It is sometimes found that the students of various spiritual disciplines argue amongst themselves as to who’s teaching is right or wrong. It is often the case that the students argue simply on the basis of dogma, and never really touch upon the truth. In yet other instances the students are seen to argue about the truth, each supporting his own knowledge or realization but not realizing that his opponent is also discussing the same Absolute Truth but from a different angle of vision.
To illustrate this point there is a very nice Sufi poem entitled: ‘The Blind men and the Elephant’
It was six men of Hindustan
To learning much inclined
Who went to see an Elephant
Though each of them was blind
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”
The second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me tis very clear
This wonder of an Elephant
is very like a spear!”
The Third approached the animal,
and happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see” quoth he, “The elephant
Is very like a snake!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain!” quoth he:
“Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “Even the blindest man
Can tell what this resemblest most:
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what the others mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
According to India’s great literature, Shrimad Bhagavatam, the Absolute Truth is realized in three stages according to the position of the seer; Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan.
vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvam yaj jnanam advayam
brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti shabdyate
“Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan.”
Brahman is the stage of impersonal realization. Paramatma is the partial representation of the Absolute Truth in the heart of every living entity. And Bhagavan is the stage of realization of the Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, as the fountainhead of ecstatic mellows of divine love. The ‘ONE’ Absolute Truth is thus manifest in three stages Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan.
To help the fallen souls in this world in their march toward the divine realm of Shri Krishna in Goloka Vrindavana, the supreme spiritual abode, the Lord sometimes comes Himself or sends His bonafide representative. Knowing this important fact, a sincere seeker of the truth can draw down the ultimate good from all bonafide spiritual masters.
At a glance, such spiritual masters may appear to have differing opinions and even contradict each other. But to the actually learned person, these differences are only external while internally he sees the spiritual unity amongst them, in that they work only for the benefit of the world and work only under the orders of the Supreme Lord.
Although the truth is eternal, the truth nevertheless evolves in human society in gradual stages. In presenting these five essays on the lives and teachings of India’s leading spiritual authorities beginning with Buddha we hope that our readers will not only gain a wealth of knowledge about the lives of these saints but that they will also understand the contribution of each in a progressive way, culminating in the teachings of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Great Master.
The truths discussed in this book are not a sectarian concern and we do not place any master above another on the basis of sectarian favoritism. Yet the truth is dynamic and it can be seen at the apex in the teachings of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Therefore if one sincerely reads this book with an open and pure heart they will surely understand the ultimate goal of life and how to achieve it.
Swami B. G. Narasingha