If smriti is compiled by sages, how can we know that it is free from the four defects?
Question- If scriptures are compiled by sages then how can we be sure that it does not have any defects and they offer us the benefits they are intended for?
- Sages who compile the the scriptures are very advanced spiritually due to which they are connected to Krishna who provides them the intelligence to compile such literature.
- There could be interpolations in the smritis, e.g. Mahabharata, but their message remains the same. Also a good portion of Vedas would have historical, astronomical etc. knowledge, but we should focus on spiritual knowledge because such knowledge only brings transformation in our heart.
- Whether this knowledge can really bring transformation? This should be checked by ourselves following the process this knowledge provides.
Answer (long)- Scriptures are divided into two parts – SHRUTI and SMRITI. Shruti is that revelation which directly comes from God. Smriti is the explanation of that revelation based on the realization of that particular scripture. Smriti means recollection that makes the import of shruti accessible to us. If we just read the shruti, often it is difficult to understand and most importantly understand its relevance to us while smriti is easier to follow. We should not see smriti as different from the Vedic tradition rather it is all one integral body of knowledge.
Secondly, we should understand that the sages especially by whom the scriptures are compiled are very advanced spiritually. In general, the more spiritually advanced we are, the more we get connected with Krishna, and the more we become qualified to impart this confidential knowledge as-it-is to others. In other words, the sages of the past were intimately connected with Krishna so the knowledge compiled by them reveals the truth.
dadami budhiyogam tam yena mamupyanti te (BG 10.10)
As Krishna says, “I give knowledge unto you by which you can come to me”. One way He gives the knowledge is through super soul in our heart and other way is through our guides whose guidance we use to go back to Him. The more we are connected to Krishna the more we get guidance from Him. So the sages who have compiled scriptures are not ordinary people. They are very intimately connected with Krishna and intimately guided by Krishna.
Apart from that, we have to understand that scripture has a particular context. Smriti will have a contextual side to it where things will be explained according to time, place and circumstances. We shouldn’t get caught up too much in what is contextual and circumstantial in the scripture rather we should focus primarily on that which is transformational and perennial.
For example- in first canto of the Bhagwatam; 10th and 11th chapters where Krishna is leaving from Indraprastha and going to Dwarika at that time the path from which He is going is described. A number of places are described, while going along that way. Prabhupada writes in one of the purports over there that ‘the geologists may try to trace the exact route taken by Krishna, we leave that task to them’. Now, if someone would want to trace back the same path today, that is nearly an impossible task because the surface of the earth keeps on changing. As far as we are concerned, we are satisfied that Krishna is leaving from Indraprastha and going to Dwarka to perform pastimes with His devotees. So we need to focus our study on the essential message of scripture which is for our transformation. There are many details in scriptures whose precision we are not in a position to evaluate today. What we can evaluate today is the process given in the scripture; if we follow the process whether it can bring our inner transformation. It transforms our heart and purifies our ‘anarthas’ and increases our attraction to Krishna thereby giving us higher happiness.
Scriptures may also have contextual knowledge which is material and understanding of this knowledge is best left to subject matter experts. There are many devotee historians who may study Srimad Bhagavatam from a historical perspective and then try to reconcile that with modern history. Or there may be a devotee who is a cosmologist and may try to reconcile Bhagwatam’s cosmology with modern cosmology. We need to understand that Bhagwatam is a book which deals with wide variety of subjects. If we start studying all those subjects we will get distracted. Our approach should be to focus on the message which transforms our heart and our focus should be one-pointed as mentioned in the Bhagvad-gita.
vyavasayatmika budhih eke ha kurunandana (BG 2.41)
At the same time we also should know that there is some possibility that some interpolation may have happened to the scripture. Madhvacharya talks about this in Mahabharata’s ‘ Tatparya nirnaya’ that Mahabharata has been corrupted by interpolations, but the essential message remains the same. Further, Jeeva Goswami in his ‘Tattva sandharba’ does an elaborate technical analysis and explains that Shrimad Bhagwatam actually is a shruti. However, technically it falls in the category of smriti. It is a channa (hidden) Shruti, which is also eternal and has been very carefully preserved.
How do I develop faith that scriptures message will certainly transform my heart? Let me explain this by an analogy. Consider a doctor who has done some research and developed some medicine which cures a person from a disease. This medicine is available in retail pharmaceutical stores. If before purchasing this medicine we make all kind of technical assessment whether it is the same formula which the doctor has used, it will be nearly impossible to even begin our treatment. The only way to know whether the medicine is real is to consume the medicine and check whether it produces the same effect that was produced on the first patient. If the first person was cured of the disease by the medicine and I am also cured of the disease by the same medicine then it is proved that this medicine works.
Similarly we can understand whether the knowledge of scriptures work or not. Example of Bhagwad Geeta can be given here. What happens after Arjuna hears the Bhagwad Geeta? We can see there are two broad things- his saadhya (goal) and his saadhan (means) becomes clear to him. After he hears the four verses ( 10.8- 10.11) in chapter 10, he immediately says in 10.12 & 13
parambhrama paramdhama pavitram parmam bhavaam
You are the Supreme bhrama, you are the supreme shelter, you are the supreme pure. In other words, he accepts Krishna as the Supreme person, the Supreme Absolute truth, which means his saadhya (goal) becomes clear.
Also, after Krishna completes speaking the Bhagwad-Geeta, Arjuna tells Krishna in 18.73, karishyavachnam tava, I will do your will. Here Arjuna is telling to Krishna that I am ready to do what you ask me to do. In other words this means that Arjuna has readily accepted to practice bhakti because Krishna’s will is bhakti. Therefore his saadhya, i.e. the means through which he will approach Krishna also becomes clear.
When we receive scripture today in our tradition is it providing the same result? Are people getting the same conviction about the saadhya and the saadhna? Are their lives becoming transformed? If the answer to all these question is yes, then we should understand that the process is correct.
This spiritual knowledge is the unique gift of scripture. Our acharyas Jeeva Goswami and Srila Prabhupada has assured us that the essential message of the scripture is always available. Krishna arranges to make sure that it is available. So we should not be doubtful about the potency and availability of spiritual knowledge. Beyond that, specific technical details of the scriptures can be best left for specialist to analyze, understand, and then explain us whatever is relevant for us.