Para and Apara Vidya

What is learning? How can it be classified? How is one to evaluate one’s learning? Upanishads try to answer such questions by motivating the disciple to identify the goal and purpose of his learning, pointed out Dr. Sudha Seshaiyan in a discourse. In one instance, the Guru asks the disciple to list all that he has learnt. The disciple enumerates the different branches of learning that he has mastered. He is proficient in the Vedas, the Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. He is fully knowledgeable with all the facts and figures pertaining to phonetics, ceremonies, grammar, etymology, metre, astronomy, etc. The Guru then asks him if he knows God through all this. He points out that if all this learning has not led him towards God, then it is of no value.

The Upanishads refer to two kinds of knowledge, the lower Apara Vidya and the higher Para Vidya, which is hailed as the only worthwhile knowledge. The lower knowledge is of the intellect and the senses and comprises all empirical and objective knowledge. It is, therefore, limited to the finite world. Empirical knowledge presupposes a knower, the thing known and the act of knowing. But knowledge of the Atma, of Brahman is the higher knowledge and is known as Para Vidya. It is not the knowledge of the external world. It is also not the subjective experience of concepts and emotions. The main purpose of man is to attain this Para Vidya and it is held that if one does not strive to achieve this, he has wasted his life time. Para Vidya cuts the bonds of ignorance and leads to realisation of God. It frees one from the cycle of birth. The Upanishads reiterate that “the Self is not known through the study of scriptures, nor through subtlety of intellect nor through much learning. The Self is revealed to one who longs to know the Self.”

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 6:05:49 PM |

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