Worldly Knowledge and Yogic Knowledge

For most people, knowledge is the acquisition of facts and the power to act in the world. Whether the subject is more general, or focused in on a specific area or subject matter, knowledge is something that allows individuals to live their daily lives successfully. Sri Aurobindo observes: “For we mean ordinarily by knowledge an intellectual appreciation of the facts of life, mind and matter and the laws that govern them. This is a knowledge founded upon our sense-perception and upon reasoning from our sense-perceptions and it is undertaken partly for the pure satisfaction of the intellect, partly for practical efficiency and the added power which knowledge gives in managing our lives and the lives of others, in utilising for human ends the overt or secret forces of Nature and in helping or hurting, in saving and ennobling or in oppressing and destroying our fellow-men.” This is what we may call “worldy knowledge.”

There is however, another knowledge, which is the unique focus for the practitioners of yogic discipline. This is called the “knowledge of Brahman, the Eternal”. “The Self, the Divine, the Supreme Reality, the All, the Transcendent,–the One in all these aspects is then the object of Yogic knowledge.” The object of Yoga is to discern and attain a higher state of consciousness which encompasses, not just the daily objects of the outer life, although knowledge about these may be a by-product of the yogic discipline, given that “all life is yoga”; rather, “It envisages rather and regards as its one true object a higher truly conscious existence which our half-conscious humanity does not yet possess and can only arrive at by a self-exceeding spiritual ascension. It is this greater consciousness and higher existence which is the peculiar and appropriate object of Yogic discipline.” Yogic knowledge is not founded on the accumulation of facts or ideas, but on attaining a status of awareness that can transcend the limits of the life of the world.

Therefore the disciplines of yoga undertake to find ways to reduce and eliminate the preoccupation of the mind with its sense perceptions and its fixation on outer subjects, and then to redirect the central awareness of the being to that something greater, the seeking for the Eternal. As Bhrigu requests of his father, Varuna in the Taittiriya Upanishad: “Lord, teach me the Eternal.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 2, The Status of Knowledge, pg. 286

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