The concept of knowledge subsumes information, awareness, learning, understanding, scholarship, and so on. But, in spiritual parlance, knowledge is identified with Brahma Jnana or realisation of the ultimate truth. Scriptures use the terms Vidya and Avidya to refer to knowledge and ignorance respectively. When the Upanishads speak of different kinds of Vidyas, such as Sad Vidya or Upakosala Vidya, it is implied that under the guidance of a preceptor, these can enlighten through the process of sadana. The Chandogya Upanishad, while describing Svetaketu’s spiritual quest, highlights many salient features inherent in the process of learning, said Sri Mani Dravid Sastrigal in a discourse.

His father Aruni himself is a realised seer, but he sends his son to a Gurukula. When the son comes back after 12 years of ‘veda adhyayana,’ the father is quick to observe smugness in his bearing that betrays conceit about his accomplishment. The father asks the son if he had learnt from the guru about that unique subject by knowing which there is nothing further to be known. Such knowledge would be the ultimate. It is to be noted that the father didn’t ask whether the guru taught him that knowledge but stressed whether Svetaketu had asked the guru about it. This is the subtle code governing the transmission of spiritual knowledge from preceptor to disciple. An enlightened preceptor will not volunteer to convey this knowledge, for it is incumbent on him to impart it only to the disciple who sincerely wishes to know it.

Krishna tells Arjuna that the profound knowledge He expounded to him is not for those who do not practise austerities or do not believe in God and may not wish to hear it. Such people may disregard its sacredness. He adds that sacred knowledge is gained through acts of “prostration, inquiry and service” from one who is himself an enlightened person. The fine quality of humility is the essence of true learning, and this is imbibed when the seeker approaches the preceptor through such acts which are capable of destroying any trace of ahankara or pride in him. Knowledge without humility is not Vidya.

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