“The Gita should be taken as the most perfect presentation of Vedic knowledge. Vedic knowledge is received from transcendental sources, and the first words were spoken by the Lord Himself. The words spoken by the Lord are different from words spoken by a person of the mundane world who is infected with four defects. A mundaner 1) is sure to commit mistakes, 2) is invariably illusioned, 3) has the tendency to cheat others and 4) is limited by imperfect senses. With these four imperfections, one cannot deliver perfect information of all-pervading knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the conditioned living entity is born with four principal defects. The list is passed down from the Vedic tradition, and the intention in knowing is to be aware of man’s limitations.
In addition, the presence of defects juxtaposes with the position of the Almighty. He is also a living entity, but Supreme. He is soul, but of a different kind. We are jivatma, while He is Paramatma. His senses are transcendental. When we can witness those senses and distinguish them, the interaction is with saguna-Brahman. The same transcendental nature is present in nirguna-Brahman, but we are not as easily able to perceive.
One of the four defects we inherit at the time of birth is imperfect senses. To understand exactly what this means, we can study the negative case. For instance, what would we be able to do if we had perfect senses?
1. Hear every sound produced in every part of the world
A popular recording artist just re-released one of their classic albums. On the thirtieth anniversary of the original publication, this new version has bonus material and content. As times have changed over the decades, the mechanism for procurement is different.
On the original date, there was the release party held at different record stores. The consumers went to a physical location and purchased a physical object. Be it a vinyl record, a cassette tape, or a CD, the object would hold the recording of songs played by the band.
Today, the same is available almost instantly, through streaming or downloads. Regardless of the mechanism, if we had perfect senses there would be no need for any release date or purchase interaction. We would be able to hear every sound produced in every part of the world. There would be no mix-up due to overlap. People could be talking simultaneously and we would still be able to hear them.
2. See through walls
This is a limitation on the sense of sight. There are walls within the home to separate space into rooms. It is otherwise one giant space, with everyone living inside. The walls prevent sight and sound distractions. The walls create privacy; I can work on something without someone knowing what I am doing.
If we had perfect senses, we could see through everything. There would be no hindrance or obstruction. We would certainly not require corrective lenses. There would be no issue seeing at night, either. The presence of light would not be a factor in our ability to perceive.
3. Identify every ingredient in a dish without looking at the label
Some people are so expert in the culinary arts that they can detect trace amounts of a particular spice or ingredient based on taste alone. They discover the hint of garlic or onion based on a single bite, as an example. They may try their best to recreate a dish without looking at the recipe.
In truth, no one is perfect in this area. The sense of taste has a limitation. It is not perfect. It may seem like there is a certain kind of salt added, when in fact the sodium taste is due to something naturally occurring in nature. There are also artificial flavors, which give the hint of strawberry, blueberry, chocolate, and so forth, without the actual ingredient present.
4. Smell exactly which flowers are growing in the neighbor’s garden
We could attempt something similar with smell. Be in the vicinity of the neighbor’s courtyard and wait for the wind to work its magic. It should be pause for thought, given the circumstances of the modern day. If the wind carries the aroma of flowers from an adjacent home, how can a silly cloth covering my face protect me from a deadly virus?
The sense interaction here is not perfect. I won’t be able to identify every single flower based on the smell. The aromas can mix together, causing confusion. Perhaps I am not familiar with every type of flower available in this vast and complex world.
Fortunately, the Supreme Lord has perfect senses. No amount of prayer is too much; there is no confusion in discerning the individual requests. As antaryami, He witnesses everything that I do, from past lifetimes, even. He never forgets, though I have trouble remembering something from yesterday.
बहूनि मे व्यतीतानि
जन्मानि तव चार्जुन
तान्य् अहं वेद सर्वाणि
न त्वं वेत्थ परन्तप
bahūni me vyatītāni
janmāni tava cārjuna
tāny ahaṁ veda sarvāṇi
na tvaṁ vettha parantapa
“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)
The one who never falls down, Achyuta, is my life and savior. While in conditioned life I suffer from defects, the approach towards Him is never a waste of time. While I may be imperfect, Bhagavan is not. He can lift me from the ocean of suffering and carry me back to the spiritual world, should I welcome His favor and intervention.
From flawless one coming,
Such that enlightened becoming.
Because Achyuta the source,
Knowledge through parampara’s course.
Otherwise evident principal defects there,
Blemishes in man aware.
Way for proper picture discerning,
Like from Gita sufficient learning.
Categories: the four