What is knowledge? What is the purpose of knowledge?

A pupil asks the questions: “What is knowledge? What is the purpose of knowledge?”

Imagine an afternoon in the Himalayan valley five or six miles above Rishikesha; the sun has declined and is hidden behind the towering peaks, cool shadows and breezes are prevailing on the shady banks of the Ganges and the holy Teacher has come out of his retreat. The throne of Vyasa has been prepared by loving disciples, and the Teacher takes his seat and around him gather the earnest loving disciples who have literally turned their backs on sense pleasures. Verily these things cannot go together: it is trying to sail in two boats simultaneously, both going in opposite directions, to believe that the world is real and to give devotion to God. The Teacher takes his seat, the invocation is given, a short meditation follows, and then imagine that one of the disciples with joined palms gives salutations to the Teacher and asks the questions: “What is knowledge? What is the purpose of knowledge?”

He has read in the sacred books that knowledge cuts the bonds of ignorance, it is like light that dissipates the gloom. Knowledge is the purest entity in the world and there is nothing purer, and he that is established in knowledge, as it is said in the Bhagavad Gita, “O Arjuna, he is nearest to Me.” It is the same as “I am the way and the truth.” Truth means knowledge.

What is knowledge? The Teacher says the first thing to remember is that knowledge alone gives salvation. This does not mean empirical knowledge – the knowledge which is obtained by the contact of the senses with the objects of the world is not meant here. The eyes do not see, it is the mind that sees through the eyes the colour of this wall and has knowledge of it – this is empirical knowledge, knowledge through the senses.

The second kind of knowledge is obtained by reason. For instance, you have seen hundreds of examples that any two sides of a triangle are greater than the third, and whenever you see a triangle you can presume that the sum of the two sides is greater than the third. In his Republic Plato asks, “What is justice?” and he takes one conception after another and shows what legitimately belongs to a person and what is of universal application. By implication this knowledge is not the same as the meaning of jnanam (knowledge) as used in the Upanishads.

You will say, then what knowledge remains? This is the dividing line between spiritual and worldly philosophy; empiricists, rationalists, are all materialists who do not believe in any knowledge except that obtained from the senses and the intellect. But the spiritual philosophy says there is a certain knowledge which is independent of the senses and the intellect, and this third kind of knowledge is meant here.

1.   The holy Acharya says: “This knowledge (anubhava) is the light obtained when the subject and object are absorbed in the contemplation of something transcending them both.” Anubhava is that knowledge which holy Christ meant when He said: “I am the truth”, and, “the truth shall make you free.” This knowledge is obtained by the absorption of the thinking faculty of the mind, when the desire-loving intellect and the executive faculty of the will are all absorbed in the light that animates the mind. The knowledge that is anubhava destroys all the duality of the divided state. Why do we suffer on account of duality (the word is taken in its philosophic form)? When two persons quarrel they think one is different from the other. Why are there wars? Because one nation thinks they are specially created and all others are nothing – that is seeing multiplicity, and it is due to an innate error in the soul of man. How to destroy it? Knowledge of truth, knowledge of truth absolute obtained by the absorption of the self in the light of the mind. This is what the holy Acharya said after he had studied all philosophy.

2.   “All multiplicity is the cause of suffering”, says the Teacher. It is error and is innate in the soul of man. It is only destroyed when the mind is absorbed in the contemplation of the Lord. What is suffering? Not to know the One-without-a- second, not to know: “These worlds, these beings are Self, therefore dissolve these worlds and the little empirical self through contemplation into the great Self, Paramatman – thus ceases all suffering.”

3.   How to remove this error? The holy Acharya says this error is innate in the soul of man. Sansara is taken in the holy philosophy as eternal, like the flowing of a river which goes on and on. The universe is projected by Him, but the error is not created, it is innate in the mind of the jiva. There was no time when this error did not exist, there was no fall, it is innate, and will only cease when we cease to see multiplicity, and then suffering will end.

What shall we do? “Sink the whole world in God, that is Self.” There is no other way. A whole commentary could be written on this. “Realize God as the efficient and material cause of the world. Realize Him to be that. Who, seeking, finds all things in the Self, for him all error fades, all sorrow ends. From death to death he hastens who here recognizes multiplicity as real.” It may be said in parenthesis that in the Self or Atman there is neither being nor becoming; the doctrine that God becomes the world is for meditation only, and is not the highest truth. He is ever beyond both being and becoming.


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