Isha Upanishad - Super school - Auroville - Session 9: Knowledge-Ignorance

(7 February 2003)

You should remember this and we have to do something, which is very urgent for some other reasons. We'll understand it but otherwise whenever, however long you want me, I'll be with you. All right, but if there is something else, which is very pressing, then you kindly understand but still at present, Monday, Tuesday and afterwards, if I still have time and no other pressing pressure, I'll be with you, all right.

We are at the riddle, which has been posed by the statement of knowledge and ignorance. What is knowledge and what is ignorance? I said last time; ignorance is a state of ignoring. When an object is presented, all objects are presented, you look at them and you look only at a few of them and ignore all the rest. Then you are bound to pronounce your judgement in ignorance. What is the process by which you ignore that will give the clue by what process, we happen to ignore. A number of objects are given to you and you happen to look at a few and not all. There must be some process by which you happen to ignore, just give a thought to it for a moment and let us analyse it.

There is what is called the process of non–observation. This non–observation may occur by virtue of the fact that you don't have the capacity to observe. If something is presented and I don't observe it, it is because I don't have the capacity to observe it. For example, we know that infrared and ultraviolet rays are present all the time but we don't observe because we don't have the capacity to observe. Our eyes cannot observe the infrared and ultraviolet rays, our eyes are not capable.

Question: Why?

Answer: This is the question. First of all, I'm only analysing the non–observation. It is only because we don't have the capacity to observe. The adequate question would follow, why don't we have the adequate capacity? Before you answer this question, we may have another question. I enter into a room, where I could observe the entire room if I wanted. But as soon as you enter the room, I see that a certain object is about to fall, so my attention is drawn to that object and nothing else. And I try and I rush simply to protect that object, so that it may not fall. Here non–observation is not there, here it is because of what reason, because of the pressure, as a result of which I concentrate only upon that object. Something has to be done on the spot. You can't wait, even before seeing anything else, I rush to the point. So, I ignore all the rest, I do not observe the rest. This small example is very important; it is called a process of exclusive concentration of consciousness. This exclusive concentration of consciousness is a power of consciousness. Consciousness has many powers but this particular power is very important, it is capable of exclusive concentration.

You might say that consciousness has a number of capacities of concentration. There are many kinds of concentrations. We know for example that there is something like multiple concentration. Everyone who cooks food has a constant example of multiple concentration. When you're cooking, you have two, three vessels on the fire, and you're watching all the three simultaneously. You know that each one of them requires a different kind of fire, slow fire, rapid fire and intense fire and you're managing all the three at the same time. Suddenly a child enters the room and demands something and you answer that question also. It has nothing to do with cooking at all. It is something quite different but you are capable of answering and the child goes on nagging you, answer me, why this is, why that answer me. We know this is child psychology and you are answering the question to the child, according to the psychology of the child, in the language of the child. All these are Powers of consciousness, it's a multiple concentration. Multiple concentration in which you can modulate in many ways automatically. This is happening even in our ordinary life and anybody can do it.

Sometimes this multiple concentration can also become integral concentration in which you can see the inter–connections of all the things. Suddenly in a big luminous vision in which you don't see these things separate, even the child's question coming at a particular time, you understand the meaning of it. Why should they come at that time, you understand the meaning of it. You have an integral idea as to what is happening around you. This consciousness is possible even for our human consciousness, as we are. This consciousness can be also multiplied; you know there are many people in India who are called ashthavadhani,ashtha–avadhani, ashtha means eight. You speak to him eight propositions, one after the other, not even ordinary kind of propositions, short story, then you bring out a verse, third is only a word, fourth is a long story,5,6,7 and ashtha is something else. Then you ask him, please tell me, what I spoke to you, and he will give exactly the repetition of the 8 exactly in the order in which it was proposed, including the verses, which were not known to him earlier. He researched only once and then he repeats immediately after this interval that these eight are already completed. The ashtha–avadhani, all these propositions one after the other, exactly in the way in which they were narrated by the original speaker. It is a special kind of training, which these people undergo and they are ashtha–avadhanis. They are aware of eight things at the same time. There are also some people in India, who are called shatta–avadhanis, they have this capacity a hundredfold. Hundreds of things are told one after the other and they can tell you the hundred things afterwards in the same order. Now these are special capacities of consciousness, special kind of concentration, such a concentration that as soon as it is spoken to you, it is recollected in your consciousness, in an ordered manner. There is no confusion about it. There are some people, if you want to hear sometime, we can bring some ashtha–avadhanis here, it will be interesting. There are still ashtha–avadhanis in our country and in fact there are some shatta–avadhanis also, but very rare but there are.

