The Sanskrit words Sri Isopanisad mean “the knowledge that brings one nearer to the Supreme Person, Krishna.” As such, Sri Isopanisad directly counters the teachings of modern science, which say that at the root of existence lies not a person but merely abstract laws governing the chance collision of subatomic particles in the vast void of time and space.
Individually, we rebel at the proposal that we can be analyzed into lifeless laws and particles. We feel that personality is the solid foundation and unifying principle of our existence. That intuition is correct, says the Vedic philosophy of ancient India, which loudly proclaims the primacy of personality in every sphere of life and knowledge. And the essential Vedic teachings on the universal nature of personality are summarized in the Sri Isopanisad, the foremost of the 108 Upanisads.
As translated and explained by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the most distinguished modern-day teacher of India’s spiritual culture and philosophy, the nineteen jewel-like mantras of Sri Isopanisad can release us from the bleak conceptions of impersonalism and put us in touch with the Supreme Person, the fountainhead of all energies and all happiness.
“Teachings of the Vedas”
Delivered as a lecture by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda on October 6, 1969, at Conway Hall, London, England.
Ladies and gentlemen, today’s subject matter is the teachings of the Vedas. What are the Vedas? The Sanskrit verbal root of veda can be interpreted variously, but the purport is finally one. Veda means knowledge. Any knowledge you accept is veda, for the teachings of the Vedas are the original knowledge. In the conditioned state, our knowledge is subjected to many deficiencies. The difference between a conditioned soul and a liberated soul is that the conditioned soul has four kinds of defects. The first defect is that he must commit mistakes. For example, in our country, Mahatma Gandhi was considered to be a very great personality, but he committed many mistakes. Even at the last stage of his life, his assistant warned, “Mahatma Gandhi, don’t go to the New Delhi meeting. I have some friends, and I have heard there is danger.” But he did not hear. He persisted in going and was killed. Even great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, President Kennedy – there are so many of them – make mistakes. To err is human. This is one defect of the conditioned soul.
Another defect: to be illusioned. Illusion means to accept something which is not: māyā. Māyā means “what is not.” Everyone is accepting the body as the self. If I ask you what you are, you will say, “I am Mr. John; I am a rich man; I am this; I am that.” All these are bodily identifications. But you are not this body. This is illusion.
The third defect is the cheating propensity. Everyone has the propensity to cheat others. Although a person is fool number one, he poses himself as very intelligent. Although it is already pointed out that he is in illusion and makes mistakes, he will theorize: “I think this is this, this is this.” But he does not even know his own position. He writes books of philosophy, although he is defective. That is his disease. That is cheating.
Lastly, our senses are imperfect. We are very proud of our eyes. Often, someone will challenge, “Can you show me God?” But do you have the eyes to see God? You will never see if you haven’t the eyes. If immediately the room becomes dark, you cannot even see your hands. So what power do you have to see? We cannot, therefore, expect knowledge (veda) with these imperfect senses. With all these deficiencies, in conditioned life we cannot give perfect knowledge to anyone. Nor are we ourselves perfect. Therefore we accept the Vedas as they are.
You may call the Vedas Hindu, but “Hindu” is a foreign name. We are not Hindus. Our real identification is varṇāśrama. Varṇāśrama denotes the followers of the Vedas, those who accept the human society in eight divisions of varṇa and āśrama. There are four divisions of society and four divisions of spiritual life. This is called varṇāśrama. It is stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, “These divisions are everywhere because they are created by God.” The divisions of society are brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya, śūdra. Brāhmaṇa refers to the very intelligent class of men, those who know what is Brahman. Similarly, the kṣatriyas, the administrator group, are the next intelligent class of men. Then the vaiśyas, the mercantile group. These natural classifications are found everywhere. This is the Vedic principle, and we accept it. Vedic principles are accepted as axiomatic truth, for there cannot be any mistake. That is acceptance. For instance, in India cow dung is accepted as pure, and yet cow dung is the stool of an animal. In one place you’ll find the Vedic injunction that if you touch stool, you have to take a bath immediately. But in another place it is said that the stool of a cow is pure. If you smear cow dung in an impure place, that place becomes pure. With our ordinary sense we can argue, “This is contradictory.” Actually, it is contradictory from the ordinary point of view, but it is not false. It is fact. In Calcutta, a very prominent scientist and doctor analyzed cow dung and found that it contains all antiseptic properties.
In India if one person tells another, “You must do this,” the other party may say, “What do you mean? Is this a Vedic injunction, that I have to follow you without any argument?” Vedic injunctions cannot be interpreted. But ultimately, if you carefully study why these injunctions are there, you will find that they are all correct.
The Vedas are not compilations of human knowledge. Vedic knowledge comes from the spiritual world, from Lord Kṛṣṇa. Another name for the Vedas is śruti. Śruti refers to that knowledge which is acquired by hearing. It is not experimental knowledge. Śruti is considered to be like a mother. We take so much knowledge from our mother. For example, if you want to know who your father is, who can answer you? Your mother. If the mother says, “Here is your father,” you have to accept it. It is not possible to experiment to find out whether he is your father. Similarly, if you want to know something beyond your experience, beyond your experimental knowledge, beyond the activities of the senses, then you have to accept the Vedas. There is no question of experimenting. It has already been experimented. It is already settled. The version of the mother, for instance, has to be accepted as truth. There is no other way.
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