Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 13 Feb 2021


Do both ignorance and knowledge lead to darkness?

Note: This article is meant for intellectuals only

 [Śrī Balaji asked: Namaste Swami! Kindly explain the concepts of vidyā & avidyā, and asambhūti & sambhūti which occur in the Īṣāvāsya Upanishad. Following are some excerpts from the Upaniṣad:

andhaṃ tamaḥ praviśanti…vidyayāṃ ratāḥ

andham tamaḥ praviśanti…sambhutyām ratāḥ

Here, in both cases, it is said that those who are engaged in vidyā (knowledge) and in sambhūti (manifest) go into a greater darkness than those engaged in avidyā (ignorance) and asambhūti (unmanifest). In the subsequent hymns, the correct path is indicated:

avidyayā mṛtyuṃ tīrtvā, vidyayā amṛtamaśnute

vināśena mṛtyuṃ tīrtvā...amṛtam asnute

Could You kindly provide more clarity on this? Sincerely, Balaji]

Confusions and Contradictions

Swami replied: The hymns 9 to 14 in the Upaniṣad are highly confusing and have led to several contradictory interpretations. Due to these six hymns, there have been quarrels between the followers of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā and the followers of Uttara Mīmāṃsā. The philosophy of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā is blind action because they believe that merely reciting the Veda and performing Vedic rituals leads to supernatural benefits, even without understanding the meaning of the Vedic hymns recited. Uttara Mīmāṃsā, is also known as Vedānta and is the path of knowledge and devotion. Similarly, there were quarrels between people supporting the concept of formless God and God with a form. Even within the philosophy of Vedānta, there were quarrels among the followers of the three divine preachers, namely Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja and Madhva. This is the reason why, in the Upaniṣad, there is a statement “Iti śuśruma…”, which means that we have heard this from our ancestors. It means that no conclusion was drawn using sharp logical analysis and commonsense. The main reason for the confusion about these hymns is that the meanings fixed for certain words in certain contexts are extended to different contexts. Even though the basic meaning of a word is not disturbed, the applied meaning of the word must be changed to suit different contexts.

Let us consider the translations of three verses from the Upaniṣad.

1) By ignorance (avidyā) one crosses death and by knowledge (vidyā) one attains immortality (Hymn 11).

2) It is blindness to stick to ignorance and it is more blindness to stick to knowledge (Hymn 9).

3) It is blindness to stick to the unmanifested item (asambhūti) and it is more blindness to stick to the manifested item (sambhūti) (Hymn 12).

From these hymns, we must make an important observation that ignorance and the unmanifested item have been put into one category of blindness, whereas, knowledge and the manifested item have been put into the other category of blindness.

Interpreting Terms as per the Context

Let us now look at the terms, whose meaning needs to interpreted carefully, as per the context, in order to avoid any confusion.

Mediated and non-mediated God

Parabrahman is the absolute and non-mediated God, who is unimaginable. This unimaginable God can be taken to be the unmanifested God (Parabrahman). The mediated God can be taken to be the manifested God. The mediated God is called Hiraṇyagarbha, who is the first Energetic Incarnation of God. As per the above observation made by us, the worship of the unimaginable God (asambhūti upāsanā) and ignorance (avidyā) stand on one side. This means that since the original God (Parabrahman) is unimaginable, one is in total ignorance about that God or that one can have no knowledge of that God. As per the other observation made by us above, the worship of the mediated God (sambhūti upāsanā) and knowledge (vidyā) stand together on the other side. This means that the mediated God (Energetic or Human Incarnation) is manifested and the knowledge of such a mediated God can be clearly known, owing to His imaginable and visible nature.

Divine knowledge and worldly knowledge

If you take God as unmanifested absolute Reality and creation as the manifested reality, the ignorance (avidyā) associated with the unmanifested God has already been explained above. When you take this creation as the manifested reality, the knowledge of this creation (vidyā), ignoring the creator is a greater darkness. This is because the knowledge of this creation causes people to get more and more interested in creation for the sake of their own enjoyment (Vidyāyāṃ ratāḥ; Sambhūtyāṃ ratāḥ) and they never develop any interest in the creator. Please remember that the knowledge that leads to darkness (vidyā) does not mean the knowledge of manifested-mediated God. It means the knowledge of the manifested creation or medium itself, which is criticized. Worshipping the mediated God is a good path and is not criticized here. Since you are unable to worship the non-mediated God (Parabrahman), it becomes inevitable to worship the mediated God alone. But you should not worship the mere material out of which God’s medium is made. The material out of which God’s medium is made is inert matter, inert energy and awareness. These are also the components of this manifested creation. Worshipping only the manifested creation means you become materialistic or a worldly person whose goal is to enjoy the world.

