“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
There are so many departments of knowledge in the major universities around the world. The early years of one’s educational life are spent learning the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. College represents higher education, a chance to further explore various subjects. One can get a degree in just about anything these days. The learning doesn’t stop just with undergraduate degrees, for people can get their PhD and then do even further research after that. In this way, the search for knowledge never stops. While academic pursuits are certainly a good way to occupy one’s time, the Vedas tell us that the knowledge gained from such study is flawed in nature because it only seeks to study matter, while neglecting spirit.
Probably the highest scientific discipline is aerospace engineering. Consisting of math, physics, chemistry, and even biology, this science requires a high level of intelligence to understand. In fact, there is a common expression that people use when describing the ease with which something can be done. “It’s not rocket science”, they’ll say, meaning that rocket science is considered one of the hardest things to learn. Therefore, by claiming that something isn’t rocket science, it must be the opposite of difficult, which is easy. Aerospace engineering has brought us great advancements. It has not only put man into space, but also landed him on the moon. There are now unmanned spaceships, like the Mars Rover, that travel to other planets as well. The universe is unlimited in its scope, thus man will never run out of opportunities for discovering new things in space.
Here on earth, we have seen great advancements in material science and technology as well. Man generally lives longer today than in generations past due to advancements in health care and medical treatment. People can survive on artificial organs, or even get new organs transplanted into them from other humans. There are so many vaccines that exist today that can inoculate a person from some of the more crippling diseases. These advances all came about through deep study, along with trial and error. The great pioneers studied atomic particles, matter, the human body, and many other things on their way to making their discoveries.
There appears to be no slowing down of this advancement. The last twenty years have seen a complete paradigm shift in the way people live their lives. This shift has been driven completely by technological advancements. The advent of the internet has forever changed the way information is distributed. People can now talk to millions of other people in just seconds, with little or no effort. The cellular telephone now allows us to not only talk with others in any place, but also allows us to send messages, watch television, listen to music, and even read books at any time of the day, either at work or at home.
The rapid increase in scientific discoveries has left us thinking that the best inventions are yet to come. “Someday maybe we can find a cure for cancer. Maybe we’ll even be able to live forever.” It is at this point that the limits to mankind’s study of matter make themselves visible. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that all this material advancement isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but that it is flawed in nature. This is because all the major fields of study today focus on matter, which is an inferior energy. Without even referencing religion, one can understand that matter is subordinate to spirit. We can use our own bodies as an example. At the time of death, the body becomes useless. It starts to decay and take on a foul odor. No one wants to be around a dead body because it reminds them that someone has died. If we think about it, what is the difference between a living body and a dead one? The answer is the presence of spirit. When a spirit soul exists within the body, it has life. It is vibrant and active. This is because spirit is the engine which drives the movement of matter. Just as a car cannot operate without a driver, so the body cannot function without a spirit soul.
“This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.10)
On a grander scale, all the matter that exists in this creation cannot operate without a supreme controller. The Vedas tell us that this controller is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna, being God Himself, is the complete whole. Being God means that no one can tell you what to do and that you don’t need to explain your actions to anyone. For some reason or another, God decided to take many expansions. Though there are an unlimited number of expansions, they can all be classified into one of two categories: spiritual energy or material energy. We spirit souls are originally part of the spiritual energy since we are considered to be God’s separated expansions. Krishna also takes personal expansions such as Lord Narayana, Vishnu, Rama, etc. All of God’s personal expansions are equal to Him in power. The separated expansions, the spirit souls, are qualitatively equal to God, but subordinate to Him in quantitative powers.
To better illustrate this dichotomy, we can take a quick look at how material nature works. God created this material world for the benefit of the spirit souls. All the universes consisting of the five gross elements (earth, air, water, fire, and ether) and the three subtle elements (mind, intelligence, and false ego) were created by God so as to allow the spirit souls to have a place to come and enjoy material nature. Since the material world is created at some point, it also must eventually be destroyed. Therefore it is temporary in nature, and thus it is considered part of God’s inferior energy. We spirit souls, being part and parcel of God, are originally part of the spiritual energy, but since we can come into contact with material nature, we are technically part of God’s marginal energy. It is categorized as such because we have a choice as to which energy we wish to associate with.
