What is Knowledge?

What is “Knowledge”

As usual I will begin by giving background information about the context of the verse that we want to read and discuss today.

Firstly we have moved into the 13th chapter. This is a significant move because it is a change of theme. Themes in the gita only change on two occasions. The first happens going from the 6th to the 7th chapter, and the next, even more dramatic, really, happens going from the 12th to the 13th chapter. Altogether, then, there are three themes in the Gita.

  1. Duty (karma) – featured in the first 6 chapters
  2. Devotion (bhakti) – featured in the central 6 chapters
  3. Knowledge (jñāna) – featured in the final 6 chapters

The three themes together are three strands of the braid that is the general Vedic process of evolving the soul towards a harmonious union in relationship to the divine. Devotion is the most important, “central” theme of this braid, therefore it is kept safely in the middle. But duty and knowledge are also meant to be utilized as means of supporting the central theme of devotion.

The 13th chapter opens the topic of knowledge in a direct and straightforward manner: Arjuna asks Kṛṣṇa, “O Keshava, what is knowledge?”

His own question implies that he is already pretty familiar with what knowledge is, because it specifically indicates his awareness that knowledge has two parts:

  1. The thing which is known
  2. The entity which knows it

He even gives, in his questions, three sets of synonyms for these two parts of knowledge: (1) prakṛti (the thing that becomes known) and puruṣa (the entity that knows the thing); (2) kṣetra (the thing that becomes known) and kṣetra-jña (the entity that knows the thing); (3) jñeyam (the thing that becomes known) and jñānam (the entity possessing knowledge of the thing).

These synonyms are not absolutely identical, otherwise we would have to doubt the intelligence of Arjuna and fault him with being redundant. They have slightly different focuses. They divide knowledge into three arenas, spiritual, material, and the educational process itself.

  1. Matter
    1. Prakriti – nature itself
    2. Kṣetra – the body
    1. Spirit
      1. Puruṣa – the supreme soul
      2. Kṣetra-jña – the individual soul
      3. Education
        1. Jñāna – the process of education
        2. Jñeya – the subject of education

These are the six topics that Kṛṣṇa will elaborate on in the 13th chapter.


Kṛṣṇa says:

  • The body is the field
  • There are two knowers of the field
    • The individual soul knows an individual field / body
    • The Supersoul knows all fields / bodies

Next he defines what that the summary of education (jñāna) is to clearly and directly understand the three topics bulleted above.

The Field

Then Kṛṣṇa says he will give finer detail about each subject, starting with the field (kṣetra). In doing so, Kṛṣṇa says he will summarize the teachings of the Vedas, which themselves are summarized in the Vedānta Sūtra.

The field (our body) is made of

  • Five types of elements
    • Solids
    • Liquids
    • Gasses
    • Energies
    • Space
    • Identity
    • The unmanifest potentiality
    • The intelligence
    • The mind
    • The ten senses controlled by the mind
      • Five for acquiring data: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin
      • Five for expression and action: hands, feet, speech/mouth, genitals, anus
      • Five objects acted upon by the senses
        • Form
        • Sound
        • Smell
        • Taste
        • Touch
        • Fundamental resulting experiences
          • Desire & disgust
          • Happiness & distress
          • And all the rest
          • Symptoms of life
          • Ambitions and convictions

These are the field (kṣetra) and the immediate results of the field interacting with itself.


Next Kṛṣṇa describes the true process of education. That is, the true way by which one can most clearly and directly come to understand true knowledge. There are 20 stages of education, which are all the cultivation of character traits conducive to receiving knowledge. The first is humility, which leads to lack of pride, which leads to non-violence, etc.

I have written on these in detail here: https://vicd108.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/the-path-to-enlightenment/

The Subject of Education

Beginning with the 13th text Kṛṣṇa answers the question about jñeyam – the subject of education. This is the verse we are currently up to discussing.


I shall now explain the knowable, knowing which you will taste the eternal. Brahman, the spirit, beginningless and subordinate to Me, lies beyond the cause and effect of this material world.


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