(Excerpt from the booklet Arsha Vidya – The vision of the Rishis, Pujya Swami Dayananda. Published by Sri Gangadhareswar Trust, First Edition, Second Reprint 1999, pages 3 to 11. Booklet available at Dayananda Ashram, Rishikesh.)

Arsha Vidya

Rishi means the one who knows – the word is derived from the Sanskrit root rs, which is in the sense of knowing. The knowledge or Vidya of the Rishis is called Arsha Vidya. 

The Flow of Knowledge

Mystics do not create mystics – because they are mystics. A mystic cannot make another one equally an eloquent mystic. If he can, then there is a means of communication, and therefore there is nothing mystic about it. Then there is a teacher. Mystics have no tradition, whereas when teaching is involved, there is communication. Then there can be a tradition – a teacher, a student and his or her student; Guru-Shishya-Prashishya Parampara. Then the flow is possible. Knowledge always flows to the hearts, to the minds. 

Wisdom cannot be considered as old or something new. It is not old because it does not become obsolete. It is not new because nothing new is added to it. And therefore, it is fresh, coming as it does from a teacher to a student like even the Ganges. The Ganges is an ancient river; we do not know when she started flowing on the earth. We have the story of Bhagiratha doing penance and bringing to earth the river which once flowed in the heavens. It is an ancient river, no doubt, but when you take a bath in the river, the water is fresh, and it leaves you fresh. For the people who have a sraddha, faith, a bath in the river not only imparts freshness at the physical level, but even their mind also becomes fresh. The old sins are washed away. They look upon the Ganges not as just a river; there is a different outlook. She is the very flow of knowledge whose touch changes the person into a pure one.

न हि ज्ञानेन सदृशं पवित्रमिह विद्यते।

In this world, there is nothing more sacred, more purifying than knowledge. Therefore, this knowledge, Arsha Vidya, is like a river that flows from the teacher to the student and to his or her student, and thus It goes down. And knowledge being what it is, it is always true to the object. There cannot be a second version about knowledge. That is the reason why we do not really accept any empirical knowledge as really knowledge in as much as it is only good for empirical transactions. 

This is a flower, and it is a rose. You have the knowledge that it is a flower and it is a rose. But there are areas in this flower itself that we do not know at all. And so, any objective knowledge you have is incomplete. In no discipline of knowledge have we come to the last word. In any empirical knowledge, it is well known that more one knows, more one comes to know what one does not know. A highly informed person is the most ignorant person because he knows what all he does not know. Only a totally ignorant person does not know what he does not know and so thinks of himself as a wise person. Any empirical knowledge is non-final; it is non-conclusive. 

Take for example the knowledge of a forest. To know the details of the forest, what all makes the forest – the trees and the bushes, the herbs and the shrubs, the climbers and the creepers – is a big job because there are varieties of trees and even after knowing their names, to know everything about the trees such as plant physiology, plant anatomy, etc. is even a bigger job. The research will be on and on and on. One good thing about this knowledge is that there is always room for new Ph.Ds.; all one has to do is to either contradict or amend the old opinion and present. a new one. The knowledge of the details or parts is always subject to contradiction or amendment. Thus, to know the details about the forest is not easy. But if someone does not know a forest and if we want him to see what the whole forest is, it is easy. All we have to do is to drive him through the forest, perhaps take him up in a helicopter and have him look down from it and he can clearly see what a forest is like. And once one knows what a forest is, it is known; there is no scope for contradiction. Thus, if knowledge is possible, it is the knowledge of the whole. In the knowledge of the whole, there cannot be any addition or amendment. Wisdom of the whole is ‘the wisdom’ because wisdom means knowledge and knowledge is possible only of the whole. The whole has no parts. When there are parts, every part has got areas of ignorance. If you have the appreciation of the whole, it is possible to make another person see the whole. If one knows the whole, one can make the other person see the whole and the other can make another one see it. And thus, we find a whole series of gurus and shishyas; there is a flow. 

I am the Whole

Now the whole is something that cannot be away from me. There is a pot with a certain volume. If the pot-space were to think, ‘I am merely a ten-litre pot-space’, then it is bound to be jealous of another bigger pot-space. So it seeks the company of smaller pot-space, because the big pot­ space reminds it of how small it is. There is an innate jealousy because nobody likes to be small. Let us say that this ten-litre pot­-space does undergo a process of change and becomes a 20-litre pot-space. Now it can keep company of a new set of pots. It gets a new class-status! But there is always a 30-litre pot-space! And if the 20-litre pot-space becomes the 30-litre pot-­space, there is a 50-litre pot-space. There are tanks having thousands of gallons of capacity and so the process of becoming has no end.

One ten-litre pot-space which also had a desire to become a 20-litre pot-space, stopped and watched the rest of the pots going crazy in the process of becoming and therefore asked, “Do I really want to become something else or do- I want to be free from the very attempt of becoming?” Once this question arises, the answer also becomes clear. By becoming a bigger pot-space, nobody becomes the limitless space. The problem is not that I am a ten-litre pot-­space. The problem is, I am small. The small ‘I’ will ever be, however big I become. If I have to become big, I should become so big that there is nothing bigger than me. And that kind of bigness can never be achieved by a process of becoming. If indeed such a bigness is there, I cannot become that. I can only be it or not. I must know it. 

This is then a new kind of knowledge. This small pot-space listens to another pot-­space which also had a similar problem earlier and had solved it by listening to another pot-space! The small pot-space is told, “You want to be free from being small. You want to be limitless. But limitless can never be separate from you. If you are different from the limitless the limitless becomes limited. You delimit the limitless if the limitless is separate from you.”

The pot-space thought, ‘If I am separate from the limitless space, then I am not limitless which means the limitless is other than ‘I’. That means limitless is one and I am another. But the limitless ceases to be limitless if it does not include me. If there is such a thing as the limitless, the whole, it should include me; it cannot be separate from me. The pot-space realised which means it understood – I am the limitless space in which all the pots have their being; all the planets, the solar systems, even the galaxies have their being. I am the one limitless space and I feel limited only when I look at myself through the pot-wall, the pot-form or the enclosure. But ‘I am’ is not limited. The space ‘is’ in which the very pot exists. Therefore I am the one space – without batting an eye-lid, without any motion or movement on my part. I see that I am the whole.’

This teaching, ‘I am the whole’ is the knowledge or the vision of the Rishis. It is Arsha Vidya. This is not the only knowledge given to us by the Rishis; they have given us a lot. But this is the one thing that stands out, the one thing that beckons everyone, the one thing that cannot but fascinate everyone – even a dull person. This knowledge, the Arsha Vidya is the most fascinating, the most hopeful, the most yearned for. Once one has gained this vidya, one can make the other also see it. 

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