Knowledge culminates in devotion to God

påthivé-bhüñaëaàraja närénäàbhüñaëaàpatiù
çarvaré-bhüñaëaàcandor vidyäsarvasyabhüñaëam


The ornament of the earth is the king, and the ornament of a woman is a good husband. The ornament of night is the moon, and knowledge is the ornament of everything.

Ordinary people naturally follow the example of their leaders. Therefore it is crucial that the leaders of a country are persons of impeccable character.  Bhagavad-gita sums up this principle: “Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.”* The King is the natural leader of the state and as such he has to give a perfect example. Only then can he expect obedient subjects.

The prime duty of the king or the ruler of a country is to give protection to all the subjects. This includes not just the human beings but even animals and plants. The Sanskrit term denoting a perfect king is “rajarsi” – a saintly king, who combines the wisdom and detachment of a holly man with the vigor and heroism of a great warrior. It is hard to conceive that such a perfect combination is at all possible in a mortal human being. This is especially true nowadays when our politicians often display behavior which makes us question their basic decency.  Still, we find many descriptions of ideal kings in the Vedic literatures. The Vedic King, being magnanimous and perfect in His duty, performed many welfare activities and treated the citizens as His sons and daughters, and the citizens, being trained in the Vedic social system, were obedient and perfectly ordered.

This type of king was considered a true representative of God and was called accordingly Naradeva (God in human form). According to Vedic culture, the king is honored as God because he is God’s representative, and God is the ultimate protector of all. In the Bhagavad-gita the Lord Himself declares, “Among men I am the monarch”*. A king or governmental head must therefore be so competent to rule over the state that the citizens will respect him as God in human form. That is the perfectional stage for the head of any government or state.

Of course, part of King’s qualities was that he was very humble. He did not think of himself as God but only as God’s representative who was appointed to do a particular service for His pleasure, namely to protect the citizens and to ensure their material and spiritual progress. In this sense the competent king saw himself as a servant of his subjects.

Naturally not all the kings in Vedic times were equally competent. The Vedic literatures also describe impious kings who became proud of their position and were as a result removed from the throne. Famous in this regard is the story of king Vena. He displayed his bad qualities since an early age – as a boy he was so cruel, that while playing with young boys of his age he would kill them very mercilessly, as if they were animals meant for slaughter. After seeing the brutal behavior of his son, the pious King Aìga punished him in different ways to reform him, but was unable to bring him to the path of gentleness. When Vena ascended to the throne, he considered himself to be greater than anyone. Thus he began to insult great personalities and stopped the performance of all religious rituals. The great sages gathered together and cursed the demoniac king and as a result of the curse Vena died immediately. Then the sages installed on the throne Vena’s son, Maharaja Prithu, an ideal king.

Like the king, the good husband should be able to offer protection to his chaste wife in all respects. Of course, this is possible only when one recognizes that it is God alone who can give ultimate protection. Keeping this in mind, a first-class husband should make sure that his wife is well situated materially and spiritually. He should take care of her material needs and inspire her for spiritual advancement as well. He can accomplish this with his good qualities such as knowledge, wisdom and detachment, and not simply by demanding respect.

According to the Vedic tradition, having knowledge is much better than having wealth. Even in material life this is easy to understand – the intelligent person, even poor, can amass huge amount of money but the fools prosperity won’t last long.

In spiritual sense the acquisition of transcendental knowledge and realization is the highest accomplishment. The reason for this is simple – by transcendental knowledge one can break free of the painful cycle of birth, death, old age and disease. To be knowledgeable means to recognize one’s real position. Simply theoretical understanding on the subject is not enough, however; one should also act accordingly. By applying this transcendental knowledge in daily life one gains practical realization (wisdom).

In the contemporary Western culture the truth is apprehended merely on the intellectual plane, and the method of knowledge is to explain the sense data with mental speculation. The Vedic method of knowledge on the other hand is “darsana”, a systematic revelation of spiritual reality. The Vedic scriptures are “sabda brahma”, spiritual sound vibrations. They are intended to bestow genuine realizations (“vijnana”) that the self is not matter but a spirit soul and that the individual soul depends on the Supreme Soul.

The entire life of the follower of the Vedic culture is dedicated to cultivating spiritual knowledge. In the Vedas there is a prescribed way of life for the civilized man; there are many rules and duties intended to discipline and purify him. After leading such a life dedicated to self-realization and eventually forsaking all material activities, the seeker meditates on the truths of the Upanisads (the philosophical portion of the Vedas.) Thus these truths are not merely intellectual ideas but become a living spiritual reality. Therefore according to the Vedic tradition there are three stages of education:

First comes“sravana”, or hearing from a teacher, then “manana”, or acquisition of spiritual insight and understanding by reflecting on the subject, and finally, realization an application in life, or “nidhidyasana”.

In order to acquire spiritual knowledge, one must approach a genuine spiritual teacher who comes in an authoritative disciplic succession, “parampara”, and is fixed in the Absolute Truth:

tad-vijïanarthamsagurumevabhigacchetsamit-panihsrotriyam brahma-nistham

To understand these things properly, one must humbly approach, with firewood in hand, a spiritual master who is learned in the Vedas and firmly devoted to the Absolute Truth.***

The Upanisads contain sacred doctrines (“rahasyas”) which are to be imparted only to qualified students. Thus they are described as “guhya-vidya” or confidential knowledge. The most confidential truth, however, is not even knowledge itself. According to the secret of all secrets found in the Vedas, knowledge, when genuine, must lead to loving devotional service to God. This is explained in the Bhagavad-gita where Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, declares:

After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.****

* Bhagavad-gita 3.21
Bhagavad-gita 10.27
Mundaka Upanisad 1.2.12
Bhagavad-gita 7.19

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