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Knowledge and its Nature

The word jnana in ordinary sense means knowledge which may be of different kinds – physical, mental, material or spiritual. In the spiritual sense the term is applied so vaguely that often it becomes very difficult to understand its true significance. The range it covers, extends from the baser level of common understanding to the higher level of inner enlightenment. This gives rise to a lot of confusions and misunderstanding. A man who has learnt a few scriptures, another who recites every moment set phrases like “aham brahmasmi” (I am Brahman) etc. claims to be a jnani or enlightened, and is accepted as such by the masses, irrespective of his real inner state. Jnana in the real sense refers to the inner condition of mind, which an abhyasi develops during the course of his pursuit, while passing through different spiritual states at different knots or granthis. Jnana, in fact, is the realisation of the conditions prevailing at each knot. Now since the knots are innumerable, the knowledge gained is also different according to the level of approach of an abhyasi. Thus it is almost meaningless to call one a jnani without defining his level of approach or the limit of knowledge realised by him. The real state of enlightenment comes when we get into full consciousness of the condition of enlightenment, and after imbibing its effect secure our merging in it. When we develop this state and merge into its consciousness we come to know all about it and thus become jnani, i.e., enlightened – up to that extent. If we try to gain the knowledge by applying our force of thought, it will only be artificial and not true and genuine. The real knowledge of a state means complete identicality with the state we have merged in. The help that knowledge at different states offers is that it infuses us with a longing for the search for the Ultimate.

Ignorance and knowledge are the two extremities of the same thing. Up to a certain extent it is termed as ignorance, after that it turns into knowledge. They are like the two poles of a magnet. Thus avidya (ignorance) has no existence without vidya (knowledge), or vidya without avidya. If one is there, the other must also be there. That means when the veil of ignorance is torn off, avidya and vidya are both gone. Avidya comprises the entire sphere included in both avidya and vidya. That is the state of tam which is beyond both. It is in true sense the state of realisation – where is neither avidya nor vidya. What is it there then? Neither of the two – a state of perfect latency, not-knowingness, nor complete knowledgelessness which may roughly be denoted as the state of Ignorance, just as it is at the age of infancy. Ignorance in fact is the highest pitch of knowledge. That comes to mean that we start from the level of ignorance and finally end in a state of higher Ignorance (or complete Ignorance as I call it). The sphere of knowledge (in the popular sense of the term) is only an intermediary stage. Really so far as it is the sphere of knowledge, it is all ignorance in true sense.

Can that which dawns after the veil of ignorance is torn off, be ever expressed as knowledge? certainly not, though one does call it so in the outer sense taking into view the two opposites. Does it cover the sense of knowledge? No: knowledge implies awareness of that which is beyond self. Realisation means merging or oneness with the Absolute. In that case no question of knowledge can ever arise. What then may that be called – knowledgelessness, not-knowingness, Ignorance or whatsoever? In short it must be something like that, though it may well nigh be impossible to express it in words. Complete Ignorance as I have put it, may however be nearest to appropriateness.

One on the Divine path is supposed to be marching from darkness to light. Let darkness be avidya (as it is commonly represented) and light vidya. Sahaj Marg does not have light for its goal. It is but an intermediary stage which we pass through during our march to the Ultimate, which is neither light nor darkness but beyond both. Thus do we start from avidya (ignorance) and pass through vidya (knowledge) on to that which is neither avidya nor vidya but beyond both. What word can denote the exact sense of that which is neither light nor darkness or which is neither avidya nor vidya? Is there any word for that in any vocabulary in the world? None, for sure. Let it therefore be as I say ‘complete Ignorance’, different from its crudest state of preliminary ignorance.

Means: Tarka, Shruti and Anubhava

Generally, philosophers have attempted to reach the innermost core of things through reason (tarka) and not through vision. Reason in its popular sense may be faulty and may 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.

Guidance sought from books is not of much avail since it is often misleading and sometimes dangerous too. Methods prescribed in books are generally confusing, touching the outer aspect only. One can never become a physician by simply reading the names of the medicines and their properties. It is impossible to come to a thorough understanding of the taste of a mango merely by reading the description about it in books. The proof of the pudding lies in the eating of it, is a well known saying. There seems to be contradiction in Vedas apparently. The six schools of philosophy are the result. Everybody according to his reach says something or the other. The real study is that by which we realise the unchangeable; and that is realised neither by reading nor by believing nor by reasoning, but by super-conscious perception. I may frankly confess that I have studied no books, for I never thought them worthwhile. I aimed at Reality, which I thought to be the only thing worth having, and left the study of books for the scholars and ‘pundits’. Whatever I say or write is on the basis of my own experience and anubhava on the path of Realisation irrespective of what Shankara or Ramanuja or others might have said about their own. I no doubt do read sometimes now – but that only by way of recreation – and try to retain as much as I can for the sake of easy expression. I remember one such thing, which I had read in Vivekachudamani by Shankaracharya, which means: “Books do not help us in Realisation, and when Realisation is achieved, books are useless.”

There is hell for the sinful, paradise for the ignorant, and brahmaloka for the innocent. But, for the wise and the learned, there is the artificial paradise of their own making, and for those who are weak this mortal world. But who may the weak be? They are only those who lack self-reliance and confidence. Shastras go into contradiction of each other but they are of value to us since they offer a chance to think upon and arrive at a solution. They have another merit besides, viz. that they offer means and methods for spiritual advancement for men of every taste, mentality and standard of mind. If I had proceeded along the path of Realisation through books, I could never have come up to that level of Ignorance, which is the basic property of the Divine. It is only the practical life that is worth having. We should not only know what Realisation is but should try to attain it as well.