Truth by Negation

Radha Krishna “The whole process of spiritual culture is aimed at changing the heart of the living being in the matter of his eternal relation with the Supreme Lord as subordinate servant, which is his eternal constitutional position.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.24 Purport)

Question: “The Vedas declare that man has imperfect senses and a tendency to commit mistakes. That being the case, how can we accept the Vedic texts themselves as fact? How can we accept Krishna as God when no one has actually seen Him? How can the Vedic texts be authoritative when they were written by flawed human beings?”

Answer: The existence of many different religions poses one of the biggest hurdles towards advancing in spiritual life. Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. all have their own doctrines, and proponents of each of these faiths claim that their scriptures are authoritative. Great theologians and scholars have studied these scriptures and found many similarities in them. This often leads to the conclusion that God must be man-made, and that these religions are just systems created by people to help alleviate their pains. This type of thinking may seem logical, but a quick study of the Vedas helps us realize the actual truth of the matter.

Lord Krishna It is a widely accepted fact that Sanskrit is the oldest language in the world. Emanating from India, Sanskrit is also known as the language of the gods, for all the great Vedic texts are written in this language. In the Vedic tradition, Lord Krishna is declared as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is described as such because there are many forms of Godhead. Krishna Himself expands into multitudinous forms, the primary of which is Lord Vishnu. According to Vedic information, Lord Vishnu simply exhales to produce millions of universes. The first created living entity, Lord Brahma, takes birth from Lord Vishnu’s lotus-like navel. Vedic information is then imparted into the heart of Lord Brahma, who then passes it down to future generations.

A summary version of this information is contained in the Bhagavad-gita, also known as the Song of God. Spoken on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago by Lord Krishna Himself, it is the most widely read and well-known book of the Vedic tradition. Lord Krishna says that He first spoke the Bhagavad-gita to the sun-god, Vivasvan, at the beginning of creation, and that the same knowledge was then passed down from generation to generation. Somehow or other, the chain of disciplic succession was broken, so Krishna Himself came to earth to reinstitute it. Delivering the Bhagavad-gita to His disciple, cousin, and dear friend, Arjuna, the Lord created a new parampara system.

All the great Vaishnava acharyas of today trace their spiritual lineage back to the beginning of creation. The four major Vaishnava sampradayas in existence today link back to a famous acharya of recent times. Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, and Vishnuswami were great saints who appeared in India during the first and second millenniums. All bona fide saints of today trace their lineage back to one of these four acharyas. These four men then also have their own spiritual links. Ramanuja traces his lineage back to Shri, or Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Vishnu. Nimbarka traces his lineage back to the four Kumaras, Madhva to Lord Brahma, and Vishnuswami to Lord Shiva. This is all described in the Padma Purana, an ancient Vedic text written by Vyasadeva, and incarnation of Krishna who authored the majority of Vedic literature, including the Bhagavad-gita.

Lord Brahma So we see that the Vedic teachers of today base their credentials off the prior acharyas of their line. One may be skeptical of such claims however. “How do we know that Madhva’s lineage traces back to Lord Brahma? We’ve never seen Madhvacharya or Lord Brahma. These could easily be two fictitious characters. After all, the Vedas tell us that man has imperfect senses. Thus the people that wrote the Vedic texts could easily have just been making it up.” This is the way of proving facts through negation. This method proves very useful in logic and argument. Using only negation, one can easily pick up apart any argument. In fact, the entire legal profession is built around this principle. Arguments heard before the Supreme Court are built around negation. One side claims authority based on the written law and case precedent, and the other side tries to discredit the previous case law and also tries to use negation to prove that the written law actually means something other than what the text actually says.

“The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, O Arjuna. Be transcendental to all of them. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.45)

The Vedas themselves use negation to describe the Absolute Truth. The words “neti neti” meaning “the Absolute Truth is not this and not that” are found throughout Vedic literature. People mistakenly conclude that this means that God doesn’t exist or that He is impersonal, but in fact, neti neti means that God is not of this material world. Regardless, negation techniques certainly do have their place. The Vedas themselves tell us that this material world is full of dualities. What one person may consider to be good, another person may consider to be bad. This is why Lord Krishna advises us to rise above the three modes of material nature and to associate with the divine nature instead.

“Almost anyone expert in studying grammar interprets the shastras in many ways by changing the root meanings of their words. A student of grammar can sometimes completely change the meaning of a sentence by juggling grammatical rules.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 16.32 Purport)

Lord Chaitanya In His incarnation as Lord Chaitanya some five hundred years ago, Lord Krishna openly discussed the folly of accepting and rejecting things on a material level. In His youth, Lord Chaitanya was actually known as Nimai Pandita due to His great logical and thinking skills. He would regularly defeat His classmates in school by picking apart words and their meanings. He was an expert in the area of grammar, and He would even defeat the great scholars of India in debates. Later on in life, to teach the world the true meaning of life, the Lord took the renounced order of life and began spreading the sankirtana movement. He taught us that the only proper way to explain or interpret anything is through the prism of Krishna, or God. Lord Chaitanya famously put forth sixty-one different meanings to the famous atmarama verse found in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam. All these different meanings were put forth in the context of devotional service to God.