Question: Is it mind or consciousness?

Answer: It is not the ordinary mind. The mind has many capacities and beyond the mind there are higher grades of the mind and surely some of these capacities are not capacities of the ordinary mind. But there are higher levels of consciousness in which training is given. Suppose there is a vision of Indra. Indira is supposed to have thousand eyes, we have only two eyes. He is supposed to have a thousand eyes, sahasraksha,—in Sanskrit it is called sahasraksha, sahasra means a thousand.aksha means eyes. In this particular case that I gave, you enter the room and you see this particular thing falling down and concentrate only on that. But with one–thousand eyes you can see all the thousand things around even though you can concentrate only on that.

The question you had asked was why non–observation? So, exclusive concentration of consciousness is one answer that you exclude everything else, so that you can attack the problem at hand immediately without waiting to see anything else. This exclusive concentration of consciousness has one great benefit, advantage, you can do the particular work at hand very effectively. If at the same time, you get distracted by so many things and if you do not exclusively concentrate upon that object, you may not be able to save that object from falling but by concentrating you are able to do it. Take another example of exclusive concentration of consciousness and its benefits. We all very often take part in a drama and we take part of a character. Supposing this drama is on Savitri and you're supposed to recite the words of Savitri. If you are a good actor or actress, you identify yourself completely with Savitri and when you completely forget that you are reciting Savitri's words, your effectiveness of recitation becomes perfect. This is the advantage of exclusive concentration of consciousness. This exclusive concentration of consciousness leads you to ignore other things, you ignore what you are.

You ignore your personality, you assume the personality of Savitri and you recite as if Savitri herself is speaking. Your recitation is perfect. Actually all the directors would like their actors and actresses to arrive at this concentration, it's a great power. So your ignoring is a power, it's not a deficiency but it's a power. Capacity to exclusively concentrate upon an object is the power of knowledge itself. When you know yourself and when you know Savitri's words, you know both and yet deliberately you forget yourself. And you concentrate upon Savitri, as if you are Savitri. It's a great power of knowledge. It's one of the qualities, it is one of the merits of your consciousness that you can concentrate so well, as to forget yourself completely.

In this way you find that ignorance is the power of knowledge, it is not the absence of knowledge. It is absence of knowledge but a power of knowledge. That is to say knowledge denies to itself its knowledge, it is the power of knowledge, which is called self–limitation. Ignorance is a self–limitation of knowledge. It's a power itself, having a capacity to limit itself. Take for example; a child asks you a question, you know the answer quite well. But you know that this answer, which you know, will not be understood by the child, then how do you answer that question. You know the answer very well, you know that the child will not understand what you understand. Then you make a formula, which is not exactly translating your knowledge but it will limit your knowledge, and give the formula which is understood by the child. This is because you limit deliberately. You know the full answer. When you ask me a question, I know much more than what I'm telling you. It is true I have many things to say but at present I'm not saying everything that I know in answer to this question. But I know that this will be understood by you. So I'm giving you that answer, which is the correct answer but not the whole answer. I deliberately, I have many other things to say in my mind but I'm not telling you because it'll be too much of a dose. Immediately, I'm developing little by little at this stage. As your mind develops further, I can say something more.

Every good teacher basically, exercises this kind of a movement, he knows but limits it and expresses something that is limited, and by that limitation his work is effective. If I really want to explain something then I know at what level, at what degree, I should answer certain questions. A good teacher is one who knows how to limit his knowledge and to be able to complicate according to the receptivity and according to the consciousness in which you are living. If you are asking a question now and I begin to answer in Sanskrit language, you won't understand anything. I know Sanskrit, I can answer you in Sanskrit but if I give you that answer, I know it will not be understood by you. So the fact that I'm not speaking to you in Sanskrit is my self– limitation. I'm limiting, I am not answering in Sanskrit, this is a power. Therefore, I am ignoring my knowledge and concentrating only upon that which is acceptable in our dialogue. My ignoring is my capacity. Supposing I was not able to ignore all that I know. The moment you put a question, there would be a downpour of so many things being said, all at the same time, which is an incapacity. If I have a real capacity, I should be able to control in the right manner. If you are a good charioteer and the horses are running. If you are a good charioteer, you will know when to restrain the horse and when to allow the horses to run, as they like. It's not a weakness of the charioteer, if he restrains. It’s a great capacity of the charioteer to restrain the horses, if he allows the horses to run and cannot control it’s a weakness. So, we are allowing the knowledge to flow just like that, which is one power. It can be, it should be, but also to restrain, it is also a power. This is exactly the relationship between knowledge and ignorance.

