Life is a series of experiences. We observe this world through the five sense organs. When this data goes inside our mind it is converted into knowledge and stored as memory. Our experiences and knowledge are related to each other. There is no use of experience if it does not become knowledge and available to us when needed as memory. Knowledge and memory are absolutely needed to take life forward and it is attained through various experiences.
There are three types of knowledge based on our experience. The first is the knowledge we gain through the sense organs. This knowledge is called pratyaksha jnana. Prati + aksha = pratyaksha. Prati means objects placed in front of the sense organs. Aksha literally means eye; but in scriptures this word is used to indicate all the sense organs. Therefore, the experience and knowledge gained by using sense organs is called pratyaksha jnana. For example, when I see a rose flower, I know it is a rose flower by my past experience. This is pratyaksha jnana.
The second type of knowledge is, many times we infer or conclude by our experience and observation. We come to conclusion by thinking. Sometimes, we close our eyes, think deeply, and come to conclusion. In this context, the mind and the intellect play an important role. The knowledge we gain by the working of the mind and intellect is called the paroksha jnana. It is otherwise known as inferential knowledge or indirect knowledge. Para + aksha = paroksha. Para in this context means that which is above the range of the sense organs. We need data to infer and come to conclusion; and that data is provided by the sense organs. The knowledge of science and the entire realm of faith in religion are based on paroksha jnana. For example, we have not seen an atom, but we infer that there is an atom. Likewise, many have not seen the Himalayas, but we gain knowledge of the Himalayas from the experiences of the other people. This is called paroksha jnana, otherwise known as indirect knowledge.
Knowledge of Brahman is neither pratyaksha jnana nor paroksha jnana. Brahman is existence. No one can deny that knowledge. We may not be aware of it but we cannot deny it. For example, if someone asks me ‘ Do you exist, are you alive’? I do not need an evaluation by the sense organs or a second thought from my mind to answer ‘Yes, I am very much alive’. This reply spontaneously comes from “I” the Being. I always exist as a witness. It is here the third type of knowledge come in to the scene. The knowledge that does not use the sense organs, the mind or the intellect is called aparoksha jnana. Apara + aksha = aparoksha. It is transcendental knowledge. All the spiritual practices are there to experience this knowledge. In a way, one can say aparoksha jnana as an extremely direct knowledge. Even the mind and senses are not used for aparoksha jnana. The entire experiences of the sense organs, mind, and the knowledge of what we know and what we do not know are based on aparoksha jnana. It is the source of all knowledge. It is the experience and knowledge of the Atma. Aparoksha jnana is the feeling of existence. It is our real nature. Aparoksha jnana is stronger and direct than the pratyaksha jnana and paroksha jnana.
When we are in deep sleep, we do not experience the mind, senses, body or intellect. During deep sleep there are no experiences; however, when we get out of sleep, we get a feeling, “I slept well”. Who gives this experience? It is the Consciousness, the Atma, which is there in the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep, gives this experience. This direct experience is aparoksha jnana. One and only the knowledge of the Self, Atman, is applicable for aparoksha jnana. No other knowledge is as direct as aparoksha jnana. All the other knowledge either fall in the category of pratyaksha jnana or paroksha jnana. They all need the help of the senses or the mind.
Aparoksha jnana is so direct that no one can deceive this knowledge. In stula drishti (gross vision), the sense organs are applied and sometimes they hide the truth. Our vision is based on our mentality. In sukshma drishti (subtle vision), there are a lot of chances for wrong perception; because what you think is that you infer and conclude. Science and religion are based on sukshma drishti and this is the main reason for many contradictions in science and religion. The third type of vision is tattva drishti or satya drishti. It is otherwise known as aparoksha jnana. There is no chance for wrong perception in this because it is direct realization.
The common question many people ask is, if aparoksha jnana is direct perception, then why not everyone realize it. Why is it restricted to only a few people? The only answer is we all are covered by ignorance. For example, during winter, fog and clouds cover the bright sunlight. When the fog and clouds move away, then the already existing sun shines brightly. Likewise, when the ignorance is removed by knowledge the already existing Atma shines brightly. Jnani removes the ignorance by practice and so he has direct perception of the truth.
Ignorance can be removed in many ways. It can be removed by reading the scriptures, that is philosophy and it is the path of jnana (knowledge). It can be removed by the control of the mind by meditation and it is dhyana yoga. It can be removed by devotion and it is bhakti yoga. It can be removed by doing selfless service and it is karma yoga. One can practice any one of this with dedication or can combine one or two of this and practice it with dedication. The goal is to purify the mind from ignorance. Realization will manifest only in a purified mind. Even though when one has knowledge, due to the impurities in the mind realization will not manifest. Mind will not assimilate the truth due to past impressions and desires. Without realization knowledge will be an additional burden to lead the worldly life.
In the path of jnana yoga, a mumukshu or a student gets this knowledge from the Guru and scriptures. When a student gets this knowledge initially, it is the indirect knowledge (paroksha jnana). A student very well understands about Brahman as explained in the scriptures. Due to the impurities of the mind he will not get realization, but he has knowledge. He thinks that Brahman is somewhere else, and fails to realize “I – the Brahman” is explained in the scriptures. In that sense, all the Upanisads are biography of our Self given by the Rishis. Upanisads does not explain about our fake personality instead, it explains about our real nature. By reading, contemplation and by spiritual practices one gradually realizes that Brahman is no one else, but my SELF. Initially, one gets paroksha jnana from the scriptures, especially the mahavakyas, however it gradually turns in to aparoksha jnana.
Aparoksha jnana bring deep changes in a person. He will transact with the world as a common man, but deep inside he has a firm conviction that “I am Brahman”. Disturbances of the external world no longer disturb him. The major difference between the paroksha jnana and the aparoksha jnana is paroksha jnana gives knowledge that Brahman exists and aparoksha jnana gives knowledge that Brahman is my real Self, the Atma.
These are the three types of knowledge based on the philosophical point of view.
There are another set of three types of knowledge based on the gunas. They are sattvic knowledge, rajasic knowledge and tamasic knowledge.
Sattvic nature is peace, clarity and equanimity. The knowledge to see unity in diversity is sattvic knowledge. It helps one to see the non-dual existence in different objects. It is the true knowledge and it gives the whole picture of existence.
Rajasic nature is activity, agitation and passion. Rajasic knowledge is to see the world as bits and parts. This knowledge will not allow seeing the world as one. Rajasic knowledge views each part as separate from the rest. It creates boundaries and causes confusion out of ego in the name of self respect.
Tamasic nature is ignorance and inertia. Tamasic knowledge is to see a part as the whole. It will never see the whole due to stubbornness and ignorance. Tamasic knowledge revolves around a small world and it thinks that this is the whole.
When you see the whole it is sattvic knowledge. When you see the bits and parts it is the rajasic knowledge. When you see the bit and believe it to be the whole then it is tamasic knowledge.
These are the three types of knowledge based on the gunas. Gunas lead to the attainment of right knowledge; and right knowledge leads to realization.