Krishna’s ultimate message is that through negation we can certainly understand that this material world is one full of dualities and that mundane arguments are useless. However, negation by itself has limits; something we can realize by studying our own lives. Even the greatest skeptics still show some inherent faith when living their lives. For example, most people know who their father is based on authoritative statements. The mother tells us that such and such a person is our father and we believe her. If we were to use negation, we could easily pick apart such a claim when speaking to others. “How do you know this person is your father? You have no memory of your birth. In fact, you can’t even be sure that this person is your mother. Sure, you can have pictures taken, but how do we know when those pictures were taken? You can have a paternity test done, but how do we know the results are accurate? The doctors certainly weren’t there when you were born. Even if they were, how do we know they are telling the truth? People lie. Actually, everyone lies. Therefore your claim that such and such a person is your father cannot be accepted.”

Krishna and Arjuna This same technique of proof by negation can be used in any area of life. If we were all to use this technique to disprove everything, none of us would take any action. Instead, we choose to have trust and faith in other people and things. When we are driving and we pass through an intersection with a green light, we are inherently trusting the other drivers to stop and adhere to their red light. When we step outside of our home, we are putting trust in others that they will not shoot us or attack us as we walk to our car. These are just small examples, but it is undoubtedly true that trust and faith are central components of our daily lives.

“Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.63)

Since we need to trust others in order to pursue happiness, we should also invest a similar level of trust and faith in the statements made by the great Vaishnava saints. This isn’t to say that we should just blindly accept every statement of the Bhagavad-gita and become followers right away. The Vedas must be studied as a whole, digested by the mind and contemplated on. At the end of His teachings to Arjuna, Krishna put the onus on Arjuna as to what should be done next. He never forced Arjuna to accept His teachings.

The Vedas make very bold statements that are bound to offend us. This is by design. Material life, governed by maya, sinks deep into our psyche and mindset. Spiritual life is the antithesis of material life, so the Vedas try to hit us with cold, hard facts about the soul and the folly of its association with material nature. It’s okay to be a little confrontational or skeptical at the beginning, but eventually one must have faith in the spiritual master and the words of the Vedas if they are to make advancement. In fact, the great devotees of the past didn’t all start off as followers of the Vedic tradition from the very beginning of their life. In the infant stage of life, human beings are no different than animals. It takes civility and proper education before one can be called intelligent. In a similar regard, it takes faith and dedication before one starts to realize the Vedic teachings and really understand their meanings.

Valmiki The key is to humbly submit ourselves to a devotee of Krishna and have full faith in their teachings. The famous Valmiki Muni was a dacoit in his early life. He had the good fortune of meeting Narada Muni, a saint and pure devotee of Krishna. Following His advice, Valmiki performed tapasya and was eventually rewarded with great devotion to Lord Rama. His knowledge was so advanced that he wrote the famous Ramayana describing the life and pastimes of Lord Rama.

Radha KrishnaWe actually have nothing to lose by putting our faith in the words of the Vedas. Most of us already put faith in ordinary human beings. Millions of people put their faith and trust in leaders such as Lenin and Hitler, and the results were disastrous. Putting our faith in the Vedas and the devotees of Krishna can never cause us harm. One of the greatest devotees of Krishna of the recent past, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, simply requested everyone to chant the maha-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. In conjunction with this chanting routine, he advised everyone to abstain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex. These regulations aren’t very difficult to follow. There is no loss incurred to those who abide by such regulations. At the very least, it instills discipline and regulation in one’s life, something which is required for success in any venture.

“On taking such a birth (in a high family), he (the unsuccessful yogi) again revives the divine consciousness of his previous life, and he tries to make further progress in order to achieve complete success, O son of Kuru.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.43)

There is no requirement that one must adhere to the teachings of the Vedas. It is completely optional. Mundane logic and negation can certainly help us reach conclusions, but it will never bring us to Krishna. This is because devotional service is a way of life and not a math problem. People are advised to see this for themselves. One can try chanting and following the regulative principles for some time and see where it leads them.

“By gradual development of Krishna consciousness in good association, the living entity can understand that due to forgetfulness of Krishna he has become conditioned by the laws of material nature. He can also understand that this human form of life is an opportunity to regain Krishna consciousness and that it should be fully utilized to attain the causeless mercy of the Supreme Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 7.30 Purport)

Slowly but surely, those who engage themselves in devotional service have all Vedic knowledge revealed to them. The very same statements which offended us previously, end up making the most sense. This is the magic of God. One who regularly stays connected with Krishna, will very quickly be granted a set of eyes with which to see Him. The pure love exchanged between the Lord and His devotees is a thing of beauty and something that can never be checked or negated.

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