Naam or Word

Book Nine

Gyan or Jnana

Knowledge - Enlightenment

    THE term "Gyan" or "Jnana" is derived from the Sanskrit root "gna," which is equivalent to the English word "know." In common speech, Gyan or knowledge is taken to mean thinking at the intellectual level, embracing within its fold all knowledge recorded in and derived from books, ancient or modern, spiritual or secular. No doubt this is a kind of Gyan or knowledge; and while it is an elementary kind, it is very extensive, varied and significant as far as it goes. We have need of it. A part of it, called scriptures, includes the theory of the science of spirituality. All scriptures--the Vedas and Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Smritis, Shastras, Puranas, and the Six Schools of Philosophy; the great epic poems, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; the Holy Bible, the Holy Koran, the Adi Granth Sahib, and all others form part of this branch of knowledge and come within the range of Apara Vidya, or the knowledge that comes through the senses. They form a wonderful record of the spiritual experiences of the rishis, prophets and saints of old, and inspire in us a longing to have similar experiences of our own. They also contain ethical truths of great value, which pave the way for an ethical life; and if followed scrupulously, they lay a solid foundation for a spiritual superstructure. So far, so good. But beyond this they are of no avail.

    Apart from the Apara Vidya, or Gyan at the level of thinking and writing, there is a subtler and higher type of knowledge which is gained at the supra-mental level. It is independent of the knowledge gained through the ordinary senses as it is intuitive and a direct experience of the soul. Hence it is called Para Vidya, or the Knowledge of the Beyond. In all religions it is spoken of as the real Gyan, or true knowledge. It is gained by the spirit or soul when it reflects back upon itself. It is an outcome of self-analysis by a regular process of inversion or looking within. It is a thing of actual experience and realization within one's own self, and gradually leads to self-knowledge and God-knowledge. When the light of self-knowledge dawns, all doubts and all differences vanish; one views the world in an altogether different setting, like a person standing on the summit of a hill, looking at the landscape around and below him stretching out in an endless undulating series. He finds himself looking on the great panorama of life in its variegated forms--a center, a hub of the creation itself. The past, the present and the future unroll themselves before him like an open book, and there is nothing that he does not know, nor does he feel the want of knowledge in himself. Now dawns upon him the answer to the great question--"What is that, the knowledge of which makes everything known ?"--that has been asked by man since the world began. True Gyan or knowledge, then, lies in knowing and experiencing the Ultimate Reality, in the Light and Life of which we blindly live, move about, and have our very being rooted, and yet know it not. It is a great irony of fate, that we know so much about the world and worldly surroundings as to have a surfeit of them, but next to nothing of the vital motor-power called the soul--the Living Spirit, the life spark of consciousness that enlivens us and is our very life--our real self.

    So there is a vast difference between Apara and Para Vidya. The former keeps on expanding as we proceed, but with no way out. The poet Tennyson describes it aptly:

Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
It is a kind of wilderness through which there is no way out. Even a person with all his wits about him is sure to be lost in its labyrinthine maze. Like a flogging horse, he may kill himself with sheer exhaustion, but cannot possibly get through. Such is the terrible path on which we trudge.

    On the other hand, Para Vidya has boundless possibilities, unfolding new realms of celestial splendor as the pilgrim soul proceeds on the Path. It is a very pleasant journey, for the wayfarer has with him a sure companion, an unerring guide who knows the Path and its dangerous turns and twists. He takes him along in safety, shows him especially beautiful scenes and makes him acquainted with everything on the way. His companion has a radiantly smiling face and a divine dignity, and imparts to him directly that first-hand knowledge of the Beyond of which the pilgrim may have read in books. With all its traps, turns and slips, the Path moves through a belvedere of uncommon splendor and affords a sure way out to a haven of rest and repose. The journey's end is nothing but the Kingdom of God where peace and quiet reign, the New Jerusalem or Holy City. Thus real Gyan or knowledge deals with Realized Truth.

    In the Bhagavad Gita, we come across two terms: Gyan and Vigyan. The knowledge of that One live principle, called Paramatma or God, actively operating in all living creatures that appear and disappear like so many bubbles, is called Gyan; and the realization that the said live principle is the material and efficient cause of all that exists is known as Vigyan. A person possessed of Gyan or Vigyan then actually sees nothing but God in His creation and creation as established in God; that is to say, the two as identical and not separate from each other--God in man and man in God--which is akin to the pantheistic view of religion (identification of God with the Universe).

    The Gurbani or the scriptures of the Gurus (the Granth Sahib) have nowhere identified book-learning with Gyan. On the contrary, the term Gyan is used to indicate the Sound Principle (as is evident from the terms employed: Shabd, Naam, Sach, Kirtan, Dhuni, etc.) which is continually reverberating in fullness in each individual.

