Advaitam and Science

OM, Purnamata purnamitam purnat purnamutachyate, purnasya purnamataye purnamevavasishyate – Bri.Up V.i.1



(Indirect to direct knowledge)

Brahma jnana, the knowledge of the Self, is the ultimate knowledge.  It is not attained instantly.  There are various steps towards the ultimate realization.  A mumukshu (student of Brahma jnana) has a basic knowledge of Brahman, however he considers Brahman or Atma as far away from him; and so he does not identify with Brahman.  He has objective knowledge of Brahman, paroksha jnana (indirect).  A jnani understands Brahman as not separate from him and his experience of Brahman is aparoksha jnana (direct).  It is so direct in the sense that a jnani do not experience anything other than Brahman.  His realization is so evident from the way he views this world. 

Initially, a student will receive Brahma jnana from scriptures and through a guru.  At this stage he will have an indirect knowledge of Brahman (paroksha jnana).  Gradually, his knowledge becomes deep and leads to aparoksha jnana.  Therefore, Brahma vidya is a transition from paroksha jnana to aparokha jnana.  Mahavakyas of the Upanisads play an important role in this transition.  To understand this concept more clearly, Vedanta explains this with the famous tenth man story.  The story goes thus:  ten students tried to cross a high flowing river.  They went on a boat.  After crossing the river, to ensure safety, the leader of the gang started to count each one of them.  Every time he counted he left himself and counted the rest of them, and so he always got the number nine.  This caused frustration in the gang.  Each one counted in turn and each time they repeated the same mistake of forgetting to count the person who counted.  By ignorance, they thought that one among them drowned in the river.  Each time they counted the tenth man was missing.  All the time the tenth man was very much there, but they failed to count him and they did not realize his presence.  They started lamenting over his missing.  During that time a wise man came that way and enquired about their cause of worry.  Seeing their plight he helped them to count.  When the wise man counted, there are exactly ten people.  He declared that ‘the tenth man is here’.  The students were surprised and at the same time happy about the wise man’s declaration.  The wise man said, ‘tenth man is very much here safely but he was hidden from your vision by ignorance’.  This story from the scripture is exactly applicable to our knowledge transition.  Brahman is very much here.  We are Brahman; however we are unaware of it.  Our knowledge is hidden by ignorance.

Vedanta explains seven important steps towards knowledge.  They are ajana (ignorance), avarana (hiding), vikshepa (projection), paroksha jnana (indirect knowledge), aparoksha jnana (direct knowledge), shoka nivritti (removal of sorrow), tripti (contentment).  Now let us see each step briefly in connection with the explained story.

1. Ajana –      ajana is ignorance.  Ignorance gives us confusion and worry.  In the example, due to ignorance the students did not count themselves properly and the result is worry.  In real life, forgetting our real infinite nature, we lament over petty things.

2. Avarana –    avarana is hiding the truth.  In the example, the tenth man was always not caring to count himself and he was counting the rest.  Ignorance hides the truth.  He has hidden himself (left himself) due to ignorance.  In real life, we forgot our real infinite nature and it is difficult to connect with it now.

3. Vikshepa –    vikshepa is projection.  As soon as ignorance hides the truth, the truth is projected in another way.  In the example, as soon as the leader of the gang failed to count himself (the tenth man), it is projected that the tenth man is missing or rather drowned in the river.  When the truth is hidden by ignorance, another is projected in the same place.  In real life, when something is not clear, we project our own imagination on it.  On this basis, we compare and consider our self as week in some matters and feel our self to be excellent in some matters and impose a fake personality on our self.

4. Paroksha jnana – It is the indirect knowledge.  In the example, the wise man came and took the responsibility of counting.  In a detached manner he counted and said, ‘the tenth man is here’.  This gave knowledge to the gang that all are safe and not missing.  Likewise, when we read the scriptures, we get the knowledge that, “Brahman Asti”, that is Brahman exists.  Though we are relieved to an extent by knowing our true nature, we feel that Brahman is somewhere and we have to reach there or attain it.  We do not feel that the scriptures are telling about our nature. 

