One of the major branches of philosophy is epistemology – the theory of knowledge, or plainly put, how you know what you know. Jiva Goswami, one of the greatest philosophers of all time, identified various pramanas, or sources of knowledge. Broadly speaking, there are three – pratyaksa, anumana and sabda. Pratyaksa refers to knowledge gained from one’s sensual perception, while anumana refers to that which is concluded via inference of the mind. Sabda is knowledge which is faithfully received from an external source.
Humans, Jiva Goswami says, are inherent with four defects. To begin with they have imperfect senses, and thus are susceptible to falling into illusion. Because of this, they’re prone to making mistakes, and this often incites the propensity to cheat in order to cover it all up! Any introspective person can observe this pattern of behaviour. For this reason, pratyaksa and anumana, which rely on our limited sensual and mental faculties, are inherently flawed – anything sourced from them cannot be foolproof. If one employs sabda-pramana, but receives knowledge from another human being, they find themselves in the same predicament. Jiva Goswami’s conclusion: to gain perfect knowledge one must employ sabda-pramana by hearing from a nonmaterial source.
The middle six chapters delineate the essential message of the Bhagavad-Gita: bhakti-yoga, or connection with the Supreme through pure love. In essence, spirituality is a matter of the heart, but that doesn’t mean we don’t employ the head. In Chapter Seven, entitled ‘Knowledge of the Absolute,’ Krishna establishes the need to attentively hear the messages of the Supreme Person. Through this process of hearing, one can awaken expansive, untainted, divine knowledge, otherwise inaccessible to limited human perception. This knowledge acts as a lamp in the dark enclosure of the material world – it guides one to the exit door, and simultaneously reveals everything that will be encountered on the route there. Through descending knowledge we ascend beyond the mistakes we are otherwise inevitably prone to.
In the holy land of Vrindavana, Lord Krishna, in His divine play as a cowherd boy, daily takes the cows and calves out to graze. To gather them at the end of the day He employs different techniques. First He lovingly calls their names. For those that don’t hear, He plays His enchanting flute. Some cows remain estranged, and His next step it to loudly blow His buffalo horn. If, despite all these efforts, the cows and calves still don’t return, He goes out with a stick to chase them back!
Just like the cows, we have strayed from our spiritual home-base. First class intelligence can grasp the truth simply by hearing divine knowledge, assimilating the teachings and arriving at the mature conclusion without need for anything more. Second class intelligence requires a visual demonstration – the need to observe a real-life example which illustrates the teachings. Third class intelligence is activated only by directly experiencing the teachings through events and interactions in our own life. Failure to learn through these avenues causes a return to the School of Hard Knocks, the material world, where the soul commences a new chapter of life. Unless spirituality is awakened, their activities, and the subsequent mistakes they make, perpetually entangle them in an expansive network of karma. Thus, to avoid mistakes, we have to access and embrace the eternal truths that come from conscientious hearing.
“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavour for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” (Bhagavad-Gita 7.3)
7.1 – The science of hearing spiritual knowledge.