The Word of the Master is ever sweet,
It is the true knowledge and true meditation,
Rare is the soul that may taste Its sweetness,
For the grace of the Master makes It sweet. 1
                                                       GURU AMAR DAS

Know ye the true knowledge and meditation to be
  the Dhuni (Sound) Divine,
Blessed is the ever-green tree with the immense shade. 2
                                                                                  GURU NANAK

We have need, great need, for knowledge on the intellectual level, and that we get from scriptures and discourses of Masters. We cannot practice spirituality unless we first know its theory: what it is, its technique, how it can be practiced, obstacles in the way and how to overcome them, etc. We cannot therefore ignore the theory aspect of Para Vidya, for theory always precedes practice in every branch
of knowledge. But after having learned the theory, we must put the theoretical knowledge into practice so as to make it our very own. Theory by itself cannot satisfy the innate craving of the spirit which must be fed on manna or the heavenly food--the Bread of Life to satiate her hunger and supplied with the Water of Life to quench her thirst. Theory and practice, therefore, go cheek by jowl and are interdependent. But to achieve the goal, one has to work for it and this requires stilling the mind and intellect before anything else. After full comprehension of the theory, nothing remains but to gain practical experience of it at the level of the spirit, far above the level of the senses and sense organs. We have thus to separate the two by a process of self-analysis or transcension of the body consciousness, a practical demonstration of which the Master gives in the laboratory of the body at the time of initiation.
Jnana or true knowledge with the Master is the Word
  and it comes through practice of the Word,
He alone achieves it who accepts and follows the instructions
  of the Master, with all his heart and soul. 3
                                                    GURU RAM DAS

Jnana and meditation on Sach (Truth) have a very deep meaning;
No one knows of their inmost secret and greatness. 4

Jnana, meditation, the Divine Song (Dhuni)
  and the Sound (Bani) are all one,
All, all repeat the same ancient story
  of the wondrous and the speechless One. 5

Practice Jnana, meditation and Harmony
  by absorption in the Sound (Shabd),
Be ye one with Him Who is beyond all limitations,
  peerless and without fear. 6
                          GURU NANAK

If you wish for a dip in the sacred pool of Naam,
  that pool is verily within you;
A true pilgrimage for the soul is Shabd which is replete with Gyan. 7
                                                                                                        GURU ARJAN

The Master has applied to my eyes the collyrium of Gyan,
The light became effulgent within and the darkness vanished. 8
                                                                                      GURU AMAR DAS

Jnana with the Master is Naam and he makes one steady in it,
One who is destined, gets it by devotion to the lotus feet of the Master. 9
                                                                                                                GURU RAM DAS

With the manifestation of Light one becomes enlightened,
The Light of Jnana has now been implanted in me by the Master;
By drinking the ambrosia of the Word (Naam),
  the mind is fully at rest and devoid of fear. 10
                                                             GURU ARJAN

With the dawn of Jnana, there is light on every side,
In His boundless grace, He has accepted a filthy worm like me. 11

This knowledge then is self-luminous. When it comes, there dawns an everlasting Light in the initiate's soul. From then on, he walks always in God's kindly Light Which accompanies him wherever he may be. This is true devotion and grants one full protection from all harm.

    The scriptures tell us that Jnana is characterized by the Light Principle. Guru Amar Das, speaking of Jnana as taught by the Masters, describes it as "Eternal Light within," which serves as an altar for ceaseless devotion and grants one the full fruit of Naam:

The Master's Jnana brings forth eternal Light within,
It keeps one absorbed in ceaseless devotion: the greatest gift
  of the all-pervading Word. 12

The devotee of the Master knows the Sound (Shabd),
And rests in the ambrosia of His Word (Naam).
The Master's Jnana is refulgent high,
And it drives away the darkness of ignorance. 13
                                                      GURU AMAR DAS

The company of a Sadh is the company of Truth
  and the congregation sings His glory,
The scintillating Jnana sheds luster within, dispelling all darkness
  born of ignorance. 14

With the practice of Naam (Word), one is rid of all sorrow and pain,
  for It brings in supreme bliss,
The Jnana of the Master is all ablaze, filling one with Light
 to the deepest depths of the soul. 15

Those with a writ of the Lord in their forehead do meet a Master Saint,
And have all their doubt and distrust driven out by the blaze of Jnana. 16
                                                                                                           GURU RAM DAS

Guru Arjan also tells us that with the dawn of Master's Jnana within, comes the advent of Heaven's Light both within and without, enveloping all; and the mind gets satiated and is freed from all illusions and delusions. One is thus led to the inexhaustible Fount of the Waters of Immortality, drinking which he becomes desireless and losing all fear of death gains Life Everlasting.

With Heaven's Light, all things get truly lighted as a result
  of the Jnana from the Master;
By drinking the Water of Life, the mind grows still
  and becomes fearless. 17
                   GURU ARJAN
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