This article is based on certain key verses from Chapter IX of the Bhagavad Gita, which is called the Royal Secret. Knowledge (jnana) and realization (vijnana) of the secret lead one beyond all limitations. The teaching begins: ” By Me this whole world is pervaded` by My form unmanifest.” This is the secret which is to be known.
Knowledge can be of different degrees, and the lowest is false knowledge. False knowledge is something positive, which makes us actively oppose truth. The history of science is full of examples of the persecution, often by scientific colleagues, of those who put forward important new ideas. In the last century a hip amputation was carried out by the surgeon Ward with the patient under hypnosis; his medical colleagues refused to accept that the patient had been free from pain` saying that he had been merely ” pretending to feel nothing “.
Higher than false knowledge is indirect knowledge` which rests, however, entirely on the testimony of another. Its validity varies with the character of the informant; in classical Indian philosophy` only the testimony of the ” competent ” (apta) is recognized as a valid source of knowledge. The Sufi mystic Rumi compares indirect knowledge to a deaf man who laughs with the others at a joke. When the joke is explained to him, he laughs a second time` this time from direct knowledge. Afterwards, he laughs a third time, at the comicality of his first laughter.
In a fable in the Mathnavi by Rumi, a hare by means of a psychological trick destroys the lion which has been terrorizing the animals of the valley. The hare returns dancing` and the others` seeing him in the distance, begin to dance also. They do not yet know the news` but something impels them to dance. Rumi says that the joy of the mystic similarly communicates itself a little to the people of the world. Our prayers and mystic practices are only an imitation of the spontaneous actions of the one who has direct vision of truth; nevertheless (says the Sufi)` the cause for dancing does exist, and though now we dance in ignorance` one day we shall know` and dance from the direct experience of bliss not dependent on another.
Higher still is knowledge which is direct but unclear. ” The years of searching in the dark for a truth that one feels but cannot express . . a typically meaningless phrase of a type beloved by mystics! “, comments the devotee of `exact thinking’. It is so vague` has no logical basis` and in the end nothing comes out of it. Nevertheless the phrase is by the greatest scientist of this century` Albert Einstein` who has frequently stated that in the major advances of science` intuition is almost everything. The popular conception of scientific progress is a series of small steps, each on a logical basis and rigorously checked; slowly the evidence is assembled until the final conclusion is inescapable. The facts are quite different. Many of the most important new ideas came as intuitional flashes` based on no logical sequence of ideas; often it was later extremely difficult to find a method of demonstration.
Sureshvara, in his classic Manasollasa, frequently uses the word pratyabhi jnana, which means to recognize something which previously was an object of consciousness, and now again becomes its object. The recognition is in the form ” this is the same as that “. The pratyabhi jnana of the Supreme Self consists in becoming conscious that the Self is omniscient and endowed with the other powers of the Lord` after casting aside the notion that He is of limited knowledge and so on. Before the recognition, the knowledge though direct is unclear` but after pratyabhijnana of the Self` the knowledge is clear. In flashes of intuition, in inspiration` in certain states of bliss which are not dependent on external objects and where the sense of the limited ” I ” is absent, the Lord is partially understood; when as a result of long and devoted yogic practice full recognition comes, the Lord is recognized as the true Self within the body.
In the well-known illusion of the rope which appears as a snake when seen in a bad light` the one who knows does not see any snake. He is actionless with regard to the snake-it is not real for him. He acts in regard to the rope, and can leave it or pick it up` as he likes. The others are active in regard to a snake, and take up sticks to defend themselves. While they are excited` it is no use his simply saying: ” There is no snake.” On the contrary` he goes with them; instead of just contradicting them from his higher level` he himself takes up a stick and slowly brings them nearer and nearer, till they finally realize it is a rope after all. The wise man` actionless in regard to the snake which he does not see, still seems to act to some extent like the others` because he sees as it were the snakiness of the rope which is the object of his perception. He understands why they think it a snake. So the God-realized man imitates the action of the people, of the world in order to lead them to closer investigation so that they know the truth. Seemingly active in regard to the world` in fact he is active in regard to the all-pervading great Lord` recognized by him but not as yet by the others.
“Those who` devoted to other gods, worship them with faith, they are worshipping Me` but unknowingly.” To worship other gods with faith means to give one’s life-energy to them` in the conviction that it will lead to the supreme goal. The gods may be high or low ideals` but in either case worship is being given to something limited` and hence is still partly based on illusion. Some pile up wealth in the perhaps unconscious belief that it will protect them and give perfect happiness; others make their gods personal relationships` artistic creations` war` the search for truth through science, and so on. But while the central problem remains unsolved` partial solutions give no lasting satisfaction.
