“The purpose of knowledge is to understand distinctly that the living entity has by chance fallen into this material existence. By his personal endeavor in association with authorities, saintly persons and a spiritual master, he has to understand his position and then revert to spiritual consciousness or Krishna consciousness by understanding Bhagavad-gita as it is explained by the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 13.24 Purport)
“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” This was a line made famous in a series of television commercials several decades ago. The message pertained to helping the elderly, who in modern times often live alone.
The line can in fact apply to every single living thing in the material world. The fall took place a long time ago. Was it a coincidence? Was it by chance? The turn was made away from the Divine light. It was by choice, as the living entity is endowed with a small amount of independence. It was an unfortunate occurrence, a mistake, which happened so long ago that no one can accurately trace the date.
The fall is to the material world, and the difficulty in getting up relates to the cycle of birth and death. Simply learning how to read and write is not enough. Neither is earning a lot of money, supporting a family, or becoming famous. You can set up a factory that feeds the entire world and still be out of luck when death arrives. The same goes for pious behavior. You could be the greatest saint, winning elevation to the heavenly planets in the afterlife, but still be compelled to return to the land of birth and death.
The first step to getting up is realizing the fall, i.e. awareness. The living beings can go many lifetimes without understanding this, as at the time of birth the animal instincts of eating, sleeping, mating and defending take priority. After becoming aware of the chance descent from the spiritual realm there are three entities who work in concert to help the seeker rise again, without risk of fall.
These are the scriptural works. Shastra is authority. Today they are in book form, but originally there was an aural tradition. The keepers of the faith in times past had something like mega memory. From hearing a work for the first time they could remember it, line by line, word for word. And these works were quite lengthy, enough to fill many volumes of books.
Shastra is like a tree with many branches. There is knowledge available to satisfy different desires, such as good health, a long life, cures for diseases, and even conquering other kingdoms. The most important knowledge pertains to the individual, who is spirit soul, which is transcendental to the body.
Two works touching on this highest topic are the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. The first is a concise but complete presentation on the spiritual science, and the second is a more lengthy discussion, featuring both the potency of God and His actual nature and tendencies.
One literal definition for this Sanskrit word is “one who cuts.” The genuine sadhu is all business. They are defined by their dedication to the teachings of the most important works of shastra. There is really no difference between shastra and sadhu, since they represent the same goal.
Shastra is static, while sadhu is dynamic. Sadhu is the saintly person who embodies the teachings of the spiritual science. The saintly person lives a spiritual life, where they are concerned only with the needs of the spirit soul. They help others to hopefully one day reach the platform of saintly life.
They do not necessarily offer the same advice to everyone. English literature is not taught to first grade students. Neither is complex mathematics. Sometimes a person has to learn the basics before they can advance. With the spiritual science it may take several lifetimes of progress before reaching perfection, and the sadhu is well aware of this. For this reason they may provide different advice to different people, but the end goal is always the same.
This is a person spotlighted out of the group of sadhus. The guru is the personal teacher, the spiritual master. It is said that sadhu, shastra and guru run on parallel lines. If there is a contradiction amongst one of them, that standout likely isn’t genuine.
Sadhu, shastra and guru say that God is ultimately a person. He has different energies and manifestations, but in the complete feature He is Bhagavan, which is a person possessing all fortunes. The aim of life is to serve Bhagavan instead of maya, which is illusion.
The guru provides more specific instruction on how to reenter this service, as it is the original, eternal occupation, corresponding to the constitutional position of the living entity. The guru may translate Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam into a language that is understood by a certain class of people. The guru may offer more specific recommendations, like avoiding four harmful activities: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex.
The guru gives hints on how to succeed in spiritual life, adjusted to the time and circumstance. For instance, in the age of Kali, knowing the generally degraded condition of man, they put more emphasis on the holy name. The guru says to simply chant it on a regular basis, setting the complicated procedures and regulations aside. Not sure which names to repeat? Just use the maha-mantra, as it is easy to remember, effective, and both the starting point and the end goal: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
For success in spiritual life to see,
Needing help from entities three.
Shastra from Supreme coming down,
Many branches of knowledge profound.
Sadhu the saintly person cutting to the chase,
Shows path to progress time not to erase.
Guru more specific teacher is he,
Sets on path of bhakti to liberate me.
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