Interpreting Scriptures: The Need for a God-realized Saint

By Shreeman Pericherla

All glories to Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj

I walked down the nationality rooms in my university and stepped into the India Room. Most of the room reminded me of classical Indian architecture. Etched Hindi phrases, hand-carved desks and pillars, and ornate glass spread across the room. I marveled at some of the decorations until I came upon a glass display portraying the different religions in India. There was a Bible, Quran, and a small murti of Hanuman, but there were no Hindu texts.

I stormed back to my room and whipped out my laptop. My pudgy fingers crushed the keys as I drafted a letter to the university; I thought they acted foolishly by not putting Hindu texts on display in the Indian nationality room. As I scanned over the letter, a thought suddenly popped into my mind. What specific text would you use? The foundational Scripture for Santan Dharm is the Ved, but no one really knows much about it or refers to it. Many people consider the Bhagwad Gita to be a crown jewel of Santan Dharm, but Ved Vyasji explains the Srimad Bhagwatam is the essence of Santan Dharm. Which one do you pick if any of these?

Because Hindu Dharma contains a vast amount of knowledge which resonates with spiritual seekers from all over the world, the university faces a unique challenge. Texts like the Ved, Ramayan, Mahabharat, Brahma Sutra, etc explain so many nuanced philosophies. It can be one heck of a task to keep track of all the different texts.

We can categorize Hindu texts into 3 main groups: vinirgat grand, smrit grand, and kritha grand. Vinirgat grand refers to something having no beginning or end. Vinirgat grand is the Ved. Ved is that which comes from God but not made by God. In gist, after every dissolution of the universe, Ved enters back into God, and after every creation of the universe, Ved manifests from God in the same exact way. It never changes and exists as the ultimate authority of Santan Dharm (If you don’t get the exact definition, don’t worry about it. Just know that Ved is eternal and has no beginning or creation).

Smirit grand refers to text which was revealed by God or a God-realized saint. Smrit grand contains authoritative information and helps us on the path towards God-realization. Smrit grand further explains Ved and Vedic philosophy. Unlike vinirgrat grand, smrit grand has a time of creation. For example, the Bhagwad Gita is said to have happened at a certain date thousands of years ago, but the lessons are timeless.

Kritha grand refers to text written by a non-God realized saint. It holds no value. In fact, reading the commentaries or interpretations of non-God realized saints can be dangerously detrimental on our spiritual journey because they might not explain the philosophy correctly and leave us more confused.

Study of Vedic philosophy is considered a good thing. In chapter 16 of the Gita, Krishna explains divine and demonic qualities, and studying Scripture is a divine quality. However, there is a catch. We must take the guidance of a God-realized saint. In fact, Ved warns against us from studying by ourselves. We need the help of Guru to understand the proper interpretation of the philosophy because we are unable to interpret it ourselves.

These days, many people pervert and appropriate the word “guru” by applying it to almost anyone and anything. “John is our tech guru, Vijay is the new fitness guru, Sarah is the finance guru” etc. What does it actually mean? Gu means Maya, or the material energy. Specifically, it refers to the darkness and ignorance associated with the material energy. Ru means the one who can vanquish, dispel, eliminate, etc. Therefore, Guru is one who can dispel the darkness and ignorance caused by Maya from a soul.

In order to have the ability to dispel Maya, one needs to be above Maya. How do you rise above the material nature? You attain the thing which is above the material realm. Only those who have attained or realized God are above the material natures. In other words, a guru is not someone who only has theoretical knowledge of Scripture, for the one with only theoretical knowledge is called a scholar. Guru, on the other hand, has practical experience of the bliss of God.

Let’s refer back to the category of kritha grand. This grand is less than useless because it is written by someone who has not practically attained God. Think of it like this. Say I am giving a lecture on how to roll a roti. I spent decades learning how to roll a roti from aunties all over Bharatvarsh. I studied everything on how to roll a roti from the Rajasthani style to the Bengali style to the Kerala style. I spent my entire life’s work learning how to roll a roti perfectly. Through my years I earned my PhD in how to roll rotis and wrote dozens of books on the subject (my parents were super proud…I think…). However, I never once rolled one myself. How valid are the books I write? Who will listen to me at the pravachan? Lessons taught by those without the practical knowledge hold little to no value; we should take the lesson from an auntie who has real practical experience in rolling the roti, not me.

