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Knowledge and its Nature

Upanishads on the higher and lower knowledge

The seers of the Upanishads have always distinguished between the higher knowledge (para), the knowledge which leads to the apprehension of the Ultimate Reality and the lower knowledge (apara) and also (avara) inferior, that which enables us to cope with the world, earn a living, fulfill the earthly desires and also provide for a happy life in the hereafter (iha para sukha). They equate the lower knowledge with ignorance from the standpoint of the higher as only enmeshed in ignorance the soul seeks lower goals and thus bargains for eternal bondage and misery. An illuminating anecdote from the Chandogya Upanishad relating the conversation between the celebrated rishi Narada and the realized soul, Sanathkumara brings out this point well. Asked to say what branches of knowledge he has hitherto studied, Narada tells that he has studied all the Vedas, as well as history, mythology, mathematics, sciences of the manes, portents, time, ethics, the gods, Brahman, weapons, astronomy and so on. He confesses that he does not know the Self and is filled with grief that so much other knowledge he has acquired is not capable of landing him beyond sorrow. He has learnt from revered spiritual teachers that he alone is capable of going beyond the ocean of sorrow who can cross it by the saving bund of the Self and beseeches Sanathkumara to impart to him the saving knowledge of the Self. In modern parlance we can say that we know physics, mathematics, astronomy, astrophysics, engineering, medicine, law, commerce, psychology and philosophy but we do not know our real nature nor that of the holy Divine and thus are presently clueless as to how to lead a life of happiness and harmony.

This knowledge we have been talking about is supra sensory, beyond the ordinary mind and subtler than the subtlest. Tradition has held that such knowledge cannot be won by great works, erudition and austerities but only can be known, seen and entered into only through undivided love and devotion even as spoken by Lord Krishna in the Gita- bhaktya tu ananyaya sakhyam. The seeker of this knowledge of the Ultimate has to approach the realized teachers in a spirit of reverential surrender and service for getting instructed in the liberating knowledge (tat viddhi pranipatena—Gita Ch. 4.34). The only right instrument for such knowledge is Sabda (sruti-revelation) and aptavachana-here we may hold that aptavachana is based on the sruti or revelations made to the aptas-those evolved souls who have imperienced the Highest themselves at first hand, who are dear to us and are interested in our spiritual welfare. The word apta itself signifies one who has attained. A practical example of aptavachana for the abhyasis of SRRY is the teachings and revelations of our great Master and competent guides regarding the system and its practice, the Master and the guides inspiring the aspirants by their own examples and imparting the spiritual training out of an all-encompassing love, compassion and empathy with the self-less motive that the aspirants shall also attain to the goal of life which they themselves have attained.

Spiritual knowledge- Master’s definition

The Master is concerned chiefly with the manner in which the term ‘knowledge’ is used with reference to spiritual knowledge. The way it is used leads to a lot of misunderstanding and confusion. The range it covers as to the implied meaning extends from the baser level of common understanding to the higher reaches of inner enlightenment. For instance a man who has learnt a few scriptures recites choice Vedantic phrases such as aham brahma asmi ‘(I am Brahman)’ claims to be enlightened. The masses are also prepared to accept him as such and hold such avowed jnanis in high esteem and if he were to wear the ochre clothes in addition he is elevated to the status of Jagat Guru or world teacher. According to the Master, Jnana in its real sense refers to the inner state acquired by a person by following a proper spiritual discipline. During the course of one’s spiritual journey he passes through several knots or granthis as revealed by the Master (Ref. Path of Grace) which are loosened and made to open by the application of the inner powers of the trainer through the process of Pranahuti. This enables the aspirant to apprehend and imbibe within himself the various states of progressively refined consciousness or degrees of enlightenment corresponding to the knots. If one were to attempt to gain such knowledge by external application of thought power such as repeating to himself the Vedantic phrases as above it will be artificial and of no avail. The so called Mahavakyas actually correspond to states of consciousness imperienced by aspirants traveling the Natural Path under proper guidance.

The Master has provided descriptions of the key stages an abhyasi experiences while traversing any particular knot, consisting of, firstly, the free movement or saralata followed by the state of mergence wherein he is saturated with the condition; this is followed by the state of settledness called sarupyata or identicality, a fully matured state of mergence which may be called the embodiment of the condition. There is the last or the fourth stage of yet further refined identicality called sayujyata or complete oneness with the condition where the impression of the state of merging and identicality also becomes extinct leaving the feeling, ‘every thing is gone’. The Master states categorically that only after a person acquires this state of sayujyata in a knot that it can be said that he has secured complete knowledge of the knot. It can be said then that the person has become jnani up to that knot.

