“Vedic knowledge is not a question of research. Our research work is imperfect because we are researching things with imperfect senses. We have to accept perfect knowledge which comes down, as is stated in Bhagavad-gita, by the parampara disciplic succession. We have to receive knowledge from the proper source in disciplic succession beginning with the supreme spiritual master, the Lord Himself, and handed down to a succession of spiritual masters.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)
“Can someone do research into the nature of the Absolute? The way they do these large-scale projects nowadays – I am thinking of something along similar lines. They excavate a certain area of the world, run analysis on what they find, and then speculate as to the way people lived in the past.
“Isn’t that a better way of proving the Vedas, which are supposed to be the original scriptural tradition of the world? You wouldn’t be helpless and forced to rely on blind faith. People do not understand Sanskrit, as it is no longer a language utilized in general conversation. How do we trust that the translations we have available are accurate?”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the Vedic knowledge is not a question of research. The reasoning is that man assumes four principal defects at the time of birth. You could say that guaranteed death is itself the greatest defect. As soon as someone is born, the clock starts ticking down on the time remaining in this world.
जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्
ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च
तस्माद् अपरिहार्ये ऽर्थे
न त्वं शोचितुम् अर्हसि
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyur
dhruvaṁ janma mṛtasya ca
tasmād aparihārye ‘rthe
na tvaṁ śocitum arhasi
“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)
A person can try their best to mitigate, to avoid the typical causes of death, but kala will strike regardless. Sometimes a person leaves their body without any obvious external factor. The death certificate attributes the departure to “natural causes.”
Succumbing to nature is the greatest vulnerability, but in terms of defects the Vedas highlight four in particular. Man is easily illusioned, he commits mistakes, and he is prone to cheating. The fourth defect is what invalidates the research proposal. The living entity has imperfect senses.
What does this mean, exactly? Think of how we require advanced technology to communicate with people far away. If we had perfect senses, we would be able to hear every sound produced in every part of the world. We would be able to see through walls, identify every ingredient in a dish based on taste, and smell exactly which flowers are growing in the neighbor’s garden.
Imperfect senses yield imperfect results. The Vedas are perfect knowledge, and so they can only be accepted through a descending process. One teacher starts the chain and the downward flow continues until the moment in time a person makes contact. For me, that is the present, but the three periods of time are relative to each person. Today is the present, but many years ago it was the future. To generations forward, right now is the past.
“What about the issue of the teachers having imperfect senses? How can they fully retain what they have accepted? What about the cheaters in the line, who want to twist words and meanings to suit personal interests?”
The idea is that the information should travel forward without adulteration. Bhagavad-gita should be presented as it is, not as it is thought to be or wished for. If such knowledge reaches the hands of the interested party, there is every chance for fulfilling the ultimate mission in life.
Even in the case that the chain breaks, that a cheater deviates from the timeless tradition and invents something new, all hope is not lost. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the adi-guru, simply initiates a reboot. In the case of Bhagavad-gita, He was there in the personal form on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, giving instruction to the disciple named Arjuna.
Provided we accept the explanation of parampara, the information we receive might still seem too grand to believe. A talking monkey? A deity with an elephant head? A blue-complexioned figure with four arms? Elaborate tales of the planets falling into water and being rescued by a giant boar?
When the spiritual master puts things into proper perspective, the “amazing” starts to look ordinary. After all, if the massive collections of matter known as planets remain suspended in orbit, why is it difficult to believe that a person could use mystic power to expand and contract their size? Why is it a stretch for an elevated being to have special powers, when nature already accomplishes amazing things?
An area of potential experimentation, a playing field, if you will, is in the practical application of the principles. The subsequent realization is known as vijnana, and it is more important than the jnana itself. For instance, a person may be able to pass an examination for receiving a license to practice medicine, but it is more important to know how to treat patients and fix health issues.
We can make a test of the principles from Vedic knowledge. For instance, the claim is that there is potency within specific sound. This truth is known as shabda-brahman. A person can experience for themselves if reciting certain mantras in a routine way indeed makes a positive impact on the consciousness, if there is a distinction between otherwise material activity mimicking the same: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
With descending knowledge blessed,
Now making a test.
Whether from the sound produced,
My ignorance reduced.
And the feeling transcendental,
On playing field experimental.
First the parampara system respect,
And vijnana’s confirmation expect.