How is self-knowledge different?

A sense of not-knowing is uncomfortable and prickly. The very idea that one could be ignorant about a topic seems to draw out an urge to know. Once knowledge of the said topic is gained, there is a brief moment of resolution. This resolved state of mind only lasts as long as one’s attention is not drawn to the next novelty. Suppose one hears the word ‘photon’ for the first time and looks up its meaning. Having scraped the ignorance of a photon, the notion ‘I am ignorant’ is removed only from the standpoint of a photon. There’s some joy (jnᾱnᾱnanda). But one’s ignorance from the standpoint of ‘neutrino’ is still present. Therefore the resolution remains inhibited. Self-knowledge is different. After having mastered an extensive body of knowledge, Narada Muni goes to Sanathkumara complaining for want of mental peace. He reveals that he has mastery over all the Vedas, Purana, grammar, mathematics, sciences, music, art, astrology and the list continues. The list is representative of all Aparᾱ vidyᾱ.

ऋग्वेदं भगवोऽध्येमि यजुर्वेदꣳ सामवेदमाथर्वणं

चतुर्थमितिहासपुराणं पञ्चमं वेदानां वेदं पित्र्यꣳ राशिं

दैवं निधिं वाकोवाक्यमेकायनं देवविद्यां ब्रह्मविद्यां

भूतविद्यां क्षत्रविद्यां नक्षत्रविद्याꣳ

सर्पदेवजनविद्यामेतद्भगवोऽध्येमि ||(Chandogya Upanishad. 7.1.2)

r̥gvedaṁ bhagavo’dhyemi yajurvedam̐ sāmavedamātharvaṇaṁ

caturthamitihāsapurāṇaṁ pañcamaṁ vedānāṁ vedaṁ pitryam̐ rāśiṁ

daivaṁ nidhiṁ vākovākyamekāyanaṁ devavidyāṁ brahmavidyāṁ

bhūtavidyāṁ kṣatravidyāṁ nakṣatravidyāṁ

sarpadevajñavidyāmetadbhagavo’dhyemi ||( Chandogya Upanishad. 7.1.2)

This is a revealing illustration for how all these bodies of knowledge have a limited ability to resolve a person’s mind. Narada asks Sanathkumara for that knowledge that can enable him to entirely cross the sea of sorrow, in other words, that which can bring total resolution. To which Sanathkumara replies with the following verse:

नाम वा ऋग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेद आथर्वणश्चतुर्थ

इतिहासपुराणः पञ्चमो वेदानां वेदः पित्र्यो राशिर्दैवो

निधिर्वाकोवाक्यमेकायनं देवविद्या ब्रह्मविद्या भूतविद्या

क्षत्रविद्या नक्षत्रविद्या सर्पदेवजनविद्या

नामैवैतन्नामोपास्स्वेति (Chandogya Upanishad. 7.1.4)

nāma vā r̥gvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmaveda atharvaṇaścaturtha

itihāsapurāṇaḥ pañcamo vedānāṁ vedaḥ pitryo rāśidaivo

nidhirvākovākyamekāyanaṁ devavidyā brahmavidyā bhūtavidyā

kṣatravidyā nakṣatravidyā sarpadevajñavidyā

nāmaivaitannāmopāssveti || (Chandogya Upanishad. 7.1.4)

He explains to Muni Narada that all the vast fields of knowledge he has acquired amount to merely names (nᾱmᾱ). He is introduced to the knowledge of the object (nᾱmi), which is Brahman. So there is but one vastu, object and all the names belong to that one vastu. The variety of objects in the universe are only vᾱcᾱrambhanam vikᾱro nᾱmadheyam, names alone. Knowing this one reality, Brahman, everything becomes as well known. Why? Because Brahman is the only existent substantive.

The individual, jiva = Brahman (substantive) + Name

The total, Ishwara = Brahman (substantive) + Name

The whole world, Jagat = Brahman (substantive) + Name

Where does self-knowledge fit in then? Ᾱtma-jnᾱnam or self-knowledge reveals the equation between Ᾱtma and Brahman. Through this equation, the self is understood as Brahman, the one non-dual substantive. Therefore, knowledge of the self as Brahman makes one knowledgeable of the only real existent thing, while all apara vidya makes one knowledgeable from the stand point of various names alone. Thus, self-knowledge knocks off fundamentally, the notion ‘I am ignorant’. The resolution is not from any particular standpoint but rather, it is total. Any sense of ignorance is a superimposition, ᾱropita upon the self, ᾱtma. Thus, ignorance itself being purely superimposed and not belonging to the self as an intrinsic attribute, trying to remove ignorance from the self is like trying to wipe mirage water away, a meaningless pursuit. Upanishads reveal the self to be free from ignorance. But then why is there a sense of ignorance on the part of an individual. This can be explained by talking about Upᾱdhi.

Upᾱdhi can be understood as a limiting adjunct. By being close to a blue cloth, a clear crystal appearing blue is because of Upᾱdhi. The appearance of a blue sky as a result of light scattering is Upᾱdhi. Another interesting example of Upᾱdhi is colour on the wings of a butterfly due to microstructures. The blue colour is not due to presence of a blue-coloured pigment in the wings. It appears so because of the way light is refracted through the microstructures of the wings. The colour is not an intrinsic attribute of the wings but still the wings appear as if they were blue.

Similarly the property of ignorance belongs to an individual mind. The self being closely associated with a mind upᾱdhi appears to be subject to ignorance. Based on the mind upᾱdhi, concluding ‘I am ignorant’ is an incorrect notion. In-fact many conclusions that a person may have, such as ‘I am subject to birth, disease and death’ is only a superimposition (adhyᾱsa) upon the self. Once one is made knowledgeable of the fact that one happens to be Satyam-Jnᾱnam-Anantam Brahman, the prickly sense of ignorance, dismal sense of mortality, all get resolved once and for all, totally.

2 thoughts on “How is self-knowledge different?

  1. Hi Anurag,

    Very clearly explained! (I’ve created a ‘category’ and a ‘menu item’ for you incidentally. Sorry I forgot about this before.)

    Best wishes,

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