We should not interpret Scripture by ourselves because we are under the 3 gunas, or the 3 modes of material energy: sattva gun, rajo gun, and tamo gun. Sattva gun is the mode of goodness, tamo gun is the mode of ignorance or evil, and rajo gun is the mode of passion which is in between the sattvic and tamasic natures. These qualities are inherent of everything under the material realm. If our minds are not God-realized, then our minds are still material, if our minds are still material, our minds are under the gunas too.

In chapter 14 of the Gita, Krishna mentions how each of these gunas are in a dynamic flux in our mind; sometimes we are more tamasic, sometimes we are more rajasic, and sometimes we are more sattvic. Someone bumps into you on the street and does not apologize. One day, you could think, “I hope he trips and falls for not saying sorry.” Another day, the same thing happens, but you had your cup of coffee and think, “Wow, that man must be running late to work.” The situation from the two scenarios is exactly the same, yet the interpretations were vastly different depending on what guna predominated. The specific nature of our mind at the time of the event shaped our interpretation of what was happening when in reality the man was running to his pregnant wife in the hospital who was about to give birth.

Similarly, when reading Scripture, the nature of our minds plays a part in understanding the shlok or mantra. Because of our material minds, we conclude a mixture of sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic meanings from something divine. However, a divine entity is beyond the 3 modes of the material energy, so the messages of divine texts cannot be interpreted by those of us who are not God-realized.

During a Gita lesson, my teacher said many people have come to him saying every time they read the Gita, they get a different meaning from it. He said that is evidence it was not understood correctly the first time. God intended only 1 meaning, and that was the meaning He intended for Arjun (and us) to understand it as. If the true meaning and philosophy behind the foundational texts of Santan Dharm change every time we read them, then the philosophy cannot be santan. If something is truly eternal, then it must remain constant and applicable throughout time.

Without a God-realized saint, we risk committing spiritual transgressions because we might derive the wrong meaning when interpreting text. For example, say we take a shlok talking about the law of karm and destiny. One could interpret the shlok to mean everything is preplanned and freewill does not exist. Someone acting on this belief could commit any number of heinous atrocities with justification those atrocities were destined to happen. Many people could suffer the repercussions if we act based on the false pretense of our interpretations, and we ourselves can regress on the spiritual path.

Humbleness remains one of the most important quality to have on the path to surrender to God, but pride can develop when reading and studying Scripture without the guidance of a God-realized saint. Take the Gita for example. Say someone never knew what the Gita was. Say this person learned all 700 shloks. Don’t you think this person will develop some level of pride when he went from knowing nothing about Gita to being able to recite all 700 shloks?

Obviously, most of us don’t start off with the intention of increasing our pride; most of us have a general curiosity about Santan Dharm or are looking for some spiritual answers. However, we proudly claim, “I read and studied Ved, the Gita, the Ithihas, the Puranas, etc.” in an effort to impress other people. Some pride and satisfaction arise when we see other people marvel at our knowledge or complement us for pursing Vedic study. We feel good when people seek our counsel or ask for opinion on certain matters; we feel more valued because of this. Of course, there is no need to feel shame for this; the mind under Maya naturally has this quality. This is just a fact which we need to be mindful of. However, unlike learning by ourselves, studying the philosophy properly under the association of a God-realized saint will decrease our pride and increase our love for God. We cannot do that by our own merit.

In addition to being under Maya, our intellect does not have the mental caliber to handle something divine. No matter how hard we try to understand God, we can never understand Her without Her grace. Some people think their intellect is large enough to understand Ved. Here is one example to show us we need God’s grace to have an understanding and that our intellect alone is insufficient. When Krishna told the Ved to Brahma for the first time, Brahma could not comprehend what he heard. Only after Krishna graced Brahma was Brahma able to understand the meaning of Ved. If Brahma cannot understand Ved without God’s grace, how can we understand it by ourselves?

