Bringing Knowledge to Life
by Andy Skippins
Knowledge is one of the most sought-after resources available to human society, and can be acquired through experience, thought or authority. Experience and thinking power are both limited and temporary due to four human defects – i.e., we have imperfect senses; are subject to illusion; have a propensity to make mistakes; and have a propensity to cheat others.
Because of these defects, we should consider looking for a more reliable source of information. In school or university, we may have become accustomed to learning from authorities like a teacher or textbook. However, this knowledge is also limited, as it was acquired through experience and thinking. Even if at the time, the presented knowledge is reliable, Schuppel’s 1996 study on the validity of knowledge shows it will soon become invalid and irrelevant.
– Schüppel (1996)
Therefore, to gain real knowledge one needs to find a perfect authority, and learn from them. Krishna, who teaches bhakti-yoga to Arjuna, in Bhagavad-gītā presents himself as such a perfect authority. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada wrote Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, an English translation which includes an explanation for each verse of that epic literature. The words ‘As It Is’ distinguish this translation from others because the author did not change any of the teachings that have been passed down through the chain from teacher to student. Because Prabhupada presents the teachings of Krishna, exactly as they were taught to Arjuna, he can also be accepted as a perfect authority. It should be noted that the proper student does not blindly follow any teacher who says he has seen the truth, but scrutinizingly searches out a bona fide representative of the Absolute Truth. One distinctive characteristic of the ideal teacher is that he or she never acts out of personal benefit, but for the benefit of their students, and the people in general.
Unlike regular, material knowledge, described at the beginning of this article, spiritual knowledge, acquired from a perfect authority is eternal. The subject of such spiritual knowledge is bhakti-yoga. Bhakti means love and devotion and yoga means to connect with the source of all relationships. So, by practicing bhakti-yoga, we connect, through love and devotion, to the source of all relationships. Practicing this bhakti-yoga is just like learning any new skill; becoming expert takes a great deal of practice.
This is easily understood through a cooking metaphor. You begin by looking at a recipe. In Sanskrit, the technical language of yogic education, this stage is called sambandha, or the stage where knowledge (jñāna) is acquired. Next, you gather all the ingredients, and follow each step, described in the recipe book. This stage is called abhidheya, or the stage of application (vijñāna). Finally, the chef will taste the finished product, and offer it to friends and family. This stage is called prayojana, or the stage of attainment.
This process can be repeated over and over, with the same recipe, or even with new ones. Thus, gradually one attains perfection in one’s cooking technique, and develops faith in the recipe book being used. But a small amount of initial faith is necessary, for the cook to invest money on ingredients and time on preparation. Similarly, in the practice of bhakti-yoga, one first gets knowledge and then applies what has been learnt. That is why the phrase vidyā-vadhū-jīvanam (“it is the life and soul of all education”) is used to describe the main bhakti practice, the chanting of Hare Krishna. It indicates how theoretical knowledge develops into realised knowledge, or is brought to life, through the practice of bhakti-yoga.
One cannot learn to cook simply by reading a recipe book. One must execute the instructions found in the recipe books, whilst taking help and guidance from more experienced cooks. Similarly, one cannot become spiritually enlightened simply through book knowledge; one must apply its principles practically, preferably in the company of other practitioners more advanced than oneself.
With each repetition of this process of learning and application, the practitioner naturally observes improvements in his or her quality of life and character. The process of self-realization may seem like a long journey, but it promises a deeper sense of spiritual happiness with each step.
Written by Andy Skippins, Monk