“Every living entity within this material world is subject to four deficiencies: he commits mistakes, he accepts one thing for another, he cheats, and he has imperfect senses. The Vedas, however, are not written by any living creature within this material world. Therefore they are said to be apaurusheya. No one can trace out the history of the Vedas.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.2.31 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
One of the more interesting revelations from Vedic literature is the listing of four defects that are inherent to every human being. We know some already from the journey through life. There is the saying: “To err is human,” which is basically saying that man makes mistakes. No one is perfect. Even someone you respect very much, they can let you down. Even the most honest person has told a lie at some point in their lives.
One of the four defects listed in the Vedas is that man commits mistakes. This is essentially the same as saying that man is error-prone. When watching a baseball game, certain plays are routine. If there is a groundball hit to third base, there is the expectation of an out. But sometimes the fielder bobbles the ball or their throw is offline. In the official scoring of the game, the play goes down as an error. There is a record of errors to show just how imperfect a player is.
If every person commits mistakes, then how do we get perfect knowledge? This is a valid concern, for we know that we can’t figure out everything on our own. I know that it takes the combination of a man and a woman to create life, but I’m not exactly sure how that happened with my birth. It was me who lived in the womb and then emerged from it, but I don’t remember the experience. I have to take it on the authority of the mother and father that it happened.
I know who their parents are, and maybe a few generations before, but who are the original parents? Who is the origin of everything? If even my parents make mistakes, who is to say that others in the past did not do the same? This original person is God, the Almighty, but how am I to know about Him if I must accept authority?
For starters, there is faith extended no matter which path is chosen in life. I have to trust others in order to survive. There is no other way. The idea is to extend faith to the right people. With the origin of everything, His attributes, qualities, and tendencies are described in sacred books. The original works are known as the Vedas. The word “original” here is for our understanding only, giving a point in time relative to something else. They are original in the sense that no other books came before them.
Still, we can’t trace out an original date of composition. This is because the concept of “original” is absent as it relates to God. He is the beginning of the beginning, but there is a beginning even before that. He is both beginning-less and endless. The works that describe Him inherit the same properties.
How can we trust that the Vedas don’t have a date of inception? We have to extend faith to the beings empowered by God. If viewed as living entities roaming through life just like us, then these authorities are certainly fallible. They commit mistakes, have imperfect senses, get easily illusioned and also cheat from time to time. When they take up devotional service, however, everything changes. The nature of the activities is perfect. They would never refer to themselves as flawless, but they know that their teacher was. They know that the teachings they forward to others are perfect as well.
The original teacher is God, who is known as Achyuta. This word means that He never falls down. He does not have any of the four defects. He is the infallible one. It is impossible for the fallible to know the infallible without the help of the infallible. The factual history and philosophy that is the Bhagavad-gita perfectly symbolizes this. The distressed warrior Arjuna wants to know what to do in a particular situation, but he’s really asking about the meaning of life and how it should be lived.
His questions are answered by Shri Krishna, who is Achyuta in the original, spiritual form. Krishna helps Arjuna understand Him. Krishna explains that He is the origin of the disciplic succession, that both material and spiritual worlds emanate from Him. Krishna creates, maintains and annihilates. Millennium after millennium He appears in the manifest world in His own transcendental form.
It is impossible for the fallible to understand these things through speculation alone. Krishna gives hope to others who wouldn’t be favored by His direct audience. He recommends approaching someone who has seen the truth, a bona fide spiritual master. Such a person can explain the same concepts because they have seen the transcendental light themselves. Those who are helped by Achyuta go on to help others, conquering over the four defects through the aid of the all-perfect one.
Since every being fallible,
Needing help from the infallible.
From Him knowledge descends,
On His word a wise soul depends.
Then to others passing on,
Meant to be contemplated upon.
Extend faith in the beginning some,
And from Achyuta ever wise become.