Apara Vidya vs Para Vidya

The following is an excerpt of the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Radhikaji from her forthcoming book to be published in 2017. Chapter 2 Verses 11-18 are covered in this article.

Verse 11-13 Apara Vidya and Para Vidya

With verse 11, chapter 2 Sri Krishna starts  the actual teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. He speaks quite directly to Arjuna about his “words of pretended wisdom”. What does Sri Krishna mean by pretended wisdom? In chapter 1 as well as the first few verses of chapter 2 Arjun came up with very many convincing arguments why he should not fight and some of those arguments were extremely convincing such as killing gurus is a terrible thing which cannot possibly be right, or he should not fight because he needs to preserve society and tradition. These seem to be good arguments for not fighting, yet these ideas are coming from books and society, this is borrowed knowledge or feigned wisdom. This is not wisdom through direct realization. 

Arjuna has become fatalistic, he sees all his negative qualities and the task seems to be so overwhelming, that he is unable to continue and he uses all these nice arguments as an excuse. Often seekers and meditators come to Yoga with the idea, that Yoga is all about peace. It certainly does lead to greater inner peace but only when you have resolved the internal conflicts. Instead of resolving our internal conflicts we use all our book knowledge, even quoting great teachers and masters and find arguments that suit our convenience. That is why we need a guide, because otherwise we misinterpret the scriptures and misuse them. Due to this misunderstanding of scriptures we become fatalistic. The teachings are far from fatalistic, in fact they empower us, so that we can take our own destiny in our own hands and become architects of our own future and our lives. Unfortunately many people read the scriptures and they come to wrong conclusions. They confuse acceptance means with fatalism. 

We should respect our teachers and it is important that society and traditions are preserved that humankind carries on and that knowledge does not die out. This is just based on knowledge or information. Transfer of knowledge through tradition in society is based on information and skill, not spiritual wisdom. There is a difference between Para vidya and Apara vidya, this is explained in the Mundaka Upanishad. 

Apara Vidya is all about learning skills and how to earn your living. This kind of learning and knowledge is important. We are using computers, laptops all these technologies. This did not just come from one person suddenly, it has been built up over decades, built on the knowledge of thousand of years of mathematics.  Without the invention of zero and the binary numbers, without mathematics,  computer and mobile technology would not be where it is today. This was possible because knowledge was handed down for thousands of years. There is great value in this knowledge, no doubt about that, but that is not all. There is a deeper wisdom, and that deeper wisdom has nothing to do with the preservation of society. When we do not understand this, we acquire some rules to live to live by so that our society is not disturbed.

To understand and integrate the essence of the teaching we need guidance and direct realization, else we think this is all about being peaceful and living in harmony. True spiritual teachings and wisdom is about getting to know yourself. True spiritual wisdom, explained in verses 12 and 13, is about knowing that you are not your body and that this body will age, but the pure consciousness in you will never die. You have always been and you will always be. Direct realization and integration of this wisdom it will empower you.  This is Para Vidya. 

Verses 14-15 Witnessing, the Lotus and the Frog

We are living in this world, we have a body, we have our senses and so we perceive the dualities, heat and cold, pleasure and pain, joy and suffering, attachment and aversion. These dualities are not eternal, they are all transient. This is the experience of suffering. 

Now this shloka or verse is often misunderstood. In fact the translations themselves are not quite clear.  The Sanskrit word used is  “titiksha”, which means to be above. Sri Krishna urges Arjuna to be above the senses and the world, like a lotus, that grows in muddy waters. Be like the lotus, live in the muddy waters of the world but be do not let the dirt besmirch you.

However due to incorrect translations and misunderstandings of the seekers who do not have direct guidance, it is commonly thought that we should not be affected by these dualities. The seeker thinks he has to be very stoic. Ahamkara develops a harsh tolerance and rigid discipline to withstand all suffering. This is  a misreading of the scripture.

Sri Krishna explains that the contacts between the senses and the sense objects is there and will always be there, therefore be like a  lotus. You cannot be like a lotus by pretending that the emotions do not exist and that the pain does not affect you. You cannot be an unfeeling robot. The cold will affect, the heat will trouble you. If you insist on going through a lot of suffering that would be a form of violence against yourself. It is not an instruction to withstand suffering, on what to do and how to behave.  The instructions come later when the text becomes more practical.

So how can we be above the dualities? Who is this person to whom the dualities do not cause suffering? To whom is pain and pleasure alike? There can be only one kind of being who is like that: the one who is able to witness. This verse is not an instruction on how to behave, it is a description of the state of  Witness. This is a common misunderstanding. It is about pure consciousness, it is about being a Witness. It is not about trying to be a Lotus. Either you are a lotus or you are not.  

Verse 16-17: Nitya, the eternal and unchanging

If we think of it in terms of science, all the atoms and molecules in this universe are constant. They are merely changing forms all the time. They are not increasing or decreasing in quantity. What is not there, is not there and what is there, will always be there. It may take different forms though and we know this from the famous formula: E=mc2. Energy can turn into matter and matter into energy. We are all energy and energy is another word for consciousness. This consciousness takes different forms and then  we go back to our unmanifest form and eventually take another form. Nothing is lost in this continuous change of forms that is called birth, death and rebirth.

Know THAT as indestructible, by which all this tangible world is permeated. THAT being referred to here, is pure consciousness.

Verse 18: Anitya, the transient and changing 

When we have analyzed the world around us, then through contemplation we can draw the conclusion that though everything is changing, there is something constant. This understanding comes at an intellectual level so you may keep having doubts about it. 

When you have a glimpse of samadhi, then you know, even if only for a moment and there are  no more doubts. When you are a Witness, you know. Once you know, you are not of this world any more. Through the process of meditation you continue to examine your own qualities and eventually become a Witness. Eventually you will witness everything around you and see that everything is continuously dying and changing form. This transience is known as Anitya.  


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