Bhāgavata defines reality as jñāna.1
Most people think jñāna means “knowledge.” OK, fine, but what is knowledge, anyway?
Prathamam pramāṇam pratyakṣaḥ – Knowledge is experience.
Knowledge is not stuff in a book. Those are words, which are a part of gaining knowledge; a part of the educational process, śabda.
You know something when you experience it firsthand. There are other ways of coming to knowledge, such as anumāna (rationale) and śabda (education). But these just lead us to pratyakṣa (experience). Experience is what knowledge really is. You only really know something when you have experienced it firsthand.
Firsthand experience doesn’t necessarily mean perfect knowledge, because our tools for experiencing are flawed. Rationale (anumāna) and education (śabda) help to alleviate those flaws.
Reality is Jñāna
Let’s come back to Bhāgavata’s definition of reality: “reality is jñāna.”
Jñāna is experience. Reality is what you experience.
We experience guṇa (qualities). Specifially we jīvas experience the guṇa of prakṛti (qualities of “matter”). We experience redness, coldness, warmth, loudness, sweetness, smoothness, and so on… kindness, harshness, enmity, friendship, and so on… These objects are inseparable components of experience.
Experience involves the experiencer and experienced. The three things — experience, the experienced, and the experiencer — cannot be separated without causing the whole triplicate to disappear from existence.
This is why Bhāgavata specifically defines reality as advaya jñāna – “unseconded experience” (very difficult term to translate) – the advaya (“non-dual”) part of the phrase indicates that the experiencer and experienced are distinct facets of a single entity: experience.
Redness has no reality unless it is experienced by an experiencer.
An experiencer cannot experience redness without the agency of experience (“consciousness”).
Experience cannot act upon redness without an experiencer (“conscious agent”).
So, we hear that “knowledge is beginningless” or “The Veda (knowledge-source) is Beginningless.” Now you can figure out what that means. The knower (experiencer) and the known (reality) are two eternal manifestations of knowledge (consciousness).
The effort to “gain” knowledge is actually an effor to clarify our consciousness, remove impediments (“anartha”) from our consciousness so that our perception of reality can be direct and fully clear. The Veda and the sādhana of its study are techniques to accomplish that.
So by śabda (education from the Veda) and anumana (the sādhana of deliberation upon and practice of that education) our pratyakṣa (experience) of tattva (reality) will become immediate, firsthand, direct and perfectly clear. Then, according to the same verse of Bhāgavata, we will experience reality to one of three extents: brahman, paramātmā, or bhagavān. (A subject for another post…)
Vraja Kishor das
1 “tattvam-yaj jñānam-advayam”