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What lies at the end of the story of knowledge || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
19 min
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यः सर्वज्ञः सर्वविद्यस्यैष महिमा भुवि । दिव्येब्रह्मपुरे ह्येष व्योम्न्यात्मा प्रतिष्ठितः ॥

yaḥ sarvajñaḥ sarvavidyasyaiṣa mahimā bhuvi divyebrahmapure hyeṣa vyomnyātmā pratiṣṭhitaḥ

The Omniscient, the All-wise, whose is this might and majesty upon the earth, is this Self enthroned in the divine city of the Brahman, in his ethereal heaven.

~ Verse 2.2.7

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Acharya Prashant (AP): The all-knowing, sarvajñaḥ , all-seeing, omniscient. “The omniscient, the all-wise,” sarvavid , “whose is the might and majesty upon earth”—whose writ runs large, who is above everything on this earth, whose value is the highest, who is the most majestic on this earth.

What is meant when it is said “who is the most majestic on this earth” or “who is the mightiest on this earth”? What is ‘this earth’ referring to? The consciousness of those inhabiting the earth. So, it is referring to the mind of man; it is not referring to trees or mountains or things like that.

“…is this Self,” the Ātman , “enthroned in the divine city of Brahman ,” Brahmapuri , Ātman enthroned in Brahmapuri , “in his ethereal heaven,” in his mighty space, vyom .

No, dear ego, you do not know much. No, dear ego, you do not see much. Ātman is omniscient, Ātman is sarvajñaḥ , sarvavid ; you are not. Have some humility. Don’t be so confident of yourself. That which you know of is just foolish, and the proof of that is that you continue to know much. Had you really known much, all your knowledge would have disappeared; you would have moved into a spontaneous sahajāta . That hardly requires any knowledge. But you continue to know much; you continue to live and operate from a point of knowledge, and that itself is sufficient to prove that you do not know much.

When real knowledge comes to you, then the center of knowledge disappears; then you are left with the center of Ātman . When you have false knowledge, then you continue to operate from knowledge. Is it too paradoxical to understand?

When you have false knowledge, then you live from knowledge itself. When you have real knowledge, then you stop living from knowledge.

There is this story. There was a man who was sitting in a group, and they were having a nice chat post dinner. And then they all told each other, “Let’s share the most interesting things that we know about ourselves and others.” A bit similar to the truth-or-dare kind of games that we play, you know. “Tell us something very interesting about yourself or about somebody in this room.”

So, this man went on to narrate an extremely interesting story. He said, “You know, I went to Paris and I was living in a room, and that room had a damp patch on one of its walls, and the damp patch used to keep changing shape, and as it would change shape, I would know how my destiny is going to proceed that day.” A lot of interesting things he said.

And when he was beginning to tell the story, he said, “There are three very interesting things about the story I would narrate.” So, the first interesting thing he said was that, “It is very uncommon to have a damp patch on the wall in a room in Paris. It is not so humid there.” And then it came to the second interesting thing, and he said, “You know what is the second interesting thing? All of you would agree that mine is the most interesting experience among all the stories that have been told this night here at this place. You all believe that mine is the most interesting experience,” and people agreed.

He just finished the story, and after he had finished the story and there was a deep silence, somebody said, “In the beginning you had said that there are three interesting things you would tell us. You told only two. Could you tell the third one as well?” He said, “The third interesting thing is that I made up this story twenty minutes back.”

That’s the thing about knowledge. You would know that it is false only when you go right till its end. If you stop somewhere in between, you will keep believing in its authenticity. It is a long story, you stopped somewhere in the middle. Or if you stop anywhere before the end, you will keep thinking that the story is real.

Only those who go right till the end of knowledge realize that knowledge is a very unreal story, and then they laugh at the story. They do not hate the story, by the way; they enjoy the story. They enjoy the story as a story. Don’t we read stories? Don’t we read fairy tales? We do. Don’t we read fiction? Great fiction has been written, and we read. Don’t we read our epics? They often contain a lot of fiction, but still, it is lovely to read.

