Knowledge in the sense in which Shri Shankara uses the term, means the highest knowledge, a supra-mental knowledge through a spontaneous experience of the Self as the highest good and intensest Reality. The ‘ otherness ’ of the absolute Reality passes away like a dream and the individual self (jiva) realises its essence in identity with the universal Self. The highest Reality (Brahman) devoid of all ‘ otherness ’ is experienced as the very Self, Atman. This experience of identity of the self, a unit of Consciousness, with the Consciousness of the Absolute, is not an achievement ; it is a rediscovery of what is known already and is apparent and partly revealed to us in some moments of consciousness, as the Sublime, the Peace of the universal and ‘ otherness ’.
The Real, in the state of pursuit and enquiry, is viewed as the Creator, the Governor, the Ruler, the Wisest, the Omnipotent and is realised as such. It is worshipped as the Lord, as the Father in Heaven, as a Power mysterious, most lovable. In loving devotion, in self-surrendering worship of the Lord, the local self of the devoted one is forgotten and forsaken and the real Self is revealed as all.
Knowledge, which is the most vital factor in the life of our personality, is cognition in its pure sense. Jnana means illumined cognition of Reality. The essence, Atman, of a wave is realised as water and never something other than water ; so the essence, Atman, of our individuality is realised as Brahman, the Reality which it is.
Shri Shankara offers two and only two ways of the realisation of the fancied individual with the whole, absolute Consciousness. The Self, that is Brahman, can be realised as Atman or something other than Atman. The whole religious, mystic and devotional life is resolved in these two alternative ways. The former is called Jnana. It means viewing Brahman as It is. The holy Acharya here uses a very important metaphysical term. He says that Jnana is Vastu Tantra, accordance of anything with its real nature. The subject matter of this great experience, Jnana, is called Jneya Brahman, Brahman cognizable or realisable through knowledge.
The other way of realisation is called by Shri Shankara, Upasana. It is an inner activity implying an effort to view Reality (Brahman) with the help of certain characteristics transposed from the world of our pure and higher experience. In Upasana the distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped is evident. But this is not a fact. There can be no real love and devotion unless the subject and the object are merged into one.
Jnana is the process of experiencing Brahman intuitively. It is an insight into the nature of the Reality by becoming one with It. Upasana is the way of experiencing Reality in a semiintuitive way, through a loving identity with Its name and form. In the great writings of Shri Shankaracharya we notice the following passage : “ One and the same Brahman is taught by the Vedanta as forming an object of meditation or of knowledge as the knowable, either according to its limiting adjuncts (Upadhis) or as free from such limitations.”
In the philosophy of Adwaita both Jnana and Bhakti (devotion) mean the same thing. Contemplation and meditation being the two great aids to realisation, Shri Shankara postulates Saguna Brahman (Brahman with attributes) to serve the spiritual purpose of Realisation. Ishwara is realised as other than the Self; but He is infinite and the individual Consciousness is realised to be contained in Him. The result is the same : Identity-Consciousness.
Upasana is a most beautiful conception of the holy Philosophy. It exalts the character of the devotee and purifies his soul of all the taint and dross of the mundane existance—love of power and pleasure, pettiness and possessiveness.