The truly learned, the wise ones, tell us that the fruit of true knowledge, wisdom, understanding - what the Upanishads call vidya - is quite distinct from the fruit of material, informational, acquired knowledge; this the Upanishads call avidya.
Avidya also means ignorance - absence of vidya. Its intended meaning in the Upanishads is material knowledge - physical, scientific knowledge which looks like real knowledge but which leaves the person ignorant. Through avidya we may know all the subjects of learning but remain ignorant of who we are. Such learning, which creates the illusion of knowledge, is called avidya, ignorance, by the Upanishads. It can be interpreted to mean science, though this interpretation may appear very strange. The word avidya, then, means knowledge about physical science, knowledge of other things; and the word vidya - literally knowledge, learning - means the knowing of the self.
Mere knowledge is not implied by the word vidya. The word vidya implies transformation. The Upanishads will not call that vidya which does not transform one's being. If I know something and yet I remain as I was before knowing, then such a knowing is not vidya according to the Upanishads.
That learning will be called vidya which transforms you immediately upon knowing it. No sooner do I know than I am transformed. I become another person on knowing it.
If I remain as I was before knowing, then knowing is avidya - ignorance; and if I am transformed it is vidya - true knowledge. Such learning is not merely an addition to your fund of information but is transforming. Through it you change, you become quite a different person. That which is called vidya, knowledge, by the Upanishads, gives you a new birth.
Socrates has given us a very short sutra similar in meaning to this interpretation of the Upanishads.
He said, "Knowledge is virtue." This was discussed and debated for hundreds of years in Greece, because the relationship between knowledge and virtue is not obvious. A person knows anger is bad, yet anger does not vanish. Another person knows stealing is bad, but he continues to steal.
Another person knows that greed is bad, and yet his greed does not stop. But Socrates is saying that your greed goes away once you know that it is bad.
If a person knows that greed is bad and yet remains greedy, then his knowing is avidya. It is merely an illusion of knowing, it is false knowledge. The test of true knowledge is that it immediately becomes a part of your behavior; it does not even require practice. If someone thinks, "Let me know it first and then I shall put it into practice," then that knowing of his is not knowledge but ignorance.
Suppose a drink is set in front of you and just as you are about to drink you discover that there is poison in the cup; then your hand, extending to pick up the cup, will immediately refrain from doing so. That is, no sooner did you know that it was poisonous than the cup remained untouched.
Hence, when knowing becomes action it is called true knowledge. And if you have to make an effort to change your behavior after knowing, then that behavior is imposed, it is thrust upon you. It cannot be called the result of the knowledge.
Knowledge which has been imposed to produce a certain action, which does not become action of its own accord, is called avidya - ignorance - by the Upanishads. It is vidya - true knowledge - which changes one's life effortlessly, as if without knowing that any change has happened. On one side ignorance is burnt, and on the other darkness vanishes. Both happen simultaneously.
Is it possible to create a lamp which, when turned on, does not remove darkness? And will it be necessary for us to make a special effort to remove darkness after putting the light on? If it were so then the lamp would be a symbol of avidya - of darkness. But darkness does not exist when the lamp is lit. Lighting the lamp means the extinguishing of darkness. Such a lamp is vidya.
There are two points to be remembered in this connection. Why does it happen that, even after our knowing, transformation does not take place? A lot of people come to me and say, "We know anger is bad; it is poison, it burns, it is fire, it is hell, and yet we are not free from it."
Then I tell them, "It is a mistake on your part to think that you know it. You think you already know and yet you ask yourself, 'What should be done so that anger goes away?' This is your mistake. In fact you do not know that anger is hell."
Is it ever possible that a person would not leap out of anger once he knows it is hell?
Buddha has said this somewhere. A person whose life was full of troubles and anguish had approached him for advice, for a way out of his miseries. There was nothing but sorrow and affliction in his life. Buddha told him to give up those cares and miseries, to come out of them immediately: "I will show you the way to be out of them," he said.
The man said, "Show me the way now, and then I will try, by and by, to follow your way."
