As advised in Chapter Thirteen of the Bhagavad-gītā (13.8-12), one should culture knowledge in the following way:
- One should become a perfect gentleman and learn to give proper respect to others.
- One should not pose himself as a religionist simply for name and fame.
- One should not become a source of anxiety to others by the actions of his body, by the thoughts of his mind, or by his words.
- One should learn forbearance even in the face of provocation from others.
- One should learn to avoid duplicity in his dealings with others.
- One should search out a bona fide spiritual master who can lead him gradually to the stage of spiritual realization, and one must submit himself to such a spiritual master, render him service and ask relevant questions.
- In order to approach the platform of self-realization, one must follow the regulative principles enjoined in the revealed scriptures.
- One must be fixed in the tenets of the revealed scriptures.
- One should completely refrain from practices which are detrimental to the interest of self-realization.
- One should not accept more than he requires for the maintenance of the body.
- One should not falsely identify himself with the gross material body, nor should one consider those who are related to his body to be his own.
- One should always remember that as long as he has a material body he must face the miseries of repeated birth, old age, disease and death. There is no use in making plans to get rid of these miseries of the material body. The best course is to find out the means by which one may regain his spiritual identity.
- One should not be attached to more than the necessities of life required for spiritual advancement.
- One should not be more attached to wife, children and home than the revealed scriptures ordain.
- One should not be happy or distressed over desirables and undesirables, knowing that such feelings are just created by the mind.
- One should become an unalloyed devotee of the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and serve Him with rapt attention.
- One should develop a liking for residence in a secluded place with a calm and quiet atmosphere favorable for spiritual culture, and one should avoid congested places where nondevotees congregate.
- One should become a scientist or philosopher and conduct research into spiritual knowledge, recognizing that spiritual knowledge is permanent whereas material knowledge ends with the death of the body.
These eighteen items combine to form a gradual process by which real knowledge can be developed. Except for these, all other methods are considered to be in the category of nescience. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, a great ācārya, maintained that all forms of material knowledge are merely external features of the illusory energy and that by culturing them one becomes no better than an ass. This same principle is found here in Śrī Īśopaniṣad. By advancement of material knowledge, modern man is simply being converted into an ass. Some materialistic politicians in spiritual guise decry the present system of civilization as satanic, but unfortunately they do not care about the culture of real knowledge as it is described in the Bhagavad-gītā. Thus they cannot change the satanic situation.
In the modern society, even a boy thinks himself self-sufficient and pays no respect to elderly men. Due to the wrong type of education being imparted in our universities, boys all over the world are giving their elders headaches. Thus Śrī Īśopaniṣad very strongly warns that the culture of nescience is different from that of knowledge. The universities are, so to speak, centers of nescience only; consequently scientists are busy discovering lethal weapons to wipe out the existence of other countries. University students today are not given instructions in the regulative principles of brahmacarya (celibate student life), nor do they have any faith in any scriptural injunctions. Religious principles are taught for the sake of name and fame only and not for the sake of practical action. Thus there is animosity not only in social and political fields but in the field of religion as well.
Nationalism has developed in different parts of the world due to the cultivation of nescience by the general people. No one considers that this tiny earth is just a lump of matter floating in immeasurable space along with many other lumps. In comparison to the vastness of space, these material lumps are like dust particles in the air. Because God has kindly made these lumps of matter complete in themselves, they are perfectly equipped with all necessities for floating in space. The drivers of our spaceships may be very proud of their achievements, but they do not consider the supreme driver of these greater, more gigantic spaceships called planets.
There are innumerable suns and innumerable planetary systems also. As infinitesimal parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, we small creatures are trying to dominate these unlimited planets. Thus we take repeated birth and death and are generally frustrated by old age and disease. The span of human life is scheduled for about a hundred years, although it is gradually decreasing to twenty or thirty years. Thanks to the culture of nescience, befooled men have created their own nations within these planets in order to grasp sense enjoyment more effectively for these few years. Such foolish people draw up various plans to render national demarcations perfectly, a task that is totally impossible. Yet for this purpose each and every nation has become a source of anxiety for others. More than fifty percent of a nation's energy is devoted to defense measures and thus spoiled. No one cares for the cultivation of real knowledge, yet people are falsely proud of being advanced in both material and spiritual knowledge.
Śrī Īśopaniṣad warns us of this faulty type of education, and the Bhagavad-gītā gives instructions as to the development of real knowledge. This mantra states that the instructions of vidyā (knowledge) must be acquired from a dhīra. A dhīra is one who is not disturbed by material illusion. No one can be undisturbed unless he is perfectly spiritually realized, at which time one neither hankers nor laments for anything. A dhīra realizes that the material body and mind he has acquired by chance through material association are but foreign elements; therefore he simply makes the best use of a bad bargain.
The material body and mind are bad bargains for the spiritual living entity. The living entity has actual functions in the living, spiritual world, but this material world is dead. As long as the living spiritual sparks manipulate the dead lumps of matter, the dead world appears to be a living world. Actually it is the living souls, the parts and parcels of the supreme living being, who move the world. The dhīras have come to know all these facts by hearing them from superior authorities and have realized this knowledge by following the regulative principles.
To follow the regulative principles, one must take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master. The transcendental message and regulative principles come down from the spiritual master to the disciple. Such knowledge does not come in the hazardous way of nescient education. One can become a dhīra only by submissively hearing from a bona fide spiritual master. Arjuna, for example, became a dhīra by submissively hearing from Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead Himself. Thus the perfect disciple must be like Arjuna, and the spiritual master must be as good as the Lord Himself. This is the process of learning vidyā (knowledge) from the dhīra (the undisturbed).
An adhīra (one who has not undergone the training of a dhīra) cannot be an instructive leader. Modern politicians who pose themselves as dhīras are actually adhīras, and one cannot expect perfect knowledge from them. They are simply busy seeing to their own remuneration in dollars and cents. How, then, can they lead the mass of people to the right path of self-realization? Thus one must hear submissively from a dhīra in order to attain actual education.