“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)
The admission is, “To err is human.” Everyone makes mistakes, do they not? No one is perfect. What may not be acknowledged or properly understood is to the depths to which this defect takes hold. In many areas, in many places, in many stages of life, for every kind of person there is the tendency to commit mistakes. The Vedas say that this is one of the four principal faults in conditioned life.
1. I eat too much
The formula for good health is rather simple. Eat right, exercise a moderate amount, and get enough rest. Of the three eating should be the easiest to control. Just don’t eat what you are not supposed to. Compulsion is almost always absent in the situation.
Despite no one forcing me, I can’t help myself. When the family orders pizza, I make excuses as to why I should eat more than the normal amount.
“The pie may not get finished. Pizza tastes best when fresh out of the oven. I don’t eat it that often, so might as well enjoy right now.”
The effects of the mistake of eating too much are obvious. Increased weight. Difficulty breathing. The earlier onset of disease. Trouble with blood sugar levels. Heart problems. The mistake in this area can have dangerous consequences.
2. I succumb to lust
I should know better. Too much indulgence of kama, which is material desire, is not a good option. Better to have self-control. Balance bhoga and tyaga, enjoyment and renunciation. Don’t keep consuming adult beverages without limitation. Don’t sleep the entire day away. Be happy with a single spouse; no need to have many partners at a single time.
Yet despite knowing better I fall into the trap repeatedly. It is like a higher force is at play, compelling me to act against better judgment. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna says that kama alone is the great-devouring enemy of this world, as it combines with krodha [wrath] to take down a person of otherwise proper discriminating ability.
काम एष क्रोध एष
विद्ध्य् एनम् इह वैरिणम्
kāma eṣa krodha eṣa
viddhy enam iha vairiṇam
“The Blessed Lord said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.37)
3. I forget things
The wife told me to pick up a few things from the supermarket. Since the list was so short, I didn’t bother to write everything down. When I reach home and unpack the bags, she asks if I remembered to get a certain item. I did not. She is not happy. Neither am I, as the mistake could have been avoided.
In school, despite acting responsibly and completing homework assignments on time, I forget to do one particular thing. The next day the teacher asks everyone to hand in the work that I failed to complete. The omission is costly, and the excuse of, “I forgot,” doesn’t sit well with anyone.
4. I recite verses from shastra incorrectly
Here I am trying to connect with a different consciousness. Travelling to a different realm without physically leaving the present one. Shastra is scripture descending from above. Originating with a person who is perfect and who never falls down, Achyuta, these works now preserved in written form are above the four defects in conditioned life.
Yet I am still flawed, and so when reciting the Sanskrit verses I make mistakes. This could be in a public setting, where I have just heard others pronounce the words correctly. When my turn arrives, I make a mistake here and there.
Fortunately for me the book I am reading is not about advancing materially. Therefore mistakes in recitation are not held against me. If I were engaged in a special yajna [sacrifice] for attaining the favor of some Divine figure other than the Supreme Authority, then I would need to follow every procedure exactly. Otherwise the phala [reward] would not manifest.
Since the vulnerability to mistakes is everywhere, the better option is to stay with the most forgiving person. He passes on the principles for genuine spiritual life in works like Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. Following these principles simultaneously pleases Him. Though I may have so many faults, the spotless wisdom of the ages can still rescue me, provided there is some genuineness of purpose.
If coming with genuineness real,
Then process my fate to seal.
Every mistake and fault not to consider,
Shastra’s transcendental sound to deliver.
With proper spirit material renouncing,
Accepted if verses improperly pronouncing.
Since principles implanted for living,
Supreme Lord transgressions forgiving.
Categories: the four