Then Buddha said, "You are like a man whose house has caught fire and who says, 'Thank you very much for your advice; now I will gradually try to get myself out of the house.'" Buddha went on to say that it would have been better if the person had said, "You are telling a lie - I do not see any fire."
But the man does not say so; he says, "I believe you, I believe there is a fire, and by and by I will try to get out."
Does anybody leave by and by, when the fire alarm sounds? He gets out immediately. He won't stop even if the informant remains behind. One who knows there is fire jumps first and thinks afterwards, when he is out of the house. So Buddha said, "You believe the fire is there, but you refuse to see it so you suffer unnecessarily. A person like you should not even trouble yourself to find out. You should not even try to test my advice. You have not even opened your eyes to see that there is fire all around you. You have admitted you are in difficulty and now you think, 'Fire is there, now I will get out of it, by and by - and you ask me to show you a way to get out!"
When somebody tells me, "I know anger is bad and yet I cannot be free from it," I say, "It would be good if you could say, 'I do not know that anger is bad.' What you really know is: 'Anger is good, and I am doing what is good. But I have heard from other people that anger is bad.' It is what you have heard that you consider to be knowledge."
Then what is true knowledge? You will have to know within yourself that anger is bad. So you will have to pass through it, you will have to endure the difficulty of the fire of anger, you will have to bear the anguish and pain caused by anger. When all your limits have been burnt by the flames of anger and when your life has become a great turmoil full of smoke, then it will not be necessary to go to anyone to ask whether anger is bad or not. Then it will not be necessary to seek out any method, any ritual, any remedy to escape from your anger. On knowing that anger is fire, you will be at once free from it. Such a knowing is vidya - true knowledge.
That knowing which is called true knowledge by the Upanishads carries freedom within itself and liberates the knower at once; and that knowing which lacks this attribute is not true knowledge. We all have a lot of information, we all know many things. If we were to refer to the Upanishads about the quality of our learning they would declare it to be avidya - ignorance - because our knowing does not even touch us, it does not transform us; though our knowledge increases we remain where we are. Knowledge becomes a storehouse of information, and we stand far away from it. Our treasury goes on growing bigger, but it is mere accumulation though we claim it as knowledge. And whoever considers this as knowledge will soon be wandering in a hopeless condition. This is ignorance.
Accept as true knowledge not that which is an addition to you but that which transforms you. That is true knowledge which does not require any memorizing but which becomes your life itself; that is true knowledge which does not turn into memory but which is absorbed into your life itself. It is not a matter of knowing intellectually that anger is bad, but of your behavior reflecting your discovery that anger is bad. It is not that you hang up signs saying, "Greed is sin!" on the walls of your house, but that your eyes, your hands and your face reflect your understanding that greed is sin. It becomes true knowledge only when your total personality demonstrates that greed is sin.
The Upanishads have praised vidya greatly. It has been highly valued. It is considered the alchemy to transform life. What we understand as knowledge is simply an arrangement to earn our livelihood.
One person is a doctor, another is an engineer, another is a shopkeeper. We all have our own knowledge, but it does not transform life, it simply helps us carry on with our lives. These various branches of specialized knowledge do not give a new turn to life, they simply make life secure.
No new flowers open because of them, they simply prevent the roots of life from drying up. No ecstacy enters life because of them, only protection, planning and arrangements to avoid hardships and inconveniences in life. What we call knowledge is simply a means to earn our livelihood in an efficient and convenient manner. The Upanishads call this avidya.
That is vidya, according to the Upanishads, which does not simply drag life a little further on, but which raises life to a higher level. Remember, avidya is horizontal. Vidya is vertical - it moves towards the sky. Avidya is like a bullock-cart trundling along the ground. There is no take-off in it, as there is in an airplane. It cannot take off and fly high in the sky. In its journey from birth through to death it never leaves ground level, and we die at the very level at which we were born.
Generally, the cradle is the grave. There is hardly any difference between the levels of birth and death. Continuously walking horizontally we all eventually find our graves because they are not very far from the cradles: and even if they are far, the level remains the same.
