विद्या कथम् भाति न चेदविद्या
विद्याम् विना किम् प्रविभात्यविद्या ।
द्वयम् च कस्येति विचार्य मूल
स्वरूप निष्ठा परमार्थ विद्या ॥—१२
vidyA katham bhAti na chedavidyA
vidyAm vinA kim pravibhAtyavidyA
dvayam cha kasyeti vichArya mUla
svarUpa niShThA paramArtha vidyA—12
विद्या कथम् भाति = how does knowledge shine? न चेदविद्या = if there is no ignorance; विद्याम् विना = without knowledge; किम् प्रविभात्यविद्या = does ignorance shine; द्वयम् च कस्येति = the two; विचार्य = having enquired; मूल स्वरूप = original nature; निष्ठा = abidance; परमार्थ विद्या = knowledge that ‘I am the self’
If there is no ignorance, how does knowledge shine? Without knowledge, does ignorance shine? And whose are the two? Having enquired thus, abidance in the original nature is the knowledge that ‘I am Atma’.
Everything in the universe is in duality. When one talks of happiness, it is a relative term, relative to sorrow. With respect to sorrow, we can say there is happiness. The term happiness has no meaning in the absence of sorrow. Light is opposed to darkness. It exists since darkness also exists. No darkness implies, there is no existence for light. This is the world of opposites, the world of duality. Joy-sorrow, victory-loss, peace-agitation, like-dislike, worry-security etc are some such antithetical couples. They mutually exist because of the other and have no meaning without the other.
So also, knowledge and ignorance are members of such a pair. We say ‘knowledge removes ignorance’. The word ‘knowledge’ has meaning only with reference to ignorance. If there is no ignorance, does knowledge have any meaning? The fact that one has ignorance is also known. One is cognizant of the ignorance one has. Hence, knowledge and ignorance both are in the ‘pairs-of-opposites’. Both are unreal – mithyA.
If knowledge is also mithyA why should one strive to gain it at all? Just as a thorn is required to remove a thorn; so also mithyA knowledge is required to remove mithyA ignorance. Both enjoy a mere transactional status alone. If that is so, will also the knowledge that ‘I am brahman’ go away? No, that knowledge will stay, since it has been assimilated as the truth, as your own self, as truth non-different from you.
One needs to see what happens when knowledge takes place. A particular thought is generated in the mind on hearing the vedik statement ‘tattvamasi’ – ‘that thou art’. This generated thought does the act of destroying the ignorance. Once that is done, the thought also goes away along with ignorance. What is left is Atma alone. The mind will continue to have thoughts, it will continue to interact. Everything will be the same externally, but one knows now, that the world, the body, the mind are all mithyA. One revels in one’s own nature as the whole. This is called abidance (as seen in earlier verses).
One has to enquire into the truth behind the body, mind etc. The basis behind ignorance and knowledge is the self. The basis of everything is the self. All exists in the self, so do knowledge and ignorance. The knowledge from the scriptures is as unreal as the ignorance. The abidance, on the other hand, termed in this verse as paramArtha vidyA (knowledge that one is the self), is permanent. This abidance is not an object or objective knowledge. It is the only truth.
The scriptural knowledge and ignorance both belong to the ego. The ego is the relative knower, while the Atma is the consciousness, the truth behind the knower. As long as one believes oneself to be the ego, then all that one perceives externally is believed to be true. Once these are known with conviction to be unreal, then abidance in one’s own being is natural. The abidance that ‘I am Atma’, not the ego’ is the highest form of abidance called paramArtha vidyA.
Meenakshi, I find it salutary to be told that knowledge – not only ignorance – is also mithya, which, on first hearing it, sounds counter-intuitive. Ah! the pride of thinking that one is knowledgeable… But, as you say, everything is mithya other than the experience-knowledge of “paramArtha vidyA (knowledge that one is the self)”. Would you say that ‘abiding’ is somehow equivalent to the expression I just used: ‘experience-knowledge’? I find one cannot get away from the term ‘experience’, though many object to it; I like it, as I like ‘chit-akasha’. ‘Abiding’, of course, implies a subject, as ‘experience’ does, but that should not matter. Thank you, Meena.