How to Alter our False Perception

Fake gold appears like gold, but existentially it is not gold – Learn how to get out of false perceptions in this material world.


Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.20.37

Context: The demons who tried to attack Lord Brahma were allured by the beautiful form of the woman that evolved in the evening twilight and seized her. The asuras are described here as mudha-dhiyah (unintelligent) because they were captivated by ignorance.

Existential Truth and Experiential Reality

Those who are captivated by ignorance and passion are subject to illusory attraction.

A person who does not know the difference between real gold ornaments and gold plated ornaments gets cheated and pays the price of gold to acquire fake ornaments.

Real gold gives you the experience of gold and it has the value of gold. It is gold, both existentially and experientially. Fake gold may give you an experience of gold, but existentially it is not gold. It does not have the value of gold. We have to distinguish between these experiential reality and existential truth. But, how do we establish whether something is existentially true?

pot of gold

Our body is made of senses and every experience is perceived through these senses. It is not possible to determine the existential truth by any amount of sensory experience because our senses are not perfect. So, the existential truth has to be established independent of our sense perception.

Knowledge that transcends Sense Perception

For example, you are watching a movie. You may get so engrossed that  at times you may feel it is real. You may cry or laugh or get frightened. Yet, existentially the movie is not true; it only gives an illusion of real-life events.

watching tv

If you absorb yourself in the movie and start identifying with different characters, you may never get back to the external world of reality.

To know the existential truth we have to transcend the senses and apply our intelligence (buddhi-grahyam atindriyam). And that intelligence should come from a source independent of our sensual perception. We call it spiritual knowledge and it is received from guru (spiritual master), sadhu (saintly person) and shastras (scriptures).

In this verse, the asuras are described as mudha-dhiyah (unintelligent) because they go by experience alone and conclude that something must be real if it is experientially real. Thus they were allured by the beautiful woman that evolved in the twilight.

In the sixteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, while describing the characteristics of asuras (those who have a demoniac mentality); Krishna says that they are alpa-buddhayaha (less intelligent).  The asuras do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. They say that this world is unreal, with no foundation. They say it is produced of sex desire and has no cause other than lust. They do not accept that there is a God in control. Thus, they engage themselves in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world. Persons with a demoniac mentality are always attracted by impermanent things, and they accumulate money to enjoy their senses. Thus they fall into hell.

Krishna concludes the chapter saying that those who discard the scriptural injunctions and act according to their own whims can never attain perfection. Because the spiritual knowledge we receive from the scriptures is independent of our defective sense perception.

adhah-kritam akshajam indriya-jnanam yena The knowledge we acquire from scriptures transcends the limits of sense perception or sensual experience. akshajam jnanam  means “knowledge acquired by sense perception” and it is not perfect. So, we should see with the eyes of shastra: shastra-chakshusha.

krishna arjuna

Beauty is only skin-deep

It is mentioned that the asuras were attracted by the beautiful form of the woman and seized her. The asuras do not care for the rules and regulations of the scriptures. shastra-vidhim utsrujya vartate kama-karataha: They discard the scriptural injunctions and act according to their whims.

In this material world, the living entities are addicted to sense gratification. So the scriptures permit sense gratification subject to certain rules and regulations.

A person who is in the progressive path of devotional life, yet not completely free from material desires (sakama bhakta), can enjoy sense gratification in a regulated way. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna Himself says that He is sex life which is not contrary to religious principles (Bhagavad-gita. 7.11).

Such regulated sense enjoyment is authorized by the scriptures and is better than the tendency of the asuras (demons) who pursue the illusory experience without considering any of the restrictions imposed by the scriptures.

But, a pure devotee, who is advanced, is not attracted to the illusory experience of this material world. He is not interested in sense gratification, irrespective of whether it is authorized or unauthorized. His goal is to get out of this illusory material world, and attain the ultimate truth.

He knows that all these experiences arise from the illusory sense perception in this material body, which is nothing but a yantra (a machine), made of senses, mind and intelligence. The soul is entrapped in this body and is only experiencing as a kshetrajna (living entity). For example, when we are angry, we should know that the anger is a feeling created in this material body and the soul is just experiencing it and identifying with that anger. Similarly, all the impulses in this body are created by the material modes, and we identify ourselves with that.

modes of nature

It is stated in the Bhagavad-gita (3.27):

prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvashah
ahankara-vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate

Bewildered by the false ego, the living entity (ahankara-vimudhatma) thinks himself to be the doer of activities. But these activities are actually carried out by the three modes of material nature. Therefore, a pure devotee is not interested in illusory pleasures of the material world. Isn’t it foolish to pay the price of gold and buy rolled gold, just because it gives the same experience as gold? Rolled gold may give the experience of gold, but one who is intelligent and knows the characteristics of gold can perform some tests and conclude that it is not real gold.

If you are trying to buy gold, but do not know what actual gold is, then you may get cheated. The seller may cheat you by giving copper, plated with gold. If you scratch it, you can see that below the layer of gold which may be of a few micron thicknesses, there is some other metal like copper.

Similarly maya is an expert in duplicating beauty. The beauty we see in this material world is only skin-deep. The real beauty is in the spiritual world and it is sat-cit-ananda (eternal, full of knowledge and bliss) and maya duplicates it. In the showrooms you might have seen mannequins – life-size dolls of women, men or kids displaying clothing or jewels. Although it is made of plastic or fiber glass, they act as a trigger to create an impression of a real person in our mind. But there is no person there.

Even our bodies in this material world are mannequins made by maya. The name, form, and all the varieties we see in this material world are duplicated by maya. The person is entrapped in the body; but maya puts us in illusion and makes us identify with the material body.

We see that we are able to control our body, which is nothing but dull matter, devoid of consciousness, and start identifying ourselves with the body. Thus, we start living in a bodily concept of life and slowly forget that we are spirit souls occupying the body.

Everything in this material world is made up of the five material elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. Our body is no exception to this. It is just like any other material object with regard to its material composition. What makes it different from other things is that we have control over it.

As a result we start identifying ourselves with the body and think that “I am a man”, “I am a woman”, “I am an Indian”, “I am an American” and so on. Thus our consciousness gets colored by the false ego which haunts us like a ghost.

When the ghost haunts us we lose our identity. The ghost takes control of our self and we act according to the dictations of the ghost.

Krishna Consciousness is meant to take us out of the bodily concept of life and bring us to the spiritual concept of life. Bhakti, or devotional service, is the process of engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the master of all the senses.

When we render service to the Lord there are two side effects:

  • Our senses are purified simply by being employed in the service of the Lord
  • We are freed from all material designations

By hearing the scriptures, our intelligence is strengthened and as a result our perception changes. In our pure consciousness, we are servants of Krishna. The process of hearing the scriptures and assimilating knowledge through the medium of a spiritual master enables us to change our perception about our real identity; otherwise we will always remain in the bodily concept of life.

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