“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.2)
Friend1: Why are there purports in these books?
Friend2: Which books?
Friend1: Vedic scriptures.
Friend2: There aren’t purports. What are you talking about?
Friend1: You know what I mean. Like with Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and others. The purports are like commentary.
Friend2: Oh, so you’re asking about modern-day translations of these timeless classics of Vedic literature?
Friend2: You know the answer. Why are you asking me?
Friend1: I’m trying to set up an argument that I often hear.
Friend2: What is that? You don’t need commentary? Just read the original verses?
Friend1: Exactly. I should focus on what the verses mean to me. I don’t need someone else to explain them to me.
Friend2: Well, what do you know, really? You’re focusing on exploiting the material nature. You’re struggling hard with the six senses, which include the mind. You mistake a rope for a snake. You commit mistakes, cheat, and are easily illusioned.
Friend1: That’s pretty insulting [smiles]. I know you’re referring to man in general. Still, isn’t the opinion of one person just as valid as the next? Why do I need to learn through a guru?
Friend2: It’s the same in any field, really. You can’t pick up a book on calculus when you’re a child and expect to get anything out of it. You need familiarity with the basic culture of mathematics first. By reading a book with valid commentary, authored by a person coming in the disciplic succession that has the Supreme Lord at the root, you get familiarity with the nuance and deep meaning behind every single word. You can’t understand important topics like time, karma, the material nature, the living entity and the Supreme Controller on your own.
Friend1: But these are just words, after all. The Mahabharata includes the Bhagavad-gita. People used to hear the Mahabharata directly. They would get together and listen to someone recite it. Granted, I don’t know Sanskrit, but what is the harm in simply reading a translation in a language I understand?
Friend2: There may be some benefit, but only if you have the proper mood going in. If you are not a devotee, you’ll actually get the wrong idea. You’ll apply your biased filter to the events. Your bias is rooted in going against God, which is the original sin. The devotee is at a better starting point, since they are eager to hear Hari-katha, or discourses about the Supreme Lord and His activities. Still, the need for the guru remains.
Friend1: How so?
Friend2: Let me give you an example. I read a translation of the Mahabharata way back. There was no commentary available at the time, at least to my knowledge. I probably wouldn’t have had time to go through purports regardless, as the book itself is ridiculously long.
Friend1: I know. I’m impressed that you read it. Most people I know who are familiar with it have seen the television serial, watched a movie, or read a condensed version.
Friend2: I had that rebellious attitude, that I didn’t need someone else to explain everything to me. Anyway, I think you’ll find this funny. You know Duryodhana, right?
Friend1: Yeah. He’s the antagonist. He’s the leader of the bad guys, the Kurus. Though technically not all the Kurus are bad. They have Bhishma on their side, and he has an entire section dedicated to his teachings.
Friend2: The Bhishma-parva. While on the verge of quitting his body on the battlefield, Bhishma gives wise instruction on so many aspects of life to Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers.
Friend1: Anyway, I am familiar with Duryodhana.
Friend2: Okay. So when you read these verses directly, so many names are mentioned. I mean it’s almost impossible to keep track. You have to keep a cheat sheet with you, really. I didn’t have one, but I kept reading anyway. So in many of the verses, I see people in the Kuru camp referring to someone named Suyodhana.
Friend1: Was he another fighter on their side?
Friend2: That’s what I thought. Well, I really didn’t put much thought into it.
Friend1: Yeah. There are so many characters to keep track of.
Friend2: Years later, I found out that Duryodhana and Suyodhana are the same person.
Friend1: Oh man. That’s hilarious. You couldn’t tell while reading?
Friend2: I might have been able to, but I didn’t spend much time thinking about it. I just figured they were suddenly switching to talking about a different person. The lesson is that I only found out later through consulting a guru, an authorized commentary. Both names refer to a fighter, but Duryodhana is in the negative connotation and Suyodhana the positive. It’s a great lesson in duality. Even a bad guy is considered good to some people, and vice versa. This was one small issue, but imagine the nuance and detail involved in much higher topics. The guru is familiar with the underlying culture, since they spent so much time immersed in it by serving their own guru. That is why it is necessary to learn shastra under their guidance. Parampara is so important that Krishna mentions it in the Gita. The original science was lost and Krishna revived it through Arjuna.
Read Vedic works on my own should,
Will everything be properly understood?
Example of Duryodhana and Suyodhana mentioned name,
Mistake made, actually referring to person the same.
By mental speculation not to be known,
Through guidance of teacher alone.
Reason for parampara explaining,
Meaning of shastra through them gaining.