Learning is a vital part of human existence. Whether it is learning on a physical, emotional, intellectual, artistic, or spiritual level, every single person has had to learn something from someone or somewhere. It is engrained into our psyche to learn from others who have more experience than ourselves. It is a natural instinct to watch and learn, or to inquire from others on how something is done. Children at a young age will ask a million questions.
Throughout the different stages of life we grow, and with that growth our inquiries also grow from simple questions to deeper ones. And most of the time there is always someone available to answer our questions. But sometimes we might learn the answers ourselves through our experiences, through our own self discovery.
But nonetheless learning from those more knowledgeable than us is always present.
We learn from our parents, from our friends, from our teachers, from our peers, from our co-workers, from our bosses, from our spouses, etc. The learning never stops and neither do the questions.
Who are we? What are we doing here? What’s the point of all this?
These might be the less asked questions but everyone has asked them at least once in their most private moments. And a lot of the time these are the types of questions that are harder to find the answers to. Who do you ask these types of things? Google can’t answer them. Maybe someone older and wiser than ourselves can.
We always need an authority to go to for the answers to our queries. If it’s a question about something to do with an automobile, we ask a mechanic. If it’s a question about relationships, we might ask our family or friends for advice. There is continually the need to find an authority from which we can inquire.
These days that authority is more and more becoming the mainstream media. People no longer watch the news or follow the goings on of the world with a grain of salt; they consume it whole-heartedly especially in the case of the younger generations.
If they see something being done by someone famous – then without a doubt it is something they must also do. Celebrities are the new authorities from which teenagers and young adults will form their opinions and learn about life.
And adults simply look to the media to keep up to date with the happenings in the world. But unfortunately the media today is becoming more and more controlled, more mindless and robotic. We blindly put our faith in the “professionals”, in the government, in the “authorities” of today’s world – but how authoritative and trustworthy are these people?
Politicians are dishonest except for one in a million, news corporations will cover what they are told to cover by the government and what will bring them higher ratings, the artists and celebrities are run by their labels and agencies – where is the truth in today’s world?
We have to be able to discern information and draw informed conclusions from it.
This comes from acknowledging the need for an authoritative figure to learn from. Since as long as humans have existed, they have always looked to mentors to teach them. In popular culture or myths there is always a mentor figure that teaches the protagonist what they need to learn. There is always the apprentice who learns from the master, the student who learns from the sensei or sifu, and the squire who learns from the knight. Luke Skywalker would not have been able to progress had he not learned from Obi-wan and Yoda.
We all need someone to learn from, and not just about the mundane things in life, but someone who can answer the deeper questions of the purpose of life and our existence. And this means recognizing that we do not know everything, and that we are not fully self sufficient. We need help. We cannot control the world around us. Really it is a type of surrender that we need to experience so that we are willing to hear from a higher authority.
But we have to know what a higher authority is, and how to discern a higher authority as being a legitimate authority on a subject.
If tomorrow, for example, someone famous like Justin Bieber were to tweet that cigarettes are good for you, there is a very good chance that a majority of his following would believe him. But is what he is saying correct?
So much false, misinformation is fed to us these days through the tangled web of the media, and no one knows how to dissect it for themselves anymore. We cannot just blindly accept people in positions of power as bona fide authorities or people that we can learn from. We have to know the criteria on what makes someone a legitimate authority or not.
And this is especially true in spiritual matters. There are so many pseudo-religious teachers these days, all touting their particular brand of wisdom, and yet so much of it is empty and nonsensical. And yet these people will have thousands or millions of followers who devoutly and attentively listen to what they have to say, and take it to heart.
But how can we know whether what someone is saying is the truth?
We are actually able to discern this in three ways:
- Is what they are saying in line with scripture?
- Is what they are saying in line with their own way of life?
- Is what they are saying in line with our inner conscience?
If what someone is teaching lines up with scripture, then that’s a good sign. They are not simply making it up. But since a lot of scriptures have been altered and some religions have indeed been made up, this is not quite enough. We have to make sure that that scripture has come from a bona fide source. Does this scripture date back to a genuine authority? Has it been altered through history?
A good example of a traceable bona fide scripture is the Bhagavad Gita: As It Is, translated by A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad. In this edition of the Bhagavad Gita, he has laid out each step of the translation process so that you can see that nothing has been altered. First will be the Sanskrit writing, then the translation of the Sanskrit to English characters, then the translation of the English Sanskrit words to English words, and finally, the English translation of the text. After this he gives his purport, but there is no alteration to the original text.
A bona fide scripture should be able to show that it has not been altered or misinterpreted in its being handed down through the generations.
Another way to determine whether or not someone speaks the truth is to evaluate how they live their own life. Are they simply doing lip-service and saying one thing, yet living a different way? Are they walking the walk or simply talking the talk?
And finally, we have to be able to hear the voice within our hearts, our internal conscience that can tell us whether something or not is right. Is what this person is saying ringing true in our hearts? Does it line up with the other two things – scripture & actions – or is something not right about it?
And if we are sincere in weighing these factors, then we will find our way to the truth. Because once you take a step in the right direction, it only becomes easier from there. Taking that first step is the hardest part. As Lao Tzu said “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
So next time there is some information presented to you as a fact, do a little research. Make sure that you can indeed trust the source of the information. Make sure the information is indeed authentic.
You’ll be surprised at what you learn.