Q.485 Enlightenment is Self-knowledge

Q: I read your answer to  the question “Enlightenment is not an experience” here:  https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-389-enlightenment-is-not-an-experience/

You mention, “It is not about experience at all, it is about self-knowledge – the direct knowledge that you are already that which you seek.”

Let’s say I don’t know what 2+2 equals.  Then you teach me that it equals 4.  Is that knowledge?  (intellectually knowing more stuff?) Or is knowledge (Self knowledge) something different?

A: Suppose that you don’t know anything about quantum mechanics or cellular biology, metallurgy etc. In theory, you could probably spend a lifetime learning about all these and other disciplines. This would all be ‘intellectual knowledge’ and could not alter basic understanding of ‘life, the universe and everything’ (especially who ‘you’ are).

Self-knowledge is something quite different. It is something that you sort of know already but hadn’t realized that you did, because it is a totally different way of looking at things (compared to how we are taught and live in modern society). Some of the metaphors that are used are the ‘tenth man’ story, the rope and snake, the lady who lost her necklace, and the realizing that some famous person is in fact the same person you knew as a child.

Intellectual knowledge always leads onto something else. As someone once put it, you learn more and more about less and less. When you gain knowledge of the ‘Self-knowledge’ variety, you also simultaneously gain the knowledge that you do not need any further explanation. You can go on acquiring intellectual knowledge all of your life and still not reach an end to it. Self-knowledge is binary – you did not previously realize that this is how things are; now you do.

Have a look at questions 42, 92, 362, 387 too.

3 thoughts on “Q.485 Enlightenment is Self-knowledge

  1. The use of the word “knowledge” seems to be a common source of confusion for students of Vedanta. For most of us knowledge means discursive knowledge, subject knowing object. To know is to translate the concrete, particular, specific, and unanalyzed into the abstract, universal, general, and analyzed.

    The Vedantin’s knowledge is not discursive. It is a direct knowing-if such can be called knowing-of that reality that can be known only from within, for the self is, as the Upanishads say, “the truth of the truth, the real of the real”.

    It might be better if “knowledge” were not forced to do double service, that is, to denote the knowing appropriate to Being and the knowing appropriate to beings. Perhaps instead of dividing knowledge into direct and indirect knowledge, we should insist that all knowledge is indirect; the direct form is important, but it is not knowledge. Knowledge, as someone has said, is a salute, not an embrace; a representation, not a presentation; a symbolization, not a reality.

    Perhaps the non-cognitive grasping of things is better termed “insight” – and kept quite distinct from knowledge. We can then say that when inner reality is grasped by insight a basis is attained from which external reality may be known.

  2. I agree with what you say, Rick, and ‘insight’ is certainly a good candidate for replacement. But I think there is always going to be a propensity for confusion because the languages (both Sanksrit and English) are so flexible. The same words can be used in many ways. I think the only solution when talking about topics such as this is carefully to define the terms you are using at the outset.

  3. As my teacher, a Sanskrit scholar, would often say when trying to translate/explain in English some particularly difficult passage from the shastras: “Don’t worry, the Sanskrit is even more confusing than the English. Let’s translate the spirit and not worry too much about the letter.”

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