When karma-yoga practice – endurance of the opposites, samādhi practice, and performance of actions in evenness of mind – has purified the basis of the yogin’s being, Knowledge arises. Sometimes it is said that the Lord gives the Knowledge; sometimes that the Lord in the heart lights the flame of Knowledge, sometimes that Knowledge comes naturally. The difference in expression depends on how far the Lord is still regarded as external and apart.
Although the word knowledge has to be used for the Sanskrit word jñāna, it is not an exact equivalent. Knowledge in English means knowledge-of-something. In the phrase Knowledge Is Power, the first word means having objective information, for instance, a secret. But jñāna can also mean what we could only call pure Awareness, irrespective of any object. When it is occasionally said that Brahman is Knowledge Absolute, it points to awareness beyond the dualities of mind processes.
The form of the Knowledge is first a Self-realization, the thought: ‘Here I am, free, without agency or actions or results; there is none other than 1.’ This removes the restricted and illusory worldly idea: There are many things, and among them I move and I act aiming at this or that result.’ This last has been an absolute conviction, and to remove it there has to be the absolute conviction of the thought of the true universal Self. The Self-realization must be as complete and immediately experienced as the previous immediately experienced bondage. It cannot come about unless the present unconscious convictions of the reality of the world are dissolved.
Then the conviction is: I am Brahman.’ This is, however, still a thought. Even highest Knowledge is still a thought like other thoughts; it is an illusion supported on pure consciousness. The Truth-thought destroys other illusions, and then itself also, leaving pure consciousness, called supreme Self. Self-realization is sometimes loosely referred to as Freedom; but Freedom is not a process at all. Supreme Self is ever free, and has nothing to do with ideas of binding or freeing. The point comes up again and again. The path continues till thought is transcended. Brahman has no need to think. In reality, there is no second thing for it to think. Dr Shastri wrote: Tn the Vedānta of holy Śaṅkara, the disciplined and tranquillized mind can reflect glimpses of the Self Absolute, but the mind can under no condition whatsoever reveal the nature of the Self as truth-consciousness-bliss.’
Knowledge arises when the unconscious reservations about the truth begin to dissolve. What are these reservations? The holy texts declare that the Lord is everywhere, and this is confirmed by samādhi on divine manifestations. But there is an unconscious reservation: ‘Yes, everywhere. But not here.’ The texts say that the Lord is the life in all beings. This too is accepted and partially confirmed, but again with a reservation: ‘But not in me.’
When the reservations go, Knowledge arises as the conviction: ‘I am Brahman.’ Though still a thought, this thought undermines the first part of itself. The ‘I’, a limited, individual, ever personally motivated and acting, apparent self, loses these local characteristics which seem to rule it off within Brahman. It disappears as such: Brahman remains in infinite majesty and glory, as it always was.
How is it possible? In his commentary to Chapter ‘XIII Śaṅkara meets the numerous objections of the philosophers of the time. A commentator had to do this in order to be accepted; it was part of the intellectual tradition so strong in Indian culture. Many of his detailed refutations are no longer relevant today. But he gives also more direct and simple arguments. One is, the case of one who wrongly supposes he has eaten poison. The mere idea can actually kill him, as Śaṅkara says.
In some Japanese research on such cases, X-ray photographs showed intestinal spasms, accompanied by pain. If the doctor succeeds in convincing the patient, however, the latter can realize: ‘I the sick patient, was never in fact sick. I have always been well.’
This realization, like the realization, ‘I thought I was in Ignorance, but I have always been Brahman’, undermines its first part. ‘I the sick patient’ is destroyed, not only in the present but in the past also. ‘I am not sick, and have never been sick.’ There remains only: “have always been well.’
For a short time, the sight of the hospital bed and nurse and doctor may vividly recall the imagined illness. Again, if the child of a neighbour brings some flowers for the sufferer, it would be tactless to say: ‘Oh, I have never been sick, I don’t need those.’ The patient would continue to play the part, and thank her gratefully.
