Knowledge and Ignorance (from Amritanubhav)

by Jnanadev

English version by S. Abhyayananda
Original Language Marathi

By looking in a mirror, one perceives his own identity;
But that identity was already there.

In the same way, relative knowledge gives the understanding
Of the identity of the world and the Self --
But it is like using a knife
To cut another knife.

Fire, in the process of annihilating camphor,
Annihilates itself as well;
This is exactly what happens to knowledge
In the process of destroying ignorance.

The cresting of a wave is but its fall;
The flash of a bolt of lightning
Is but its fading.

Likewise, knowledge,
Drinking up the water of ignorance,
Grows so large
That it completely annihilates itself.

This absolute Knowledge is like
The intrinsic fullness of the moon,
Which is unaffected
By its apparent waxing and waning.

Likewise, that which is Consciousness Itself
Does not possess the quality of being conscious,
And is, therefore, not conscious of Itself.

If absolute Knowledge required the aid
Of some other kind of knowledge to know Itself,
It would be nothing but ignorance.

Of course, light is not darkness;
But, to itself, is it even light?

If there is a pot, a pot is perceived,
And if the pot is broken, its brokenness is perceived;
If there is no pot at all,
Is not its absence perceived as well?

It can be seen, therefore,
That he who perceives that there is nothing
Does not himself become nothing.
The Self has this same unique kind of existence,
Beyond both existence and non-existence.

The ultimate Reality
Is neither an object to Itself
Nor is It an object to anyone else.
Should it then be regarded as non-existent?

In a tank the water may be so clear
That it appears non-existent;
Though one who looks into the tank may not see it,
Still it is there.

Similarly,
The ultimate Reality exists in Itself,
And is beyond the conceptions
Of existence or non-existence.

When a jar is placed on the ground,
We have the ground with a jar;
When the jar is taken away,
We have the ground without a jar;

But when neither of these conditions exists,
The ground exists in its unqualified state.
It is in this same way
That the ultimate Reality exists.

-- from Jnaneshvar: The Life and Works of the Celebrated Thirteenth Century Indian Mystic-Poet, Translated by Swami Abhyayananda

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This excerpt from the Amritanubhava is an exploration of limited and absolute knowledge. Through metaphoric imagery he is trying to convey the differences between fluctuating awareness, awareness of fluctuation, and the settled awareness that perceives the unchanging reality.

Jnanadev is describing how we objectify reality, how we place it 'out there' and perceive it as separate from ourselves, so we can then see how that reality reflects something of our own nature back to us.

By looking in a mirror, one perceives his own identity;
But that identity was already there.


A reflection in the mirror may suggest your own face, but it is not your face. If that mirror is removed or if you look away, you no longer see your face. Does that mean you've ceased to exist? Of course not. You're still right here. We don't disappear or die when that external object is no longer perceived.

So too with Reality. The more deeply we look, the more still our awareness, the more we begin to perceive in all phenomena a constant collapse that continuously resolves itself back into the undifferentiated reality of which it is a reflection.

The cresting wave is but its fall;
The flash of a bolt of lightning
Is but its fading.


Ultimately, we recognize that what we are truly looking at is always some shimmering aspect of our own Self. We are not observing objects or events 'out there,' we are not watching the "waxing and waning" of the moon. Whichever phase of the moon may appear to be in, we finally see that we are already standing in the flooding light of its "intrinsic fullness." Even when the form that suggests fullness is removed from our perception, that inherent fullness is not actually gone.

Most of us expend immense effort to find something we don't already have: God, wealth, romance... None of those quests truly end by acquiring something new, a new lover, a bigger paycheck, a divine visitation. All of those things are 'things,' objects. They are reflections that only suggest what we seek, not the true goal itself.

The ultimate Reality
Is neither an object to Itself
Nor is It an object to anyone else.


In our constant reflex to conceptualize and objectify the Divine, we keep failing because the Eternal cannot be contained by something limited. A concept, a definition, a thought is a limited unit of meaning; God can never be truly understood in that way.

The ultimate Reality exists in Itself,
And is beyond the conceptions
Of existence or non-existence.


It is not the reflection we seek, not the obtainable 'object.' When we stop seeking an external 'thing,' the mind finally settles enough to perceive what truly and eternally IS. Jnanadev expresses it this way:

When a jar is placed on the ground,
We have the ground with a jar;
When the jar is taken away,
We have the ground without a jar;

But when neither of these conditions exists,
The ground exists in its unqualified state.
It is in this same way
That the ultimate Reality exists.


We are so fixated on the jar, the object, that we see ground with jar or ground with no jar -- and never quite see the ground. We are so used to the constant presence of the ground that we take it for granted and only notice that which changes.

A good exercise for the day: Notice the ground, not what moves upon it.



Recommended Books: Jnanadev

Jnaneshvar: The Life and Works of the Celebrated Thirteenth Century Indian Mystic-Poet Jnaneshwar: The Guru's Guru Jnaneshwar's Gita: A Rendering of the Jnaneshwari The Nectar of Self-Awareness Jnaneshwari
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Knowledge and Ignorance