“Vedic knowledge is received from transcendental sources, and the first words were spoken by the Lord Himself. The words spoken by the Lord are different from words spoken by a person of the mundane world who is infected with four defects. A mundaner 1) is sure to commit mistakes, 2) is invariably illusioned, 3) has the tendency to cheat others and 4) is limited by imperfect senses.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)Download this episode (right click and save)
How can we trust anything that we hear? There is already the lying from politicians. They are expert at spin. As soon as a negative story breaks about their candidate, the campaign gets in gear to shape the narrative coming out. The safe tactic is to deflect; say something bad about the opposing campaign.
Politicians aren’t known to be trustworthy, but then even the media can lie. Reporters want access to the people in power, after all. It turns out through emails leaked on the internet that influential people in the media have been collaborating with politicians for a long time. The people on television telling you what happened in the world are anything but objective. They get their marching orders from the people they support in elections.
How, then, can we know for sure that there is a God? Can anyone be accepted as a trusted authority figure on the matter? Indeed, the push to understand the Divine through personal effort alone is condemned in Vedic teachings. The practice is known as mental speculation, and because of standard defects in man the result never meets the proper destination.
The politician and press examples already cover this. Everyone has this tendency to some degree. I cheat because I am not fully confident in my abilities. I don’t know the outcome to events. I try to influence them by going against the rules. Some people cheat more than others, but the tendency is there since birth. Even in playing sports, where the rules are equal and to be followed by everyone, there is always subtle cheating in the concealing of strategy. The coach doesn’t announce what he will try to do to earn victory; it is for the other team to figure out. The coach is hoping that they are slow to discover.
2. Commit mistakes
To err is human. I used to think a certain way about someone. I reached that conclusion based on limited interaction. It turns out I was wrong. I was way off, in fact. They are completely different than I originally thought. This means I made a mistake.
In Vedic teachings the example commonly cited is the rope. If a person can mistake a rope for a snake, how are they going to understand the Divine, who is the collection of every material object imaginable? He is more than that, in fact. Take everything spiritual, known as Brahman, and you still don’t have the complete understanding of God.
3. Imperfect senses
A handicapped person lacks a function of the body that is usually there. Perhaps they can’t see anymore. Maybe they have lost a hand. This makes the journey through life a little more difficult, but what’s not so easy to realize is that the senses themselves are imperfect.
We can use sight as an example. Even with so-called perfect vision, I can’t see through walls. I need a satellite feed on television to see what is going on miles away. I can hear only what is in the vicinity. There is a set range for the eyes, ears, nose, and tongue. Perfect vision is seeing everything. Perfect hearing is the ability to perceive sound in any part of the universe, at any time.
4. Easily illusioned
I mistake the rope for the snake. I think that consuming alcohol tonight will make me happy for a long time. I think that chasing after money, buying a new car, upgrading smartphones, or moving to a new city will solve all my problems. Worst of all, I think that this life is everything, that at the time of death everything finishes.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
Maya is the cause. She is the illusory energy that pervades the material world. It is the tendency in man to fall into the trap of maya. It takes effort to get out of illusion. Help is required from an external source.
5. The tendency to ignore God
The first four defects are the ones commonly described in Vedic literature. Working in concert, they keep man from serving God, which is the actual dharma, or essential characteristic. The default condition in a material birth is to ignore the Supreme Lord, to seek happiness separate from Him. Though He can never be separated from the individual, the isolation is in terms of consciousness.
Despite these defects, everything can turn around. There is the liberated soul in the spiritual master. The guru transcends the defects since they have undergone training under another liberated soul. In this way the teachers continue in a chain, known as disciplic succession.
The guru may not have perfect senses. They may have cheated at some point in their life. They may not know the answer to every question on a trivia game show, but they are perfect since they present the teachings of the Supreme Lord without deviation. They live sanatana-dharma by always serving the Almighty, who is originally a person. In the present age they rescue the struggling souls by bringing the Divine in an audible form, always chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Since obviously imperfect am I,
Failing when to learning God I try.
With these eyes what really to see?
Limited hearing also in me.
Tendency to cheat, the truth evading,
Illusioned by maya this world pervading.
From guru, rescuing source external,
Perfect since engaged in bhakti eternal.