“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)
The human being is endowed with the gift of reason. Reasoning comes from the intelligence, which is higher in the human species than in any other. This allows us to hold off on that second plate of pasta, for we know that though we think we are not full right now, eating that little bit more will bring discomfort later on. Reasoning tells us to hold off on consuming alcohol and other intoxicants while we are pregnant with child. Though we can’t see it right now, eventually a child will emerge from the womb. This reasoning can only take us so far, however, and in many instances it gives us an excuse to do the wrong thing. The true potential for the human birth is realized only when the reasoning ability is coupled with the bona fide spiritual master, who gives the missing puzzle piece known as realized knowledge.
Benjamin Franklin is one of the famous founding fathers of America. You can’t pin him into one category. He was many things. He was a husband, a father, a statesmen, an inventor, a philosopher, a gentlemen, and other things. As a wise man, he was always seeking the truth, and so he applied reason to his decisions. In his autobiography, he explains how he dabbled with vegetarianism at a young age. As if inherently knowing that it was beneficial to him, he makes mention of the benefits the diet brought to him. At the same time, he did not stay a vegetarian, and the excuse he used at the time was that fish ate so many other smaller fish, so why shouldn’t he eat fish as well? Realizing that this wasn’t very sound thinking, he made a joke at himself by pointing out that the human being uses its reasoning ability to find justification for doing whatever the mind likes.
“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.” (Benjamin Franklin)
Yes, this is indeed the pitfall to reason. The alcoholic justifies their behavior by thinking that they won’t be able to function without their adult beverages on a daily basis. The killer justifies their behavior by keeping in mind whatever injustices were previously done to them. The burglar thinks that the victims of the crime can part with their items, that they can afford to live without them. The thief in government has a similar logic; to win votes they take money from one group of citizens and give it to another. They think that this is okay since they are in government, which makes the laws. “Whatever is legal is alright,” is their mentality.
In the Vedas, the ancient scriptural works of India, we find many debates which are full of cogent philosophical points. The bad guys, the asuras, will often debate with the suras, the good guys. The bad guys try to justify their behavior. They throw out this quote and that to support their position. The good guys have knowledge on their side, but the ways of reasoning are such that anyone can find an excuse to justify their behavior.
The knowledge of the spiritual master is different. It is realized knowledge, and it is supported through the vision of the truth. The self-realized souls have seen the truth and thus they can impart knowledge unto others. This is what Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita. He is ultimately that truth, though He doesn’t appear the same way to everyone. To the wise souls whose vision of the truth has its limit at the impersonal Brahman, Krishna is seen as a light of truth. He is seen as the spiritual spark within every living creature. He is also perceived as the energy to the creation, the vital force that gives life to everything.
Other wise souls see Krishna as the Supersoul within the heart. They attain this vision through deep meditation. This is fixed concentration with strict austerities. Think of a life with no distractions, with no pressing engagements. In the quiet of loneliness, one has full shelter of the Supersoul within the heart, which they contemplate upon at all times.
Krishna the person is the full manifestation of the truth. It is very difficult to see Him, and not because He does not make Himself available. Rather, the distractions of the material existence make the perception very hard. Rare it is to find a soul who has seen Krishna and basked in His sweet vision. Even those who see painted images and carved statues of Him haven’t really seen Him. Without the eyes of devotion, the true vision of Krishna does not clearly manifest.
“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is Shyamasundara, Krishna Himself with inconceivable innumerable attributes, whom the pure devotees see in their heart of hearts with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.38)
Reason becomes wholly beneficial when matched with the realized knowledge of the guru. With the missing piece of the puzzle in devotion to God, one suddenly realizes that their reason can be used for maintaining the most sacred vision, one that gives real life. The first birth is through the womb of the mother, but after that there is little knowledge on how to proceed. As the saying goes, “He who hesitates is lost,” without a firm conviction in the mission of life, all are left to wander aimlessly in vain search for said mission.
The second birth is through the association of the spiritual master. This life is eternal because it is spiritual life. This life is the engagement for the soul, which lasts well beyond this current lifetime. Whether or not I eat that slice of pizza today will not matter in one hundred years, but my chanting of the holy names certainly will. My hearing from the guru on the topics of devotion, which automatically include knowledge and renunciation, will benefit me even a thousand years from now.
The reasonable creature that is the human being who finds the devoted soul who teaches the glories of bhakti-yoga uses their reason in the following manner:
“I know that life in this material realm is temporary. Birth and death flow in a cycle and no one knows for sure where they will end up next. Each day within such an existence is like a birth, and each nightfall a death. We can make plans for ten years out, but we never know really what is going to happen tomorrow. Therefore I will take to devotion today, for that will make me happiest. The soul is pleased when it is serving, and in devotional service the soul has the best person to serve all the time. It is a top-down approach, wherein the inverted tree is watered at the root, leading to nourishment of all the branches and leaves. That root is Krishna Himself, and with my intelligence, which is sharpened by the instructions of the spiritual master, I will find a way to always serve Him. I will find a way to always think of Him, despite all the obstacles I encounter. And whether I go to heaven, hell, or the spiritual world afterwards, I will continue in that service, for that is the best reward to seek.”
Human endowed with reasoning ability,
Thus can find excuse for every proclivity.
Truly not useful made,
Until obeisance to guru paid.
From their realized knowledge coming,
Assertive in life’s path becoming.
Reason then for devotion to use,
The wisest of paths to choose.