“Spiritual knowledge must be developed by a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge, and that is the guaranteed way for attainment of spiritual perfection.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.22 Purport)
To understand the highest truths of life presented in Vedanta philosophy, there must be both theoretical knowledge and the practical application of the learned principles. To accept the truths is one thing, but to actually realize them means altering your behavior. A doctor is known as such based on their ability to heal patients, not only from their ability to answer trivia questions relating to their field. Surely they must pass examinations to become licensed, but it is in the practical application of medicine that they receive their compensation. They are known as good or bad doctors based on the work they do, not just on the knowledge they have. In the same way, to make the best use of spiritual knowledge, there must be a combination of study and work. The expert spiritual master provides the guidance in both of these areas.
First the theoretical. “You are not your body.” What are you then? “You are spirit soul.” The soul is infinitesimally small. You could take the tip of the human hair and divide it into thousands of parts and you still wouldn’t reduce the size to match the soul’s. Despite its minute stature, the soul is capable of amazing things. For starters, it gives life to an otherwise lifeless body. We know that when a person dies their body that previously moved on its own ceases to function. All of the same parts are still there; it’s just that something is now missing. That something is the soul, which is thus the true source of identity.
This knowledge of the soul is very powerful. From it we learn that there are 8,400,000 different species. A species in this context is the combination of a small spirit soul and a collection of gross matter. As the combinations of matter are seemingly endless, you get so many different species. What makes the human species unique is its ability to ponder over the meaning of life, to learn the difference between matter and spirit.
“The soul is immutable. It is indestructible. You can’t see it, so how are you going to destroy it? You can try to harm the individual’s body, but at worse the soul will travel to another body after death. Never at any time does the identity of the individual cease to be. There is only sadness upon death due to attachment others have formed to the temporary form that was covering the individual’s real identity. The soul will inevitably travel on, and where it goes only the higher authorities managing the law of karma know.”
This information, which is presented in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, should make life a little easier to manage. Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the mature human being has no other fear than death. If you know that the soul is eternal, you can remove your fears over the future, over what will happen after you leave your body. Indeed, death is the most puzzling time for those who are unaware of these highest truths of life. If you know the soul you know a lot.
Okay, so what if we accept this information and then don’t change the way we live? A person who easily laments is known as a shudra in Sanskrit. A shudra is considered lower on the rung of societal divisions because through their lamentation they have a more difficult time reaching true enlightenment. And that enlightenment is necessary to stop the travels of the spirit soul through the different bodies. The God conscious soul, who knows that there is a superior spiritual force, does not have to endure karma anymore.
The person who is aware of the truths of the spirit soul and acts upon them is known as a brahmana, or one who is Brahman realized. Brahman is the fancier term for spirit, and it also references the sum collection of individual spiritual entities. A brahmana follows specific behavior to stay Brahman realized. They read the Vedas, teach Vedic wisdom to others, perform sacrifices, teach others how to perform sacrifices, and accept charity from others. The charity is required because the brahmanas typically don’t earn a living through work. They spend their days in contemplation of the Absolute, and as this is a full-time job, they take help from others in maintaining their livelihoods.
Better than the brahminical principles are the devotional principles. In this age especially, following the life of a brahmana from the time of birth all the way up until death is very difficult. Therefore the saints now try to imbibe the devotional spirit in as many people as possible, making devoted souls out of those who would otherwise be classified as easy lamenters. The devotional principles are similar to the brahminical ones, except the focus is on direct devotion to God. Learn the properties of spirit while simultaneously worshiping the Supreme Lord in His personal form. Those features are full of sweetness, and they represent the next step beyond Brahman understanding.
The present age is known as Kali, or the time period of rampant quarrel and hypocrisy. Therefore the gradual progression through the societal divisions and the training starting from brahmacharya are not as likely to occur. Better it is to just regularly chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in a humble attitude and let everything flow from there. The spiritual master following the principles of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, knows all the truths of Vedanta philosophy, and they can teach them to their students. At the same time, they will institute guidelines to enable the practical realization of these facts.
Deity worship is one of the common practical implementations of devotional principles. Worship a carved statue or picture representation of God. Offer your heartfelt obeisances, bring food preparations, offer flowers, and always chant the holy names. Do this in the morning and evening, and enhance the process by including your friends and family. The spiritual master recommends these practices so that the position as spirit soul can be truly known. The spirit soul is subordinate to the Supreme Soul, and through devotional service that position is better understood. And only in the state of humility is there true happiness, as full surrender to God is the constitutional position. Through theoretical and practical knowledge the constitutional position can be reawakened and remain in a secure state.
Accepting high theory I’m fine,
And I’ll continue on present line.
Spirit soul is identity I understand,
Karma to decide where I will land.
But for meaning to principles to accept,
Towards better path must direct.
Spiritual master this path shows,
Theoretical and practical he knows.
Worship the deity day and night,
In practice reveal transcendental light.