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Isha Upanishad - Shloka 9
|by Dr. R. K. Lahri|
In the shlokas nine through eleven, the term Vidya and Avidya has been used. Advaits presents Vidya as knowledge of Atman, which is Pure Awareness, Changeless and unborn Reality. The other term used is Avidya. It stands for not knowledge. It may be physical or material understanding of the ever changing universe. In Advait, Avidya is not a mere lack of knowledge as something negative but a positive nescience, not mere ignorance. It is an obscuring layer that covers the Brahman but is removed by Vidya, the Brahman jnana. According to Vedanta, both Vidya and Avidya combine into one without duality lead to the realisation of the Ultimate Truth, the Supreme Brahman. In the verses under consideration, the apparent contradiction between the two has been very beautifully drawn ultimately to conclude that Avidya is nothing but the absence of Vidya and exists as such.
This is the play of Prakriti, the physical and the material universe appearing as real and alluring. This nature or prakriti is three-fold. The three qualities of nature are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. It has been subdivided into three each i.e. subtle, mild and gross. Thus the nature allures us into nine categories which together constitute the universe. Under the influence of Avidya, we get far away removed from our own self. Power of nescience, or ignorance is capable of creating a total confusion between the Real and the Unreal. We get confounded between the two and do not understand what is real and what is unreal.
The seer cautions us against going to another extreme, that of the study of scriptures, and extreme faith in rituals. It is the pursuit of Vidya, exclusive and singlehanded. Knowledge is easy to comprehend. The seer is speaking of Vidya as knowledge of gods but not as yet the knowledge of Brahman. People generally keep themselves wholeheartedly devoted to some god or rituals to keep off the delusion of worldly appearance, but this is not sufficient. Pure and dry knowledge of the subject cannot satisfy our quest which we have to experience ourselves. The Truth has to be personally experienced; seeker has to attain it himself.
Any single minded pursuit to learning is a mental exercise. Mind and intellect both are inert and their pursuit cannot at all be enlightening unless it is soul directed. It has to be the outcome of self-enquiry, free from the relationship of any notion, concept or idea. Vidya and Avidya are both notions and have to be done away with on the path to Eternity. We have to realise the Infinite Consciousness and not these concepts. All notions and concepts have to go first. Hence those people given to one-sided worship of Vidya alone act in vain and it may be presumed that they fall as though in greater darkness. Even though a ritualistic and theoretically spiritualist, they remain near yet far away removed from the Infinite Brahman because of these notions and concepts that cover the effulgence of the Supreme.
The seer gives us a message that we rise above notions and concepts and sense of duality as the Truth is non-dual.
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