Saturday, April 30, 2011

Using a thorn to remove a thorn

If we are walking in a forest and if a thorn gets into our foot, how are we to remove it?

There is no medical aid near by. We do not have any devices.

One way may be to use another thorn and use that to remove the first thorn which has gotten into our foot Using another thorn to remove the original thorn may not be the most effective or easy way. But, with some patience and perseverance, it may work. One thing to avoid is to make sure that while using a thorn to remove a thorn, we do not get both inside the foot. That would be worse than having one in the first place.

This analogy is used in Vedanta a lot.

Ignorance is like the first thorn which has got into our foot and is bothering us. Spiritual knowledge, in the form of books, lectures, teachers etc. is like the other thorn we can use to remove the original thorn of ignorance. After the original thorn is removed, we do not have any use of either of the thorns. We can discard both of them. Actually, we must discard both of them. We should keep neither ignorance or knowledge once we have used one to remove the other.

So, basically, knowledge is just an instrument to remove ignorance. Once ignorance is removed, we need to let go of both, if we want to make progress.

Knowledge, even if it is purely bookish, can be very intoxicating. There  comes some sense of pride and confidence as you know more and more about things. If you have time and willingness, there is no problem in becoming bookishly smart. There lies the danger that sometimes we may get stuck in that zone. We may forget that our original idea was to acquire knowledge so that we can get rid of ignorance.

A certain modern philosopher had a very nice analogy. We are familiar with pole-vault sport. The athlete uses a long pole to get the needed energy to push him over the hurdle. But, he knows very well that in order to safely cross the hurdle, he  has to  skillfully use the pole and more importantly he has to be able to LET GO of the pole at the right time to complete a smooth trajectory into the other side. When the pole-vaulters do this well, they scale great heights, set new records and go like an elegant projectile.

Knowledge is like the pole we can use to overcome the ignorance. As the successful pole vaulter gives up the pole at the right time and right place, we need to dump this so called knowledge as we start feeling the real knowledge inside us.

There are several similar metaphors that Vedanta uses to make sure that we do not get stuck in the fancies of intellectual knowledge.

Intellectual knowledge fills you up but does not satisfy you. Like many fancy foods and drinks.


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