is simplified by Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who imparted to humankind this chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. There are nine different processes of devotional service, of which śravaṇaṁ kīrtanam, hearing and chanting, are the most important. Kīrtanam actually means “describing.” We can describe with music, words, pictures, etc. Śravaṇam goes hand in hand with kīrtanam, for unless we hear, we cannot describe. We don’t need any material qualifications in order to attain the Supreme. All we have to do is hear from authoritative sources and repeat accurately what we hear.
Formerly, the Vedas were heard by the student from the spiritual master, and thus the Vedas became known as śruti, “that which is heard.” In the Bhagavad-gītā, for example, we see that Arjuna is listening to Kṛṣṇa on the battlefield. He is not engaged in the study of Vedānta philosophy. We can hear from the Supreme Authority in any place, even on the battlefield. The knowledge is received, not manufactured. Some people think, “Why should I listen to Him? I can think for myself. I can manufacture something new.” This is not the Vedic process of descending knowledge. By ascending knowledge, one tries to elevate himself by his own effort, but by descending knowledge one receives the knowledge from a superior source. In the Vedic tradition, knowledge is imparted to the student from the spiritual master, as in the Bhagavad-gītā (evaṁ paramparā-prāptam imaṁ rājarṣayo viduḥ). Submissive hearing is so powerful that simply by hearing from authoritative sources we can become completely perfect.
In becoming submissive, we become aware of our own imperfections. As long as we are conditioned, we are subject to four kinds of imperfections: we are sure to commit mistakes, to become illusioned, to have imperfect senses, and to cheat. Therefore our attempt to understand the Absolute Truth by our faulty senses and experience is futile. We must hear from a representative of Kṛṣṇa who is a devotee of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa made Arjuna His representative because Arjuna was His devotee: bhakto ’si me sakhā ceti (Bhagavad-gītā 4.3).
No one can become a representative of God without being His devotee. One who thinks “I am God” cannot be a representative. Because we are part and parcel of God, our qualities are the same as His, and therefore if we study these qualities in ourselves, we come to learn something of God. This does not mean that we understand the quantity of God. This self-realization process is one way of understanding God, but in no case can we preach “I am God.” We cannot claim to be God without being able to display the powers of God. As far as Kṛṣṇa is concerned, He proved that He was God by displaying so much power and by revealing His universal form to Arjuna. Kṛṣṇa showed this awesome form in order to discourage people who would claim to be God. We should not be fooled by one who claims to be God; following in the footsteps of Arjuna, we should request to see the universal form before accepting anyone as God. Only a fool would accept another fool as God.
No one can be equal to God, and no one can be above Him. Even Lord Brahmā and Lord Śiva, the most exalted demigods, are subservient to Him and pay their respectful obeisances. Instead of trying to become God by one meditational process or another, we had better hear about God submissively and try to understand Him and our relationship to Him. The representative of God never claims to be God or an incarnation of God but the servant of God. This is the sign of the bona fide representative.
Whatever we learn of God from authoritative sources can be described, and that will help us make spiritual progress. This description is called kīrtana. If we try to repeat what we hear, we become established in knowledge. By the process of śravaṇaṁ kīrtanam, hearing and chanting, we can become free from material conditioning and attain to the kingdom of God. In this age it is impossible to practice sacrifice, speculation, or yoga. There is no way open to us but the way of hearing submissively from authoritative sources. This is the way the mahātmās received the most confidential knowledge. It is the way Arjuna received it from Kṛṣṇa, and it is the way we must receive it from the disciplic succession stemming from Arjuna.