Knowledge acquisition as in Upanishads

“Knowledge is Infinite. What we know is very little.”

 

Knowledge as pure consciousness is infinite. What we know collectively and individually is limited and unknown is humongous. And knowledge has various names, forms, levels and types in all variety of subjects. World over trillions is being spent in the name of education. Corporations are spending in billion for training and knowledge management. Multiplicity of mediums, tools, technology and techniques are in vogue.  How effective are we in it? Are we learning right and learning the right subjects? Is there an order and process to acquire knowledge?

India has a rich tradition by way of Vedas and Upanishads.  Vedas and Upanishads are the fountain of knowledge both secular and spiritual. For they are prior to the times when philosophy and science and arts with is various sub divisions became a separate subject of study on their own.  The “Chandogya Upanishads” seventh chapter which goes by the title “Bhumaiva Sukham” meaning “completeness is happiness”, has a beautiful exposition on learning and knowledge acquisition.

It starts as dialogue between Sage Narada and Sage Sanatkumara where in Narada requests Sanatkumara to teach him for which Sanatkumara asks him to tell what he knows and beyond that he will teach.  Narada replies saying that he is well versed in phenomenal knowledge or secular knowledge of maths, science, astronomy, arts and art forms, architecture, politics, economics and so on. He understands that while these knowledge helps him to make a livelihood, acquire name and fame, wealth, and power it is not capable of giving him lasting happiness and peace of mind. What is the knowledge that by which one can go beyond, sorrow, ignorance and delusions?  Sage Sanatkumara replies that what he has learnt is only the theoretical knowledge in the forms of words, objects and thoughts pertaining to the physical world. However, one has to have self-knowledge to gross over the worldly problems. But then prior to acquiring self-knowledge there are different stages of knowledge that one has to acquire before self knowledge could be acquired. Thus begins his instruction for acquiring secular knowledge.

Meditation or worship as a technique of acquiring knowledge

Meditation or worship is an intellectual and internalized concept, as in this context is, different from the earlier notion of, as a form of physical worship, actual sacrifice and offerings to god. It is a state of heightened concentration where whatever is meditated upon is completely identified, absorbed with self and unified with as one identifies self-consciousness with one’s body.

To consciously superimpose or invoke a superior, or extraordinary thought or ideal in an ordinary object and venerating it as higher is called worship. Worshipping lord Shiva in the form of an idol, Jesus in the form of cross, or god in the form of fire, space, direction, nation in the form of flag are some of the examples. Such conscious impositions of higher in the lower and meditating on its attributes makes it easier for the mind to concentrate, focus, devoid of distractions and conflicts such that mind is able to imbibe the qualities of the idols in us.  As it depends on the person who is invoking it, the success of meditation is purely personal depending upon the strength of worship, time frame, period and sincerity. Depending upon what one is idealizing and practicing, the meditation can give him the worldly accomplishments of success, prosperity, fame, comforts and also other capabilities.

Knowledge starts as Names and forms

Every form or object has a name.  The names are much wider in scope than the object or its form. For example, when we see a particular ‘rose’, all the attributes of rose and the experiences in general of rose comes to our mind. And the name and form are generally not separable.  Thus when a name is mentioned the form associated with it manifests. Thus when the words and meanings are acquired and one who meditates on it, all the worldly power thereof can be obtained. However, mind being what it is it seeks to learn something beyond name and forms once it is known. If we recollect, when a child first learns to talk, he gets immense pleasure in identifying the objects around him and calling them by name. or when one learns any subject or language one starts with learning the words and terms specific to the field of study and starts identifying and associating it with objects around him.

Power of Speech

The first knowledge is that of names and forms, and is available as words. However, since speech proceeds words, and being the cause of words, it is superior to words.  All the knowledge originated in the form of sound/speech.  Speech is a powerful form to communicate thoughts. By the power of speech business is won or lost, relationships thrive or wither away, knowledge is acquired and communicated. There are infinite possibilities.