Vidya is vertical, going up. The level is changed. You are not what you were before. No sooner do you achieve true knowledge than you are another person. Buddha or Mahavira or Krishna are standing quite near to us, in our neighborhood, touching our shoulders, and yet they are not with us - they are nowhere near us. They are way up on some peak. Their bodies seem to be near to us, but their spirit is not with us. They have passed through vidya. They are learned in the true sense of the word.
This sutra of the Upanishad tells us that avidya has its own value just as vidya has its qualities.
Avidya has its own usefulness. The Upanishad does not say, "Kill avidya"; it only says, "Do not consider avidya as vidya." It does not mean that you should not live with your feet on the ground in this world but should only float higher and higher into the sky. Really, the man who wants to rise up towards the sky has to keep his feet firmly on the ground.
Nietzsche has said somewhere that the tree that wants to touch the sky has to send its roots deep into the ground below. A tree goes as far down as it climbs high. A tree that reaches for the stars in the sky has its roots deep into the earth. The tree can only go as high as its roots go deep.
The Upanishads are not opposed to avidya. The belief that they are, has given rise to a great delusion. I will explain it to you, because nobody can tell how much misery and affliction the East has suffered because of this mistaken belief. The Upanishads have not been correctly understood.
We make the mistake of thinking avidya to be vidya. The Upanishads are opposed to this. They tell us avidya is not vidya and the distinction should be properly understood. Then we make another mistake. The simple truth is that we stubbornly insist on being mistaken, because we make either one mistake or the other.
According to the Upanishads, our present-day universities should be called centers of avidya, because they have no concern with, and no relation to vidya whatsoever. Our universities are the centers of avidya, and their chancellors are the chancellors of avidya. Only avidya spreads from these centers. But the Upanishads are not against avidya. They simply say, "Do not think of this avidya as vidya; don't make this mistake."
Understand the distinction between them clearly. Avidya has its own utility. It is not that doctors are not necessary, it is not that life would be better without shopkeepers. No, the shopkeepers, doctors, engineers, the sweepers and laborers - all of them are required, they are useful to society. But the mistake is to consider this education for livelihood as an education for life. Such a person will only earn his bread and die.
Jesus says, "You cannot live by bread alone." This does not mean you can live without bread; but can bread alone be life? Bread is a necessity of life, but it is not life itself. No one can survive or make progress without bread, and yet it is not life. We fill in the foundations of a building with stones, and the building cannot be constructed without them, but remember, those stones in the foundations are not the building. Don't live in the delusion that the building is constructed when the foundation is filled in. Not that the building can be constructed if the foundation is not laid. The foundation has to be laid: it is a necessary evil. The Upanishads say avidya has its own utility - namely that it provides the means for livelihood. It is an outward attribute for life; it concerns physical life, it is an arrangement to maintain life. But don't see it as everything. It is necessary but not enough.
Everything will not be fulfilled by it alone.
The countries of the East, and especially India, committed the second mistake. They said, "When the sages of the Upanishads - who are wise and learned - say something is avidya, we should be indifferent towards it. We should stick only to vidya." So science could not make any headway in the East. We ignored whatsoever we considered avidya. Therefore the East became helpless, poor and enslaved. Had we been keen to pursue avidya we would have become soulless, but we became so eager to ignore it that we became helpless and poor in physical life.
The Upanishads say both are useful. Both are useful in different dimensions. Avidya has its place.
It is not to be given up. The only thing to remember is that it is not everything. It is not the ultimate.
Vidya has its place too.
The sage has said one more thing in this sutra: "We have heard this from those who knew." It is necessary to go into this statement a little in order to understand it. It is said: THUS WE HAVE HEARD FROM THE WISE ONES WHO EXPLAINED IT TO US. Did this sage who said this not know it himself? Is he telling us that which he has heard? Does he himself not know it? Is he repeating to us secondhand knowledge? No, this point needs to be understood correctly, because much confusion has been created by it. It is necessary to understand the form of expression in those far-off days when the Upanishads were written.