In the Japanese fairy-story, the Moon-princess Kaguya came to earth` where she married the emperor. Her beauty and spirituality influenced him` and the land became a paradise. When she was taken away again by her people, they offered the emperor in compensation the elixir of immortality. He threw it away` for he said: ” It would only be an eternity without Kaguya.” In the legend she represents a glimpse of Enlightenment` and without attaining that` all other blessings are only a frustration.
“I am the Knowable.” The knowledge of yogic realization is a special knowledge` beyond subject-knowledge-object relationship. It is knowledge of the essence of the knowing subject. The teachers do not refer to it exclusively as either knowing subject` knowledge, or object of knowledge` but indifferently as all three` with frequent reminders that this is not the ordinary knowledge of some object different from the Self.
The word jnana (knowledge) is also occasionally used by the teachers in the ordinary sense` and then it may be contrasted with vijnana (realization). A man may say` and indeed be certain in his own mind` that ghosts do not exist` but if we observe that he always unconsciously avoids lonely places at night, we know that his conscious certainty covers a latent doubt.
If I lay a plank along the floor of the room, I can easily walk along it a hundred times and never need to step off. From this I may conclude that I can do the same if the plank is laid along the top of a very high wall. The task is identical` and I know that I can do it; the incidental circumstances of the height does not add anything to the difficulty of keeping the balance. The mere height does not push at me in any way. Nevertheless, if I try, I may find it unexpectedly difficult.
Similarly a spiritual student may acquire some degree of spiritual balance in surroundings which to him are favourable, and may suppose himself so detached from outer things that he could maintain the same balance in any circumstances. The task, he reasons` is the same. The outer things do not touch or push at his inner conviction. Still, it is a psychological fact that many people who believe themselves certain of something, and particularly those who find it necessary to impress others with their conviction` are often harbouring an inner doubt. In the end life itself exposes their immaturity of conviction` perhaps with a considerable shock. Where the student can manage to accept a teacher` the problem is resolved much more quickly.
To the monastery of a famous Zen master in western China came a monk who never asked questions or raised doubts. When others spoke of Zen he smiled mysteriously to himself.
One day the master told him: “You are here to study Zen; bring out your doubts!”
The monk said: “I have none.” “How is that? ” demanded the teacher.
” I was with a teacher in eastern China` and I asked him to tell me the supreme truth. He gave me a phrase. I meditated on it and reached the supreme truth. Now I have no more doubts.”
” What was this phrase? Probably you have entirely misunderstood.”
“The phrase was: The lamp-boy is looking for a light.” “And how do you understand that?”
” Why` the lamp-boy is the one who lights the temple lamps. He is the one who has the light` and if he looks for it elsewhere it is meaningless.
He has only to realize that he already has it. So I myself am supreme truth, yet I was going round seeking it from others. Now I realize that I already have it` there is nothing else to seek.”.
” I knew it! ” shouted the master. ” Quite wrong! You have been misled` and you have no realization at all.”
The monk packed up his things and left the temple. After
travelling some way he began to ponder` and it occurred to him that he should at least have asked this famous master for his own interpretation of the supreme truth. He turned back and presented himself again.
The master said:” So you are back. You ask me this time.” ” What is the supreme truth?”
” The lamp-boy is looking for a light.”
The monk had a flash of illumination, and after that the real peace. He saw that despite his former inner certainty` he had in fact been looking to others for a confirmation of his spiritual state. He had remained in the security of the monastery` among the seekers` and sought to impress them with his secret smiles. When the teacher created a crisis` he had found he was still dependent on others, being upset when his view failed to convince.
In the same way in the Kena Upanishad the teacher gives the pupil’s mind a shake when he says: ” If you think you know it well` little indeed you know.” Realization is deeper than intellectual knowledge` deeper even than intellectual certainty. The man of realization hardly speaks of his own state` any more than a really healthy man thinks or talks of his health. To the well man` health is not an achievement` but the basis of his action; similarly the fact of realization is not consciously displayed, but is attested by every action of the sage.
The great teacher Shankara almost never refers to his own illumination; to him the whole world was illumined. When realization comes, the great Lord is seen everywhere. There is a turning-over in the depths of the mind: through the masks of illusion is seen the all-pervading Reality, underlying the sorrow is seen unbroken bliss, and in the midst of death is experienced conscious immortality.