“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
When one matures past the stage of childish enthusiasm to enjoy constantly in various games, they hopefully begin to question the purpose to everything. “Why am I alive? Why do I have to go to school? Why do people get married and have children when they reach a certain age? I’ve figured out that I am going to die eventually. Why? If we’re all destined to die, why do we even take birth?” These questions gave birth to philosophy, where the intelligent among us try to answer these questions. Some answers are fairly obvious, but as soon as the philosopher reaches a point where they do not know the answer, where they introduce “perhaps” and “maybe” into the equation, they admit their fallibility. In the Bhagavad-gita, it is therefore recommended that the sincere seeker of the truth approach someone who knows the truth, someone who is self-realized because they have seen the truth.
Self-realized means to realize the self. To realize means to absorb the knowledge versus just knowing it as an answer to a question. To know that two plus two equals four means to be able to give the answer to the question on a test. If someone asks me, “What is two plus two?” and if I can give the answer of “four,” then I know the fact. To realize the same truth, however, requires understanding of the principle. This means that if I have two dollars today and someone gives me two dollars tomorrow, I understand that I will have four dollars. This is the same question from before, but here the truth is practically realized. If I don’t know that I will have four dollars tomorrow, it means that I have not realized this specific truth. It means that my knowledge is only theoretical.
The theoretical is known in Sanskrit as jnana. The practical understanding is vijnana. The Bhagavad-gita says to approach someone who has realized the self. Does this mean that one should realize what their name is? What about their age? What about where they live? What about their position within a community? What about their standing within a family? Even within the family the individual can be known in different ways. To one person they are the husband. To another they are the father. To another they are a brother. To another they are a nephew.
The true self cannot be any of these temporary designations. The advanced philosopher can speculate that the self is the soul. “That essence of everything is the self. It is what animates the inanimate. It is what gives life to that which is otherwise dead.” The self-realized soul goes beyond this. They have seen the truth, meaning they see the spiritual essence within all life forms. They make no distinctions between the cat, the dog, the cow, the human being, and the ant. They obviously treat them differently because of the differences in outward behavior, but they are not foolish enough to think that one species has a self and another does not. They realize that their self is the same self in quality in others.
“The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)
To know the self means to give the proper answer to the question of “who am I?” The answer is “Brahman,” which means “spirit.” The more complete definition is “a fragment of the complete spiritual energy known as Brahman.” To realize the self means to act in a certain way. It means to know that Brahman is but a way to view a higher force. It is a way to slightly understand that which is impossible to fully understand. The Brahman realization is the mercy of the all-powerful Bhagavan, who is always self-realized because He can never be in ignorance. Ignorance and understanding, heat and light, happiness and sadness, and other such dual conditions only exist for the Brahman sparks. And then only for those sparks which become conditioned by a temporary world.
Philosophy is ultimately the science of science. Real philosophy hovers above all other sciences, for it gives an explanation into why those sciences exist. The genuine philosopher therefore questions everything. They ask about higher truths, wanting to know why they exist. This philosophical inquiry is unique to the human species. It cannot be made while in an animal body. The animals can migrate to foreign lands and set up communities and means for procuring food and the like. The human beings are not unique in this area. Where they stand apart is in their ability to ask why certain things must take place.
Eventually the philosopher will reach a point where they cannot answer a question. And not something relating to a trivial issue such as “what did the president’s son eat for breakfast two and a half weeks ago,” this question pertains to the meaning of life, the existence of God, the destination for the soul after death, or the like. The self-realized soul can answer these questions to the best of man’s ability to understand. They can impart knowledge unto the sincere spiritual seeker because they have seen the truth. Not that they concocted the answers on their own, through some magical revelation, they simply accepted the same words of wisdom from their own self-realized teacher.
“That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.3)
In the Bhagavad-gita, the speaker describes the chain of teachers and how sometimes that chain breaks with the passage of time. He gives that knowledge again to the sincere seeker, Arjuna, because he is a devotee of the speaker. Thus we see the proper way in which the knowledge is to be accepted. To question everything is a sign of real intelligence, and when the person asking the question finds the proper match in a teacher, the result is a true awakening into the matters of the material and spiritual worlds. Apprised of what awaits the devoted soul who sees the spiritual component to everything, the mindset changes from questioning to acting. The action is devotional service, and its most effective implementation in the present age is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Beyond tendency to only play,
To question is the philosopher’s way.
Why all such things to exist?
What after death to persist?
But from reaching a confusion one,
Philosopher can find answer none.
Real knowledge from Gita’s chapters eighteen,
Chain of teachers each the truth has seen.