“The highest perfection of life is attained by remembering the transcendental nature of the Lord at the last moment of one’s life. This perfection of life is made possible by one who has learned the actual transcendental nature of the Lord from the Vedic hymns sung by a liberated soul like Shukadeva Gosvami or someone in that line of disciplic succession.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.18.4 Purport)
Friend1: To realize God, does a person have to be highly knowledgeable?
Friend2: God is so complex. No person can truly know Him. Still, He is so kind that if you are non-envious of Him and have attachment to Him, He will show the way to Him. He will let you understand Him, free of doubts. The Bhagavad-gita confirms this.
mayy āsakta-manāḥ pārtha
yogaṁ yuñjan mad-āśrayaḥ
asaṁśayaṁ samagraṁ māṁ
yathā jñāsyasi tac chṛṇu
“Now hear, O son of Pritha [Arjuna], how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.1)
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: Someone been badgering you about this? Saying that you’re not advancing enough in your devotional service?
Friend1: I hear that sometimes. I hear certain people belittled for only knowing the basics, like the difference between matter and spirit and that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Friend2: Those are the basics, but look at how valuable that knowledge is. How many people in the world understand that they are not their body? How many realize that the aim of the human form of life, actually of an existence period, is to feel the bliss of surrender to the Divine, who is a distinct individual with transcendental features, meant to be contemplated, remembered, glorified, honored and discussed with like-minded individuals?
Friend1: Wow. You’ve said a handful right there. The argument I hear is that if you stay on the lower level, you won’t come to perfection in this lifetime. You’ll have to take birth again.
Friend2: What is the solution, then? You have to know the advanced details about bhakti-yoga, the different kinds like vaidhi and raganuga? Only if you can remember and discuss the Supreme Lord’s intimate pastimes in the sacred land of Vraja can you get liberation in this very lifetime?
Friend1: Right, that’s basically what I hear from certain people. I’m assuming you don’t agree.
Friend2: I’m not an advanced scholar or anything. All I know is what Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita. He says to think of Him at the time of death. Then that person will attain Him. I know the pastimes of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. I don’t recall Him once telling a person who was considered simple on the outside that their devotion wasn’t advanced enough. Indeed, there was the famous incident with the illiterate person reading the Bhagavad-gita.
Friend1: What happened there?
Friend2: Mahaprabhu found out that the person kept holding the book in his hands because it allowed him to recall Krishna and Arjuna and how Krishna was so kind to have taken the position of Arjuna’s chariot driver. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu blessed the person that their understanding of Bhagavad-gita was perfect.
Friend2: It wasn’t simply flattery to make the person feel better, either. The Supreme Lord is not like that. He looks for sincerity. He looks for genuineness. The topmost devotees, the gopis of Vrindavana, are simple village girls. They don’t speak on the high philosophy of Vedanta or advanced topics. They don’t even know what bhakti is. That is how advanced they are. Devotion to Krishna is their very existence.
Friend1: Okay, but I could see a counterargument here. If the advanced knowledge isn’t required, why is it there to begin with? Why did Lord Chaitanya instruct Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami to write so much detail about bhakti? Why have other acharyas following them, such as Jiva Gosvami, written so much?
Friend2: First of all, the writing process is itself bhakti. It is a way to swim in the ocean of nectar that is the taste of devotion, bhakti-rasa. Secondly, there is no harm in knowing more. The Vedas themselves are unimaginably comprehensive. You couldn’t read every authorized Vedic work in a single lifetime. And that’s just reading, what to speak of comprehending.
Friend1: Okay, so you’re making the other side’s argument, aren’t you? The Vedas themselves are so vast. Why are they that way if you can achieve perfection from the basic level?
Friend2: Like I said before, it’s about remembering. Consciousness is the key. This world is difficult to overcome; hence the superintendent is known as Durga. There is danger at every step, and so we need protection wherever we go. The advanced information is a way to further protect us, especially if we continue to have doubts.
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: Also, the more advanced knowledge you have, the more equipped you will be to convince others of the supremacy of the path of devotion. You will be able to cut apart their faulty logic rooted in desires for material gain, renunciation or mystic perfection. You will be able to speak with conviction, as Prahlada Maharaja did, that vishno-smaranam, constant remembrance of the Supreme Person, is the only path to real happiness.
Friend1: So there is no harm in advancing further?
Friend2: No harm? It is recommended. The more knowledgeable people there are out there, the better. But just because someone is not familiar with the advanced topics doesn’t mean that they can’t achieve perfection in this lifetime. Otherwise, devotional service would become dependent on intelligence. It is not dependent on anything, actually. A person who doesn’t know how to read can attain perfection; so can a child. This is because devotion is directly linked to the Supreme Lord, who is an ocean of kindness and compassion.
Brahmana not knowing how to read,
Yet had perfect understanding indeed.
Since Lord and devotee in mind to see,
How kind Krishna as charioteer could be?
Though of advanced knowledge no need,
No harm when in that path to proceed.
To help others find the same way,
And in devotional consciousness to stay.