Śrīla Bhakti Siddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākur explains the futility of scholarship in understanding the scriptures.
The following is translation of the parable Vyākaraṇera Paṇḍita, The Grammarian, from a Bengali book by Śrīla Bhakti Siddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākur entitled Upākhyāne Upadeś [‘Instructions Through Stories’].
Once a Sanskrit grammarian was walking to his in-laws house on a path through a forest before sunset. Some bystanders saw him walking down the forest path alone and called out to him, “O Sir! It is now dusk. There is danger of tigers in this area. Please do not go down this path any further. Please go to the village nearby and stay the night there today.” Hearing this, the grammarian laughed and said, “You are foolish. You have never studied grammar, so how would you know the meaning of the word vyāghra (tiger). The word vyāghra is derived by affixing ḍa in the active voice to the verbal root ghrā (to smell) when it is preceded by vi and ā (vi-ā-ghrā + ḍa in the active voice). One who smells in a special manner is called vyāghra. Therefore there is no need to be afraid of tigers (vyāghras). If I happen to encounter a tiger, he will simply smell my extremely pure body in a special manner. What is objectionable about that? Helping others is the duty of brāhmaṇ.”
Just as the grammarian had finished making this statement, a tiger came out of the forest, leaped on top of him, and began to drink blood from his neck. Caught in the clutches of the tiger, the grammarian said, “Ghrā-dhātuḥ kvachit tu khādane ’pi vartate: sometimes the verbal root ghrā is also used to mean ‘eat’. Today I acquired such common knowledge.” Saying this, he gave up his life.
The condition of those who attempt to understand religion and the scriptures with only worldly scholarship is like that of this grammarian. A person who considers the material body to be “me” and “mine” is a soul conditioned by māyā. Whether or not such a conditioned soul considers themself a great brāhmaṇ or scholar, whether or not the people of the world consider that soul the greatest scholar in all directions, and whether or not that soul externally wears the garb of a renunciant, if they do not engage themself in the Lord’s service purely, they cannot transcend death. Those who do not have pure devotion cannot transcend this world in the form of death even if they make a show of worshipping the gods and studying many scriptures: the Vedas, the Vedānta, the Upaniṣad, the Mahābhārata, the Gītā, the Purāṇas, and other religious texts. They explain the scriptures, but they cannot practice in their own lives the sole purport of all of the scriptures: service to the Lord. The worship of the forefathers, daily rituals, and even the show of chanting of the Lord’s Name that they perform are only attempts at acquiring food, clothing, enjoyment in this world and the next, or deliverance from the hand of worldly suffering. Until we serve the Lord for the satisfaction of His senses, there is no way for our souls to attain good fortune. Thus Śrī Chaitanyadev performed the Pastime of abandoning the study of grammar and revealing that the sole purport of every grammatical aphorism, explanation, and commentary is the Lord’s Name. Kṛṣṇa’s Name is Kṛṣṇa Himself. Kṛṣṇa’s service is the fulfilment of scholarship, nobility, and opulence. Śrī Śaṅkar Āchārya also said,
bhaja govindaṁ bhaja govindaṁ
bhaja govindaṁ mūḍha-mate
prāpte sannihite maraṇe na hi
na hi rakṣati ḍukṛñ-karaṇe
“O foolish mind! Serve Govinda. Serve Govinda. Service Govinda. At the time of death, principles of grammar cannot protect you.”
The scriptures have explained that Śrī Śaṅkar Āchārya appeared in this world to bewilder the demons. Although Śaṅkar Āchārya gave all of this advice, his followers have become puffed up with pride in their scholarship and turned into troublesome sophists. Instead of practicing eternal devotion to Govinda, they are trying to prove through their scholarship and sophistry that ‘Govinda’ is an impermanent entity and ‘bhakti’ is an impermanent practice! Śrī Chaitanyadev, however, has said that Kṛṣṇa’s Name is eternal (CB: Madhya, 1.146–159):
āviṣṭa ha-iyā prabhu karena vyākhyāna
sūtra-vṛtti-ṭīkāya, sakala hari-nāma
Ecstatic, Mahāprabhu explained that the Lord’s Name is the purport of all aphorisms, explanations, and commentaries.
prabhu bale,—“sarva-kāla satya kṛṣṇa-nāma
sarva-śāstre ‘kṛṣṇa’ vai nā balaye āna
The Lord said, “Kṛṣṇa’s Name is eternal. The scriptures describe Kṛṣṇa’s Name and nothing else.
hartā kartā pālayitā kṛṣṇa se īśvara
aja-bhava-ādi, saba—kṛṣṇera kiṅkara
“Kṛṣṇa is the creator, maintainer, annihilator, and controller. Everyone—Brahmā, Śiva, and so on—is Kṛṣṇa’s servant.
kṛṣṇera charaṇa chhāḍi’ ye āra vākhāne
vṛthā janma yāya tāra asatya-vachane
“The birth of anyone who leaves aside Kṛṣṇa’s feet and explains the scriptures apart from Him is useless as a result of their false statements.
āgama-vedānta-ādi yata daraśana
sarva-śāstre kahe ‘kṛṣṇa-pade bhakti-dhana’
“All of the scriptures—the Āgamas, the Vedānta, and the various other philosophies—say that true wealth is devotion to Kṛṣṇa’s feet.
mugdha saba adhyāpaka kṛṣṇera māyāya
chhāḍiyā kṛṣṇera bhakti anya pathe yāya
“Teachers bewildered by Kṛṣṇa’s illusion avoid devotion to Kṛṣṇa and follow other paths.
karuṇā-sāgara kṛṣṇa jagat-jīvana
sevaka-vatsala nanda-gopera nandana
“Kṛṣṇa is an ocean of mercy, the life of the world, affectionate to His servants, and the son of the cowherd Nanda.
hena kṛṣṇa-nāme yāra nāhi rati-mati
paḍiyāo sarva-śāstra, tāhāra durgati
“Even if one reads all of the scriptures, if one has no love and affection for Kṛṣṇa’s Name, one is ruined.
daridra adhama yadi laya kṛṣṇa-nāma
sarva doṣa thakileo yāya kṛṣṇa-dhāma
“If a poor, fallen soul chants Kṛṣṇa’s Name, they go to Kṛṣṇa’s abode, even if they have all sorts of faults.
ei-mata sakala-śāstera abhiprāya
ihāte sandeha yāra, se-i duḥkha pāya
“This is the purport of all of the scriptures. Anyone who doubts it suffers.
kṛṣṇera bhajana chhāḍi’ ye śāstra vākhāne
se adhama kabhu śāstra-marma nāhi jāne
“No fallen soul who explains the scriptures without reference to Kṛṣṇa’s service ever understands the purport of the scriptures.
śāstrera nā jāne marma, adhyāpanā kare
gardabhera prāya yena śāstra vahi’ mare
“Those who do not know the purport of the scriptures yet teach them to others, like asses, simply bear the load of the scriptures until they die.
paḍiyā-śuniyā loka gela chhāre-khāre
kṛṣṇa mahāmahotsave vañchilā tāhāre
“People encounter only death and destruction through such study of the scriptures and are deprived of the grand festival of love for Kṛṣṇa.”