The one who goes right till the end of the knowledge story realizes that it is just fiction—nice fiction maybe, useful fiction maybe; nevertheless, just fiction. If someone is sticking to knowledge, that itself is proof that he has not gone till the end of the knowledge story; he has become a knowledgeable person. Knowledge is not a story for that fellow, knowledge is a reality.

When knowledge is a reality for you, then you become knowledgeable, then you start calling yourselves jñānī (knower). Whereas, the mark of the real jñānī is that he has been liberated from jñāna . He has navigated the entire territory, he has cut through the entire landscape, he knows every bit about it. Not that he doesn’t know knowledge, he knows knowledge, but he doesn’t live in it. He knows knowledge, he might have knowledge, but he does not become knowledgeable, because it is far more joyful to live in sahajāta . It is far easier—you know, easy: it requires far less effort, it requires far less conflict and struggle. You don’t have to eat out of your memory. Is that not a blessing?

Otherwise, we are such beggars in front of memory. Life comes to us with a question and we go abegging to memory, “Please tell us some old rehashed answer!” And what if memory is in a bad mood that day? Then you get no answers to the questions that life poses. Does that not happen? Sometimes you want to remember something and you are saying, “Argh! Why am I forgetting?” and that day you recall nothing. Next day the thing comes to you; memory was in a bad mood the previous day.

Why should you depend so much on a foolish and unconscious aggregation of experiences? That’s what memory is. The man who lives in sahajāta is liberated from this dependence on memory. The false jñānī has a great dependence on memory. The real jñānī , again, not that he does not have knowledge; he does not eat out of knowledge, he does not find it necessary to operate from knowledge. Knowledge is his handkerchief; he sometimes picks it up, sometimes drops it; he does not even carry it always.

So, Ātman is all-knowing, all-seeing, omniscient. What does that mean for us?—because all meanings are for us. To the Ātman nothing means anything. All meanings are with respect to the ego. So, when we say that there is completeness, when there is complete knowledge, that is fulfillment. In other words, what is it that we are saying?

Fulfillment is when you are liberated of knowledge. Complete knowledge is liberation from knowledge.

Complete knowledge does not mean a lot of information; complete knowledge does not mean that you have become a super Google. Complete knowledge is a different center of life altogether. When it comes to information, you will never have total, whole, and absolute information; not possible. But when it comes to living totally, wholly, absolutely, it is possible.

Therefore, if your absolute life depends on absolute knowledge, you will never get absolute life because you cannot get absolute knowledge. Hence, it is important to de-link your existence from your knowledge—and I am not talking of biological existence, I am talking of mental, physic experience.

Learn to be without thoughts; thoughts feed on knowledge. Learn to enjoy uncertainty; certainty feeds on knowledge. Learn to be comfortable without any assurances about future. Learn to be faithful without answers. Learn to be committed without guarantees. That is liberation from knowledge.

In that sense the pure Self knows everything. It knows everything because it has no need to know anything. Even without knowing anything it is joyful, and that is what you have to learn. Because if you link your joy to assurances and certainties and information, you are never too far from slipping into depression. Life can throw very unsettling uncertainties at you, and you said, “I would be comfortable only when certain,” and certainty basically means knowledge, right? “Now I am certain that such a thing is going to happen, I know.” That certainty you will not get; you will start trembling within.

Be unreasonably sassy. “You look very spritely! Any reason? In fact, you got spanked just an hour back. Oh, I am sorry—it was me who spanked you an hour back! So, nobody knows better than me how you have received the wrong end of the stick at my own hands. But still you are just so cheerful!” The answer is: unreasonable spunk. The fellow has a spring in his feet.

“I am just wondering, how is it possible? Nothing especially good is happening to him—in fact, nothing at all is going right for him—still, look at him!” That’s the way. Even if you don’t physically do this, mentally that’s the way.