Revered. KC Narayana, while commenting on this in Path of Grace, states that each knot in its real nature is an expression of divinity or divinity has expressed like that in that knot. There is an original divine purpose behind the expression of each knot and thus one has to ponder over the causal centre of each knot and merge in that realm to have full knowledge of that knot. This will facilitate his expressing himself as an offshoot of the divine in so far as that knot is concerned. The Master makes an interesting point here when He says that the knowledge thus gained at the different states helps by infusing the aspirant with a longing for the search of the Ultimate.

The interested reader is invited to read the book ‘Path of grace’ referred to earlier for further illumination on the subject of the various states of super-consciousness which open to the sincere devotee who has surrendered totally to the Divine Master Sri Ramchandraji Maharaj. The Great Master Himself showed the practical possibility of living in the highest possible state of complete ignorance or total negation open to the human being.

His life was an open book and showed that a God-realized person does not sit in a corner enjoying his own state of beatitude but comes out into the wide world and unceasingly works for the spiritual betterment of his fellow beings in the spirit of brotherhood and sacrifice. He prepared during His sojourn on this earth and is still preparing noble men and women through His chosen instrument so that they can abide in the higher realms of super-consciousness and thereby serve their fellow beings in the real sense.

Knowledge and Ignorance

There is an interesting observation made by the Master when He says that knowledge and ignorance are the extremities of the same thing. They are not irreconcilable opposites. We all think that we are ignorant and want knowledge to remove the ignorance, so that we can act properly, live sensibly and rationally. The Upanishadic seers have used the words avidya (ignorance) and vidya (knowledge) in a sense that differs from the way Master uses them. The traditional meaning attributed to avidya is that which makes for the perpetuation of bondage and even considered anadi, without beginning whereas vidya is the knowledge which liberates and paves the way for the individual soul to know its real nature and attain to the supreme goal of union with the supreme Self. Ignorance is said to prevail when we do not know how to act properly or adequately to meet a situation. Ignorant does not mean that the person has not read but that he is not able to translate that knowledge in a way that would answer the requirements of the situation in a practical way. For instance the person may know all there is to know about the law of buoyancy, the techniques of swimming and so on, but may drown when he falls into the water for lack of practical exposure and training. This illustrates the practical dimension of knowledge namely skill in putting into practice the bookish or theoretical knowledge. The above is the mundane idea about ignorance and knowledge.

We will now see what the Master has to say about vidya and avidya; the two are like the two poles of a magnet, up to a certain extent it is termed as ignorance after that it turns into knowledge. Avidya has no existence without vidya and vice versa. That means that when the veil is torn both of them are gone. Avidya comprises the entire sphere included in both vidya and avidya. That is the state of Tam which is beyond both. It is in true sense the state of realization - where is neither Avidya nor Vidya. What is it there then? Neither of the two - a state of perfect latency, not-knowingness, nor complete knowledge-less-ness which may be roughly denoted as the state of ignorance, just as it is in the state of infancy. It will be appropriate here to quote Revered. K.C.Varadachari, ‘‘Not until you become a child shall you enter into the kingdom of heaven’ said Jesus. I would only add that ‘not until you enter into the kingdom of God will you become a child’’ (KCV CW V1 p 201).

Ignorance is in fact the highest pitch of knowledge according to the Master, meaning that we start from the level of crude ignorance and finally end in a state of higher ignorance, the sphere of knowledge, so called in the outer sense taking into view the two opposites, being only an intermediate state; Master says He does not have any word to describe the state and chooses to term it as Complete Ignorance. As Revered. K.C.Varadachari puts it, this will be a ‘shocking phrase’ to all the professed intellectuals and scholars who are wedded to knowledge. We often find the Upanishadic declarations to the effect, ‘one who knows thus knows or one who knows the real Self knows all’ causing lot of confusions in the minds of the seekers regarding the true meaning and implications of such knowledge. This leads to wrong and unfounded expectations in their hearts of being conferred the state of omniscience on attaining to the state of realization as they tend to equate the two states. A proper understanding of Revered. Master’s teachings through prayerful meditations and imperiencing the actual condition of ‘void or nothingness’ under the watchful eye of a competent guide are both required for the aspirant to come out of the illusory notions of knowledge.

