What is Brahmavidya? | A brief introduction to the Vedas and Upanishads

A brief introduction to the Vedas and Upanishads

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What are the pre-conditions for Jnana?

Knowledge can never be completely attained by self-effort. The flow of true knowledge is possible only through the descent of knowledge-current from the sages. The aspiration of the ancient students was exceptional since it was marked by unparalleled perseverance and devotion to the ideal of Knowledge also known as Jnana. Acquiring Jnana has a lot of ground-work behind it. The students served their preceptors with one-pointed devotion and obedience. This was a per-condition for Jnana to appear in their being. They undertook many hardships including austerities, penance and long stints of meditation. They meditated deeply on the Vedic aphorisms which were pregnant with the seeds of wisdom. Meditating deeply on these Vedic statements was like offering sunshine and water to the seeds of Jnana. The austerities and penance that they carried out served as manure for the plant of Jnana to mature within their being. This was the authentic process followed by the disciples of the Vedic age.

How can Jnana be developed?

With all these fundamental practices in place, the hearts of the students blossomed with exceptional virtues perhaps unheard of in the current age. These virtues represented the flowers that appear prior to fruition of trees.  Knowledge was the fruit that were to appear on the flowers of fragrant virtues. Righteousness was not an option but a given, the very law which formed the base of one’s conscience. It was on this strong base that gave rise to deepening introversion among the students whose second nature was to contemplate on the nature of consciousness. Unless there is spotless purity in character and a transparent, calm and crystallized mind at the background un-infested by the vices, such contemplation was beyond a try. By developing a contemplative mood, the reception of pure Knowledge was made possible. Knowledge, it is to be understood as a transmission. Knowledge is not a set of wordy rules but the awakening of a certain quality within oneself, made possible through right reception from an authorized source. Knowledge is only enabled through deep contemplation which is a quality of committed introversion. Extroversion is naturally not eligible for transmission of Pure Knowledge.

What are the qualifications to attain Jnana?

In the Mundaka Upanishad, it is given that Knowledge was originally imparted in Toto to the representative of Knowledge who were Rishis and the Divine beings. Just like in the material world one has to qualify to take up a certain course related to the Educational field, Spiritual Knowledge can be taken up by anyone but one must first qualify to adorn such Knowledge.  Renunciation or Vairagya (वैराग्य) is a non-exemptible qualification for receiving Divine knowledge. Unless a living entity has transcended all levels of attraction, atleast in intention, he cannot even apply for receiving this Knowledge. This Knowledge cannot co-exist with worldly, self-centered activity. It is not meant to be. Similar is the case with the word Love. Worldly Love has no connection with the Love spoken off in the scriptures. Love for the Absolute is altogether a distinct virtue that is born out of ascension of Divine knowledge in the heart. Therefore True Knowledge is found only in those who have nothing to do with anything objective.

How was, Brahma Vidya first transmitted?

Knowledge of Brahman is also known as Brahma-Vidya (ब्रह्म-विद्या). It is the fundamental science because it is the substance of all knowledge. The different aspects and bifurcations of this knowledge is to be considered lower forms of knowledge. The original Brahma-Vidya in the purest form was transmitted from Lord Brahma to his eldest son Atharva, Atharva transmitted it to Angi. Angi transmitted the Brahma-Vidya to Satyavaha, the son of Bharadhwaja and from him the Knowledge was transmitted to Angiras. Shaunaka, the great conductor of sacrifices approached Angiras one day and said “What is that, O Bhagawan, through the knowledge of which everything becomes known?” The knowledge of everything is available through the knowledge of just one thing, through Brahma-Vidya (ब्रह्म-विद्या).

Why is intellect incapable of aiding Brahma-Vidya?