Don’t depend on guarantees, certainties, beliefs, thoughts for your well-being. Just be alright—just be more than alright. I repeat, why not have some fun? Why be satisfied with just alrightness? Let’s transcend well-being into something a little more.

The spiritual man is sometimes called blissfully foolish—foolish not in the sense of having wrong knowledge; foolish in the sense of being contemptuous of knowledge. This is the spiritual connotation of foolishness. In the world, we call someone foolish when the fellow has wrong knowledge or no knowledge. In fact, if someone has wrong knowledge, he is called even more foolish. I ask you what’s the score in the India-New Zealand match, and you say, “India made 700”; you are foolish. But if you say, “Three goals to one,” then you are super foolish.

The spiritual man is foolish in the sense that he is contemptuous of the story. He won’t throw the story book away; he would just know the story book as a story book. He won’t take it any more seriously than a fairytale.

“…whose is this might and majesty upon the earth.”

The one who is to be accorded the highest value is neither the ego nor anything the ego deems to be valuable. The lower state of consciousness is not valuable, lesson one. Lesson two: anything that the lower state of consciousness considers valuable is not valuable.

It is not enough to say, “I do not value myself much, I value that.” You yourself are a very lowly ego, so whatever you value has no value at all. People say, “I don’t value myself much, I know I am nobody. But I value that thing greatly.” But you value that thing from your own lowly center, don’t you? And from this lowly center, whatever you value would be lowly.

So, stop valuing the world or yourself. First of all, invest yourself in raising your center.

Why does the sage have to return to this question of raising yourself? Because the entire game of spirituality is not about this or that, good or bad, right or wrong; the entire game is about seeing that we are two. And that is very difficult to remember for a beginner. Why? Because both of them carry the same name. What is the common name for the two within you? ‘I’. Only in one discipline, only in the discipline of spirituality, are the two given different names; otherwise, the name is common: ‘I’.

You say, “I am joyful,” and then you say, “I am miserable.” It appears you are referring to the same entity, right? At one point this ‘I’ was joyful, and then at one point it was miserable. The fact is these are not the same people. You are two, and within the two centers that you have lies a long range of possibilities. You are these two and possibly everything between these two. You are not one.

And that’s what spirituality constantly keeps reminding you. Where are you coming from? Who are you at this point? Koham (Who am I)? Who are you? Even as you do this, even as you say this, who are you? You hate this thing as…? You understand the question? You are hating this while being what ? In what capacity are you hating this? From which identity are you hating this? From which center are you hating this? Are you coming from your real point or from the false point? And you have both and the option to be at either.

“I love this, I want that.” Which center of you loves that? Don’t you want to ask that question? It is such an obvious one.

“I love that.” You can love that in two ways: like a Bhagat Singh loves freedom or like Champulal loves chicken. Both of them use quite the same words, ‘I love’. But because the ‘I’ is very different, therefore look at the difference in implications. When Bhagat Singh says, “I love freedom,” and when you say, “I love chicken,” do you see the difference? When Bhagat Singh loves freedom, he gives up his own life for it, and when you love chicken, you take the chicken’s life for yourself. That is the difference.

But these two statements are so frighteningly similar, ‘I love freedom’ and ‘I love chicken’. The ‘I’ is different, but language conceals that. When you say, “I love freedom,” and when you say, “I love chicken,” language encourages you to use the same ‘I’. Different ‘I’s should be used.

If ever there is a spiritual language, it will ask you to use different pointers for different states of consciousness. What is coming from a high state of consciousness should not be expressed using the same subjective pointer, it has to be different ‘I’. Just as in spiritual books the self is written sometimes with a small ’s’ and sometimes a capital ’S’, similarly there should be a small ‘i’ and a capital ‘I’. When you are talking nonsense, you should use a small ‘i’; when you are talking utter nonsense, then you should use just the dot in the ‘i’. And it should be obvious, then, what you are coming as, where you are coming from. And then you will not be able to so blatantly assert “I love chicken” and “I love freedom”.