Ignorance is the power of knowledge, it is the power by which knowledge restrains its expression in order that the work at hand is done effectively. That is why the opposition between knowledge and ignorance is not correct. Ignorance is not opposed to knowledge. Ignorance is a limitation, self–limitation of knowledge that they are not contradictory to each other. This is the basic idea to be remembered, when we discuss the question of knowledge and ignorance,vidya and avidya. This is only the preface of what I wanted to say, the basic idea, and the basic understanding of what is knowledge and what is ignorance. Remember that we have said that there is only one reality.

If there is only one reality and if that reality by nature is full of consciousness then there cannot be ignorance anywhere at all. Let us put down this argument, if there is only one Reality and it is that reality's character is consciousness, full consciousness. Then there cannot exist anywhere what we call ignorance, and yet we do find ignorance exists in the world. We are all ignoring, the whole world is ignorant. There is a very big question, that this ignorance must be a result only of self–limitation of consciousness. It is only if the consciousness has limited itself deliberately, restrained its consciousness to spread everywhere then only this preposition will be tenable. There's only one Reality, whose nature is consciousness, if there is ignorance, it is not the absence of consciousness, it can be only if there is a power of consciousness, to restrain itself. So that an island of ignorance is created in the consciousness, it has a capacity of moulding itself in many ways. The consciousness is multilayered, capable of multi–layers. Then it can modulate, as I said, you're cooking the food when a child comes suddenly, even then you're able to have another dimension of consciousness immediately. This is the power of consciousness. So in our hypothesis the basic point is that there is basically a Reality which is conscious, but the nature of consciousness is that it is capable of various kinds of modulations. It can modulate, it’s just like our voice and singing. There is sound in us, sound has a capacity of modulations, it can be loud, it can be shrill, it can be soft, it can be sweet, it can be harsh, all kinds of different modulations of the same sound. Similarly, consciousness also has this capacity of modulation, integral concentration in which all knowledge is immediately present, like Indra having thousand eyes, even with your thousand eyes, you still are able to concentrate only on one perception, keeping at the back all the 999 perceptions, and concentrate only on one perception that is also possible. If you're a good dancer, you will see how a dancer forgets everything else and is concentrated only on a little gesture of a finger, as if dead there is nothing else, only that gesture. All else's presence is not abolished, its present but concentration is only upon that and that is emphasised.

Question: It's saying that we are ignorant but we don't actually know how to use ignorance?

Answer: Good, you're right. You know, I feel very happy with these questions because these are very fundamental questions. What is knowledge, what is ignorance, why ignorance and how ignorance arises. You might not know but there are many philosophers, who have declared that ignorance cannot be explained. As in philosophy, which says ignorance cannot be explained, there is a word in Sanskrit, which is called, anirvachaniya, which means inexplicable. vachaniya is which can be expressed, which can be explained but anirvachaniya which cannot be explained. There is a big philosophy in India, which says ignorance cannot be explained. It is even said, it is a supra–rational mystery, it is a mystery which our mind can never diagnose, can never find out. There is ignorance, how it has come about. If reality is all luminous, how can there be any ignorance at all? These questions are very formidable questions, very important questions and that is why all of us must study this problem, very seriously.

Question: But in philosophy, we also tried to explain.

Answer: Yes and that is why it is said that with the mind it is not explicable. Philosophers have admitted, many philosophers like Shankaracharya one of the greatest philosophers of the world and his philosophy says that ignorance cannot be explained. As a part of his philosophy ignorance cannot be explained, it is anirvachaniya, it is there.

Question: Is something that you said earlier, about that you know and you restrain what you know and therefore ignorance is not inherent. It is something else.

Answer: Let me see and explain to you. I turn to the example of acting; you take the role of Shakuntala in a drama. Do you know the story of Shakuntala? You know the story of Desdemona and Othello, no, all right. You are playing the role of Desdemona. Othello comes and asks you the question: ‘Where is the handkerchief’? You have to act properly, that is to say, she knows that the handkerchief is there. As an actor, you know that the handkerchief will not be found ultimately. Here you have to at the time express the sentiment, yes, it is here. As a human being you know that the handkerchief is not there because Desdemona really believes that the handkerchief is there. You know the whole story, as an actress, you know that that handkerchief will not be found there. How will you, with what effectivity will you hide your knowledge that that handkerchief is not there. You identify yourself so much with the role that you're playing so that you spontaneously say, ‘yes, it is there’. Surely, as if with your true consciousness as Desdemona, not as an actress, as Desdemona, ‘yes, it is here’, it'll be shown natural only if you completely forget what you are. At that moment you're completely ignorant that the handkerchief is not there, then your acting is perfect. You have really forgotten all that you know as an actress. In fact, in all acting this is a super moment, when you know the whole real story.

