Shastra and Guru

Lord Ganesha writing scripture “The forgetful conditioned soul is educated by Krishna through the Vedic literatures, the realized spiritual master and the Supersoul. Through these, he can understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead as He is, and he can understand that Lord Krishna is his eternal master and deliverer from the clutches of maya. In this way one can acquire real knowledge of his conditioned life and can come to understand how to attain liberation.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.123)

The differences between children and adults are many. Though our identity doesn’t change as we grow older, our consciousness and our level of intelligence certainly do evolve. Doing a quick study of the similarities and differences between adults and children can go a long way in teaching us about God and the meaning of life.

Baby Krishna A newborn child is the essence of innocence. After spending nine months in the womb, a newborn is exposed to the material world. At such time, most babies start to cry right away. It is not until they are settled in the arms of their mother that they start to feel safe. The first few months in a child’s life are very intriguing. An infant is completely helpless. It can’t walk, talk, move, or even eat on its own. It depends completely on the mercy of others. Normally, such a situation would be absolutely terrifying. As adults, we could never imagine a life like that. It would be complete torture. If we stop and think for a second, we realize that an infant will die if it is not helped by others. Left alone, it can do absolutely nothing except cry.

Now let’s take a look at the behavior of a child. Is it fearful? Does it constantly worry? Does it think to itself, “I can’t believe how horrible my life is. I’m incapable of doing anything. I have to wear a diaper and sleep in a crib all night, which looks very similar to a prison cell”? No. A baby is actually quite happy most of the time. Why is this? Because the parents and other family members are always around to provide protection. In most families, the arrival of a newborn is a joyous occasion. For the first few years, families huddle around the baby, looking for any chance they can get to spend time with the new member of the family. People love to carry the baby around, play with it, and do anything possible to get the baby to smile or laugh. Adults talk in strange ways when a baby is around, saying “Goo goo, gah gah” and so forth.

Lord Krishna with Mother Yashoda There is often competition between family members as to who they think the baby prefers the most. “Oh he likes me. He doesn’t cry when I hold him. Everyone else is mean to him, but I know how to take care of the little guy.” Sometimes, older siblings can get jealous over the attention a newborn receives. With all this love and attention, why shouldn’t a child be happy? Such a tiny fellow becomes the master of the house. Though an infant is completely helpless, it is the other family members who become servants of the child. This is all the result of pure love. Love is an emotion people feel at all stages of life. Love is even found in the animal community, so it shouldn’t surprise us that a baby can inherently understand that it is loved by the family members. Thus for the child, there is no need to worry. Just play all day long. If there are any problems, just cry a little and someone will come to help. In fact, one of the biggest problems parents face is spoiling their children. It is the natural inclination of caretakers to try everything possible to keep the baby from crying. But if the baby always gets what it wants, it will quickly become spoiled and thus have a tougher time adjusting to adult life.

The joys of childhood should continue into adult life. The Vedas tell us that it is the natural disposition of the spirit soul to be joyful and full of knowledge. This is because spirit souls are actually expansions of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Qualitatively, we are the same as God, but quantitatively we are very different. Since we are His expansions, He will always be superior to us. Nevertheless, God is described as having a body which is eternally blissful and full of knowledge, sach-chid-ananda vigraha. This is the true nature of spirit. Since we are spirit souls, it is our nature to be happy all the time too. However, material life is the antithesis of spiritual life. This world is both temporary and miserable.

The main source of this misery is our forgetfulness of the relationship we have with God. This relationship is a loving one, where God is the master, and we are His servants. The human form of life is considered unique in that we have the ability to rekindle this lost relationship. The human beings are the most intelligent species. Extra brain power was given to us for a reason, that being to know and understand God. This knowledge then leads to the reawaking of the spiritual consciousness.