The Sanskrit terms for spirit and matter are purusha and prakriti. Purusha also means the dominator and prakriti means the dominated. Purusha is the male and prakriti is the female. In this regard, we living entities can be classified as purusha since we have control over nature. This control is limited in species like cats and dogs, while the human species has a much greater control over nature…or so they think. All the material scientific disciplines of today seek to study prakriti. The reason these studies are flawed in nature is because although we are purusha, there is someone who is actually our controller. That someone is God, and since He created everything in this universe, He is known as maha-purusha. From this definition, we see that God is the only real purusha, or controller/enjoyer, because He even has control over us.
Material nature is always baffling man and putting obstacles in the way of his so-called advancement. If this weren’t the case, man would have no need for scientific advancement. The desire for a higher standard of living is an outgrowth of the struggle that has existed since the beginning of time between mankind and nature. The Vedas tell us that the solution to these problems is not to engage in an intense study of matter, but rather to understand the nature of spirit.
The first aphorism of the famous Vedanta-sutras states that the human form of life is meant for inquiring about Brahman, or God. Brahman is one of God’s features; a sort of angle of vision which represents the complete whole of all matter and spirit. Essentially, everything is Brahman. The priestly class of men are known as the brahmanas because they know Brahman, meaning that they understand that all living entities are constitutionally the same. The Vedas exist precisely to allow us to study this Brahman. Not only do the Vedas inform us on who and what Brahman is, but they also tell us who is the source of Brahman.
“Brahma, it is I, the Personality of Godhead, who was existing before the creation, when there was nothing but Myself. Nor was there the material nature, the cause of this creation. That which you see now is also I, the Personality of Godhead, and after annihilation what remains will also be I, the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.33)
Vedic literature is quite vast and comprehensive, but probably the most famous and widely studied Vedic text is the Bhagavad-gita. Known as the Song of God, the Gita chronicles a discussion that took place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago between Lord Krishna and His cousin and disciple Arjuna. Prior to the commencement of a great war, Arjuna was hesitant to fight. He didn’t want to kill his family members who were fighting for the opposing party. Lord Krishna used this as an opportunity to teach Arjuna about Vedic principles. He declared to Arjuna that what He was telling him was the king of all education, or raja-vidya.
The teachings of the Gita are considered the highest knowledge because they give an in-depth analysis of the difference between matter and spirit. Krishna tells us that the soul is great and that it can never be created nor destroyed. Our bodies may be subject to birth and death, but the soul never dies. The aim of life is to take care of the soul within the body. By so doing, we will get to return to Krishna’s spiritual abode after our current life is over.
Since matter is inferior and spirit is superior, does it mean we should completely ignore matter? Many philosophers hold this view. They believe that quiet meditation and deep study of Vedanta are the means to salvation. While these are certainly ways to block out the effects of material nature, Krishna tells us that there is a much easier way to achieve perfection. Mankind’s original disposition is that of servitor of Lord Krishna. This isn’t a forced servitorship, but rather a purely loving relationship. The goal of life is to rekindle our forgotten love for God. The way to do this is to adjust our activities in such a way that we can always be thinking about God.
In this regard, matter can certainly be beneficial to us. We can use earthly elements to construct temples for the Lord. We can grow and maintain a nice garden and use it to offer flowers to the Lord. We can use our tongue to chant the holy names of the God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and to eat remnants of foodstuff offered to Him (prasadam). We can use advanced technology such as computers and the internet to disseminate knowledge about the spirit soul and its relationship to God. Thus we see that there are endless opportunities for service.
Devotional service to God is mankind’s eternal occupation. Since God is so nice, service to Him will bring us happiness that far exceeds the pleasure derived from academic study or technological advancement. Human life is meant for advancing the position of spirit and not matter.