“Everyone is eligible for the supreme destination. In the Shrimad-Bhagavatam it is stated that even the lowest, who are called chandalas (dog-eaters), can be elevated by association with a pure devotee. Therefore devotional service and guidance of a pure devotee are so strong that there is no discrimination between the lower and higher classes of men; anyone can take to it. The most simple man taking shelter of the pure devotee can be purified by proper guidance.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32 Purport)
The Bhagavad-gita. It is found within the larger Mahabharata. The four Vedas. The eighteen Puranas. The Ramayana. The list goes on. Vedic literature doesn’t have an equivalent of the Bible because there is no final word on the Absolute. The Vedas continue to expand since they sing of the gunas, or transcendental qualities, of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
That highest person is for everyone. It is not a matter of faith. His position can be explained in scientific terms, in the best possible way to help us understand. We need convincing, after all. Some of us need a lot. There are so many engagements available in a material existence, which continuously spins, like a wheel that brings temporary suffering and enjoyment.
Despite so much knowledge available, the pathway to liberation, to escaping the cycle of birth and death for good, is not dependent on any specific factor. Knowledge is known as jnana in Sanskrit. This word is often paired with vairagya, which means “renunciation.” These are two important factors exclusively available to the human being, aiding them in their hopefully progressive march towards enlightenment.
Bhakti-yoga is the original way of life, and in a material existence it initially gets tagged as a kind of spiritual practice. Its superiority is proved in many ways, with one of them being the lack of a requirement of knowledge.
1. It would mean the soul is bound to a material quality
The individual suffers and enjoys, starting with the time of birth and ending with death, only to have the cycle repeat again in the next life. Though the experience is real, the effects are not. This is because the individual is spirit soul, significantly distinct from the body, which is composed of material elements, both gross and subtle.
The body can be destroyed. The force is inflicted either from other living entities or from within. There are so many miseries which must be endured. The negative influence is rooted in kala, which is time. Kala can only be fought off for so long, with the eventual onset of old age, followed by disease and death.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
The soul cannot be destroyed; simply not possible. The soul has distinct properties, with knowledge among them. Jnana in a material existence is a way to remove the inhibiting influence of the body to the point that the knowledge within the soul emerges. Nevertheless, the level that a specific material element is present has no bearing on the soul. If knowledge were a strict requirement for success in bhakti, then the soul would be dependent on the body, which it is not.
2. Who is to say what is knowledge?
What exactly is jnana? Is it giving the correct answers in a trivia contest? Is it successfully passing an examination in school? Is it knowing how to operate a complicated machine, like a computer?
The Vedas are compared to a tree that has many branches. Those branches represent different departments of knowledge. There is a branch for the military science. There is a section for good administration. There is knowledge for maintaining good health. Basically, consider every goal that a person might desire, and then know that there exists a way to achieve that goal. The pathway is a kind of knowledge.
As bhakti is inherent to the soul, every individual has the potential for success. Familiarity with a specific branch of knowledge is not a relevant factor.
3. Arjuna couldn’t remember his past lives
Success in bhakti isn’t relegated to a theoretical exercise. There are the principles, for sure. There are the recommendations coming from the spiritual guide, the guru. He follows in a chain of disciplic succession. The chain is bona fide when the origin is God Himself. Otherwise at some point there was mental speculation, which means flawed knowledge.
There are devotees from the past who have succeeded in bhakti. We know this because they were very dear to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna. One of them is Arjuna, who was the direct recipient of the spotless wisdom of the Bhagavad-gita.
“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)
Arjuna temporarily went into doubt so as to start the wonderful question and answer session that followed. Though Arjuna succeeded in bhakti, he was declared to be deficient in a key area of knowledge: memory. Krishna said that Arjuna was always His associate. They had appeared together in the world in previous ages. Krishna could remember those times, but Arjuna could not. This means that Arjuna lacked perfect knowledge, and yet we know he succeeded in bhakti.
4. Children can be liberated
It’s been a long day at the office. The commute in the morning was brutal. The darn F train was out of service, again. People are starting to curse at the governor. Last week the same train completely turned off while it was in between stations. People were stranded in total darkness, without air conditioning, for over an hour. It’s like the worst nightmare coming true.
On this particular day, you just want to go home and relax. You want to take off this shirt and tie and slip into a t-shirt and shorts. Then you will sit down and watch Sesame Street. You’ve recorded it the last few days and you don’t want to fall too behind.
Obviously, the last part would never happen. Adults don’t watch television programming reserved for children. Yet at some point they probably did watch those shows. Children have different interests precisely because they are at a different level of maturity. Maturity in this regard directly correlates with knowledge. Simply put, adults typically have more knowledge than children. The degree of difference can be stark.
Yet we know that children can be liberated. They can practice bhakti-yoga, and achieve perfection. The best example is Prahlada Maharaja, whose exploits when he was just five years old are described in great detail in works like the Shrimad Bhagavatam. He was a special case, in that he did have great knowledge passed on to him by the guru Narada.
Bhakti is transcendental love, after all. Even though children may not know how to read on an advanced level, they can love. Their belief in God is natural; cynicism arrives later in life. Their potential for succeeding in pleasing the Supreme Lord is another indication that knowledge is not a strict requirement.
5. Even lower classes can be liberated
Shri Krishna specifically mentions women, merchants, and laborers as having the potential to achieve success in the path of true yoga. The statement is intentional since in a material existence there is so much competition, and thus pity for those who are seemingly at a lower stage.
As a class based on material quality, guna, and work, karma, the brahmanas are at the top. The very word means someone who knows Brahman, which is the impersonal spiritual energy. The bona fide brahmana is equipped to guide the rest of society. They may even recommend fruitive activity, done with detachment, as a way to advance. Sometimes a person is not ready to hear the entire spiritual science; it may be too much to grasp at the time.
Yet bhakti-yoga is not dependent on occupation. During the time period the Bhagavad-gita was spoken women didn’t have a traditional job. They didn’t attend school. They learned everything through home life, from family tradition. Merchants tend to be focused on earning a profit and laborers on doing their jobs properly. In these roles there usually isn’t knowledge of Brahman. Nevertheless, success is possible, as pure love for God is the only requirement.
Additionally, just because someone is knowledgeable doesn’t mean they are a good person. They could use their knowledge to try to fool innocent people. They may even twist the words of the Vedas to try to show that everyone is God or that God is ultimately impersonal. Jnana and vairagya are certainly helpful in making progress in spiritual life, but true success, which is marked by the presence of pure bhakti, is never dependent on external factors.
Child with reading ability none,
Still towards Supreme can come.
Workers laboring hard in the field,
Merchants focusing on profit’s yield.
Women managing at home to stay,
Towards Krishna each can find a way.
Knowledge surely giving force ascendant,
But pure love not on anything dependent.
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