Lord Krishna Adults have every reason to be blissful. They can walk, talk, and move around on their own. They can learn how to drive and even get an education on their own. All this means that they have the ability to be completely self-sufficient. This equates to freedom in all areas of life; freedom to find a good job, a beautiful wife, and a nice home. Yet we see that adults are usually much more miserable than the innocent helpless infants. Fear takes over. The Vedas tell us that animal life means engaging in four activities: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Defending means fearing. Adults have a fear of losing everything. “What if I lose my job? Where will I live? How will I pay my bills? What if I don’t finish college? What will happen to me? What if my wife stops loving me? I can’t live without her. What if something happens to my children? They are my life and soul.” Most of all, adults fear death. Our heightened intelligence tells us that our current life is destined to end at some point. What happens after that is a great mystery.

Or is it? The reason a child is so happy is because it understands that the parents are there to provide complete protection from danger. The Vedas tell us that our parents are our first objects of worship. “Honor thy mother and father” as the famous commandment says. As our first teachers and protectors, our parents are worthy of the highest honor and respect from us children. When we become adults, this protection often goes away since we become self-sufficient. The Vedas tell us, however, to change our source of protection. Instead of relying on our parents for everything, adolescents and adults are advised to seek the protection of shastra and guru. Shastras are religious scriptures or, more generically, law codes. God knows that every human being is born into ignorance. Left on their own, people will inevitably fall prey to animalistic tendencies. The source of our fears is our ignorance of the knowledge found in the shastras. The scriptures tell us that the spirit soul is eternal. It is never goes through birth nor death.

“Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all. O descendant of Bharata, he who dwells in the body is eternal and can never be slain. Therefore you need not grieve for any creature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.29-30)

Guru and shastra The shastras represent eternal truths. Veda means knowledge, so the original Vedas passed down by God represent the highest form of truth and wisdom. Yet understanding the shastras isn’t very easy. Man is prone to four defects: the propensity to cheat, to be easily illusioned, to have imperfect senses, and to commit mistakes. These four defects manifest in different ways but they all serve as stumbling blocks to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. These defects make it harder to understand the shastras. Therefore God, in His incarnation as Vyasadeva, expounded on the truths of the original Veda by dividing them into four separate sections, collectively known as the Vedas. He went even further by chronicling various historical events relating to God into books known as the Puranas. Still not satisfied, he went even further by writing the famous Vedanta-sutras, a collection of aphorisms aimed to please the jnanis, or those seeking knowledge through mental speculation and high philosophy.

Even with this huge library of Vedic wisdom, we see that man has difficulty in understanding the concepts on their own. A classic example of this can be seen with the Bhagavad-gita. The Gita is the “Song of God” since it was sung by Lord Krishna, God Himself, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. Though only a very small chapter in a much larger book, the Mahabharata, the Gita contains the essence of Vedic knowledge. Krishna describes the difference between matter and spirit, and the nature of the soul. Nevertheless, the conclusion of the Gita, and also its ultimate teaching, is that mankind should simply surrender unto God, become His devotee, and thus become free of all sinful reactions and fears.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

This conclusion is simple enough to understand. It is clearly laid out. However, we see that many scholars and famous personalities have translated and commented on the Gita, and have completely missed the mark. This is because their study of this famous text was done without the help of a bona fide guru. Along with shastra comes guru, or the spiritual master. Our parents provide the initial education, but then it is the guru’s job to take us the rest of the way. The bona fide spiritual master is a pure devotee of Lord Krishna. He has learned the truth from his spiritual master. Not only has he heard about the truth, but he has realized it through the practice of devotional service. Being a pure bhakta, he is capable of teaching others.

Shrila Prabhupada With the help of a guru, we are able to understand the shastras. The essential teaching of the Vedas is that we should become devotees of Lord Krishna, or one of His direct expansions (vishnu-tattva), and that this surrender will give us eternal peace and happiness. A guru we can all approach is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He elaborately described the essence of the Gita and other famous Vedic texts in a clear and concise way in his books. Translated into several languages, Prabhupada’s teachings are easy to follow and completely in line with the injunctions of the shastras. His primary teaching was that we should all chant the Hare Krishna mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. Along with abstaining from meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication, this chanting routine is enough to provide all the protection one needs.

As spirit souls, we are meant to be happy. The joys of childhood are meant to continue into our adult life. By becoming devotees of Krishna, we can always rest assured knowing that He will protect us from all danger. With the help of shastra and guru, peace on earth can become a reality.

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