How do I Know that I Know?
By Sankirtana dasa
Abstract: Does a reality beyond our present experience, as declared in the Yoga culture, truly exist? Is it really true that I am a spirit soul mistakenly fancying myself to be a creature of the phenomenal world? Is the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra indeed a pure transcendental activity? Will it really awaken me to my original awareness? How can I be confident that what is told in the Bhagavad-gétä is objectively accurate and not a matter of someone’s belief? How does one know anything for certain? A thoughtful person will ask, and should ask, such questions.
We are informed that Vedic sound (çabda) is self-evident and objective; there is no superior authority to prove it; there is nothing beyond it; literally, it is evidence that proves itself. But we can also note that when we are covered by false ego, we are deaf and blind to our own hearts and to the transcendental sound that comes from Krishna. Owing to the blinded condition, one is unable to experience the existence of Krishna. Krishna nonetheless helps a willing person via an expert teacher. Such a teacher guides the person towards the goal of Yoga primarily in perfecting the hearing process. Recovered awareness serves then as proof for the validity of the process and the correctness of the Vedic view. Some detailed elements that lend support to the accuracy of this process follow hereunder.
Yoga, defined in Bhagavad-gétä 5.11 as käyena manasä buddhyä kevalair indriyair api, is the state in which the functions of the body, mind, intellect, and even the senses are kevala, completely pure. In the kevala state, consciousness passes over the barrier of deceptive sense impressions to link with the cause of all causes, Krishna. Taking shelter of Krishna is not a hypothetical venture that the mind may reject later on. Indeed, the only real contentment for anyone is the experience of the transcendental excellence of the Lord's holy name, form, quality, pastimes, and relationships. When one knows Krishna in full, ignorance and the doubts it spawns are abolished. Because all this transpires from hearing sound infused with Krishna's spiritual potency, Krishna is known as çrutekñita: He who is seen through the ears. If we do not see Krishna, it is because we don't hear Him. And we do not hear him when our desires are impure: “Krishna, or God, is situated in everyone's heart. As you become purified, He speaks. He speaks always, but in our impure condition, we cannot hear.”
在《博伽梵歌》5.11中，瑜伽被定义为，käyena manasä buddhyä kevalair indriyair api，身体、心意、智力甚至感官的功能是kevala，完全纯粹的境界。在kevala境界中，意识超越欺诈的感官印象的阻隔，与万源之源奎师那相连。托庇于奎师那并不是一项心意随后又会拒绝的假想的冒险。实际上，人只有从主超然完美的圣名、形体、品质、逍遥时光以及人际关系中才能体验到真正的满足。当人彻底理解了奎师那的时候，愚昧和它产生的疑惑就被摧毁了。因为从聆听开始的这一切都灌注着奎师那的灵性能量，所以奎师那以çrutekñita而闻名：通过耳朵看到的他。3如果我们没看到奎师那，那是因为我们没有聆听他。而当我们的欲望并不纯粹的时候，我们不会聆听他：“奎师那，或神，处在众生心中。当你变得纯粹的时候，他便开始说话。他一直在说话，但在不纯粹的状态下，我们无法听到他的声音。”4
Certainly, directly hearing Krishna is not an easy thing, although it appears so when perusing writings such as the popular Conversations with God series. But we should know that such books or teachings arise from the mental realm and hardly ever tell concrete truth – what to speak of informing about transcendental reality. Their statements are always subject to errors (errare humanum est – to err is human), which can be spotted by sharp discernment. Moreover, such words do not have the potency to purify a reader captivated by external sense impressions. Through the mind and senses one is ordinarily engrossed in the ever-changing material world. This misdirection of consciousness powers the turning of the saàsära-cakra – the wheel of birth and death. Misinformed by imperfect sense data and bewildered by uncertainty since time immemorial, the mind misconstrues reality. When, in spite of this, we believe that we will gain flawless experiences by reading such defective books, we are deceiving ourselves. Because Conversations with God and other channeled works arise from minds operating within the relative time-space realm, they only further add to the perplexity of misdirected minds. Clearly, the word “God” in relation to channeling – as in many other cases – is a misnomer and should be corrected.
But how do I know that what Vedic sound reveals is objective reality? According to modern understanding, only when information is open to confirmation by the public can something be called objective. Does Vedic sound, which is often accessible to the perception of only a few, qualify as objective truth? Furthermore, can materially formed sounds ever convey nonmaterial awareness? The answer is yes: Vedic sound vibrations are untainted by false ego since they descend from the transcendental realm.
We all know that sound is a most versatile medium, but we commonly fail to grasp that there is an occult power behind words. For instance, if I speak with a dear friend over the telephone, I experience much more than a tinny voice in the earpiece. I experience his warmth, his humor, and his concern for my wellbeing. In short, I experience his personality. But because the potency of his words is limited, his smiling face, his firm handshake, and so many other features are not made explicit through the telephone. I do not experience his total personality. But because Vedic sound (çabda) is absolutely pure it has the power to uplift awareness, hence objective reality is gradually and directly perceived in its self-evident glory; it is truth beyond space and time.
Spiritual sound, also called apräkåta (not manufactured, or not prakåti, not within the range of material nature) is tasted as nectar at the ultimate stage of awareness. Apräkåta knowledge is the divine perception of the Lord's transcendental pastimes, beyond the mechanical functions of material nature. Apräkåta knowledge reveals the person’s original position as an eternal loving associate of Krishna in the spiritual world. This is direct perception of the highest order (divya-pratyakña), direct perception through spiritual senses. It floods the person's consciousness with unending bliss. Such divya-pratyakña is knowledge of the Lord in full through yoga, the linking of the spiritually transformed body, mind, intelligence, and senses to Krishna.