You know all the plots but you're acting as if the plot is now being worked out for the first time. You have to put off your knowledge as if it were at the back, concentrate upon the moment, be identified completely with it. This is the power of knowledge. Knowledge can be so knowledgeable, it can be so luminous, it can concentrate so much on a particular point, it can put off its knowledge at the back. This is the speciality of the nature of knowledge and ignorance. And sometimes when you have acted it takes time for you to come back. If you really acted, you will find very often the experience that you have already gone into that character, so much concentrated that afterwards for you to come back to your own original condition is so difficult. You still continue to act in the same mould in which you are acting, it continues.

We are all ignorant in the same way. All of us are ignorant in that sense, this is what, if you analyse the whole nature of knowledge and ignorance: you will find this is what is happening. We have before us a small field before us and I approached that small field. I was aware of everything behind me, now I approach the small field. As I do it, I ignore all the rest and concentrate only on this so much that I see only this much and nothing else. Nothing else exists; I become completely ignorant of all the rest. Like Arjuna said to his teacher, when the bird was to be shot, the teacher said, you concentrate on the bird. There were many other pupils and all the pupils were asked by the teacher what they saw. Some of them said, I see the bird and its wings and there are flowers around. But the teacher said this is no good, until Arjuna came and said I only see the eye of the bird and nothing else. The concentration was so exclusive at that moment, he saw nothing else. He was ignorant of everything else, it is a deliberate ignorance but at that moment he was ignorant of everything else. He saw nothing, except the eye of the bird. The teacher said now shoot it, and he shot at the target,—bull's–eye.

This is the experience to be analysed now. It so happens sometimes that having concentrated so much on that particular point, to come back again to all your awareness takes some time. Sometimes, you see a dream, in the dream you're talking to somebody and the dream ceases and you're awake and still you're talking to somebody, we are still in the same condition, you continue. These are small examples that can be done on a large scale. You might say that each one of us is actually the Brahman, full consciousness of everything, fully luminous but we are concentrated upon a little thing, simply my body, my immediate surroundings, so much concentrated that I know only this and nothing else.

Yoga is a method of recovery of what you have left behind, you are concentrated upon only a small little field and you walk about and think about only that small little field, all the rest exists but you're ignoring. Why, because you're concentrated upon this, exclusive concentration of consciousness produces in you ignorance of all the rest. I don't know, for example, what is happening behind me. The Mother had said once, you must remember that I have eyes behind. You can develop that consciousness, so that even while you're walking, you can see what is happening at the back, or all around, or all over the world. For example, the Mother used to talk to somebody; suddenly she would go into a trance over some work, somewhere else far off in New York. And she would reach there and do the work and come back to you in a few minutes. This was Mother's consciousness, if this is a fact. This is only a question of consciousness, you are now concentrated here, but you can withdraw and go back, this is all Yoga. This means you are too much externalised, that is to say, my consciousness is on this field, which is before my eyes. You withdraw, you go inwards. Inward means what, what you have left behind, return your consciousness inwards on and on and on, until you recover all that was put behind to become the Brahman.

Question: Can we have the consciousness of all that is left behind?

Answer: Yes, you can. A perfect Yogi is one, who is aware of all. There are many ways of awareness of all. This is what Mother was doing, awareness of all and yet everything, minutest detail, like I was reading one day a letter to her, in which the student had written to the Mother. I was reading quite fast. Se mo trace mane, so she stopped me immediately when I read this. Mother said this is a mistake, it should be Se ma trace man. And she spent five minutes with me, first to explain to me why it should be so and then she said I will explain this to that girl, when you go back to her. She said anne is feminine, so normally it should be ma anne. If it is simply mon anne for the sake of pronunciation, otherwise grammatically anne should be preceded by ma not mo, but this is an exception because mon anne would be more convenient to speak. Therefore, in French language grammatically, it is accepted but when there is another word between anne and another word, in which the pronunciation doesn't matter there is no liason, then you should come to the original position. Namely, Anne being feminine, it should be preceded by ma. So, Mother said mo trace mane is wrong, ma trace mane is correct. She must be aware of the whole world at that time but she was concentrating absolutely at that point. She took time to explain to me in detail and I tell you that at that time there were hundred people outside, waiting for Her. It's a fact. So imagine the pressure on the mind to meet hundred people soon after, and while I'm reading the paper.