Path three to raising consciousness is the path of intellectual discrimination. Within Hindu tradition, this path is called jnana (or jnani) yoga. This is the path of merging with the Absolute by discovering the true nature of world phenomena by the means of the mind, particularly, the intellect. The followers of this path reject everything that is transient, apparent, and superficial, saying “not this, not this,”(in Sanskrit, “neti-neti”) until finally, by eliminating all that is not Essential, not Real, they come to discovering the Essence – the Absolute.
This path is considered the most difficult of all, calling for tremendous clarity of mind, power of will and intellectual brightness. This path is particularly valuable because it is a secular path and has attracted and led to liberation many remarkable men and women who would otherwise not have embraced spirituality in any other form.
As all other paths to union with the Absolute, the path of intellectual discrimination has its dangers and drawbacks. Some of them are more obvious, while others are subtle; some are more dangerous, while others are relatively harmless. Nevertheless, all of them need to be discussed so that they can be recognized when encountered.
The first danger on the path of intellectual discrimination is worshiping intellect and its product – intelligence, as if they were gods, not just tools. Since most individuals who follow this path are highly educated scholars, they cherish the scientific method, logic and reason to the extent of worship. However, what many scholars often disregard is that all the gems of the scientific method are just mediums and not the ends in themselves. Even factual knowledge – the end-result of all scientific endeavors – is not the Absolute Truth. By nature, factual knowledge is inevitably partial, linear and relevant to specific situations, populations and circumstances.
Those few among us who keep in mind that all methods of gathering factual information, including the scientific method, are limited, and that factual knowledge itself is inevitably incomplete and continuously changing, free themselves from the illusion that science has all the answers. Also, those who cease worshiping intellect and factual knowledge and start using them exclusively as tools, liberate themselves from the pride and arrogance typical for academia. The rest – continue to worship tools instead of using and continuously refining them.
The second trap on the path of intellectual discrimination is the desire to amass factual knowledge as if it was the treasure in itself and not just a medium to higher awareness. We fall into this trap when instead of employing intellectual discrimination – “not this, not this” – we practice intellectual accumulation – “this, and this, and this, and the more the merrier.”
Some of us accumulate factual knowledge for the mere pleasure of knowing; others – for the pride of knowing; yet others – for the social power and influence that knowing often brings about. Whatever the reason, what the people with encyclopedic knowledge often forget is that knowledge is useful only when applied. The stored knowledge is as useless as stored money. Similarly to money, which is designed to be a medium between a seller and a buyer, factual knowledge is a medium between a researcher and a producer; a teacher and a student; a scientist and a philosopher.
Only those intellectuals who share their knowledge generously, refine it continuously, and realize that no amount of worldly knowledge can lead to the Absolute Truth, free themselves from the pride that stems from the illusion that the large amount of actual knowledge makes one special. The rest – are doomed to sit on their knowledge like Scrooge on his gold: giving nothing, getting nothing and, essentially, having nothing.
The third pitfall on the path of intellectual discrimination is a fascination with the knowledge of spiritual matters – esoteric knowledge. Esoteric knowledge, which can be distilled from scriptures, extracted from theological and philosophical treatises, and learned from spiritual teachers, often entraps a beginner student like Sirens lure a naïve traveler. This knowledge is so “delicious” that when a beginner tastes it, he or she often gets attached to it and wants more and more of it.
Since esoteric knowledge usually excites, fascinates and stimulates the mind, instead of walking the way of intellectual discrimination – “not this, not this” – we step on the way of intellectual fascination – “wow this, wow that.” As a result, in spite of transcending the mind with the mind, we stir the mind with the mind, wallowing deeper and deeper into the mind’s muddy waters.
Only those few among us who accumulate esoteric knowledge without getting attached to it, use it as tool for intellectual discrimination and not as a source of pleasures. And these few do reach union with the Absolute Truth by following the path of intellectual discrimination. The rest – continue to dig deeper and deeper into the backwoods of esoteric knowledge, erroneously believing that if only they knew one more “secret,” the Truth would reveal itself to them.
The fourth trap on the path of intellectual discrimination is the tendency to interpret sacred texts literally: not as a metaphor but as a fact; not as poetry but as prose. Studying sacred texts and scriptures is a necessary element on the path of intellectual discrimination. However, it is not a sufficient element. Although millions of people throughout millennia have been reading the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Wheel of Dharma, the Torah, the Bible, the Quran and other scriptures, only a few were able to use these texts as ladders to enlightenment. To become such ladders, these texts need to be read in the same manner they were written – as symbols, as metaphors, as allegorical poetry and not as literal factual prose.
Only those few scholars who are able to rise up to the level of the sacred symbolism of the scriptures do reach the union with the Absolute Truth on the path of intellectual discrimination. The rest – continue to take the multidimensional and multifaceted sacred texts down to their own – concrete and linear – level of consciousness. As a result, they either remain stuck in these text’s seaming contradictions and inconsistencies, which often leads to doubt and cynicism or boldly refuse to see any contradictions, which usually leads to radicalism and fanaticism.
The fifth pitfall on the path of intellectual discrimination is the attachment to the pleasure of philosophizing. The fact that you are drawn to this blog suggests that you have experienced the delight of brainstorming the riddles of human existence; that you have drunk the elixir of joy of exchanging ideas, testing hypotheses and juggling with the results of intellectual discoveries. Although many of us are familiar with the pleasures of philosophizing, only a few can use philosophizing as a means to intellectual discrimination and not as a source of intellectual gratification. And these few reach union with the Absolute. The rest – continue to channel all their energy into talking akin to a locomotive that directs all its steam into the toot.
Finally, the sixth, the most subtle and one of the most dangerous pitfalls on the path of intellectual discrimination is attachment to certain ideas, concepts or theories as well as their expressions in specific words or phrases. As harmless as it may seem, an attachment to ideas or expressions is as dangerous as an attachment to material possessions or sensory pleasures. Whether we are lay people who casually operate with such clichés as, “We are all one,” “It’s all the law of attraction,” “It’s all energy” or highly educated scholars who fall in love with “their own” ideas and theories, we all face the danger of confusing the words with the concepts and the concepts with the Truth.
While on the present level of evolution of consciousness words are necessary in communicating concepts, it is vital to remember that no words can ever precisely pinpoint the concept, and no concept can ever accurately reflect the Truth. Whether we call That, Which is Ultimately Unnamable “Unmanifested Absolute,” “God Unmanifest,” “Godhead” or “Emptiness,” we do not and cannot pinpoint That, Which is Ultimately Unnamable. Certainly, some names define the concepts more precisely than others, and some concepts reflect the Absolute Truth more accurately than their alternatives, but none of the names and none of the concepts are the Truth. The best that concepts, theories, ideas and their expression in words can do for us is to serve as ladders, which we climb to reach our ultimate goal – liberation – union with the Absolute.
When this goal is reached, all the “intellectual ladders” can be discarded similarly to the physical ones that can be kicked away after the desired height has been reached. Only those rare individuals who can use mind to transcend mind, who can use “intellectual ladders” to rise above and beyond these “ladders” reach union with the Absolute Truth. The rest – remain swimming in their concepts like fish in a tank: never knowing that there is the ocean somewhere out there; never tasting the waters of Real Freedom. Real Freedom reveals itself only to those few who can experience the Transcendent without the need to name it, without the desire to create concepts and theories that would explain it, and without the wish to carry these concepts and phrases as banners of their specialness.
In the next post, I will discuss the fourth path to raising consciousness – the path of taming the mind by the means of concentration and meditation – raja yoga.
Please stay tuned.