What is knowledge and what is worth knowing? Four Purusharthas are spoken of — artha, kama, dharma and moksha. Of these, which should we want to know about? It might seem as if artha is important, because when we are young, we are always exploring ways to augment our wealth. Kama seems equally important, because our desires are manifold when we are young. But artha and kama are impermanent, and so why should we be anxious to know about them? Instead, we should search for answers to questions like ‘What is dharma?’ or ‘How to attain moksha?’ Having realised that dharma and moksha are the only things worth knowing about, we should then contemplate ways of acquiring knowledge of these, said Kidambi Narayanan, in a discourse. The first step in this journey for knowledge is for us to admit that we know nothing. Then we should search for a proper instructor, who will instruct us and enlighten us.
The person we choose as our preceptor need not be old, for old age does not presuppose gnana. We should find an appropriate person to impart knowledge to us.
Having found such a person, how should we approach him? There is a verse in the Mundakopanishad, which says of a seeker of knowledge that he went to an Acharya with a samit. Samit refers to twigs of the banyan tree, which are used in ritualistic offerings. This is what would have been of use to the Acharya, and hence the student approached the Acharya with this as offering. So, one can infer that one should not approach an Acharya without an offering and that the offering should be something that is of use to him in the performance of religious duties.
We should approach the Acharya humbly. We should never assume that we know everything. Svetaketu, son of sage Uddalaka, stood proudly before his father, who asked him if he had learnt everything that had to be learnt. “Yes,” replied Svetaketu. Then his father asked him, if he had learned that which if he knew, all the rest that remained unknown would be revealed. Svetaketu did not have the knowledge that his father was talking about, because he had not sought it. Our pride will always stand in the way of our acquisition of knowledge.