“To know matters beyond one’s perception, one has to learn from a superior authority in the line of disciplic succession. Just to know who is our father is beyond our perception. For that, the mother is the authority. Similarly, we have to understand everything beyond our perception from the authority who actually knows.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.20.9 Purport)
For the longest time, lightning was not understood. So many took it to be the revenge of the gods, a way to terrorize people into submitting to the divine will, however that “will” may have been defined. Then a curious printer, who happened later on to also be known as an inventor and statesmen, decided to test his hypothesis that lightning was indeed electricity, just a form of it delivered from the clouds. With his proposed experiments tested at both home and abroad, the conclusion was reached: lightning is electricity.
This helped to demystify something that was beyond perception. At the time, who could actually travel up that far and look into the clouds? Moreover, if you could reach the dangerous clouds filled with lightning, what were you going to be able to perceive? Nevertheless, the correlation between lightning and electricity still doesn’t explain where the power comes from. Man is lacking knowledge of what powers up the human being itself.
Let’s consider the household appliances. We know that they have on/off switches. You flip the switch up, the power turns on. You do the opposite, the power goes off. Thus it is the power which gives life to the appliance; it is the light inside, so to speak. That power comes from somewhere. Maybe it comes from a battery, a device which gets its name from the same printer who famously experimented with electricity and lightning. Maybe it comes from an electrical socket. That socket then gets energy from a power source, which generates power in a variety of ways.
Still, eventually you reach a point where the perception stops, as it does with the study of the human being. We can be looking at someone one moment, admiring them for who they are, and the next moment that same person, with the exact same physical appearance, is no longer alive. Something has obviously left them; the vital power source is no longer present. Someone has turned the switch off. But who and why? We know that there was an animating force, but where did it come from?
And so we come to the word adhokshaja, which means “beyond the range of the perception of the senses.” This word is a name for God in the Vedic tradition. From this one word alone, we already know so much about God. We know that we can’t ever really know Him. This is our limitation, not His. We can’t see so much with our senses. We needed an experiment to test lightning’s relation to electricity. We couldn’t figure that out just by seeing the lightning. We needed guesses to understand that the sun rises and sets at regular intervals. If we had perfect ability in perception, we could have figured that out immediately.
If we have limited sense perception, how do we know that God is adhokshaja? Did someone perceive this? Actually, the information is passed on from authority sources. This method of acquiring knowledge is known as the descending process. Find someone who has the information and then travel upwards along the chain of transfer until you reach the original authority source. That person is God Himself; and so that which is passed down is flawless; it is truth.
We already accept the descending process in other areas. We believe the experiments that took place with the kite and lightning in Philadelphia in the 18th century because of the accounts of it passed on. We weren’t there. We can’t witness that event right now. We only know of it through the descending process.
Unfortunately, the ascending process is the one most often employed when trying to understand what animates the soul. This leaves the hopes for understanding God to accumulated knowledge through scientific deduction, which can never reach the person who is beyond the range of measurement of any instrument.
In fact, through the descending process alone can He be known to some degree. And just a little knowledge of Him is sufficient to bring felicity in life, which is the ultimate objective for everyone. Knowing that He is adhokshaja allows us to appreciate His creation much more. It allows us to marvel at His creative ability, His brilliant imagination, and His immeasurable potency. Moreover, it can give us confidence in knowing that the immeasurable can certainly rescue any of us, who are puny in comparison to the giant whole.
“The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.29)
While our range of perception is limited, God’s is not. In the Bhagavad-gita, which is a flawless presentation of knowledge accessed through the descending process, He says that He is the enjoyer of all sacrifice and austerity, the supreme proprietor of all worlds, and the best friend of all living entities. Be virtuous for His sake. Be temperate in your eating and drinking to please Him. Know that He watches all that goes on, for He lives within everyone’s heart as the Supersoul. He cannot be seen in the heart, but He can be realized through following the instructions of those who appear in the line of succession that emanates from Him.
What we can see is the nature of the human being. We can do our own experiment, a before-and-after test as it relates to knowing God as adhokshaja. We can test to see whether chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” and hearing of the Supreme Lord and His divine sports has a positive influence. Does it make us better people? Does it give us more peace and calm? Does it remove our doubts as to our direction in life and what the afterlife will be like? Does it put us in a better situation than if we never knew of Him at all? The test has already been conducted and the results known to so many, but it is waiting to be repeated by many others, who with their limited perception can still know all that is needed to be known about the great unknown.
Since so limited is perception my,
Need tests to know lightning in sky.
To electricity it is the same,
But wherefrom it first came?
For unknown turn to God’s direction,
Who is beyond range of perception.
Just from this feature alone knowing,
Towards enlightenment swiftly going.