No one ever said, "I know." There were reasons for it. The reason was not that he did not know. The reason was that ego - the I - disappears after knowing. If the sage of the Upanishad had said, "I say this after knowing," the people of those days would have laughed and said, "Then don't say so!
You cannot know, because your 'I' is still there." Therefore remember this: the sage knows it well, but says, "I have heard it from those who knew." The interesting thing is that the persons from whom he has heard have also said, "We have heard this from those who knew." There is some secret behind this. There is no individual claim, no egoistic claim behind it, because where is that 'I' of the knower to be found? Therefore they say, "We have heard from those who explained it to us." And I want to tell you another interesting thing about this: that individual himself is also included in the 'we' who have heard." This statement is a little hard to grasp.
As I told you this morning, when I say something to you, I hear it as you hear it. We hear it simultaneously. That speaker knows nothing who is not the listener to that which he speaks. Truths are not ready-made; they are not made beforehand. They are created, manifested, they are born naturally, they are spontaneous. They appear as flowers appear - blossoming out of the plant and full of fragrance. When I want to say something to you it can be done in two ways. The first is to think it over and then prepare to deliver it to you. What you eventually receive will be stale and old; it will not be fresh and alive, it will be dead. But when I begin to utter what comes from within me, then I hear it, as you do, for the first time. Then I too am a listener. You are not the only listeners; I am also.
So, the sage says, "We have heard from those who explained it to us." He has heard, he says, from those who knew; but it is from himself he is hearing it - he too listens to the explaining coming from himself. Hence the sage calls himself a listener.
There is another reason also. When a person attains to the highest truth, it does not appear to him as if he has achieved it. It appears as if it has descended on him. The supreme truth does not appear as if it is my creation, my achievement; it appears as a revelation before me, as an unfolding, as an inspiration. If someone were to ask Mohammed, "Have you written the Koran?", Mohammed would reply, "Please don't say such sinful things to me. I have heard the Koran, I have seen the Koran, and having heard it I have put it in writing. I have not written it - I am not its author."
This is why Mohammed is God's messenger - one who has delivered the message given to him.
Truth was revealed before him, and he came before you and said such is the truth. That truth is not his creation. This is why we call the sages 'seers' - and not authors or creators. We do not say they created the truth, but that they saw the truth. That is why we call what they have seen darshan - the vision, the thing seen. We can call it whatever we like to call it, whether darshan or shruti - the thing heard. This sage is in fact telling us that truth is quite detached and separate from us. We do not create it. We only hear it, know it, see it. We are simply witnesses. You may call him a witness, a seer or a listener - but remember the idea of passivity behind it.
The sage says, "We are passive, not active." When you construct something you are active. When an artist is drawing a flower, he is an active agent. But when he is standing near a roseflower and is looking at it, he is a passive agent. At that time he is doing nothing, he is only receptive. He has simply opened the doors and windows of his being. He invites the flower, he offers it his heart, he welcomes it, and stands still. He is receptive. Then the flower enters his heart and touches it with its petals. Its fragrance reverberates in his whole being; and because he has allowed it within himself as a witness, as a receptive agent, it will bloom in all the corners of his being. But the receiver himself is passive, he simply receives.
This sage of the Upanishad says, "I have heard thus." In saying so, he wants to tell us that only the passive man attains to truth. Passivity is the door.
The sun is shining in the sky. We cannot bring its light into the house, but we have only to open our doors and the sun's light will enter. Its rays will gradually dance into all the corners of the house.
But we cannot say that we brought the sun into our house. It is too much to say, "We brought it." It is boastful. We can say this much only, that we did not put up any obstacles to prevent the sun coming in. We kept the doors open. It is not necessary for the rising of the sun that we have our doors open, but it is a fact that the sun will never be able to enter our house if the doors are closed. And if the doors are open and if the sun does not rise, we can do nothing, we are helpless.
