Search & Read
Direct Knowledge and Karma Yoga
Carlos: Hi, Arlindo. How can we know if our self-knowledge is direct or indirect knowledge?
Arlindo: Hello, Carlos. It is very simple: all knowledge takes place in the intellect. Worldly knowledge of objects of experience is dualistic knowledge by nature and definition: “the intellect and the object of knowledge.” It is always in reference to something other than jiva’s intellect. Knowledge of objects is always subject to error and correction. Why? Because the objects in the field are constantly changing and the same happens with the intellect of the jiva. What seems to be a logical consensus knowledge today may be proved wrong or imprecise in the future. Indirect knowledge is always subject to doubt and revision.
Direct knowledge is equal to non-dual knowledge. What kind of knowledge could it be? A knowledge that does not involve objects. It is the intellect understanding and knowing that the jiva in its essential nature is the self. We call it self-knowledge: I am the only self there is – the self, knowing and experiencing “itself” through jiva’s intellect.
In order to understand direct knowledge, we need to acknowledge that the intellect is also an object, and hence it is not the self but a reflection of the self. The self, on the other hand, is “also” the intellect, since all there is is the self existing in two orders of reality of the same reality. How so? The intellect is the instrument by which the self (satya) contacts the apparent world of objects (mithya) and gains objective knowledge. The self does not know anything – it is not a knower or experiencer. Without the intellect, the self is only the “knowing principle” – pure knowledge, pure intelligence, without which knowledge of objects, as well self-knowledge, is not possible. The self associated with the intellect “becomes” the knowing/experiencing entities we call jivas.
Having said that, knowledge of the self can be indirect or direct. It is said to be indirect when it is objective – a theoretical, mental knowledge of the fact that the self does exist. It is like the intellect trying to know itself through the scriptures but looking for it as something other than itself. But a day comes when, due to good karma, the intellect gets in contact with the Vedanta scriptures, and after some contemplation it realizes and assimilates that in fact the self it was seeking is nothing but the very “light” of consciousness (the knowing principle), bouncing and reflecting off the intellect itself, to illumine and know the world of objects.
Many gurus (maybe most of them) make their fame teaching indirect knowledge of the self. How so? They have what is called “experiences of the self or non-duality,” and when they come down from their epiphanies they talk about the self as an object that can be contacted, known and experienced. They speak about the self in dualistic terms and in a language of action and experience – as if self would be something other than the intellect itself.
They miss the point! They do not get that an experience of the self is the ordinary self, experiencing itself 24/7 through the intellect of the jiva. The bottom line: all experiences are experiences of the self. But if one insists on an experience of the self, we may say that jivas are always already experiencing the self as the self. Direct knowledge is equal to a shift of identity from the “not-self” to the self. And if we want to look at it in an experiential way, we may say that self-knowledge is an experience of “identity” as the self.
You see, Carlos, an intellect, when predominantly operated by rajas, is an intellect with an extroverted tendency. Such an intellect, when purified of its excess of tamas, develops enough sattva, which combined with rajas will tend to explore and know the objective world of phenomenal objects. These are our scientific minds. But an intellect predominantly operated by sattva develops the tendency to inquire into the nature of the mind as no other than the self. These are the introspective-contemplative minds of the Vedantins seeking self-knowledge – the direct and immediate knowledge “I, the intellect, in my essential nature, am the limitless, ever-present, universal self.”
Once this knowledge is clearly apprehended it is never forgotten, because the self is ever-present, self-luminous and self-evident. You will no longer look for it, because you have it, you are it. The seeking for self-knowledge ends.
Carlos: Okay, but if all objects in mithya are in truth the self, why call it mithya, “not-self”?
Arlindo: Good question, Carlos. The methodology in our tradition works by first “negating” or discriminating satya from mithya, i.e. consciousness from the objects appearing in it. Once the self-knowledge is clear and firm (hard and fast), one can effortlessly navigate through mithya knowing that objects are also awareness appearing as such, no more need to discriminate mithya as “not-self,” because the knowledge that all is the self is firm and beyond doubts.
Carlos: Thank you. On another note, do you have any tips for the practice of karma yoga? I know what karma yoga is: not caring for the results of your work, offering your work to Isvara, but the daily practice itself is difficult. I mean I can of course dedicate the results of my work to Isvara each time I start doing something. The problem is that after less than five minutes this attitude is forgotten already and my mind is occupied with other things (not even necessarily with the results of my work). Would, for example, a kind of timer be a good idea, a timer to remind me of the karma yoga attitude? Or is this too forced? Any other tips?
Arlindo: Unfortunately or fortunately, karma yoga is knowledge yoga, or “Isvara-knowledge.” What does that mean? It means that it is not a practice, or sadhana, to be exercised outside of our day-to-day, ordinary experience of life, but instead the hard and fast knowledge of what Isvara is, how Isvara governs the apparent reality with its laws and rules, and how jiva can intelligently participate in order to live a happy and fruitful life conducive to contemplation and self-knowledge. That’s why karma yoga is an integral part of Vedanta, the pathless path of contemplation – understanding – knowledge.
Karma yoga is the knowledge of creation and its physical, moral and psychological principles that once clearly assimilated will transform one’s ordinary desires and fear-oriented actions into spiritual actions (ordinary actions dedicated to Isvara with the spirit of gratitude and appreciation). But this spiritual attitude is only possible when jiva has understood the relationship between Isvara, jiva and the dharma field. Karma yoga is knowledge yoga. Isvara-knowledge is a great purifier of the mind, hence it usually precedes self-knowledge, but it may also occur in a transposed order.
But that does not mean that you cannot integrate activities (actions such as pujas, mantras, devotional rituals, etc.) in your daily life. That would provide you with some grounding practices, which would not only purify the mind but also qualify it for knowledge yoga. Devotion to God is a very powerful tool. If you look into James Swartz seminars on the Narada Sutras (The Yoga of Love), you will understand that bhakti, or devotion, can be expressed on different levels, from a very practical and experiential dualistic form of devotion to God to a very profound non-dualistic love of Isvara as your own self. I hope this helps.
~ Love, Arlindo