Higher Knowledge And Lesser Knowledge
SRI SWAMI CHIDANANDA
This article is from the book Ponder These Truths.
Radiant Divinities ! Immortal atma-svarup assembled together here in this sacred Presence! Jijnasa means thirst for knowledge, a desire for knowledge. Our ancients were men of brahma-jnana (direct knowledge of Brahman (God)). They were brahma-jnanis, atma-jnanis, they had knowledge. Modern scientists, physicists, mathematicians, nuclear physicists, they also have knowledge. They are also jnanis. But then, what is the difference ?
Our ancient jnanis realized the oneness of all existence, that life is one: Isavasyamidam sarvam yat kimcha jagatyam jagat (All this, whatsoever in this universe moves (or moves not) is indwelt by the Lord). Therefore, to harm anyone is to harm yourself. Recognizing this oneness of life, the immanence of the one hidden Spirit in all things that exist, they realized the sanctity of all life. So they declared ahimsa paramo dharmah (non-violence is the highest duty). Not to injure anyone, not to harm anyone, not to hurt anyone, is the supreme good, supreme law. And therefore their prayer was lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu (may all beings be happy), sarvesham svastir-bhavatu (may all auspiciousness befall all beings). And they lived in order to fulfill this prayer sarvabhutahiteratah (engaged in the welfare of all beings) – living only to constantly work for the good of all, the happiness of all, the auspiciousness and blessedness of all. They lived to benefit life around them. Their life, therefore, was a source of satyam, sivam, sundram – all that is true, all that is good and auspicious, all that is beautiful – to life around them.
In contrast, out of scientific knowledge and progress in technology, the entire world is gripped with fear, anxiety, in a state of acute anxiety neurosis, a state of uncertainty about the future and insecurity in the present. That means that due to this knowledge and its utilization, humanity has become sick. Humanity is ill, suffering from the maladies of fear, uncertainty and insecurity.
Why this difference ? The Upanishads say that it is because of knowledge being of two kinds. If over emphasis is laid upon the lesser knowledge, it leads to knowledge about things and ignorance about oneself, ignorance about life and the laws that prevail in the universe, the laws that govern life. Whereas, if the emphasis is laid upon the higher knowledge, para vidya, that higher knowledge liberates one from ignorance, liberates one from all that is narrow, limited, that which separates. It makes one divine by granting the knowledge that bestows the vision of the universal oneness of all life.
So the Upanishads spoke about the higher knowledge and the lesser knowledge – para vidya and apara vidya. Those who know only the lesser knowledge, apara vidya, are very advanced in knowledge, but they lack wisdom. They know about everything else, but they do not know about themselves. Therefore they fall a prey to egoism, to selfishness, to megalomania. They fall a prey to small goals dictated by the selfish view of things. They do not see divinity in humanity. They do not know about the law of love that prevails for the happiness and benefit of all mankind. They only see in a narrow way; their vision is fragmented; their experience is not universal.
Therefore, not knowing about themselves, not knowing about the oneness of life, their knowledge has turned into destructive knowledge, into a negative knowledge, whose application has resulted not in welfare, but in fear. Whereas the knowledge of those ancient sages, who experienced the Supreme Reality, their jnana was para vidya; their jnana was wisdom, spiritual wisdom. And it made them centres of supreme compassion, centres of universal love, centres of friendliness towards all life, and centres of intense pre-occupation with the welfare of all, the benefit of all. Bahujanahita and bahujanasukha (the welfare and happiness of all people) became the throbbing of their heart, the very spirit on which their life moved.
It is, therefore, that knowledge that is to be sought after. That knowledge is the knowledge which jijnasus in the spiritual life, in the spiritual path seek – not merely to know about things, but the “Thing-in-Itself,”, which is the Light of lights beyond all darkness, knowing which one becomes liberated, knowing which there is nothing higher to be known.
That should be sought after, and the beginning of this quest is to know that we still do not know certain things. “There is still something to be known, something which I do not know, something which I have to know.” It is this that opens the door to ever widening and ever progressing knowledge. Where there is this basic acceptance of one’s limitation in knowledge, basic acceptance of one’s need to know, then alone one will seek knowledge. If one is self-sufficient, if one thinks, “I know,” then one closes the door to knowledge. Therefore, one should think: “I know little, let me know more, let me proceed from the darkness of less knowledge into the ever increasing light of more and more knowledge that leads ultimately to the supreme knowledge all things, knowledge of Brahman, knowledge of the One.”
To that end one should live a life of seeking, a life of questioning, a life of inner enquiry, vichara. And through svadhyaya, through satsanga, through the company of similar seekers on the path, one should study singly as well as collectively, one should enquire both singly as well as in satsang. “Tadviddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya – Know that knowledge, O Arjuna, through offering reverence to those who know more than you, through earnestly questioning and through serving,” says Lord Krishna. Pranipata, pariprasna and seva mean prostration, earnest questioning and service.
Thus it is that jijnasa is based upon the keen desire to know more and is made progressive through reverence, through devout and earnest questioning and through sincere selfless service. This is the true hallmark of a spiritual person. This is the essence of spiritual seeking, spiritual aspiration. And this is the hope of the world of tomorrow. If one would not become blinded by the ego of secular knowledge, if one would release oneself from the net of satisfaction with mere secular knowledge, then one should humbly turn towards the source of all spiritual knowledge.
The wisdom treasure, in the form of the world scriptures, left by our ancients is the most priceless part of the global heritage of mankind. Rejecting the scriptures one will perish, one will go from darkness to darkness. One will go deeper into bondage and ignorance and become a source of danger to society. Scriptures embody eternal truth for the guidance of man, for the welfare of the world. Scriptures ought to be studied reverentially. Patanjali Maharishi laid down in his Yoga Sutras that svadhyaya should be diligently pursued by the Yogi, by the seeker, by the jijnasu and mumukshu.
Thus it has been said. May you reflect over it and be benefited! God bless you!