We are asked to look at words again which take us beyond words, for instance, the word ‘jnana’ – knowledge. Now in the Gita it comes with its ordinary meaning the prompts to action are knowledge and the occasion and the various activities of the agent, knowledge, there is used as Shankara said to mean knowledge of things but there is a higher knowledge and Shankara calls this ‘samyag-jnana’ a higher spiritual knowledge, there is the higher knowledge by which he knows he sees the one all pervading reality through in all the apparently divided things, undivided things, undivided in, then the apparently divided things. Now this he says is the highest realisation text, this is in 18.20:
‘that by which a man sees the one indestructible reality in all beings inseparate in the separated that knowledge know thou as sattvic.’
Now Shankara in his commentary says this peak of knowledge is ‘samyag-jnana’ his highest term for knowledge. It can never be theoretical but still it is a matter of sattva, it is still a mental operation. Now in 4.25 the Gita leads us, it says ‘now there is a sacrifice by which the self is sacrificed by the self in the fire of Brahman, the universal self. The individual self sacrifices itself in the fire of Brahman,’ and he says ‘this means it is dissolved.’ It is quite a strong word in Sanskrit, in Brahman, its reality, and this means that it is beyond the mind, it is beyond thought, it is being, it is knowing by being, not knowing as an object. Now he gives the text Sattyam-jnanam-anantam, this is a tentative description of Brahman as truth, knowledge and infinity, and he comments at length in the Taittiriya Upanishad on this text, where knowledge, he says, it cannot be, a knower and an object of knowledge; because in infinity, there aren’t these two things. It is knowing by being, by pure existence, and in a way we can think of little parallels.
People who have been in prison for about a year, say perhaps through no fault of their own, when they come out they are free but they are constantly thinking about it. ‘I am free, I am free,’ and sometimes they get even a little bit drunk on it ‘I am free to go this way, no I’ll go that way. I can do anything I am free,’ but after about a week that passes off. Now they no longer think I am free, they are free by being. In the same way health. People who are not healthy they can read about health and they can practise to get health, but somebody who is really healthy, doesn’t think I am healthy they simply get on with life, they are health by being it not by thinking about it or supposing it.
Then, finally he will say ‘little by little reduce the thoughts and the words and give up the thoughts of the external and then give up the thoughts of the internal and finally think the unthinkable, which is think nothing. Rest in the consciousness of the self which is not a thought, which is beyond thought.’ The Gita will say this again and again giving up little by little, let him think nothing at all, resting in the self, and this comes in the prologue to the Gita. In the Zen, it is called this, ‘put down your thoughts, as they come up throw them away,’ and then you will see your original face which you had before your father was born, before your mother was born, before heaven and earth was born, before the universe was born, your original face you will see it.
© Trevor Leggett
Part 1: Beyond the tangle of words