“Man can go on speculating for several millions of years, and if he is not devoted, if he is not a lover of the Supreme Truth, he will never understand Krishna or the Supreme Truth. Only by devotional service is the Supreme Truth, Krishna, pleased, and by His inconceivable energy He can reveal Himself to the heart of the pure devotee.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.11 Purport)
In the job marketplace, experience typically equates to knowledge. Experience is also used as justification for a higher salary. After all, if a person has been doing a job for many years, they should be better at it than someone who doesn’t have as much experience. The person who has studied a subject matter for many years gets respect. They may appear on a documentary with the “expert” title appended to their name.
It makes sense to give someone this level of respect. If I have not spent many years researching a particular topic, I obviously won’t know as much about it as someone who has. From time alone, they have been exposed to different viewpoints, to the important aspects of the topic. Though time gets you respect in this way in the material world, in spiritual life even millions of years of research can lead you right back where you started: ignorance.
The reason is that the objective in spiritual life is to understand someone who is impossible to know through the senses. If I’m studying history, I’m basically learning about events that took place. Just from answering the questions of who, what, where, when, why and how, I can pretty much get the full picture of what happened at a particular point in time. If science is my area of expertise, I have instruments to use for conducting experiments; doing measurements, making hypotheses and the like. If I am an expert at using a specific technology, I can prove my worth through exercises.
There is a Sanskrit word in the Vedas that describes God as being beyond measurements. The word is Adhokshaja. By definition this means that a person cannot be an expert on the topic of God using only research. For starters there is the issue of time. It is infinite in both directions. Not everything about time has been recorded. Moreover, the human brain is not capable of storing all of the information necessary to get a grasp. Even if it were, there is the issue of processing. If you’re an expert on the American Revolution, you need to only study several decades of events at most. If you’re an expert on Adhokshaja, you’d have to study millions and millions of years.
Even then you wouldn’t know Him. He is beyond the senses. He is greater than time and space, which are both infinite. You can speculate about Him for as long as you want, but you’ll never come to know Him in truth that way. You may realize bits and pieces about Him, such as the fact that He exists and that He is the origin of everything. You may even realize that every living being is part and parcel of Him, belonging to a singular, undivided spiritual energy.
bhāvam avyayam īkṣate
taj jñānaṁ viddhi sāttvikam
“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.20)
Still, the only way to know Him in truth is through devotional service. The reason is that only in devotion does the Supreme Lord offer help. With speculation there is a hint of envy. The living being is trying to proudly understand the Almighty on their own. If they can successfully do so, their false ego will become even more inflated. They will think that they have conquered the unconquerable.
This challenging attitude is the reason for birth in the material world. It is sad to admit, but at some point in the past we wanted to compete with the Supreme Lord. We wanted to be like Him in the areas of creation, maintenance and destruction. Because of that attitude we fell to the material world, where we live at present. If we have trouble believing this, we can look to the limited popularity of genuine spiritual life for evidence. As long as one continues to stay away from devotional service, they will remain in the material world.
aham ajñāna-jaṁ tamaḥ
“Out of compassion for them, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.11)
Remaining here means not being able to understand God. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna says that He helps those who want to come to Him. Those who engage in devotion get help from within through the Supersoul. This is Krishna’s expansion that resides within the heart of every living thing. They also get help from the outside. This comes from the spiritual master, who is the bona fide representative of Adhokshaja.
The person helping on the outside shines the light on the path of devotion. They reveal that the Supreme can never be understood through mental speculation alone. In mental speculation, the illusory energy known as maya continues to act. Where there is maya there cannot be complete knowledge of the person who is not maya, i.e. Krishna. In bhakti-yoga, there is a sincere desire to love and serve God, who kindly obliges by helping the devotee understand Him. The person who knows Krishna has nothing else to learn, which makes bhakti-yoga the superior path to tread in life.
With speculation alone time to fill,
A hint of envy there is still.
Thus in this path no way to know,
Despite years of pondering so.
Only when in devotional path setting,
Then help from guru and God getting.
Knowledge for bhakta needed no more,
Krishna saving from speculation’s tour.