Now, of the first group of the prophets of Vedanta only their names are known; we don’t know any particulars about them. Sometimes no name is given; only anonymous teachings are placed before us, and we have to contemplate upon them and realize them. The teacher was always supposed to be a knower of these truths. It is laid down in several Upanishads, and it was a general practice: tad vijhanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet samitpanih srotriyam brahmanistham: In order to attain the knowledge of Brahman, one should approach a guru with firewood in hand, samit-panih, that is to say, fuel in hand. What kind of guru? He should be srotriyam, well versed in the sruti in the Vedas and the Vedanta and brahmanistham, well established in Brahman. Some have said Brahman here means Vedas and others have said, No, Brahman here means God’; the verse means that the teacher must not only have philosophical knowledge but also spiritual knowledge. So although we do not know the names of all these prophets, we know that they had gigantic minds and were well established in the knowledge of Brahman.We always think of that age as the most glorious in Indian history. Those extraordinary men and women, who brought their senses and minds under control, who did not crave anything of this world, whose faces were luminous with the light of Self-realization, of God-realization, and who embodied this truth in their being those men and women moved amongst the people. Many of them were wanderers; they wcmld sometimes live in their asramas, but at other times they would roam over the country with their disciples. Of course, it was very wonderful to have them come to the cities or the villages. I must admit that it sometimes must have been inconvenient, too, because, after all, to entertain such large numbers of people was not easy for the householders. However, this is the picture that comes to our mind: We see our country dotted over by these wandering knowers of God, and the people to whom they came would receive their knowledge. It is still the tradition today for sannydsins to wander around, and amongst these so-called wandering beggars you will find great philosophers and great knowers of spiritual truth.
Here I think one point is worth discussing: these ancient rsis had a tendency to represent truth in as logical a way as they could. Of course, in the
Upanishads the arguments are not given in full; you could not expect that. When they were composed writing was not known, and so they had to be composed in very brief form to facilitate memorizing. But there was always the oral tradition, which afterwards became what we call bhasyas, or commentaries. You really cannot understand the Upanishads unless you read their commentaries along with them. You will find that what is given in simple and brief form in the text is elaborated into long and complicated philosophical interpretations and arguments. Well, you know, when you read such things you have infinite possibilities for the exercise of your own intellect.
But only when you have undergone spiritual discipline or only when you have studied with one who has actually experienced these truths, would you know which interpretation is justifiable and which is not. Today in India if you say, I have studied Vedanta; I am well versed in Vedanta, they will ask, Who was your teacher? With whom did you study?’ And if you say, I studied by myself, no good! Or if you say, I studied with such and such a person, Was he himself a knower of Brahman?’ No, he was a great scholar. That won’t do. If you say, Why not? He had a keen intellect. That’s not enough. Intellect is a strange thing. It is like a lawyer’s brain; it can take any thesis and make it relevant. That is where intellect falls into a trap. You might think whatever is logical is true. But how do you know that you have found what is logical?