The Heart and Soul of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 17: The Importance of Knowledge

The founder of this ashram, Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, was ancient and modern at the same time. Highly traditional was his approach to things, and it was also highly modern at the same time. While we have to move with the times, we also have to gather the knowledge of the times in which we are living. Often a view is expressed that there is what is known as Western culture and Eastern culture, based on Western philosophic thought and Indian philosophic thought. To me it appears that there is no such gulf, either in thought or cultural patterns, between the East and the West. They are only certain types of emphasis laid because of conditions prevailing in areas of the world called the East or the West.

Knowledge is a universal equipment of a human being. It does not belong to any person and, therefore, it does not belong to the East or the West, or to the North or the South. It was with this point of view that the teachers who participate in this Academy have been chosen. They are proficient in Eastern thought, Western thought, and a synthesis of the two, at the same time.

It is necessary to shed every kind of prejudice when we aspire for knowledge. It can come from any side and in any manner, and it can take any form. In the Manu Smriti there is a beautiful passage: "We have to grasp wisdom even from the blabbering of a little child, if it is worthwhile." You have to learn conduct and behaviour even from your enemy, if he is really great. Do you not pick up a nugget of gold even if it is found in dirt? So is the way you have to acquire knowledge from every circle, from every source from which you can gather.

We always believe, as Indians, that we have reached the pinnacle of knowledge. The wisdom of the East is compared and believed to be the final touchstone of all things. As I mentioned to you, there should be no prejudice. There is a peculiar, interesting feature in Western thought which the Indian way of approach may miss and, vice versa, the Western analytic approach may miss the wisdom of the East. I suggested, many a time, that it is good to bring before the students certain areas of the height of knowledge of Western philosophy – such as the circle known as the Neo-Hegelians, who come close to the highest reaches of Vedanta philosophy. The professors said the students would not be able to understand these things because Neo-Hegelian thought is highly penetrating and incisive in its approach to things, and the students may not appreciate what all this means and it may go over their heads.

I feel that it is good to know as much as possible. Even if you do not fully understand the implications of certain things, it is good at least to hear them. You will at least appreciate that there are wonderful things in this world, though you may feel that they are beyond your present comprehension. There is a thrill in the acquisition of knowledge. If you are not thrilled, you have not touched it. Knowledge is not a methodology of gathering information, but a way of entering into the depths of things, and it is that which makes it worthwhile and enriches your feelings. If your feelings are stimulated and rise to a level above normal when you receive instruction or teaching, you may be sure that it has entered your very blood, your very nerves and your very being. Teaching, in the strictest sense of the term, is not conveying information. It has a vital connection with your own existence. So, philosophy is both the doctrine or the science of being, and also the art of living. Both these aspects have to be emphasised.

I conclude this beautiful course of the Academy with a prayer that all shall be well because God is in heaven and everything is beautiful in this world. May you be blessed for ever and ever.