What is “Knowledge” and “Ignorance”?
Question: Bhakti ultimately defines vidyā [“knowledge”] as unity with Bhagavan via the experience of, “I am yours. You are mine.” Since this is vidyā, what is avidyā [“ignorance”]?
I can think of a two valid descriptions.
- I am not yours.
- You are not mine.
“I am not yours” can have variations, like:
- I am someone else’s
- I am no ones
- I am nothing
“You are not mine” can have variations, too:
- You are someone else’s
- You are no ones
- You are nothing
Here are some examples to illustrate these:
- I am someone else’s = we are in love with someone or something, but not Bhagavan.
- I am no ones = we are arrogant and want people to worship us. We want power.
- I am nothing = we have no ego at all, we extinguish our identity.
- You are someone else’s = we have no passion in our love, so we let other people please Krishna without feeling any need to do it ourselves.
- You are no ones = we are too impressed by power, and therefore cannot treat Bhagavan like he is anyone’s property in any way. He is too great and powerful for that.
- You are nothing = we are atheists, or have ultimately non-theistic conceptions like advaita-vāda [“monism”] or Buddhism.
Besides all the combinations possible from these, I think there is one more important form of Ignorance, which can be described by putting the concepts in the wrong order: “You are mine. I am yours.” If “I am yours” does not come first there is a very slight imperfection in the vidyā.
Is Bhagavan Blind to Us?
Question: Bhagavad Gita [4.11] explains that Bhagavan is reciprocal. He does not assert dominance, but responds according to the way he is treated by an individual. If this is true, since we are blind towards him, is he blind towards us?
We are not entirely blind to him. It is not possible to be entirely blind to Bhagavan. We see Bhagavan indirectly, similar to how we might see the sun reflecting off glass or water, or can infer the presence of the Sun by seeing a shadow.
So, to be accurate, we are not blind to Bhagavan. We are indirectly aware of him. We are aware of his “reflection” and “shadow” in the form of other living beings (“reflections”) and the world itself with all its stuff (“shadow”).
Similarly he is not blind to us, but he does not directly interact with us. He interacts with us indirectly, via his reflection and shadow.
This is why the Upanishads repeatedly use this very famous analogy:
Two birds are in a tree.
One tries to enjoy the tree’s fruits.
The other looks on from behind.
The tree is the world. The fruits are the forms the world takes. One bird is the individual (you, me, etc.). We have our eyes on the fruits, and we are engrossed in eating them and searching the tree for them. The other bird is Bhagavan, as Paramātmā. His eyes are not on the fruit but on the You-Bird. But he watches “from behind” – meaning the You-Bird never notices him.
Then why is he in the tree? Because he is the owner of the tree. His presence legitimizes and enables the other bird to inhabit the tree.
The tree reacts in its own way to our behavior. If we treat it well, it provides nice fruit. If we treat it poorly, it produces thorns and hard, poisonous berries. This is how Bhagavan interacts with us in avdiyā, via the agency of his powers (the tree and the other You-Birds on the other branches).
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