The Knowledge That Liberates

Sri Sankara says jnanadeva tu kaivalyam ‘only through knowledge one attains liberation.’ What is this knowledge? What sort of knowledge is it?


The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says:


Brahman the absolute, alone was; nothing else was, there was no object. And ‘It’ knew ‘Itself’ alone’. That knowledge of the absolute, when ‘It’ alone was is the object of Brahmavidya.


What was the knowledge that God had? The Upanishad itself has the answer. God knew Himself and nothing else. Not anything other than He was there. The Bhagavad Gita too has a similar statement. Arjuna says:


You alone know Yourself by Yourself, O Supreme Person, O! Creator of beings, O! God of gods, O Lord of the universe” He knows Himself by Himself without any external help of the instruments like mind, intellect etc. this knowledge is beyond the instruments. It is transcendental. The Upanishad too says ‘tad atmanam evavet’ It knew ‘Itself’ only. This knowing is free from all objectification. Usually in a sentence there is a subject connected by the verb to its predicate. There is no such possibility here of describing this knowledge by a subject object connection through a verb.


According to Ramana Maharishi the Self (Atman or God) is not some thing that is either known or not known. The self is knowledge (awareness) itself.To another question ‘does the absolute know itself?’ the Maharishi answers “the ever conscious is beyond both knowledge and ignorance. Your question presupposes subject and object but the absolute is beyond both subject and object. It is knowledge itself.”


The knowledge that we speak of in this world is that which is gained through the senses, mind, intellect and ego. That is the worldly knowledge is what our instruments show to us. Knowledge acquired through the senses is not capable of eradicating sorrow while knowledge of the Self (atma jnana) eradicates all sorrow. In this context the famous story of Narada and Sanatkumara in the Chandogya Upanishad may be mentioned. Narada had studied all the Vedas, itihasas, and puranas and had acquired all worldly knowledge .Yet he could not cross over sorrow. All his knowledge of the scriptures could not relieve him of his sorrow. Real divine knowledge takes us beyond the clutches of pleasure and pain.


The Kathopanishad expresses the same idea.


To snap our ties with the instruments and to REMAIN AS WE ARE is real divine knowledge. To be aware of only awareness is divine knowledge. Discarding attention on instruments including the ego and other paraphernalia and to turn the whole attention on the self (oneself) is divine knowledge.”

Bondage is due to the fact that our attention is focused on the nonself (anatman). There is an interesting story which conveys the same idea. Ten brothers crossed a river by swimming. After reaching the other bank they counted to see whether everyone had reached the other bank. While counting each one left out himself. So they were terrified to know that only nine has reached the other bank. This meant that one was drowned in the river. All started weeping and mourning for the tenth man. Another traveler saw this and enquired them about what happened. The traveler made them count before him. He found out their mistake and informed them of their folly. Then only they recognized their mistake and gave up their mourning.


The second verse of the second chapter of Kenopanishad says:


I do not think that I know Brahman nor do I think I do not know because I do know It. Out of us whosoever knows Brahman he alone can know the secret of what I say.

The import is that the self cannot be objectified”.


The Taittiriyopanishad says:


Not able to grasp the self the mind and the speech bounce back”.


Thus it is this divine knowledge that liberates

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