Finally, some things are not intended for intellectual analysis and questioning. Leelas, or divine pastimes of God, for example, are not meant to be questioned with a material mind. God does not take avatar on this planet to simply satisfy any intellectual curiosity; God takes avatar on this planet for the sake of providing sweet pastimes for the devotees to increase our love for God.

Krishna explains to Arjun the reason why He takes avatar time and time again in chapter 4 of the Gita. He says he descends to protect the righteous, destroy evil, and to reestablish the principles of Dharm. This does not make logical sense. God does not need to make a grand entrance on Earth to do any of these things. God is omnipresent. If He wanted to protect the righteous, He would not need to take avatar on this Earth to do so. God is all powerful. If He wanted to destroy the wicked and the evil, He could do so with a mere thought; there is no need to appear here. God resides in all living beings. If God wanted to reestablish the principles of Dharm, He could do it by gracing souls to understand Santan Dharm or have one of His saints take birth on this planet to teach and reestablish Dharm.

Jagadguru explains God takes avatar for our benefit alone. Leelas should be taken at face value with the appropriate mindset. We should not keep asking why. We should not apply our material intellect and ask, “Why would God do that? Why would God travel all the way to Sri Lanka for His wife? Why would God ask Sita to do this? Why would God need to steal butter? Why would God go to an ashram to learn? Why can’t God just stop this war? etc.”

Take an example from the Ramayan on why these divine pastimes should not be analyzed. When Ram found out Sita was missing, he roamed around the forest like a mad man. He asked the trees, the bees, and the mountains if they saw Sita.

Parvati, the consort of Shiva, at the time was known as Sati. Sati looked at Ram and wondered, “How can this be God?” She looked at Shiva who was offering obeisance to Ram, but She still could not believe that God would act this way, so Sati decided to test Ram.

Sati disguised herself to look exactly like Sita. She went down to meet Ram to confuse Him and prove He was not God. However, when Ram saw Sati disguised as Sita He asked, “Oh Mother, what are you doing here all alone? Where is Shankar?” Sati felt embarrassed because She tried to use Her intellect to understand God’s actions.

Another example which shows us we cannot use our material intellect to understand God is shown in the Srimad Bhagwatam. One day Krishna and the Gwalbals, his childhood friends, were sitting down for lunch and eating together while the cows were grazing. Brahma saw Krishna playing with His friends, wrestling with each other, eating together, and laughing together. Brahma could not believe that all-powerful God would spend time laughing and playing with simple, uneducated cow herd children and behave in such a way.

Long story short: Brahma applied his intellect to understand God’s actions and eventually learned how silly it is to think our material intellect can understand something divine. If such a high being like Brahma cannot understand the nature of the Vedas or God’s actions without God’s grace, how can we be so arrogant to think to we can understand it?

This does not mean we cannot question God. Prabhu Sri Ram even says to question or correct Him if He ever messes up or acts incorrectly. However, only certain souls which are qualified can do this. Yep, you guessed it. Only a God-realized saint, the one who is completely surrendered to God, can question God and His actions. We are not qualified to question in such a manner.

Just because we cannot understand the true meaning behind Scripture or a divine action, does not mean we should neglect it all together. We just need to be cautious. Because we are not qualified to interpret anything divine, we must take the knowledge from a God-realized saint. If we try to use a material intellect to analyze any of it and act on our interpretations, know that we can become more confused and also run the risk of regressing on the spiritual journey. Study the texts you want, but remember, only Guru, a true God-realized saint can explain the proper meaning and how to practically apply the philosophy.

 

Jai Sri Radhe

Shreeman has also written about the Nature of Happiness in Hindu Dharma. Read his other blog posts below:

Part One can be found at http://www.hindustudentscouncil.org/2020/04/13/nature-of-happiness/.

Part Two can be found at http://www.hindustudentscouncil.org/2020/05/03/nature-of-happiness-part-2/.

Part Three can be found at http://www.hindustudentscouncil.org/2020/06/10/nature-of-happiness-part-3/.

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