By meditating on that speech one gains mastery over it. The power of speech is improved by truthfulness in it, silence, speaking only when needed, avoiding unnecessary speech, sweetness and gentleness of the words uttered and speaking for the benefit of all.

Mind Power

Mind is superior to speech.  Speech is a process. There are four stages before speech is manifested. It first starts as un-manifest potential, beyond words and thought outside of us.  In the second stage idea takes into to shape in the mind.  In the third stage express is formed in the mind just before speaking.  And in the final stage speech is out of us by the coordination of various organs of the body through vocal cord and mouth. As mind is the cause of speech and proceeds speech, and speech is the effect of mind, mind is superior to speech.

Mind is the cause behind thinking and desire. Mind is the notion behind the self. All the world is created and experience in the mind. Mind is the cause of all names, speech and action. So mediate on the mind. By meditating on mind, one achieves all powers possible by mind.

Mental powers thus gained can be enhanced by living a righteous life, practicing self-contentment and other spiritual powers.

Supremacy of Will (Sankalpa) power

Sankalpa is defined as – power of conception, ideation, intent, desire, volition, resolution, and one pointed determination to achieve something. A vedic sankalpa generally comprises of time, location, constituents, lineage, purpose, wish, desire, target, action to be performed and nature of action. (So who says we thought of the concept of project plan, manifesto and so forth!!!!) it is about setting a positive intention to achieve something.

Man’s discriminating ability, the desire and will to do something is the basis for functioning of the mind. And hence superior to mind power. The will as sacred formulae, the mantra, when intoned with earnestness, appropriateness and correctness will result in action. The entire cycle of creation happens by will. By God’s will are the five elements created and sustained. The heat of the sun causes rain, which produces crops and food and from that sustenance, prana or the vital air, is obtained and by breath action is carried out and from that world is created. The willing creates the whole world and hence worship will.

One who meditates on will gains all the power related there off and is capable of gaining and experiencing wealth, power, fame and all that one intends.  He also acquired the bodily wealth of health body, robust mind, good sense organs, capacity to enjoy without outside obstacles. These though are of temporary nature by virtue of action being limited in its nature and that anything limited can created only things with limitedness.

Cultivation of Intelligence

Intelligence is superior to will, for only when one understands, he will, then he intends in mind which results in speech and name and form. Intelligence is that presence of mind, discriminating capacity, contextual understanding and decision making skill. Hence its greatness. An intelligent man is well respected in the society.

Capacity for Contemplation

Contemplation is greater than intelligence. The whole universe as in earth, heaven, water, mountains, divine beings, man, women, animate and inanimate contemplate and share the results there off. He who contemplates obtains multitude of knowledge. He then becomes free to act. The result of contentment is tranquility, stillness, steadfastness and contentment. Once mind is healthy, it further leads to health body, keen mind both of which enables one to perform well and achieve in the external world. Internally it leads one to a state of ultimate absorption, thoughtlessness resulting in peace and mastery over one’s subject of study.

Capability to Right Understanding

Understanding is superior than contemplation for contemplation is only effective when one understands the subject better for without understanding it is likely to lead to disastrous results. Only by understanding the world all that is in the world the sciences, the scriptures, and the knowable, various aspects of nature, plants, of animals etc, can be studies and research undertaken such that the laws governing them could be known.

The understanding of any knowledge, scriptures etc is gained by listening to the teachers, by self-study and reflection, by discussions with colleagues, and through the passage of time, experience and practice. One who meditates and understands all the scriptures and secular knowledge attains all the powers possible by understanding.

Thus are the various forms of intelligence one being superior to the other. By succeeding in gaining these knowledge one elevates himself to acquire the material wealth and becomes ready for the next stage of gaining self knowledge.

Based on “Bhumaiva Sukham”

Ref: “Bhumaiva Sukham” – Notes on Chandogya Upanishad, Chapter 7, by Swamini Vimalananda, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust Publications, 2003

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