5. Aparoksha jnana – It is the direct knowledge.  It can be said as the realization.  It is so direct.  In the example, when the wise man helped the students to count, they realized that the tenth man is that left out man, and all the time he was with them.  After realizing, when the leader of the gang counted again, he was quick to realize that, ‘ I am that tenth missing man’.  Likewise, when we progress in sadhana, we realize that, “I am Brahman” and “I am not a samsari”.  This is aparoksha jnana.

6. Shoka nivritti –   It is the end of worry.  This stage comes after realization.  In the example, the realization that the tenth man is not missing relieves them from worry.  Likewise, when the ignorance is removed and the truth is realized, the world no longer disturbs a jnani. 

7. – Tripti –            It is the self contentment.  In the example, the whole gang is content that no one is missing and they remained in that content stage.  Likewise, when the ignorance is removed, a jnani remains as a content person even in worldly life.  He realizes his nature as infinite.

These are the seven important steps for the transformation from paroksha jnana to aparoksha jnana.  Every student of Vedanta undergoes these seven steps.

Just like a wise man entering the scene of the lamenting gang of students and declaring that the tenth man is not missing, he is with you; in the same way, with the help of a guru a powerful statement, mahavakyas of the Upanisads, like “Tat Tvam Asi”, meaning, “You Are That” vehemently declares and removes the cloud of ignorance. 

These seven stages of knowledge are given to chitabasa in a drop by drop manner.  Chitabasa is the reflected consciousness covered by ignorance.  The stage in which chitabasa identifies itself with the subtle and gross bodies is called superimposition.  This is the stage of vikshepa.  Now the chitabasa is subject to bondage, and it suffers due to the idea of doer and enjoyer.  When the chitabasa gets first the paroksha jnana and then the aparoksha jnana the veil of ignorance is removed and it realizes, ‘I am not different from Brahman’.  The condition of the chitabasa is reflected in the mind and body.

A jnani passes these seven stages of knowledge.  He may live in worldly life and experience the tantrums of material world, but he is relieved internally by the proper understanding of his existence.

There are two types of obscuring principle.  One principle hides the truth.  The other principle does not make the realization clear.  These two principles in sanskrit are known as,’ Na Asti, Na Bhati’.  ‘Na Asti’, means ‘does not exist’.  It implies that Brahman does not exist (hides the truth).  A layman is not aware of Brahman.  When such a novice enters Brahma vidya, he is not aware of Brahman.  His ‘Na Asti’ obstacle is removed by paroksha jnana.  It gives knowledge that Brahman exists.  The next obscuring principle is ‘Na bhati’, meaning ‘not self evident’, is removed by aparoksha jnana (direct knowledge).  Aparoksha jnana makes Brahman self-evident and thus removes the second obstacle. 

When you analyze further, there are two more divisions of aparoksha jnana.  They are the very refined divisions of the aparoksha jnana.  The first division in sanskrit is known as,’ Brahman asti’, meaning ‘Brahman is self-luminous’.  The second division is known as,’ Aham Brahma’, meaning, ‘I am that Brahman’.  These two divisions are removed gradually by step by step aparoksha jnana.  In the initial stages of aparoksha jnana, there is not much difference between the aparoksha jnana and paroksha jnana.  However, when we advance further the finer divisions are well evident.  We will be able to differentiate between finer stages of ‘Brahma asti’, and ‘Aham Brahma’.  When the mind is purified of impurities, a strong statement like mahavakyas makes the mere scriptural knowledge transform to direct knowledge.  Mahavakyas exists in scriptures for this purpose.  Thus Brahma vidya takes one gradually from paroksha jnana to aparoksha jnana.

1 Comment

  1. Vrinda

    Super clarity


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