“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
चतुर्-विधा भजन्ते मां
जनाः सुकृतिनो ऽर्जुन
आर्तो जिज्ञासुर् अर्थार्थी
ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino ‘rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
“In some other popular spiritual traditions, there is this concept of a testimony. I am only learning of it recently. I think the testimony has to do with the moment or series of events which brought you to the shelter of that specific savior.
“You can probably guess the most common situations. Someone was down on their luck. They were at rock-bottom. They were addicted to drugs and alcohol. They might have been in prison. Friends and family abandoned them. They lost their job. They had nowhere else to turn.
“Then they found their particular savior. They knew it was their savior’s guidance which brought them back into normal life. They would not be where they are today if not for the experience. They are truly grateful.
“You can only imagine how powerful such testimony is. That person can speak for years and years about their conversion. Others will marvel at the transformation. It might attract followers. There will never be a shortage of material for formal preaching engagements.
“Is there anything equivalent in the Vedic tradition? Does a person require such testimony? Do they need to go through a transformation process? Is that the only way towards transcendence?”
In the formal sense, the transformation is through the second birth. The person who accepts a spiritual master and agrees to follow the discipline instilled by that leader is known as dvija. This means “twice-born.”
The title stands out because the other condition is a single birth. Even the animals have that. There is life at the moment because of birth. There is a mother and a father because of this condition.
A dvija accepts the spiritual master as the father and Vedic knowledge as the mother. The mother and father through birth are important, but the parents after the second birth are able to end the cycle of birth and death completely.
The exact route a person takes towards association with the spiritual master is not really important. In Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna explains the four general categories of people who initially approach Him. There is always some kind of impurity. One category may be superior in terms of potential for completing the mission, but this does not mean the other categories are disqualified.
Moreover, a person’s testimony does not have to involve acute pain and suffering, in the visible sense. Vedic teachings reveal that all conditioned living beings are suffering. The person addicted to drugs and alcohol might be suffering just as much as the rich person’s child, who has every need accounted for.
One may argue that the wealthy child has no reason to lament. They should never be morose. There is no reason to be depressed. They have everything going for them in life.
Whether we make such a judgment or not, the pain is the same. The depression, the sadness, the despair, the hopelessness – these are real. These are the same for every person who lacks spiritual awakening, who is suffering in this temporary and miserable world.
If a person feels they are inferior in terms of testimony to share with others, they can simply describe the glories of their guru and the person they worship. The prayers to the spiritual master cover these issues.
“The Lord is said to be the sun, and ignorance is called darkness. Where the sun is present, there is no question of darkness. Therefore, whenever devotional service is present under the proper guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, there is no question of ignorance.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 15.20 Purport)
The Vedas are ananta in their glorification of the Almighty. This is indicative of the life in liberation. It does not matter from where I came or how long ago I made the transition into the eternal occupation of sanatana-dharma. If I am here today, I have something valuable to share with others.
With testimony to say.
That previously in darkness blind,
Never real happiness to find.
But guru the way teaching,
Their words the heart reaching.
Now firmly in bhakti endeavor,
Indebted to them forever.