Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #10 – Realization: What is It, Why is It Important, and How Do You Get It?

March 6th, 2017

What is it?

If someone steps on your toe and you become angry have you realized you are not your body? You certainly theoretically understand you are not the body, but do you realize or see it? Simply put, jñāna (theoretical knowledge) is what one understands to be true, and vijñāna (realized knowledge) is what one sees as true.
A good way to better grasp this difference between understanding (theoretical knowledge) and seeing (realized knowledge) is to look at the difference between how one understands and sees one’s bad habits. For example, a recovering drug addict may theoretically understand (jñāna) how much suffering addiction causes, but still due to a lack of realization (vijñāna) when confronted with the source of his addiction mistakenly sees it as a source of happiness.
Why is it important?

The importance of having realization should be obvious. It is easier to live by the truth the more deeply we see it and the more we live the truth the happier we become. This is true in all spheres of life from the truth about health and relationships to the truth about the self.
The importance of realization should be even more obvious from observing the lack of it in ourself and others. In fact, all problems are a dearth of it. For example, our greatest fear is death, but death itself is the illusion of non-existence, and thus the self-realized soul, one who clearly realizes this, is not disturbed by it.
This important realization – that the self-realized can conquer death – is a major theme of śāstra (scriptures). [1] For example, in the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā a self-realized soul is described as not bewildered by the change of body called death. [2]
Realization is also important because it is a prerequisite for being an effective teacher, especially a spiritual teacher. Without such depth it would be impossible for a teacher to properly explain what he or she has understood in a way to accommodate the frame of reference of his or her audience without losing the original intended meaning. Lacking realization one can only repeat what one has learned verbatim, even if his or her audience figuratively no longer speaks the same language and misunderstands what the teacher has to say. In that regard, Śrīla Prabhupāda stresses the necessity for realization as a prerequisite for effective teaching:
The original purpose of the text must be maintained. [3] No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realization.” [4] (Bhāg. 1.4.1, purport)
The Bhāgavatam teaches us that the whole world is moving around us just to give us realizations, realizations so important it is worth any sacrifice to get them, and that properly understanding them allows one to confront any tribulation with hope. [5]
How to get it?

The Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad (4.5.6) gives a simple explanation how realization arises; first by hearing the truth, then by reflecting on it, and finally by repeatedly applying it.
In other words, the best way to garner realization is to regularly hear the śāstra (scripture), the repository of knowledge or good ideas, and reflect on what you have heard. This does not entail being a scholar or having to memorize text. It only requires the desire to be transformed by it and to commit oneself to regularly engaging with it. Profound thoughts will inevitably strike you, ideas that seem familiar and true, but which may not be deeply understood, but should be. By reflecting on them you will inevitably see those same truths in the world and by embracing them and acting on them gain important realizations. Your life will then change.
A Recommendation

While attending a seminar in Govardhana by Bhūrijana dāsa many years ago I learned a simple method to study śāstra that I regularly apply to the study of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books that helps me get helpful realizations and is the source of many or even most of my Monday Morning Greetings.

  1. Set a time and a place exclusively for the study of śāstra. Even ten minutes will do if you are busy.
  2. Pray to the teachers you will be encountering in your study to be transformed or impacted by their teachings and to address and answer your questions and doubts. For example, in reading the Bhāgavatam I pray to Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śukadeva Gosvāmī and those teachers I am expecting to encounter in that day’s study.
  3. Read slowly. Take a prayerful disposition; imbibe the mood as if you are in audience of these great souls. Sometimes reading a bit audibly will help.
  4. When something strikes you stop and read it out loud three times.
  5. When your prescribed time is over stop. Don’t continue reading more. If you feel you can devote more time then increase your vow the next day.
  6. Pay your obeisances and offer gratitude to the teachers you encountered.
  7. Optional: Free write your thoughts for a few minutes. Underline the sentence or thought in your writing you liked best. [6]

Final Thought

I will leave the reader with a final thought that was told to me once by a sādhu in Vṛndāvana when I asked him to share with me a realization:
“The most important thing is to have good thoughts. From good thoughts comes good action. From good action comes good habits. From good habits come good character and from good character comes the right destination.”

[1] The seminal question of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is “What is the duty of man who is about to die?” and the answer begins with the proposition “If you want to be fearless at the time of death…” implying that the purpose of the Bhāgavatam is to give one the realization to do so.
[2] Bhagavad-gītā 2.13
[3] Italicized in original text.
[4] Bolded here for emphasis. Does not appear in bold in original text.
[5] I gleaned this conception of realization from the text and commentary to Bhāg. 1.9.12-14 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda.
[6]Free writing is a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_writing) It is important in free writing not to let your pen stop writing even if you write “I don’t know what to say”. My experience is that we remember a lot more than we give ourselves credit for and once the pen is moving we can hardly stop expressing our ideas.

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