Our colleges and universities have
neglected the essential subject.
In the Ninth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (9.34) Lord Krsna explains that the most confidential of all knowledge culminates in the activities of devotional service:
"Engage your mind always in thinking of Me and become My devotee. Offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me."
Who is Krsna that absorption in thought of Him is the most confidential knowledge? The Bhagavad-gita, and indeed all the Vedic literatures, answer: Krsna is the Supreme Person. The Brahma-samhita (5.1) states,
"The supreme controller is Krsna. He has an eternal, blissful, all-cognizant spiritual body. He is without beginning, He is the origin of everything, and He is the cause of all causes."
As living entities we are each part and parcel of Krsna and therefore eternally connected with Him. Thus our most intimate, most confidential relationship is our relationship with the Supreme Lord.
For most people who profess some religion, an intimate relationship with God is a vague idea at best. They worship God only as the supreme father and the supplier of necessities. And in this age many people do not even believe in God, what to speak of being aware of their confidential relationship with Him. They say that God is dead or that He is merely a product of man's imagination. Or they say that belief in a Supreme Person is a superstition of primitive cultures. Just to clear up these and other misconceptions, Lord Krsna spoke the Gita to His friend and disciple Arjuna.
Arjuna knew Krsna to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore he accepted Krsna's every word as fact. To understand the Gita we should follow in Arjuna's footsteps and accept, at least theoretically, that Krsna is the supreme person, the supreme authority. One might object that this is blind faith. But there is no need of blind faith. We can remain aloof and think, "Let me theoretically accept that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate authority. Then what are the implications of His instructions in the Bhagavad-gita?"
The Gita itself recommends this process of understanding. When we purchase some prescription medicine, a label on the bottle tells us how to take it. "Two pills every four hours:' the label might read. If we take two pills every eight hours, the medicine will be ineffective, and if we take two every hour, the overdose may make our illness worse. Similarly, in the Bhagavad-gita (4.3) we learn of Arjuna's qualifications for understanding Krsna's instructions:
"That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as my friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science."
This is the Gita's "label," so to speak, and if we study it in this way, accepting Krsna as the supreme authority, as Arjuna did, then our study becomes very rewarding. Just as we confide only in someone we can trust, Krsna reveals the confidential meaning of the Gita only to those who approach Him with a devotional mood.
In the Second Chapter of the Gita Krsna elaborately explains the difference between the body and the self. Understanding of this difference understanding that "I am not this body" is the beginning of confidential knowledge.
Krsna explains that although the body changes from childhood to youth to old age, the person within the body does not change. A grown man can remember his childhood body, although it is long gone. Who is remembering? The person within the body the self, or soul. We customarily say "my hand," "my leg," or "my mind," indicating that these are our possessions; they are not we ourselves. Similarly, we can say "my body," indicating that we are not the body but that it belongs to us, to the living soul within it.
The body is like an automobile, which requires an intelligent person to drive it. A car is simply a pile of inert metal, rubber, glass, and so on, and without a driver it remains parked at the side of the road. Only with an intelligent driver at the wheel does it move from place to place. No one but a fool would think the car is moving by itself. Similarly, the body is only a lump of dead matter that appears alive and active only as long as the living entity, the self, is present within it. When the individual living soul leaves the body, the body dies. But, says the Gita (2.20), for the self there is no death:
"For the soul there is never birth or death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain."
The body has a beginning and an end; but we, the spirit soul within each body, are eternal. This is the beginning of confidential knowledge: to understand our eternal identity apart from the body.
As mentioned above, confidential knowledge culminates in absorption in thinking about Krsna and serving Him. In the Bhagavad-gita (9.2) Lord Krsna calls this the "king of education." Real education begins with understanding the difference between the body and the self, or soul, and ends with our full surrender to the Supreme Soul, Lord Sri Krsna. Unfortunately, modern educational institutions almost completely neglect these topics.
No modern educational institution has a department for understanding the difference between' the body and the self. Institutions of higher learning are interested in the sciences of physics, chemistry, sociology, psychology, politics, astronomy, anthropology, and so on, which focus exclusively on the body and its extensions but neglect the spirit soul. But of what relevance are these sciences to a dead body? A dead body takes no interest in them, nor can any scientist revive the body. These sciences are valuable only when the body is alive, and the life within the body depends on the presence of the soul. Therefore the science of the soul is the most important science, the "king of education."
