Like fire is the cause for cooking, knowledge is the cause for Liberation. Fire alone is the cause for cooking and there is no substitute. Similarly, knowledge (as being revealed in Ātma bodha) alone can lead us to Liberation. We can have several utensils, grains, water, vegetables, etc. for cooking. But, without fire, how can we cook? Similarly, we can practice prāṇāyama, mantra japa, meditation, pūjā, temple visits, bath in sacred rivers, etc. but none of these will offer Liberation. Only knowledge can give Liberation. What is so important about knowledge? Complete knowledge leads to experience and experience leads to Liberation. Knowledge cannot be construed as bookish knowledge. Culmination of knowledge is direct experience and at the end of direct experience is Self-realization. It is important to understand what knowledge is.
Knowledge is of two types - svarūpa jñāna and vrutti jñāna. Svarūpa jñāna is pure knowledge and vrutti jñāna is the modification of intellect (buddhi). Svarūpa jñāna is best explained in Bhṛgu-vallī (Taittirīya Upaniṣad last chapter). Bhṛgu is Vāruṇa’s son. Former approached the latter for certain clarifications regarding Brahma-jñāna. Vāruṇa asked his son to meditate and find out who is Brahman. Bhṛgu meditated and found out that food, prāṇa, sensory organs, etc. are Brahman. Vāruṇa then says to Bhṛgu to inquire within (meditation) and find out who is the cause, sustenance and absorption of everything. Bhṛgu finds out that food is Brahman. However, Bhṛgu is not satisfied with his findings and again approaches his father Vāruṇa, who asks Bhṛgu to do tapas (penance) to find out that tapas is Brahman. Like this, conversation continues and every time, when Bhṛgu comes out with his findings, it was negated by his father Vāruṇa. Finally, Bhṛgu realized that Bliss (Ānanda) is Brahman, as everything originates, sustains and dissolves unto Bliss (Sat-Cit-Ānanda). This clearly explains what Svarūpa jñāna is. True knowledge can be realized only by inquiring within – Who am I. No other method can impart true knowledge. Hence, it is said, “vijijjñāsasva” which means analyse and investigate. This is called tapas, which is explained as directing our mind, senses and the whole of our being to one goal (Brahman). vrutti jñāna is the knowledge about moral code of conduct, which is nothing to do with Self-realization. vrutti jñāna, however is the stepping stone for svarūpa jñāna. Therefore, knowledge means analysing and investigating the Self. This knowledge can be attained only through penance. When we do penance or meditation on “who am I”, during meditation, we will get an answer and that is the point of Self-realization. None of the rituals, including mantra japa will give this ultimate knowledge. Prāṇāyama, mantra japa, etc. will only cleanse our mind, as purified mind alone can enter into tapas. But, one has to progress from vrutti jñāna to svarūpa jñāna in quickest possible time, as the duration of this life is limited (limited by death). (2)
Every human has got innate spiritual ignorance. Actions, as described in part 1 of this series will not impart the ultimate knowledge, required for realizing the Self. Svarūpa jñāna, as discussed above, alone can lead to realization. (Everyone associated with the site would have read James Cowan’s personal experience. In one of his recent mails, he wrote, “All you need is faith and perseverance and this has been my experience.”). Knowledge is like light that dispels darkness.
Let us have the basic understanding of knowledge and ignorance; of course both are related to the Self. Knowledge is about non-duality or Advaitā and ignorance is illusionary world projected by māyā. Knowledge is the real snake and ignorance is, considering a rope as snake. When we acquire true knowledge, there will be nothing except the Self. Ignorance is associated with various shapes and forms through antaḥkaraṇa (the internal organ, the seat of thought and feeling, the mind, the thinking faculty). Therefore, antaḥkaraṇa śuddhi (purification of mind, intellect and ego) is considered essential while pursuing the path of Liberation. Ignorance causes limitation (bound) and knowledge reveals infinite Consciousness. A Self-realized person will always shun “I”, the ego. For him, he is not the doer. He thinks, that the Self is responsible for all his actions. Though it is said that the Self is always inert and only witnesses all the actions, it is also to be remembered that the Self is the cause for our very existence. Therefore, we cannot take credit for any of actions and if we do so, it implies that we are deluded by ego.
Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gītā (II: 15 & 16), “The influence of the sense objects will not affect a person, if he considers pleasure and pain equally. Such a person becomes eligible for liberation. For the unreal, there is nothing called existence. For the real, there is nothing called non-existence. The difference in perception between the two is realized by men of knowledge.” Knowledge is emphasised throughout Advaita, as knowledge alone leads to Liberation. (3)