“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)Download this episode (right click and save)
You’re dumbfounded. This is a person you respect. They are able to do things that are well beyond your abilities. They went to one of the most prestigious universities in the world. They received a full scholarship. No one has ever doubted their intelligence.
Yet on this particular topic, relating to the functioning of the government, they are totally clueless. You absolutely know way more than them. Their colleagues are just as in the dark. They accept whatever the biased press feeds them. When you question them on legislation that has passed, on the motivations of certain politicians, on the lies that have been told, they have no idea of what you speak.
This calls for a reevaluation. Who is actually smart? Have you been wrong this entire time? Knowledge in Sanskrit is known as jnana, and it plays an important role in spiritual life. The Vedas describe the most important things to know, giving the real definition of intelligence. Indeed, every human being has intelligence to some degree, as it is a subtle material element, covering the spotless individual within.
1. Knowing about death
The Ivy League educated person most likely knows that they are going to die, but knowledge in this area is about realization. Facts are one thing. I can study a certain subject matter, memorize the key points, and then pass an examination on the material. This doesn’t mean that I have assimilated the knowledge, though.
In Sanskrit there are two corresponding terms of relevance for this discussion. Jnana and vijnana. Jnana is theoretical knowledge, like studying facts, figures and principles. Vijnana is the practical realization, something like being able to carry out experiments on the principles studied.
The smart person has vijnana about death. They know that life does not go on forever. They are consciously aware of the past deaths of everything that has been born. They use this knowledge to direct their thoughts and activities in a certain direction. They don’t act like the animals, who are clueless in this area.
2. Knowing the three modes of nature
The acknowledged smart person might be a scientist. They may study the nature around them and develop theories as to how things work. They may even describe to everyone in certainty what the conditions on earth were like billions of years ago.
But unless they know about the three modes of material nature, they are essentially clueless. They will think that the individual is the sole doer. Whatever I want to happen will take place. Your average person on the street, taking a minute to think, realizes that this is not the case. Not everyone who wants to get up in the morning is able to do so.
The living entity is not the doer. Shri Krishna explains this in the Bhagavad-gita. The three modes of material nature must cooperate first. They are goodness, passion and ignorance. These modes influence body types, activities, and even religious activities.
3. Knowing the nature of happiness and distress
Sukha and duhkha. These are happiness and distress. They come and go like the winter and summer seasons. Shri Krishna says that the wise person should not be disturbed by them.
“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
Does the smart person in society understand this? Are they level-headed? Or do they get overly distressed at the loss of life? Do they remain sad when things don’t go their way? Are they overly excited as a result of an achievement?
As death is the guaranteed end for everyone, it means that no situation remains permanently. Just like the seasons themselves, happiness and distress come and go. The truly wise person understands this and thus remains sober in mind.
4. Knowing that there is an afterlife
This was an issue that often left His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada baffled. After talking with respected leaders in society, some who were considered to be very smart, the swami would come to learn that they didn’t believe in the afterlife. After all, from his own experience, even simple villagers in his country understood that the soul continues in its existence. It is in an always changing body.
“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)
If a person thinks that everything finishes at death, they are a fool. It is as simple as that. Life comes from life, and the souls entering this world in a tiny form have arrived from a previous lifetime. Proof of reincarnation is there in the already changing body. We no longer have the form of an infant, but we are still alive today. In the same way, we will continue to exist in some form after this body is completely discarded.
5. Knowing the difference between matter and spirit
The first instruction to aspiring transcendentalists in the Vedic tradition is the difference between matter and spirit. The identity of the individual is spirit. We are all tiny fragments. Take the tip of a piece of hair and divide it into ten thousand parts. The size of the soul is something like one of those parts. Yet from something so tiny we have the miracle of life.
The body, on the other hand, is dull and lifeless. It is composed of gross and subtle elements, belonging to a combination of the three modes of nature. Real knowledge begins when a person understands this most important distinction. The end of knowledge, Vedanta, is understanding that there is a supreme spirit as well. He is knowledgeable, eternal and blissful, just like us, except to a much larger degree.
Indeed, knowledge is already within all of us. In the material world it simply manifests differently depending on the type of body received. Nevertheless, every person, young or old, man or woman, smart or less intelligent, is eligible to become fully spiritual in a single lifetime. That transformation starts with a little knowledge and ends with full devotional ecstasy in constant attachment to the Divine, who is all-attractive.
About the afterlife do they know,
And how to next body to go?
What about being the doer not?
Past failures many I’ve got.
Over good news elated,
And from sadness deflated?
Intelligent knowing soul from matter distinguished,
And in bhakti’s ecstasy reincarnation extinguished.