“Shastra is without the four principal defects that are visible in the conditioned soul: imperfect senses, the propensity for cheating, certainty of committing mistakes, and certainty of being illusioned. These four principal defects in conditioned life disqualify one from putting forth rules and regulations. Therefore, the rules and regulations as described in the shastra-being above these defects-are accepted without alteration by all great saints, acharyas, and great souls.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 16.24)
Spend some time with a seasoned teacher of bhakti-yoga, the science of self-realization, and repeating patterns and themes emerge. You might not have noticed them at first, but there is no mistaking now.
- The threefold miseries of life.
- The cycle of birth and death.
- The bona fide spiritual master.
- The three worlds.
- The upper and lower planetary systems.
- The plenary expansion.
The list goes on, but the concepts are important to learn. They are central to the juxtaposition with a different kind of life. Namely, to know how great something I haven’t experienced is, I should know what is wrong with what I have experienced. I can better understand the distance and size of the moon when seen through the branches of a tree.
One of the commonly invoked terms is “the four defects in man.” The idea is that the higher way of living should come from above, descending from a person or personality who transcends duality. He is not subject to the flaws of material life, and therefore following His word leads to a different kind of experience.
1. Imperfect senses
What does this mean? I never thought about grading the senses before. They are just there. We make judgments on a person’s beauty, based on their facial features and so forth, but we wouldn’t consider a person to be imperfect due to an external opinion. Why the judgment on the senses, then?
Since they are imperfect, it is impossible to understand a concept which is beyond the perception of the senses. This is one way to know God. He is Adhokshaja. His features cannot be measured by blunt instruments. Those instruments give feedback which is absorbed by the senses. I know a flower based on its smell. I can tell cotton from the touch and pizza from the taste. I know a good song from hearing.
For some reason I insist on sight alone when confirming the idea of God or Divinity. Yet even this sense is flawed. I cannot see through walls. I cannot perceive what is going on thousands of miles away, unless someone helps me by relaying images. How, then, can I understand someone who is the entire universe and beyond? The virata-rupa, the universal form, helps a little, but even there my senses are limited because I cannot look at everything simultaneously.
2. The propensity for cheating
This is found in all aspects of life. Sometimes the behavior does not necessarily go against the rules. It is not a violation of the law to destroy certain documents in a company, but there was an underlying feeling that an investigation by the government was forthcoming. Therefore a certain kind of cheating took place.
On the other side, the federal prosecutor has a duty to disclose exculpatory evidence. Also known as Brady evidence, this is any information discovered during the investigation process that might exonerate the defendant. In other words, if I’m going after someone for a crime and I find material that shows they are innocent, it is my duty to report that to both the court and the person on trial.
Yet a prosecutor might withhold such evidence. A victim to the propensity to cheat, they think that the defendant is guilty of so many other crimes, so they might as well take the fall for this one. They feel it is in the public interest to send them to jail.
This propensity is found in what looks like spiritual life, as well. The famous person posing as guru has an ulterior motive. They really want to travel the world in order to get out of working. Speak a little bit every day in public and then enjoy the company of women, who might be their secretary, in private. Such a person cannot liberate anyone, let alone themselves.
3. Certainty of committing mistakes
To err is human, after all. I try my best to walk the path of dharma, or righteousness, but I slip up on occasion. I should not eat too much; otherwise my health will suffer. Yet I cannot help myself sometimes. I succumb to lust. I cannot remember everything I need to. I recite a verse from shastra incorrectly.
4. Certainty of being easily illusioned
This starts right from the time of birth. The individual identifies with the body, when they should know better. That body is always changing, so real identity must be sourced in something else. Then so many other kinds of illusion arise. I think I will be happy working hard and earning a lot of money. I think that my future is in chasing a certain paramour and living happily ever after with them. With every pursuit in illusion, I am left unsatisfied at the culmination.
If every person has these defects, what hope is there? The solution is shastra, which descends from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is Achyuta. He never falls down, and so the word passed on in His sacred texts never fails to deliver a person, provided the recipient is sincere.
There is every chance of deviation through a weak link in the chain, a cheating personality taking the teachings from their predecessors and then twisting the meanings around to suit their personal desires. There is every chance that the imperfect senses will not allow comprehension of the spotless wisdom found in works like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam.
Despite the chances for failure, the opportunities for success are there. If all else fails, the names of the Almighty help to deliver a person. The sounds addressing Him are as free of defects as His teachings, and so the fortunate person holds on to the holy names once they find them: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Since birth time illusioned easily to be,
With imperfect senses not properly to see.
In some way always wanting to cheat,
With mistakes system never to beat.
Coming itself from material existence,
Futile without proper help resistance.
From shastra the perfect way take,
And then holy names never forsake.
Categories: the four