How to Develop Spiritual Vision
from Back To Godhead Magazine #19-10, 1984
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
In the Vedic literature we find the phrase shastra- caksus, which means “to see with the eyes of scripture.” Scriptures like the Bhagavad-gita teach eternal truths, and these truths can be confirmed in our daily experience. By this combination of hearing from scripture and seeing the material world as it really is, we can realize firsthand the nature of the soul and of God, even while we are performing our ordinary duties.
“I am the light of the sun and the moon,” declares Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita. Guided by these words, a perceptive person can see God in nature. Everyone sees the sun; without its rays nothing can be seen. And the sun is the energy of God, a part of Him. And the moon, so soothing and beautiful to see at night, is a reflection of the beauty of God.
Similarly, Lord Krishna says, “I am the taste of water.” The quality of water can be judged by the purity of its taste, and this pure taste is one of the energies of God. One who sees with the eyes of scripture, therefore, perceives God’s presence in water by its taste, and he glorifies God for kindly supplying the wonderful thirst- quenching liquid.
Then what about the ugly things in life? What lesson do they teach? How can they remind us of God? In our attempts to enjoy life, we tend to forget the ugly reality, yet in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, “The wise person is always aware of the evils of birth, death, disease, and old age.” Nowadays, rather than being ever mindful of these miseries of material existence, we have become expert at ignoring them and even at covering them up. But old age, disease, and death are all around us nonetheless, and an intelligent person will seek an alternative.
There is an instructive story in this connection from the early life of Lord Buddha. Born and raised in Gaya, India, as the son of a powerful king, the young Buddha lived sheltered within the family palace, never seeing the harsh realities of life. But when one day he ventured out for the first time in his life, he encountered the unpleasant features of the material world.
First he met a person who was deformed by a crippling disease. “What has happened to him?” the prince asked his companion, who replied that this man was diseased.
“Will this happen to me?” the prince asked.
“Yes, of course,” replied his guide, “one disease or another happens to each of us.”
The prince saw a very old person bent over and hobbling along. “What has happened to him?” he asked. And his friend replied that this was old age, a misery that eventually afflicts everyone. Then the prince encountered a corpse, and he was shocked to learn that this was the final blow for all mortals—death. “Yes,” he was told, “this will also happen to you.”
Unlike ordinary persons who try to ignore the inevitability of suffering or who imagine that it can somehow be avoided, Buddha was deeply affected. He realized that, in light of the inescapable miseries of material existence, no one could be truly happy. Ultimately, he came to realize the state of nirvana, or that existence beyond the cycle of repeated birth and death. We may not be as elevated as Lord Buddha, yet by the grace of the great sages and scriptures like the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad- Bhagavatam, we can also see the truth.
Practicing the art of seeing through the eyes of scripture is especially easy in India. For example, the scriptures compare a man who works hard but never inquires into self- realization to the washerman’s donkey, struggling all day under the washerman’s load in return for a little grass to eat. The donkey does not understand that grass is easily available all around, so he ignorantly surrenders to the washerman. In another Vedic analogy, unrealized human beings who waste their lives in indiscriminate eating and illicit sex are compared to hogs, a common—if revolting—sight in the Indian villages. The graphic examples of the donkey and the hog are not merely metaphors; according to the laws of transmigration, a person who misuses his life may become a beast in his next life, so that he can better express his hoglike or asslike mentality.
Life in the West also provides many unique opportunities for a person to apply the art of seeing with the eyes of scripture. According to the Bhagavad-gita, all varieties of personalities and material phenomena can be divided into three basic categories: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Once a person associates with these three forces, or modes, he comes under their control and is forced to act. “When there is an increase of the mode of ignorance,” Lord Krishna informs us, “darkness, inertia, madness, and illusion are manifest.” Thus we can see in the behavior of the drunkard, the drug addict, and the slothful person how one can be controlled by the mode of ignorance.
A person in the mode of passion is described as one who intensely endeavors to satisfy his senses. From this description we can conclude that many apparently successful workers are under the grips of passion, and we can foresee the inevitable results of their actions. Thus it is said that one who understands the scriptures can see the future.
Through the eyes of scripture, we can gain many insights into contemporary life in the West. We can perceive the widespread illusion that the body is the self (displayed in racial prejudice, nationalism, and rampant sense gratification). We can also perceive the illusion that the land of one’s birth is sacred, and—grandest illusion of all—that this brief life and this temporal world are permanent and all in all.
The art of seeing with the eyes of scripture is not just an amusing way of looking at the world; rather, it is the art of following higher knowledge. The scriptures correct our vision so that we are not fooled by mere appearances that make us think material possessions or a beautiful woman are worth attaining even at the cost of our soul. With truth gathered from the Vedic scriptures, we can confront the material world for what it is, learn to distinguish illusion from truth, and appreciate all nature as part of Krishna’s energy.
The ultimate spiritual vision is to see God through eyes of love. This will occur when we absorb ourselves in devotional service. The scriptures and sages invite us to chant Lord Krishna’s holy names and to see His Deity in the temple. These are direct experiences of the spiritual energy within the material world. The scriptures promise that if we engage in pure devotional service, the Lord will reveal Himself in our heart and give us the intelligence to see Him everywhere.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says, “For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost to him, nor is he ever lost to Me.”