As soon as we are born the learning process begins. First we learn to eat, talk, walk etc from our parents. Then we learn from our neighbors about certain social norms and the wider world outside our immediate home. Our school teachers then put the icing on the cake, by giving us knowledge of different subjects. As we progress up the academic ladder, we acquire more and more knowledge in a particular field. Finally graduating from college and university with a degree, we think we achieved what others have not been able to achieve, and therefore we think society owes recognition or even worship.
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, a magistrate, administrator, great saint and mystic, who prominent in Bengal and Orissa during the British rule, made this observation;
“all the so-called knowledge of this world is born of the illusory energy of the Lord. It is an impediment to the execution of devotional service to Lord. Indulgence in mundane knowledge verily makes an ass of the eternal soul by encouraging his infatuation with this temporary world.
Here is one person who has been turned into such an ass, who for so long has carried on his back the useless burden of material existence. Now in my old age, for want of the power to enjoy, I find that nothing at all pleases me.
Life has now become agony, for my so-called erudite knowledge has proven itself to be worthless ignorance. Material knowledge has now become a pointed shaft and has pierced my heart with the intolerable, burning pain of ignorance. It is all vanity from beginning to end.”
“Knowledge” itself is elusive. The wisest have always claimed to know nothing. One is always getting the impression that mankind is still in kindergarten, especially as one gradually becomes more certain that “This life’s five windows of the soul, the knowledge acquiring senses, “Distorts the Heavens from pole to pole.” (Blake, From The Everlasting Gospel)
Socrates was always claiming to know nothing, and Whitman echoed him: “I cannot tell how my ankles bend, nor whence the cause of my faintest wish. That I walk up my stoop, I pause to consider if it really be.” (Song of Myself, 24) The time arrives when man sees himself and his “accomplishments” as nothing more than the dabblings of a child, fabrications to pass the time, games to distract.
It is at this point that “knowledge” begins to break down. Man begins to question, “What is this ‘knowledge’ I’ve been so long pursuing? What are its purposes, its categories? Am I on the right path in this pursuit, or am I deluding myself?” If such a man is fortunate, he will turn to a scripture such as Bhagavad-Gita for guidance, and he will see that Krishna Himself, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, divides knowledge into three “gunas” or qualities: sattva, rajas, and tamas-namely, goodness, passion, and ignorance.
A brief review of the fields of contemporary knowledge reveals passion and ignorance to be the two predominant modes. In the “humanities,” for instance, history (from the transcendental viewpoint) truly becomes a pack of lies perpetrated on the dead, so much senseless conjecture and family gossip. Of what use is history? Its only justification is that man can learn from it and it can give man a sense of direction; in this century alone there have been two major wars and thousands of books have been written about them, horrors that might well have been forgotten have been dug up, revitalized and dealt to the public in tons of newsprint. Still mankind rushes stubbornly into a third holocaust. History only teaches that it teaches nothing. That most historians are cynics is testimony to this.
Like history, philosophy, and literature, science has only succeeded in implementing man with encumbrances that mainly serve to divert his energy. For example, because there are so many automobiles, man feels the need to travel more and more. Now man is spending so much energy and scarce resources to reach the moon-for what specific reason, no one can really say, save for the psychological need he must feel to feel superior and may be the possibility of escaping from the earth to the moon, in times nuclear catastrophe.
However, advanced yogis and those advanced in Krishna-consciousness know that such vehicular interplanetary travel is most difficult, if not impossible. Space travel is not difficult-the gross materialists are simply going about it the wrong way. Furthermore, science has principally helped man to destroy himself most effectively. In the realm, science has proved itself most helpful and progressive. Extermination. When God gave man gunpowder He knew the little bangs would grow into bigger and bigger ones. In this field, science is most adept. “They murder to dissect” is now a bland statement. It is a familiar story. Yet these madmen, masters of extermination, receive large financial grants from universities and foundations to further pursue the annihilation of the race. They have produced dangerous viruses such as HIV, to eliminate their fellow men. The millions of children, who are the hope for the future, are with a scientific arrogance aborted as lifeless tissues.
Yet science, the pursuit of the firecracker, is considered knowledge. At its best when it attempts to satisfy the material desires of man by helping him attain adequate food and shelter or curing his physical diseases for a short duration, it is knowledge in the mode of passion. And when science shackles man with modern “conveniences” or frivolous gimmicks or when it exterminates man by monstrous bombs and military devices, then it is knowledge in the mode of ignorance and darkness. Although modern man places all his hopes in science, the wise know this to be the knowledge of the madhouse.
Many examples of similar diversions can be given: mathematics are concerned with number games. No mathematician has ever been able to prove that one equals one, and besides, reducing everything to an equation helps no one. Politics is an animal farm for the power-hungry, the vanity of vanities, and business and finances are simply the arts of throat-cutting. In that sense they hold hands with science. Sociology is concerned with the dying and anthropology with the dead. The language into which one is born affords a sufficient number of confusing symbols without one’s trying to learn others. Most comparative linguists never manage to master their own native tongues. When it comes to the field of astronomy, glancing at the sky and any fool can tell you the stars are innumerable.
All these fields of knowledge are in the modes of passion and ignorance, and only help to increase the burden of the false ego, and perpetuates our material existence.
Such are the branches of “knowledge” offered by man, a poor serving indeed, hardly worthy of consideration let alone a lifetime’s devotion. The principle of money-making keeps most of them in business, and behind the money-making principle is the principle of sense-gratification. And sense-gratification mainly includes eating, merry-making, sleeping sex-life and defending. So take these away and the whole structure of “knowledge” collapses. It’s all really rather basic after all. But the veneer, glossed by centuries of deceit, is thick indeed, and many are entrapped. The real problems of birth, old age, disease, and death go unsolved and untouched. So it is said that “Grace is given of God which makes humble, but knowledge is bought in the market which increases our pride.”