Have you understood what I mean? The sun is not obliged to come because your door is open. It is his freedom to come or not. But it is quite definite that he cannot enter if the door is closed. Even if he wants to come, he cannot. This means that if we wish we can remain blind towards truth, then the truth cannot do anything. If we wish we can be wide awake towards truth; but then we are not creating truth, we are simply open to its revelation.
Whatever is valuable, whatever is beautiful, whatever is best, whatever is true, whatever is auspicious in life, is found only by a receptive mind. He who keeps the door open finds it. Therefore the sage does not say, "I have it," but says, "I have heard it from those who knew. I have heard it, I have received it from where there is wisdom." In this statement there is a keen desire to rub out the 'I'. That is why no Upanishad bears the signature of its author on it. We don't know who speaks this, who tells this, whose words these are. Somebody proclaimed such invaluable truths without disclosing their authorship.
In fact, great truths have to be declared without claiming authorship, because the author dies before the birth of the great truth. These sages remove themselves completely from the claim of authorship.
Nobody knows who is speaking these sentences, nor is it known whether these are the writings of one or more people. In the Upanishads it is probable that different sutras are the revelations of different sages, and yet there is an interesting observation to be made. These may be the words of different people, but there is one harmony, one music in them. There may be a number of people, there may be a different author for each sutra, but they must have been absolutely like one person somewhere deep down within themselves.
If you ever go to a Jaina temple you will see twenty-four idols of the tirthankaras - the enlightened masters of Jainism. There is no distinction among these statues, except for a very small mark at the foot which is different in each of them. These have been kept for our recognition, otherwise it would be difficult to know which is Mahavira, which is Parshvanath, which is Neminath. If those marks are erased all the statues will look alike. Even their faces are identical. This cannot be an historical fact.
Mahavira's face cannot be the same as Parshvanath's. It is difficult to believe that all the twenty-four tirthankaras had identical forms and features. Even two people identical in form and feature cannot be found. Imagine the difficulty of finding twenty-four such people!
Is it possible that those who made these statues had no idea that someday someone would laugh at seeing all these identical images and would say, "This cannot be an historical fact"? No, they carved with wisdom. Disregarding the outer identity, they created images of the inner form. There is an absence of difference within. There must have been many physical differences between Mahavira and Parshvanath, but there comes a stage in life where the 'I' vanishes. Then there is no distinction within; then comes a kind of facelessness. One is freed from the outer face, the personality. Then the outer faces have no value. Therefore we did not make idols of outer bodies.
Those idols manifest the similarity that is within, the likeness that is within. That is why they are all alike. These sutras of the Upanishads are composed by different people, and it would not be a matter of wonder to find that one line of a couplet is composed by one sage and the other by another. Such a thing has happened.
Forty thousand incomplete poems were found in the house of Coleridge, the great English poet, after his death. Before his death his friends often asked him why such wonderful poems were left incomplete. They urged him to complete them. They said, "There will not be a greater poet than you in this world. You have kept forty thousand poems incomplete. Think, and complete them. Some poems have three lines, the fourth is not there. Some have seven lines, the eighth is not there.
Some have eleven lines, the twelfth is not there. They are incomplete by only one line. Why don't you complete them?"
Coleridge replied, "Eleven lines have come, and I am waiting for the twelfth. Ten years have passed, yet it has not come. How can I complete it then? If someone finds the line, he can complete it. It has not yet come to me. If I want I can compose a line, but then it will be like a fabrication. It would be like a wooden leg. It would be like a wooden leg on an otherwise physically perfect man. These eleven lines are living: they have descended on me, they are not composed by me. They have come to me in a receptive moment, in a receptive mood, and I wrote them down. The twelfth has not yet descended. So I am waiting for it. If it comes during my life I shall add it; otherwise I shall leave the poem incomplete. The lines can come in someone else's life. It is possible someone else may become the door for the twelfth line, then he will complete the poem."
It is not essential that the couplets of the Upanishad should be by one individual. They are the poetries of those people who have not themselves composed them, but have noted down what descended on them. So the statement by the sages that they have heard it from those who knew is simply an admission of their egolessness. It is an announcement that I am not, I am only the door.