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Self-knowledge is liberating

R Prabhakar Rao |

Vedas are considered the most revered scriptures of ancient India. There are four Vedas ~ Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana Vedas. Each of these can be divided into two parts: the Veda Poorva and Veda Anta. The Poorva or the first part of Vedas consists of various prayers and rituals for getting material things like health, wealth, progeny, fame, power and position. There is elaborate description of the rituals needed for this, including oblations in the fire. 

Then the same Vedas proclaim that whatever we receive as outcomes of the rituals will not completely satisfy us. In other words, there will always be a desire for something else. This state of incompleteness will always make us feel restless and wanting something more. The Vedas explain that complete peace, security and happiness are only possible when we come to the second part of the Vedas that contains knowledge of the self and God that is Brahman. Only when we are clear about the relationship of the self with the Brahman will we attain complete happiness. 

The Vedas describe God or Brahman as happiness. That is God = Happiness or to use the vedic word Ananda. Thus God=Ananda. It makes it clear that it is wrong to say that God contains Ananda. It says God is Ananda. This knowledge, contained in the later parts of the Vedas are called Vedanta (Veda+Anta) or Upanishad. 

Each of the four Vedas have Upanishads containing knowledge or Gyana, knowing which we can attain Ananda that we yearn for but do not know about. What is the difference between the happiness from accumulating objects from the outside world and the happiness that we get from self-knowledge? Since we are ignorant about inner happiness, we identify ourselves with happiness from worldly objects. 

First, the worldy objects give limited happiness, that is the happiness keeps on declining after acquisition. In fact, it is mixed with sorrow that we feel when we lose the object. So worldly happiness is a mix of happiness and sorrow. Second, worldly objects can make us a slave to that object. If that object is missing we feel a sense of insecurity. Third, worldly objects keep us in a state of permanent wanting or incompleteness. So from dependence on worldly objects, we move to more dependence on many more worldly objects and this process continues throughout our lives. On the other hand, self-knowledge gives us happiness that is everlasting, keeps on increasing over time and makes us indifferent to the availability of worldly objects. We do not depend on worldly objects for our peace, security and happiness. 

But the question is, "Why do we not enjoy inner happiness?" The simple answer is that we somehow believe that worldly objects will give us happiness if not now, at least some time in the future. So we keep on accumulating worldly objects. Inner joy is not known to us because we do not have knowledge of the self. Repeatedly we have read that we are not the body but the soul. When I say this is my body, what is meant by the word "my"? The scriptures say we are the eternal soul in a temporary body. Soul is something that is not known to most of us. It is only with a regular study of the scriptures under a competent guide for a length of time that we attain knowledge of the Self. Self-knowledge is liberating knowledge. 

There is no further struggle to attain anything else. This is knowledge by knowing which everything else is known. 

The vast majority of people are constantly engaged in hoarding objects ceaselessly throughout their lives. Worldly objects are a mix of happiness and sorrow. When we buy an object it seems to give us happiness. When the object gets old or is lost, it gives us pain and sorrow. Objects of the world make us move from one dependence to more dependence. It is only self-knowledge, or Atma Gyana that can give us Ananda and Liberation. 

The writer is Associate Professor, Zakir Husain Delhi College