51. True Knowledge, True Knower and the Knowable

Samatvam or sameness

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V


Synopsis: This is about what is jnana, the true knowledge, who is a true knower of God, jnani, and what are the qualities of God, the knowable, according to the Bhagavadgita


The meaning of jnani, jnanam, and jneyam

Jnana means knowing or knowledge. In the scriptures it refers to self-knowledge or knowledge of liberation which arises from either the study of the scriptures or contemplation or meditation upon the Self. A person who possesses such knowledge is known as jnani or jnanin. A true knower of the Self, or a self-realized yogi is truly qualified to be a jnani. A person who is well versed in the scriptures is also often referred to as a jnani. However, it is more appropriate to call him a learned person (vidvan or pandit) rather than a self-realized soul. A true jnani is a seer, the one who has perceived the Self which hidden beyond the mind and the senses

In any knowing, where the mind and the senses are involved, there is always a subject and an object. The subject is the knower (jnani) and the object is the known (jneyam). The duality of the knower and the known is a common human experience. However, it is transcended in the state of self-absorption.

Having the right knowledge is important in spiritual life to cultivate discernment and recognize the truths of existence. An ignorant person becomes involved with his senses and the physical aspects of his life such as the world, his body and mind or his family and friends, taking them for real. On the other hand, a true knower (jnana) knows that the world is an illusion, and relationships are impermanent.

The qualities of a true knower, jnani

To know the right knowledge or perceive the truths of existence, you need purity and certain essential qualities. You should also be able to distinguish between truth and untruth, and between reality and illusion. True knowledge arises only when you have the discernment. In the 13th Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna defines the virtues of a true knower or a wise person (jnana). They are listed below

  • Amanitvam, lacking pride
  • Adambhitvam, humility or lacking vanity
  • Ahimsa, non-injury
  • Ksantih, tolerance
  • Arjavam, sincerity or straightforwardness
  • Acharya upasanam, service to the teacher
  • Saucham, cleanliness
  • Sthairyam, stability
  • Atmavinigraha, self-control
  • Vairagyam, dispassion, sense restraint or detachment
  • Anahamkaram, absence of egoism
  • Dosha anudarashna, seeing the blemishes or impurities of birth death, and sickness
  • Asakti, disinterestedness
  • Anabhisvanga, detachment from family
  • Nitya samachittam, equanimity at all times with no likes and dislikes
  • Ananya bhaktih, devotion without any other avocation
  • Avyabhicharini, without mental perversions
  • Viviktadesasevitam, preference for solitary places
  • Arati janasamsadi, disinterest in socializing with people
  • Adhyatmajnana nityatvam, always immersed in the knowledge of the Self
  • Tattvajnanartha darsanam contemplating upon the nature of reality

The qualities of God, the knowable (jneyam)

In spiritual practice, that which is knowable is either the Self or the Supreme Self. According to some schools both are the same and according to others they are not. Whatever may be truth, the end of knowing comes when the knower (jnani) unites with the knowable or the object of knowing (jneyam). Be it the Self or the Supreme Self, he is described as Isvara, the Lord. We also understand him as God, or Brahman, or That.

God, the knowable, is the personification of Dharma. He contains within himself all the qualities and dualities. Having the right knowledge of the knowable is important to cultivate devotion and right attitude. If the seeker of liberation is the knower, God is the knowable, or the object of all true knowledge. The Bhagavadgita enumerates the qualities or attributes of the knowable in the same chapter, which are listed below. They are essentially the attributes of Brahman or God.

  • Indescribable because he is neither existence (sat) nor nonexistence (asat).
  • He is everywhere with numerous hands, feet, eyes, ears and heads
  • He envelops everything without moving
  • He is the source of all the senses and qualities, but devoid of any senses
  • He is detached but bearer of all
  • He is without qualities but projects all qualities
  • He is within and without all beings, moving and unmoving, very subtle and incomprehensible, far away but also very nearer
  • Although Undivided, he is also situated in the beings as divided
  • He is the bearer of beings but is also known as the devourer and the illuminator
  • Among the illuminated he is the very illumination. However, he is also said to be beyond darkness
  • He is the knowledge which is known, yet to be known and so also the end of all knowledge
  • He resides in the hearts of all as the enjoyer of both pleasure and pain
  • He is said to be the overseer, regulator, bearer, enjoyer, the great lord, the supreme soul
  • He is known as Purusha, the transcendental Cosmic Being

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