Ladies and gentlemen, today’s subject matter is the teachings of the Vedas. What are the Vedas? The Sanskrit verbal root of veda can be interpreted variously, but the purport is finally one. Veda means knowledge. Any knowledge you accept is veda, for the teachings of the Vedas are the original knowledge. In the conditioned state, our knowledge is subjected to many deficiencies. The difference between a conditioned soul and a liberated soul is that the conditioned soul has four kinds of defects. The first defect is that he must commit mistakes. For example, in our country, Mahatma Gandhi was considered to be a very great personality, but he committed many mistakes. Even at the last stage of his life, his assistant warned, “Mahatma Gandhi, don’t go to the New Delhi meeting. I have some friends, and I have heard there is danger.” But he did not hear. He persisted in going and was killed. Even great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, President Kennedy—there are so many of them—make mistakes. To err is human. This is one defect of the conditioned soul.
Another defect: to be illusioned. Illusion means to accept something which is not: maya. Maya means “what is not.” Everyone is accepting the body as the self. If I ask you what you are, you will say, “I am Mr. John; I am a rich man; I am this; I am that.” All these are bodily identifications. But you are not this body. This is illusion.
The third defect is the cheating propensity.
Everyone has the propensity to cheat others. Although a person is fool number one, he poses himself as very intelligent. Although it is already pointed out that he is in illusion and makes mistakes, he will theorize: “I think this is this, this is this.” But he does not even know his own position. He writes books of philosophy, although he is defective. That is his disease. That is cheating.
Lastly, our senses are imperfect. We are very proud of our eyes. Often, someone will challenge, “Can you show me God?” But do you have the eyes to see God? You will never see if you haven’t the eyes. If immediately the room becomes dark, you cannot even see your hands. So what power do you have to see? We cannot, therefore, expect knowledge (veda) with these imperfect senses. With all these deficiencies, in conditioned life we cannot give perfect knowledge to anyone. Nor are we ourselves perfect. Therefore we accept the Vedas as they are.
You may call the Vedas Hindu, but “Hindu” is a foreign name. We are not Hindus. Our real identification is varnasrama. Varnasrama denotes the followers of the Vedas, those who accept the human society in eight divisions of varna and asrama. There are four divisions of society and four divisions of spiritual life. This is called varnasrama. It is stated in the Bhagavad-gita (4.13), “These divisions are everywhere because they are created by God.” The divisions of society are brahmana, kshatriya, vaisya, sudra. Brahmana refers to the very intelligent class of men, those who know what is Brahman. Similarly, the kshatriyas, the administrator group, are the next intelligent class of men. Then the vaisyas, the mercantile group. These natural classifications are found everywhere.
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Source: Sri Isopanishad – Introduction by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Copyright BBT International http://www.vedabase.com/en/iso
(Delivered as a lecture by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada on October 6, 1969, at Conway Hall, London, England.)