While still passionately involved in events great or small, it is very difficult to imagine the state of Knowledge. Small children boast of what they will do when grown-up. They dream of having size and strength, property and money. But these things are then used for childish purposes. Children cannot take it in when told: ‘You won’t want to buy lots of toys when you’re grown-up.’ They cannot imagine themselves sitting, as their parents do now, just talking endlessly with friends.
In the same way, when an attempt is made to conceive the rise of Knowledge in some saint, qualities like universality are readily accepted. But immediately afterwards, the God-realized one is spoken of as ‘he’ or ‘she’. Properly speaking, after ‘I am Brahman’ there is no he or she; there remains only an illusory body-mind complex which is, as it were, a finger of Brahman. It is not a personal individual existence, revolving round itself. But the habit of personification is so ingrained in an unillumined mind, that however much it may be denied, personification at once returns. The universal Self is stuffed back into a human body, in the imagination of the unillumined people. The holy texts recognize this, and do provisionally allow name and personality to the illumined. Otherwise an aspirant would hardly be able to think at all about Brahman-realization. But the Gītā takes care to show that it is the Lord who manifests in what seems to be a sage: ‘Of priests I am Bṛhaspati… of great sages I am Bhṛgu … of divine sages I am Nārada … of Vṛṣṇi clansmen I am Vāsudeva (Kṛṣṇa) … of ascetics I am Vyāsa, of the wise, I am wise Uśanas.’
The same point comes repeatedly. The Gītā declares:
XV.19 He who undeluded thus knows Me,
the supreme Spirit, (as I am He,)
He knows all, and his whole thought is on Me.
It is said that he knows the supreme Spirit as ‘I am He’ (this is Śaṅkara’s expansion of the original word ‘thus’). Then, He knows all, he is omniscient. This is sometimes taken to mean that he ought to know what is happening on the other side of the world, in detail.
Sometimes a teacher will ridicule the supposition. It rests on the idea that after realizing ‘I am the supreme Spirit’, somehow a ‘he’ has been crammed back into the surviving body-mind complex. Then (it is concluded) that body-mind ought to be omniscient, because the text says so. Such a ‘man’ ought never to need a railway time-table; he should know already the times of all trains. That is the illogical supposition.
Śaṅkara anticipates this misconception, which must have been equally common in his day. It is not the body-mind that knows all about things at a distance, but the universal Self which knows everything because it is everything, being the Self of all. As having entered its own illusory projections, Brahman is everything: including trains, time-tables, and body-minds of limited worldly knowledge.
The texts sometimes say that we all have true Knowledge all the time, but awareness of it is masked by our obsession with objects, whether external or internal. Internal objects include mind and ego and dynamic latent tendencies: they are not Self. A clue is given in the Kena Upanisad: ‘What the mind cannot think, but by whose power the mind thinks, know that to be Brahman, and not what the people worship as apart.’
As an example from life: a short-sighted man cannot find his glasses. A humorous friend comes in as he is searching a cluttered table, and says: ‘Why, you’re looking at them.’ The searcher redoubles his efforts, ‘Not there.’ He tries the floor. ‘You’re still looking at them,’ repeats the friend. ‘But I’ve searched everywhere now.’ ‘What are you searching with – a short-sighted man like you?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Give up looking for them; shut your eyes and feel.’ Now he feels the glasses on his nose. What his eyes could not see, yet by whose power the eyes were seeing, that was the glasses. Afterwards he was aware of them as enabling him to see: in a way he then sees them, though not seeing them.
There is some parallel with the case of Knowledge. Turning away from objects, closing the eyes and feeling, could be a hint for samadhi. Afterwards, there is awareness of a light behind the mind, whose awareness was masked by the obsession with objects. The light is the bliss of Brahman-knowledge:
VI.28 The yogin who has held to yoga, freed from taint,
Easily attains contact with Brahman, the endless bliss.
29 He sees himself as in all beings, and all beings in himself. . .
30 He sees Me, the Lord, in all, and all in Me.