jñānaṁ te 'haṁ sa-vijñānam
idaṁ vakṣyāmy aśeṣataḥ
yaj jñātvā neha bhūyo 'nyaj
You’re sitting in class at school. It’s the first day of the new year. The teacher enters the room and begins writing something on the blackboard. “This year’s assignment. Become knowledgeable.” What does that mean? The assignment is to last the whole year? Knowledgeable about what? You might be in for a lot of work.
Indeed, if faced with such a situation, what would the right course of action be? In mathematics there is something known as an algorithm. This is a series of steps or rules used to solve a problem. If the problem is lack of knowledge, what is the algorithm to change the situation?
The spiritual teachers descending from the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita don’t put much importance in knowledge of the physical world. Mundane knowledge ranges from something trivial like knowing who won the Stanley Cup in ice hockey in 1940 to how to operate a jet aircraft. The opinion is not based on mere sentiment. Rather, from acquiring worthwhile knowledge a person is able to put everything into proper perspective.
1. Things are always changing
Economic data shows that in the United States in the early 1900s the vast majority of the population was involved in agriculture. Basically, farming was big. People knew how to grow food. They knew how to take care of animals. It’s an old profession for sure, and the knowledge necessary to be successful seems like it has a lot of importance.
Fast forward to today, and the percentage has dwindled. The majority of the population has no idea how to farm, as they have no experience with it. Yet everyone is still eating. There is so much food that childhood obesity is an epidemic. Farmers get subsidies from the government to limit their production of food.
Forty years ago, so many people had the job of telephone switch operator. Today, hardly anyone has that job. Technology changed the landscape. Knowledge of how to do something does not stay relevant forever. As the material world is temporary, so is the significance of knowledge pertaining to anything within that world.
2. There is death to consider
In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna describes how the body of the individual is always changing. First, there is childhood. Then comes youth. Then comes adulthood. After that is old age. What follows is known as death, which is nothing but a final change of body.
The soul goes into another body at the time of death. This change is guaranteed. A wise person doesn’t get bewildered by such a change. The guaranteed nature of death brings the sober realization that knowledge of everything gets erased eventually. I may know quantum physics today, but it doesn’t mean that in my next life the same knowledge will go with me. If I take birth in the body of an animal, I won’t even have the potential in intelligence to understand the same information. You can lecture a dog all day long about key points in mathematics, but the dog will never understand.
3. It is not applicable to everyone
Important knowledge should be applicable to everyone. It should have significance across the entire scope of living beings. As an example, there is the rule to look both ways before crossing the street. This applies to child and adult alike. Young and old, less intelligent and genius - every person should use caution while crossing a street.
Engineering and physics do not apply to everyone. Not every person will be able to take in this knowledge and understand it. It is important for sure, but people can certainly live without it. People of the past were not privy to so much information, and yet they went through the same cycle of birth and death.
There is higher knowledge, and it has significance to every single person. It can be acquired by anyone, even the less intelligent. That knowledge is the opposite of mundane. Being transcendental, it has the most value, as it brings the chance to escape from the cycle of birth and death.
4. It doesn’t lead to peace
If a person questions the sanity of drilling deep into the earth for a source of energy, the response could be something like this.
“You want to go back to the stone ages? You want everyone to live in squalor? Obviously you are against progress. Our society has rejected your idea. Progress is the way to go. Look at how much we have advanced in the areas of travel, leisure, and communication. The standard of living today is inconceivable compared to where we were in the past.”
The true measure of progress is the advancement of consciousness. Modern technology is certainly impressive. There is no doubt that the standard of living, from a material perspective, is much greater today. Yet has peace increased commensurately? Are people today more at peace than people from the past? It doesn’t take long hours of research to realize that peace is hardly found.
Increased knowledge of the mundane has led to increased attachments, and the more attachments there are, the less peace there is. Think of it like walking around all day with a very heavy bag on your back. You may be able to watch television and feel the comfort of air conditioning while walking, but the weight prevents you from having any peace. Knowledge of the mundane brings a situation something like this.
5. It doesn’t tell me who I am.
My identity is kind of important to know. If I know who I am, I will know the proper way to act. The spiritual science reveals to the individual that they are spirit soul, part and parcel of God. They are not maya, which is illusion. The living entity in the human body is especially equipped to understand this key point. In fact, it is their duty to wake up from the deep slumber of ignorance and know who they truly are. Athato brahma-jijnasa: now is the time for inquiring about Brahman.
In the Bhagavad-gita Shri Krishna describes Brahman, Vedanta and more. His words represent knowledge of true and lasting value, having significance across the entire human population. Regardless of what language you speak, what your desires are, or how quickly you learn, the Bhagavad-gita is meant for you. It brings the wisdom of ages past, since the beginning of time in fact. From that knowledge there is no further progression, but rather only advancement in assimilation.
“Complete knowledge includes knowledge of the phenomenal world and the spirit behind it. The source of both of them is transcendental knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 7.2 Purport)
The consciousness becomes more pure through hearing Krishna’s words. His instructions bring a change of life, known as bhakti-yoga. This practice is available to every single person, even the child. Through something as simple as chanting the holy names, a person develops several key qualities, which Krishna equates to knowledge itself.
Much variety in knowledge mundane,
Worthwhile is it to retain?
Hundred years back most in farming,
Then more recent phone switch operating.
Through time one constant the same,
That shifts occurring, things always to change.
Transcendental knowledge of value to all,
Individual spirit and the source, Shri Krishna to call.