The Master asks whether one can call that which dawns after the veil of ignorance is torn as knowledge and answers that knowledge implies awareness of that which is beyond self and realization means merging or oneness with the Absolute. In the case of realization then the question of knowledge can never arise as ‘you will have to cease to be both a subject and object and also vanish in the attempt to know the Supreme Reality. There is no other way of knowing Reality except merging yourselves in it, to live in it and be of it and never think of ‘knowing it’’ as Revered. K.C.Varadachari puts it. This implies that we have to go beyond the best ways of knowing adopted in science and philosophy.

The Upanishads pray, ‘asato ma sadgamaya’, lead us from unreality to Reality; ‘tamaso ma jytoirgamaya’, lead us from darkness to light. Traditionally darkness is associated with avidya or ignorance and light is associated with vidya or knowledge. Master has declared that light is not our goal. Light is but an intermediary stage we pass through our march to the Ultimate which is neither darkness nor light but beyond both. The Upanishads did make an effort to indicate the higher altitudes in spirituality when they said that ‘neither the sun nor the moon shines nor the fire glows there’. But the Master exhorts us to soar far higher and farther than the highest states in consciousness ever fathomed in earlier eras of spirituality, imperience the state of Tam, the Complete Ignorance and not only that, He inspires us by His own lofty example to abide in that state as yogis of caliber and participate in the cause of the Divine which is transformation of the human consciousness to the Divine.

Means: Tarka, Sruti and Anubhava

The Master discusses the means for attaining to the knowledge of the Ultimate Reality and begins by observing straightaway, ‘Generally, philosophers have attempted to reach the innermost core of things through reason (tarka) and not through vision.’, thus almost equating reason with tarka, usually interpreted as logical debate. Tarka, the method of dialectics in the Indian Nyaya school was initially a method of inference by which the opposite positions are shown to be untenable because absurd.

It is in argumentation and debate that this method is much used and tarka got gradually transformed into a powerful instrument in controversy and debate. It was fervently hoped that truth or light would emerge from the clash of the opposites or a synthesis will come out of thesis and antithesis. But the interest in ascertaining truth or reality is usually relegated to the background in the logic of the debate; the categories of logic initially devised for leading to truth or naya (nyaya should become naya, a lead, as it has been said) are subverted to score victory in debate. There is more thunder than lightening or illumination when scholars of opposing persuasions clash in a debate. Battling with words will not be able to lead us to Reality. The nature and limitations of ordinary reason or inference are based as it is on sense perception characterized by its own errors and possibilities of illusion. This type of inference will be utterly inadequate to grasp super-sensuous Reality which has been the subject of the Sruti-revelation or the Vedas. The revelations (Ref. Introduction to Seven Paths of wisdom) are characterized by the absoluteness of the vision of Reality, its self-evident nature as eternal for all time. Such a vision is of the real nature or the ‘yathartha’, as it is in itself of all things. This revelational perception is obviously aparokhanubhuti or divyapratyaksha, non-sensory, non-mental, non-buddhic too and non-material. It is the vision of the purest spirit which is inward to the seer and outward too-all pervasive.

Veda- Revelation

We may pause to consider here what our Revered. Master has to say on the subject of Veda and revelation. In His article entitled Vibration, Sound and symbol (SS p 338-46) He states, ‘Veda is really that condition which was before the time of creation of the universe. Therefore it is quite true to say that the Vedas came into existence at the time of the creation of the universe. They have been shaped in the form of books. It is as if the conditions have been given a dress’; ‘ the Vedic rishis taking the dim sound created by the churning currents (as existing at the time of creation) as the basis remained in search of That whose sound this was. Therefore in the Rig veda whatever I have heard being read from some of its beginning portions this very sound or shabda is utilized’.

‘Having come out of the Ocean of Reality we were Reality alone from top to toe. Now because our primary condition was like that our vision could straight away see that without any obstruction and it had the knowledge of That, the form of which can be considered Vedas—If you deeply ponder over the alphabet of Sanskrit you shall find the rise and fall in it in the form of natural vibration. And in that language the rishis have written by feeling every vibration: and they started to call it Sanskrit (Divine). Revelation has come to them in no particular language. Divine revelations come even now but mostly, and correctly to those who have regained their original condition and have got their connection to the Original Source. And it always comes in the language which one knows. It strikes the mind and he becomes aware (feels) through the words he has learnt.’ Elsewhere He says (Sruti p 311), ‘ Realization comes only when we become ‘blind’ and sruti follows only when we turn ‘deaf’, the words ‘deaf’ and ‘blind’ not being used in the physical sense’.