Thus, the knowledge of the manifested world is useful when applied to the medium of God. The same knowledge is not good if it is applied to the whole world for the sake of worldly enjoyment. In other words, if the material of God’s medium alone is worshipped or the manifested creation, in general is worshipped, neglecting God, it is bad. Thus, sambhūti upāsanā or the worship of the manifested becomes good or bad, as per the context. It is good in the context of the medium of God and the same becomes the worst if it is taken in the context of enjoying the whole world. This second worst sense is implied when it is said in the Upaniṣad that it is a greater darkness to worship the manifested (sambhūti), which is associated with worldly knowledge (vidyā).

Crossing death by ignorance and getting bliss by knowledge

The absolutely true God created this relatively true world using the superimposition of self-ignorance upon Himself. This is referred to as ignorance (avidyā). With the help of this self-ignorance, this creation is manifested (sambhūti) and the boredom of loneliness, which is comparable to horrible death is crossed. But that God, who is entertained by creation always favors vidyā, which is ethics and justice. He gets bliss, when ethics and justice are followed. He does not like avidyā which means unethical behavior and injustice.

A human being can also create his own imaginary world using superimposed self-ignorance. But the human being may tend to get entertainment through unethical imaginations like having illegitimate sex or getting illegitimate happiness by becoming rich through unethical earnings, hurting one’s just enemies etc. Such a human being does not attain bliss, but attains hell in this world and in the upper worlds. The basic entertainment through the creation of an imaginary world based on self-ignorance may be a common point between God and a bad human being. But the effect of the entertainment of God is good since He supports justice, while the effect of the entertainment of the bad human being is bad, since he supports injustice. The entertainment is common, but the good way of entertainment of a good person leads him to heaven, while the bad way of entertainment of a bad person leads him to hell.

Theoretical and practical devotion (upāsanā)

Knowledge belongs to the intellect and devotion belongs to the mind. Both the intellect and the mind are unmanifested (asambhūti), which means that they are not practically expressed. Knowledge and devotion together are called theoretical devotion (asambhūti upāsanā). This type of devotion is put in the same category as avidyā in the Upaniṣad. This means that mere theoretical devotion (knowledge and devotion) to God is ignorance. It is said to be ignorance because asambhūti is associated with ignorance. Practical devotion, which is called karma yoga involves the expression of the theoretical devotion in the form of manifested energy or manifested matter. Devotion expressed in the form of energy is service or work and is called karma saṃnyāsa. Devotion manifested in the form of matter is the sacrifice (offering) of wealth, which is the fruit of work. It is called karma phala tyāga. Karma yoga consists of both karma saṃnyāsa and karma phala tyāga, done as per the devotee’s ability. This karma yoga is called sambhūti upāsanā or manifested (practical) devotion.

Theory is the mother of practice and hence, both are required to please God. By the theory one crosses the three-fold ignorance, which is the ignorance about God, the ignorance about oneself, and the ignorance about the real path to please God. Thus, through asambhūti, one is said to cross death. Practice or karma yoga gives bliss since God is really pleased with the real love expressed by the devotee with proof. This is sambhūti, which leads to the attainment of blissful immortality.

Modify Meanings of Words to Protect the Concept

In this way, it is necessary to modify the applied meanings of the words vidyā, avidyā, sambhūti and asambhūti, according to the context. It requires one’s own sharp logical analysis. One must be perfectly clear about the actual concept from all angles. Words mentioned in the scripture should never be allowed to affect the accuracy of the concept. You can sacrifice the popular meaning of a word for the sake of protecting the clear and correct concept. Some ignorant people think that they are perfect scholars, but they end up sacrificing the true concept in order to preserve the popular meaning of a word. The correct interpretation is that in which the true concept is protected. A wrong interpretation is that in which the popular meanings of words are protected at the cost of sacrificing true concepts. Even in the correct interpretation, the basic meaning of word is not changed. For example, the meaning of the words sambhūti and vidyā, as per the correct interpretation, is the knowledge of the medium of God, which is a part of creation. The meaning of the same words, as per the wrong interpretation, is the knowledge of the entire world for the sake of worldly enjoyment. Here the basic meaning of the words is only apparently modified in a quantitative sense. In a qualitative sense, the meanings of the words remain the same. This is because, both the medium of God and the rest of the world differ only quantitatively. Qualitatively, both are one and the same. Both are made of the same five elements, inert energy and awareness.