by SWAMI SHIVAPRAKASHANANDA
There are various disciplines of knowledge like physics, chemistry, psychology and so on. A discipline of knowledge is called vidya in sanskrit. In our traditional learning, there are vidyas like vyakarana, tarka, jyotishya etc. Among all these vidyas, one vidya stands out. That is the Adhyatma Vidya. In the Bhagavadgita, Krishna shows the greatness of this vidya by stating “I am the Adhyatma Vidya among the vidyas”.
What is Adhyatma Vidya?
Adhyatma Vidya is spiritual knowledge. The greatness of Adhyatma Vidya is owing to its result. Unlike other vidyas which give limited results, the result one gets from this knowledge is eternal and unsurpassed, which is called moksha.
The subject matter of adhyatma vidya, as the name suggests, is nothing but the atman, the self. Therefore, adhyatma vidya can be called self knowledge. All of us have ignorance. We have ignorance regarding a language, ignorance of a distant place etc. The greatest ignorance is the ignorance of our own self. It is called self ignorance. We don’t know what our real nature is. This is very much evident when we ask questions regarding death. We all wonder what will happen to us after death; whether the end of the body is the end of our existence or we do continue to exist even after the fall of the body.
Further, adhyatma vidya answers questions regarding the reality of the universe and universal phenomena. We all have questions regarding the origin of the universe, the creator of the universe etc. Is there a God? If yes, where is he? What is his nature? What is the relationship between me and God? All such questions are answered by adhyatma vidya.
Our primary scriptures are the Vedas. That which cannot be known by means of direct perception and inference is known only through the Vedas. Therefore veda is a pramana, a means of knowledge.
The Vedas consist of karma kanda, the ritual portion and jnana kanda, the knowledge portion. The ritual portion consists of the different rituals, values etc., which are necessary for the spiritual growth of an individual. The jnana kanda is called vedanta, because it is at the end of the Vedas. They consist of upanishads, which deal with self knowledge.
Smritis are the secondary scriptures written based on the teachings of the Vedas. Bhagavadgita is a smriti text which presents the essential teachings of all the Upanishads. There are various other texts written by various ancient as well as modern authors presenting the teachings of the scriptures systematically.
Our shastras very clearly declare that one cannot gain knowledge of the self by means of reasoning or speculation. The scriptures are the only means for gaining self knowledge. Again, the scriptures cannot be understood by oneself. The need for a teacher is emphasised in the tradition. Therefore, a seeker of self knowledge is advised to go to a teacher and learn the scriptural teaching from him.
The teachings of the scriptures will work only when one is prepared. The preparation is in terms of purity of mind. A mind attracted to materialistic enjoyments is not fit for self knowledge. The aspirant must be sincerely interested in spirituality and the result thereof.
Purity of mind is accomplished by means of karma yoga. Karma yoga is a spiritual discipline in which one performs work as an offering to God and accepts the result as the grace of God. In other words, it is a prayerful life, performing one’s duty as the will of God.
The result of self knowledge is called moksha or mukti. It can be explained as finding completeness within oneself. We always feel that we can be happier if we accomplish something higher. When we find that we are complete in our own nature, there is nothing more to be accomplished. We have found the perennial source of happiness within ourselves. Then we are no longer disturbed by the external conditions. We are able to withstand shocks in life. Moreover, the scriptures reveal that the knower of the self doesn’t have a rebirth. He is free from the cycle of rebirths.