Another term that describes the effect of Vedic sound is çästramülaka: sound forever rooted in pure awareness. Even though conveyed by a tangible medium (a voice, or printed matter), çästramülaka words remain pure. Neglecting ordinary sensory perception and mundane reasoning, adept Yogés succeed in discerning their real, spiritual ego, and experience objective reality. Likewise, our doubting ceases in proportion to our progressive purification.
In contrast to the Vedic version, philosophical schools as for example rationalism emphasize anumäna, or reason, to be the ultimate self-evident truth. Central to rationalism is the notion that the mind can know the underlying meaning of everything by deep thought. It may seem that rationalism and the Vedic method of discernment described above are comparable. But the former comes to a very different result. It rationalizes existence, or in other words, gives it a mental basis. Its discussions are mainly about ideas of reality, soul and the rest. Thus rationalists investigate the world as they think it should be, and unlike empiricists, who investigate the world with sensory means, they rely on their mental strength.
Vedic philosophy neither accepts sensory perception (pratyakña) nor reason as ultimate proof. Real knowledge is transcendental. It is divya-pratyakña, divine perception that depends upon nothing material, not even the logical functions of the mind. Sense perception and reasoning devoid of Vedic sound are disqualified as self-evident authority. For instance, anumäna can help us form a reasonable basis for a belief in worlds other than our own, as quantum physics does. But reason alone cannot bring us to the realization, with complete certainty, of other worlds in a different material dimension, what to speak of unquestionable realization of the transcendental worlds of the spiritual dimension. The case of quantum physics is telling: many of us know from popular science magazines and pocketbooks that scientists confirm the existence of other worlds that influence our own. But it is unlikely that scientists perceive these worlds, and thus these worlds remain only an idea for them. If, in addition to their anumäna efforts, they used çabda, they would succeed in their efforts to know them.
Çabda (transcendental sound), in contrast, reveals truths that defective minds are unable to discern by referring to themselves. One such truth is that the mind is a subtle material covering of consciousness, something like the smoke that clouds a flame, which is not burning cleanly. The flame is comparable to the soul, for the flame spreads its light like the soul spreads consciousness. A flame burning uncleanly is like a soul in mäyä, the state of forgetfulness of Krishna, or God. From the soul in mäyä, the mind arises, like smoke rising from a flame. Consequently, by means of the mind one is unable to objectively perceive the pure self.
The special feature of the Vedic viewpoint is the understanding of the deceived condition of our minds (mäyä) as described in the example of smoke that clouds a flame. Because of the resultant distorted experience we need to hear from an undistorted source. Suppose we want to understand the influence of alcohol. We could try induction and taste it. However, a person under the influence of intoxication caused by the ingestion of alcohol loses his ability to correctly assess anything, including his own condition. The better way to understand alcohol is to learn about it from authentic sources that instruct us all about its positive and negative uses. Thus understanding the influence of alcohol, one sees clearly that a drunkard's condition is abominable. One will therefore not trust such a person and most likely abstain from drinking alcohol.
The mind is called caïcala in Sanskrit, meaning unsteady. Sometimes it is awake. Sometimes it dreams. Sometimes it is in deep dreamless sleep. When the light of self-knowledge is obscured, wakefulness, dreaming, and deep sleep delude consciousness. We therefore make such false statements as “I think,” “last night I dreamt,” “I was unconscious,” and so on. But all the while the flame of the self, the soul, burns eternally, unaffected by this clouding of its light.
We need superior insight to come to an objective perception. As illustrated in the example of a person under the influence of alcohol, when the living entity is not in his original state of consciousness, his perception is exclusively restricted to subjective perceptions. Yet many scientists, following their assumption that the world can be known through the senses or at least by the mind, deceitfully uphold their assertion of flawless information. Currently, they lead mankind’s thinking and actions in most spheres of life, receiving admirations for enabling people to enjoy longevity.
Many scientists share a common denominator: it is a strong work ethic. Going into the lab or out in the field to come back with a tangible gain, something the rest of the world can get their hands on. From such scientific work, which comes down to us as technology and medical aids, we enhance material life. But material life is in the hands of death, the ultimate suffering. At the time of death, our hands lose their grip on technology and medicine. Then how are these sciences a tangible gain? Whatever the results of the scientific method may be, they do not tackle life's substantial questions: why was I born, why must I die, and what is the purpose of this temporary human life? The philosophy of science is essentially a denial of this rudimentary certainty. Science appeals to reason and employs doubting as a means to obtain certainty, yet it simultaneously promotes ambiguity regarding a phenomenon that is certain, namely the existence of irrevocable death.
When our ethic is build upon epistemological, logical, and metaphysical uncertainty, we can expect trouble in society. In recent times, precisely because of adoption the doubting method as the means to acquire knowledge, doubts swamp the field of ethic, morality and conduct. Around the world, people debate about where the limits of individual freedom should be drawn; how far genetic engineering should be allowed; the meaning of equality and of human rights – and hundreds similar questions. Nobody seems to be able to tell for certain. When clear, satisfactory answers are not forthcoming, doubts give way to political strife, violence, revolution, and war. Such conflicts are endless, and at last breed indifference to moral values and disregard for essential social norms.