That is, we shall be ‘blind’ to all else other than the Master, the Goal of life even as it has been told about the great archer and marksman Arjuna that he did not see anything other than the left eye of the bird he was asked to take aim at. Being ‘deaf’ is to achieve in a natural manner total control over the clamour of the senses, the desires and the vrittis of the mind, that is in other words, maintaining control over and purity in the physical, vital and mental planes and arrive at the state of supreme silence in which only His voice can be heard and none other. Talking about divine revelations occurring in poetry as held by Swami Vivekananda, the Master expresses His disagreement thereof saying that it does not happen so at least in the case of the real seeker who should not lose the Reality by getting entangled in the surroundings which merely point to the Thing with which it is connected just like smoke points out the fire of which it is the smoke.

Pointing out the limitations of reason, the Master states that reason in its popular sense may be faulty and fail us, but if a thing is seen through intuitional insight without the unnecessary medium of reason, it will be visible in its original form without error or defect. We should try to understand things when the knots begin to open by themselves. The Master has stated elsewhere that one should take up philosophy only after he has completed the full course of sadhana under a competent Master and has realized the Reality for himself in a practical way. The state of Divine knowledge opens automatically after the aspirant crosses the seven rings of splendour.

Direct experience the only means for knowledge of the Real

The Master discourages taking guidance from books as many a time it can be misleading and dangerous too. He emphasizes the need for practical experience or anubhava in the field, citing the instance that one can not become a physician by a mere reading of the names of medicines. It may be noted that the unorthodox systems of Indian philosophy, Jainism and Buddhism accept anubhava as a pramana in the field of the supersensory and in fact are mainly the outcome of the personal spiritual enlightenment experiences (bodhi-wisdom experience) of their founders. The Master makes it clear that by reading books alone He would never have come up to the level of Complete Ignorance which is the basic property of the Divine. A life of practicality is what is worth having. We should not be merely content with the curiosity about what is Realization but also strive to attain it.

The apparent contradiction in the Vedas has resulted in the emergence of the six schools of philosophy. But Reality or the unchangeable can not be realized neither by reading, reasoning, nor by believing but only through superconscious perception. He Himself did not read the books as in the words of Viveka Chudamani, ‘Books are of no avail for Realization and they are not necessary after Realization.’ Whatever He has said or written is based upon His own anubhava, whatever might have been said on the subject by Sankara or Ramanuja. According to the Master, the merit of the Sastras lies in the fact that they make one think by virtue of the inbuilt contradictions in them and they offer methods and techniques for spiritual advancement to suit different levels of attainment, taste and mentality of the people in general.

We may thus see the considerable importance attached by the Master to anubhava on the spiritual path as a valid source of knowledge. But caution has to be exercised by the aspirant in this regard. He has to ensure that his anthahkarana (senses, chitta, manas and buddhi) are always maintained in a state of purity through contemplation of the Holy Divine in a spirit of devotion and surrender. He needs to consecrate the jnanendriyas and karmendriyas by dedicating them to the cause of the Master and keep his individual will solely at the disposal of His will. The physical, vital and mental levels of being have to be kept pure always.

Different worlds for different people

The Master comments on the worlds attained by people of different kinds and caliber; the scriptures mention that the men of sinful deeds go to hell, the ignorant reach paradise perhaps through good deeds. Ignorant here can mean here their lack of knowledge and clarity of the Real goal which makes for freedom from bondage and still higher possibilities of spiritual evolution. To those who are innocent it is the Brahmaloka. But as for the ‘wise’ and learned people they create for themselves an artificial paradise in which they try to live. Knowledge and ignorance are only relative, as today’s vidya is tomorrow’s avidya as has been amply proved in modern science. That is why every true learner is in a constant process of un-learning. We have to arrive at a stage of transcendence over these fixed goals or limited notions of vidya and avidya. Hence the Master says that we can enjoy the Real realm of Brahma or Brahma loka only by coming to the condition of complete ignorance in which state the seeker is in a state of infancy being totally unaware of his own condition and his own existence as a separate entity (Ref CW1 Revered. K.C.Varadachari p 190). Thus the Brahmaloka the realm of the Supreme is reserved only for those who have become as innocent as an infant baby.