On Seeing Through the Scriptures
Shastra chakshus means seeing, reasoning, and acting by the light of the scriptures. Everything Gaudiya Vaishnavas do, practice, and know comes from the Vedic scriptures, especially the Vaishnava scriptures. There are two important manifestations of Divinity for devotees of Krishna: the scripture Shrimad Bhagavatam, and the person who exemplifies them, or the person Bhagavatam. Of the two, the person Bhagavatam is more important, since he or she teaches us how to understand and live by the scriptures. The six Goswami disciples of Lord Chaitanya have studied all the Vedas thoroughly to give us the distilled essence of the scriptures to support the path of bhakti, in pursuit of prema (love of Krishna). Otherwise, we (or even great scholars without bhakti) can’t make sense of the often contradictory statements and recommendations for people in different modes of nature.
We are advised in the Gita’s second chapter to be free of dualities, and from anxieties for gain and safety in order to spiritually fixed, as the Vedas mainly deal with modes of nature. If we understand their ultimate purpose by good association, along with study and experience, all our other purposes will be served. [Bg 2.45-46] Thus by the grace of my teacher, Prabhupada, his followers, and/or our gurus, and the previous acharyas (saintly teachers), we know which scriptures to base our seeing from.
For many people in various religious traditions, the idea of having an intermediary between us and God, or the scriptures, doesn’t sit well with us. The Protestant movements of Christianity grew out of perceived abuses of religious authorities, and this attitude is still prevalent with many Westerners. Although it is true that every soul has a personal relationship with God, in the Vaishnava tradition and many spiritual paths of the East, the importance of studying with a spiritually adept sage, having faith in him or her, and serving them, is well established. Even Krishna, in his various incarnations, showed by His example the importance of accepting a living example, and master of the teachings.
We will always find less than ideal teachers, yet counterfeit money means there is real money. After all, we don’t really find a guru, they find us, but by the arrangement of Krishna: "According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krsna. By the mercy of both Krsna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.” [Chaitanya Charitamrita Madhya-lila 19.151]
The way of understanding Vedic knowledge is through the disciplic succession of teachers or guru-parampara (Bg 2.7, 4.1-3 & 34), which also means the descending process—it is descending from the Lord, as Krishna is the father of Vedic knowledge, and its knower; and knowing Him is its purpose. Even if read the Vaishnava scriptures we can’t understand them properly without the guru-parampara from the Lord himself, so we could say that our shastra-chakshus means seeing through the scriptures with the help of realized teachers. “Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” [Bg 3.21] Although this verse speaks of a general principle for everyone, it certainly applies to the devotee’s pursuit of knowledge and devotion.
We see through the scriptures according to our guru and the previous acharyas, and eventually our own realization. In the purport of the above verse Prabhupada writes: “Thus the leader's teaching should be based on the principles of such standard sastras. One who desires to improve himself must follow the standard rules as they are practiced by the great teachers. The Srimad-Bhagavatam also affirms that one should follow in the footsteps of great devotees, and that is the way of progress on the path of spiritual realization.”
By studying the scriptures along with Prabhupada’s purports and other Vaishnava commentaries we learn the science of bhakti and can apply the principles of Krishna consciousness in diverse situations. We no longer only see with only our eyes, but with the help of realized teachers, we learn how to see and reason spiritually through the scriptures, and thus understand and thus practically apply them. This is confirmed from Prabhupada’s Nectar of Devotion, where he writes in describing the qualities of Krishna (Seer by the Authority of the Scriptures): “So seeing things through the naked eye is not actually seeing. Seeing things through the authorized books or authorized teachers is the correct way to see.” Krishna Himself teaches us the importance of good association to help ascertain the best course of action when he refers to Uddhava, his trusted advisor in his kingdom on Dvarka: “The Personality of Godhead said: You are indeed Our best eye and closest friend, for you know perfectly the relative value of various kinds of counsel. Therefore please tell Us what should be done in this situation. We trust your judgment and shall do as you say.” [SB 10.70.47]
Following the lead of great devotees is the way to see through the scriptures and make the mind our friend [Bg 6.5], rather than letting it distract us. We worship the Deity, the devotee, the guru, and the scripture, only because we learned to do so by the grace of a devotee. After being inspired by the devotee’s example, and/or words, we began living our life based on how the scripture is explained. By doing so we gain our own perspectives based on realization. Thus the tradition, although based on the scriptures and saints, is meant to manifest in our hearts and blaze brightly.