The highest on this earth is the highest within you. Would you remember this? Nothing else is more valuable anywhere. The highest within you is the most valuable anywhere.

“…whose is this might and majesty upon the earth, is this Ātman , this Self enthroned in the divine city of the Brahman , in his ethereal heaven.”

In a poetic way, this is pointing towards the identity of Brahman and Ātman . Ātman is fully established in Brahman .

What is Brahman ? The Truth in all that you perceive. What is Ātman ? The Truth in the perceiver.

There is you, there is the world. When you ask, “What is the Truth of the universe?” the answer is Brahman , because you are coming from the side of the universe, you are coming from that end of the scale. When you come from that end of the scale, the answer that is given to you is Brahman . And when you ask, “What is my own Truth?” then you are coming from the inner end of the scale; then the answer that is given to you is Ātman . And the Upanishads say these two are one.

Ātman and Brahman are one. Your own Truth is the Truth of the universe; your own falseness is the falseness of the universe. But the perceiver or the questioner or the sufferer is not the universe, it is you. Therefore, if you perceive falseness in the universe, it is your own falseness. And if in a moment of relative innocence you want to ask, “But where did the falseness in me come at all in the very first place?” then the answer is: it came from the universe.

Your falseness is the falseness of the universe; your Truth is the Truth of the universe. The Maya that you see outside is the aham within you, and the Truth of the universe, Brahman , is your own inner Truth.

Therefore, when you will come up with a question like, “How do I know whether a person is Truthful?” the only honest answer can be: for that you will have to be Truthful, because the falseness in the world is your own falseness. If you want to see Truth anywhere, first of all you will have to be Truthful.

The punishment of being false within is that you will only be treated with falseness everywhere. Now, don’t come and complain that “people deceive me” and “this happens and that happens”. It is only because of something within you. Had you been operating from a point of Truth, nobody would have been able to deceive you, or rather people’s deceptions wouldn’t have left you scarred. You would have remained healthy in spite of all the deceptions and things that happen in the world.

Questioner: You mentioned that one can either have faith in the sage, or one can suffer a lot. Are faith and suffering exclusive, or can they come together? Can they lead to each other?

AP: In general, to be blessed with faith without having gone through suffering is quite rare. But that’s the way the ego is: it does not want to take the dignified road to the school. The school bus comes, it is a proper school bus, and the kid can opt to wilfully board the bus, reach the school, sit on his chair, and learn what is being taught. But that’s not the way of the ego.

The ego is not a simple, innocent, obedient child. The ego is a truant, mischief-maker; it runs away hither thither, and when it gets beaten up, thrashed from all sides, only then it wants to seek refuge in the school. Even to the school it goes to seek refuge only because some bully outside the school walls is waiting to thrash this one really hard. So, he says, “Just to, you know, save my own backside, I will go to the classroom.” That’s the way of the ego, unfortunately.

So, to have faith in the teacher without having gone through suffering is rare. The question is, how much suffering do you want to opt for? Some suffering obviously you will have to go through. Choose to minimize it. That’s my request.

The second part of the question is, would faith in the teacher bring about suffering? No, because your suffering, in general, would have already peaked when you go to the teacher; otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone. That’s the way we are. Yes, one thing might probably happen: that when you go to the teacher, he might reveal to you that your suffering is deeper than what you take it to be.

See, you don’t go to a doctor because you are feeling fit as a fiddle; you go to the doctor because you are already suffering. What is possible is that the doctor diagnoses you and tells you that your disease is deeper than what you imagine. That is possible, but there would always first of all be an underlying suffering; otherwise, you won’t step into the hospital in the first place.

Does faith increase suffering? No, it doesn’t really increase suffering, but it may reveal to you that your suffering is deeper than your assessment or experience of it.

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