Under ordinary circumstances, knowledge about one thing does not necessarily imply knowledge about other things. But Brahma-Vidya includes all knowledge within its body and hence knowledge about everything else is included in it. Spiritual knowledge indicates that objective knowledge fuses into the essence of the subjective experience. Spiritual Knowledge is an indivisible all-inclusive cognition which is unifying by its very nature unlike intellect which slices and divides an experience into atomic experiences, looked at separately by the intellect. Thus intellect has its limitations because in reality the study of the part does not roll up to the experience of the whole as is the case with our daily experience. Understanding the molecule of the leaf does not tell us anything about the tree or about the fruit that grows on the tree. The subjective cognition takes the entire experience of the tree, soil, sunshine, rain, everything related to the tree as a single unit.  The subjective experience is not an experience arrived at, by the outward going senses, which derive experience out of sense-objects.

What is the nature of Subjective experience?

Subjective experience is intuitive by nature driven by the pure Self, which does not function out of sense-perceived duality. It is a self-identified integral experience. It would be apt to name this experience as cogitative perception. Experience is born out of an object. Cogitative perception is born out of the Self independent of the sense-organs. It is the Knowledge of the highest cause, the knowledge of which, means the knowledge of all its effects also. Perception beyond the senses devoid of the impressions of the mind is the import of such knowledge.

What is higher and lower knowledge?

There are two type of Knowledge which are higher and lower knowledge. The lower knowledge is the subject of the four primary Vedas namely Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva-Veda. The subject matter specific to this area includes grammar, etymology, phonetics, rituals for attainment of matter, astronomy, astrology that fundamentally link to objects of sensory-perception qualifying in the areas of mind and body. Sage Angiras tries to explain the lower Vidya, Knowledge other than the Brahma-Vidya, through a question raised by Sage Shaunaka. A doubt may arise in the mind of an aspirant as to whether the lower Vidya is of any consequence at all? Sage Angiras anticipates such doubts, likely to arise in the minds of sincere Sadhakas. He immediately opines that lower knowledge is insufficient and incapable of serving as a means towards realization of Brahman. The lower Vidya pertains to the divinities, their worship and the different methods of attaining excellent regions through the performance of meritorious deeds, like prayer, sacrifice, etc., offered to the divinities concerned, all of these which are temporary and fickle by their very nature. That which is permanent, the Imperishable Being is reached through another kind of Knowledge, opines the great sage Angiras.

How can we differentiate between Higher and Lower Knowledge?

The great difference between the lower and the higher Knowledge is that, lower knowledge gives rise to performance of actions whereas in the case of Higher Knowledge all actions have to cease before attainment of that Knowledge. In the lower Vidya, when the knowledge of a divinity is gained, efforts should be put forth afterwards in order to attain that divinity. But in the higher Vidya, Knowledge does not mean the knowledge of any particular divinity and it is not knowledge in the ordinary sense at all. Higher Knowledge does not refer to any relation between the object (that which is to be known) and the Knower (The subject who wants to know). It represents the Knower himself without any relation to any object or medium between the knower and the known through cognition or awareness.

What is the specialty of the Knowledge of Upanishads?

Lower Knowledge refers to attainment, gain of powers through an object such as deity or a Vedic concept and thereby possessing some attributes which one did not possibly own prior to attainment. It may also mean awakening of certain powers within, through external aid or through objective prayers and hence attaining attributes of divinity. Higher knowledge on the other hand means renunciation of all forms of subject-object experience and becoming absolutely free of psychological conceptions and remaining free, stripped of all attributes without any relation to anything external. The knowledge of the Upanishad means the Knowledge that destroys ignorance or that which leads to perfection or the means of attuning oneself with true naked Existence. Brahma-Vidya is the technique or the science enabling one to reach Absolute Cognition or pure intuitive perception. This Knowledge is attained through great effort in the forms of Viveka, Vichara, Vairagya and Abhyasa, which the Upanishads point to. Viveka refers to the ability to discriminate the object from the subject. Vichara is to be able to contemplate on the nature of the Self by peeling away those attributes within our system that is other than the Self. Vairagya is to detach ourselves from sense-objects and practicing austerity of the senses so that mind is relieved completely of its addictive nature. Abhyasa means to study, practice and ruminate on all those matters that enable the separation of the Self from objective attributes.