“In three out of the four millenniums (namely Satya-yuga, Treta-yuga and Dvapara-yuga) people had the honor to be able to understand transcendence through the path of disciplic succession. However, in the present age, people have no interest in the disciplic succession. Instead, they have invented many paths of logic and argument. This individual attempt to understand the supreme transcendence (called the ascending process) is not approved by the Vedas. The Absolute Truth must descend from the absolute platform. He is not to be understood by the ascending process.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, Ch 18)
Friend1: The processes for knowledge gathering.
Friend1: Ascending and descending.
Friend2: Ah, yes. Pretty profound stuff. I had never heard of it prior to coming across the teachings of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Friend1: I always get the two mixed up.
Friend2: I used to in the beginning as well.
Friend1: For someone brand new to bhakti teachings, how would you explain it?
Friend2: Well, it’s more than just ascending and descending. The context is the important factor.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: We’re talking about gathering knowledge. As you know, no pun intended, knowledge can be about anything.
Friend2: So the ascending and descending processes pertain particularly to understanding the universe, our place in it, the origin, and who or what is maintaining everything.
Friend1: Right, definitely. So how would you explain?
Friend2: I like using examples. Picture this scenario. You and I are sitting in a room.
Friend1: What are we doing?
Friend2: Staring at a machine.
Friend1: What kind of machine?
Friend2: That’s just it. We have no idea. We have never seen it before.
Friend1: Alright. What do we do with it?
Friend2: No clue. We keep staring at it. It might be dangerous. We’re not even sure if there is an on/off button.
Friend1: Alright, but I’m confident that if we keep studying it we’ll have a better idea.
Friend2: Wow; so glad you gave that suggestion. That’s exactly what we do. We keep staring at it. We analyze it up and down, front and back. You come up with various guesses as to what it is. So do I.
Friend1: Also, how did it get there? How long will it remain?
Friend2: What is it supposed to do? Is it even a machine? Exactly. These are great questions.
Friend1: Then, what?
Friend2: Well, this sort of speculation is the ascending process of knowledge gathering. We’re taking information from past experience and trying to apply it to this new one. We’re using a series of pattern matching algorithms to make the identification, and you can only match to things you have seen before.
Friend1: Not only that, but you have to remember what you have seen. It’s like those puzzle games. There are tiles laid out in a series. You uncover one at a time to find pairs. You have to remember which tiles you uncovered previously in order to succeed.
Friend2: Exactly. It’s pattern matching, but our memory is not perfect. Another defect in the ascending process.
Friend1: So what is the example for the descending process?
Friend2: Same situation. You and I are sitting there, speculating about the machine. Then someone enters the room. They tell us exactly what the machine is. In fact, they built it. They are an authority figure on the machine.
Friend1: And that clears up the confusion. No reason to speculate anymore.
Friend2: We’re using an abstract machine here, but imagine shipping a laptop computer to an area of the world that has never seen one before. The people looking at it won’t know what it is. If you or I come to the scene and explain that the machine is a computer then there is complete knowledge. We demonstrate how to turn it on, input data, and run programs.
Friend1: I think I know already, but how do you make this analogous to spiritual life?
Friend2: We can go on speculating about what the world is. We see people come and go. We study fossil evidence of creatures who lived before our time. We see similarities. We know that there is a beginning to everything. We can speculate on and on, but this ascending process will never give us perfect knowledge.
Friend1: And the acharyas are the descending process?
Friend2: Exactly. The key is the source from which the knowledge descends. You go up the chain of teachers and eventually you reach the beginning-less one, anadi. He is also unlimited, or ananta. There are many names for Him spanning the different traditions of spirituality around the world. The Vedas give the wonderful name of Krishna, which means “all-attractive.”
Friend1: And He is not just some blue God of the Hindu faith.
Friend2: He is the definition to the abstract understanding. Even if you are the staunchest atheist, you still believe in an original source. The evolutionists say it is a single cell that then expanded through explosions. Even if we accept that mentally concocted theory, you can say that Krishna is that cell. He is the origin. The concept exists; just the understanding varies based on experience, or lack thereof.
Friend1: What kind of experience?
Friend2: Consulting the authorized disciplic succession, descending from Krishna Himself. This is explained in the Bhagavad-gita, where Krishna describes how the amazing teachings were actually presented at the beginning of the creation, to the sun-god. Arjuna was the chosen representative to restart the chain of succession. The acharyas pass on that knowledge to us, and if we are grateful we pass it on to others. Thus more and more people come out of the dark of mental speculation and into the light of true understanding of the individual, who is spirit soul.
Scene of two friends in room where,
At unknown object for hours to stare.
Speculating this way and that,
Not sure of identification exact.
Remaining in the dark still,
An authority figure coming until.
With spiritual life process the same,
Only through parampara the truth to gain.