When a body passes from life to death, something has radically changed. What, exactly, is missing in the dead body? Is it a certain chemical? A certain atomic or subatomic particle? If so, then what is that chemical or particle? Even if we deny the existence of an eternal soul, our educational interest should still focus on finding that element within the body which causes the living symptoms. This is essential, for without life our education has no meaning.
Without knowing what life is, a person cannot properly say what he is. One may say, for example, "I am Mr. Bob Jones, a twenty-eight-year-old lawyer." But when the life leaves his body, we will say that Mr. Jones is "dead and gone" or that he has "passed away." Mr. Jones's dead body may still be lying in the casket, but we know that Mr. Jones himself is gone. One way or another, whether we are spirit souls or combinations of chemicals, when our body dies we will no longer be present. So to be in ignorance of the exact difference between a living body and a dead body is to be in ignorance of who we are.
As we have seen, the path of intellectual research through the various material sciences is limited and faulty. Indeed, after many thousands of years of this research, no one can say with assurance what life is. One school of thought may rise to prominence for some time, but in due course it is rejected and another school established. The intellectual skyline is always changing.
To call this change "progress" is misleading, for each school is in turn rejected as faulty, and therefore we are left with only a progression of mistakes. Two centuries ago no one had heard of Darwin or Freud, and two centuries from now they will be all but forgotten. Thus the path of material research is never safe or certain.
We must conclude, therefore, that our present research tools are themselves inadequate for finding out the nature and origin of life. If life originated in chemicals, we could find its source in the chemical laboratory. And if life and consciousness were a function of our mental activity, we could fully explain them by psychology. But since the origin of life and consciousness is the eternal spirit soul, who is beyond the material body and mind, our material sciences have not succeeded and never will succeed in reaching satisfactory conclusions in this field. The Bhagavad-gita therefore proclaims that after many lifetimes spent pursuing knowledge on the path of intellectual research, an intelligent man at last surrenders to Krsna and accepts the path of devotional service.
Being a spiritual process, devotional service is the proper context in which to study life and consciousness. As spirit souls we are part and parcel of Krsna, the Supreme Soul, just as the hand is part and parcel of the body. The hand's natural position is to serve the body by supplying food to the stomach. Then both the hand and the body as a whole are nourished. The hand cannot directly benefit from the food; it can get nourishment and energy only by feeding the stomach. Similarly, if we satisfy Krsna by our service, we ourselves will automatically feel satisfied.
To experience this satisfaction directly, we must engage in devotional service to Krsna. There are nine methods of devotional service: hearing about Krsna, chanting His glories, remembering Him, serving Him, praying to Him, worshiping Him, befriending Him, carrying out His orders, and surrendering everything to Him. By executing even one of these processes, we begin to reestablish our relationship with the Supreme Lord. For example, we can hear Krsna's own words from the Bhagavad-gita, and we can hear about Krsna from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (the foremost of the Vedic literatures known as Puranas, ancient histories). Then we can discuss what we have heard, and we can also chant the names of God: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Ram-a, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By hearing and chanting in this way we can reawaken our remembrance of Krsna, and as our knowledge of God develops we will want to render service by worshiping, carrying out His orders, and so on. We can also cook for Krsna. Devotees offer sumptuous vegetarian dishes to Krsna, as. He Himself requests in the Gita (9.27): "If one offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it." After offering the dishes to Krsna, the devotees partake of the delicious remnants, which are called krsna-prasada (the Lord's mercy). All these activities are easily and joyfully performed.
This is spiritual education, and we can directly perceive and judge the results. In an ordinary university the student requires periodic examinations to confirm that he's learning something. Otherwise, he might doubt that he is getting an education or others might doubt it. But in the spiritual education of devotional service, we directly perceive our advancement. When a hungry man eats a hearty meal, he feels satisfaction directly; he doesn't need anyone to tell him he's satisfied. Similarly, we don't need diplomas to confirm that we're getting a spiritual education, because the outcome of a spiritual education is that one becomes happy and satisfied in every way. This is the result of pleasing Krsna with our service. Anyone who participates in the activities of devotional service feels transcendental pleasure. The purpose of the centers of Krsna consciousness in cities and towns around the world is to give people an opportunity to culture the most confidential knowledge and participate in this happiness of serving Krsna.
A look at the worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness