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Brahmavidya (derived from the Sanskrit words brahma and vidyā) is that branch of scriptural knowledge derived primarily through a study of the veda mantras & upanishads. Put together, it means knowledge of the mantra/absolute. Brahmavidya is considered to be the highest ideal of classical Hinduism.

In the Puranas, this is divided into two branches, the first one dealing with the vedic mantras and is called para vidya or former knowledge, and the latter dealing with the study of the upanishads and is called the apara vidya or latter knowledge. Both para and apara vidya constitute brahma vidya.

Brahma – The word brahma is used in modern Hinduism to refer to the name of a god who is a part of the Hindu trinity, for more information see Brahman (disambiguation). However in the context of traditional Vedic study, it holds two meanings. In the Pūrva Mimamsa philosophy, which is based on a study of the samhita and brahmana sections of the vedas, the word brahma refers to the vedic mantras. In the uttara Mimamsa i.e. Vedanta philosophy, which is based on a study of the Aranyaka and the Upanishad sections of the vedas, the word Brahma means the absolute universal reality called Brahman.
Vidya – The word vidyā means knowledge, and is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root ‘vid’ (to know). Its cognates in other Indo-European languages are
•    Greek εἶδον for ἐϝιδον, οἶδα for ϝοιδα = veda;
•    Latin videre;
•    Slavic věděti;
•    Gothic witan, wait;
•    Germanic wizzan, wissen;
•    English wisdom, wit.

In modern Hinduism, Brahmavidya is used to mean a spiritual study of Hindu scriptures with the aim of realizing the ultimate reality. Different modern Hindu leaders have defined it in the context of their own systems of philosophy.
Swami Sivananda, the founder of the Divine Life Society opines that Brahmavidya is the “Science of sciences” or the “Science of the Absolute”.

Brahma Vidya

by Swami Sivananda

Brahma-Vidya (science of God), is the Science of sciences. The knower of Brahma-Vidya or the Science of Brahman or the Science of the Absolute, knows everything. His knowledge is full. He has the whole experience through intuition or revelation. Take your firm seat on the rock-bottom of the Upanishadic truths and accept the findings of science only if they tally with the Upanishadic truths, otherwise reject them ruthlessly.

All secular sciences have their own limitations. A scientist works on the physical plane with a finite mind and with instruments. He knows the physical laws. He has some knowledge of the elements, atoms and physical energy. His knowledge is fragmentary. He has no experience of the whole. He has no knowledge of transcendental or supersensual things.

Science is only a partially unified knowledge. A scientist infers, investigates and draws exact conclusions from his observations. He understands Nature but he knows nothing of the origin or destiny of Nature.

Who made the sun and gave power to its rays? Who combined four parts of nitrogen with one part of oxygen? Who gave power to the electrons? Who gave power to the atoms to combine into molecules? Who or what made and bestowed upon the ultimate particles of matter their marvellous power of varied interaction? Science does not know this great mystery. On the contrary, Yoga is completely unified knowledge. A Yogi gets inner, divine realisation. He clearly sees with his inner Yogic eye the subtle rudiments of matter. He identifies himself with the Supreme Being who is the Lord of Prakriti or matter. He gets control over the five elements. He clearly understands the whole mystery of creation through direct intuitional knowledge. The scientist lacks this sort of knowledge. He has only experimental knowledge.
In the matter of evidence in psychological questions, the sense-perceptions with which science naturally deals are only second-rate criteria and are therefore to be received with caution. The closing of the external channels of sensation is usually the signal for the opening of the psychic and, from all evidence, it would seem that the psychic sense is more extensive, acute and in every way more dependable than the physical.

The business of science is generalisation of phenomena; it is the function of philosophy and Yoga to explain. Religion is the practical aspect of philosophy. Philosophy is the rational aspect of religion. The scientist tries to answer the “how” of the problem; the philosopher and the Yogi attempt to answer the “why” of it. It is a mistake to say that such and such an event occurs because of certain laws of Nature. The laws of Nature do not give any real explanation of the phenomena. A law of Nature is simply a statement, in terms as general as possible, of what happens under given circumstances in a natural phenomenon. Science is only concerned with the phenomena. Science shows a marvellous harmony of Nature. But it is the problem of philosophy and Yoga to solve the why” of Nature’s harmony.

Scientists possess a partial knowledge of the universe. They have not understood the whole code of Nature’s laws. They have no knowledge of the occult side of things. They have no knowledge of the astral, mental and higher planes such as Brahma-Loka or the world of Brahma. The unseen world is of far greater importance than the sense-universe which is visible to the naked eye. A fully developed Yogi can function on all planes and so he has full knowledge of the manifested and the unmanifested Nature. The senses, by which you get a knowledge of the external objects, are not fully developed. Therefore, the knowledge obtained is partial. The external senses are exact counterparts of the internal astral senses. Scientists have no knowledge of the subtle rudiments of matter. Life will become fuller and richer when one develops this inner eyesight by the practice of Yoga. Just as blood, when seen under the microscope, reveals many mysterious things, such as leucocytes, nuclei, pigment, germs and bacilli, so also the inner Yogic eye reveals many a mystery to the hidden side of things. The knowledge of the scientists is only fragmentary or partial, whereas the knowledge of the Yogis who have realised the Truth is full and perfect.

In its outlook, science differs radically from philosophical musings. Consequently, the mode of approach of science to its specific problems is different from that of philosophy. Yet there is some similarity in the findings of both science and philosophy when some broad questions are discussed.

Scientists have to learn many things from the seers of the East. Who gave power to the electrons to revolve? What is at the bottom of these electrons? Who gave life to the cell or the protoplasm? Who gave intelligence to the cells to secrete milk or bile or gastric juice from the blood? The scientists are still observing and experimenting. They are still groping in darkness. What is the cause of the origin of an impulse? Who is the director of the mind? What is the cause of the origin of thought? Even if all the living scientists were to put their heads together to solve these questions, they cannot give definite and conclusive answers.

The mind of a scientist cannot work on higher spiritual planes. It is gross and impure. it has outgoing tendencies. It is filled with desires, passions and worldly impressions. The scientist cannot look within, introspect and meditate. He can analyse the atoms of different elements but he cannot do self-analysis. He can bombard the atoms, watch the movements of the electrons and make discoveries in Nature. But the mind of a Rishi or a Yogi is subtle and pure. It is free from worldly desires and passions, from selfishness, lust and hatred. It is equipped with the instructions of the sages and the Srutis (revelations, i.e. The Vedas). It is filled with purity. It is free from outgoing tendencies. It is fit for divine contemplation. It is properly disciplined in a variety of ways through rigorous austerity and self-restraint. The Yogi undergoes a discipline, a rare discipline-through the practice of tranquillity of mind, control of the senses, restraints, internal and external purification, etc.-which cannot be had in the universities.

The scientist observes the physical phenomena, makes experiments and goes from the effects to the cause. The Rishi or the Yogi goes directly to the cause or the source. He dives deep into the source and brings forth the pearl of knowledge of the Self. The man of science sees and observes things only as they appear to be to his sense-perception. The seer perceives them as they actually are in their very essential nature. He has direct intuition and perception of the Truth through Nirvikalpa Samadhi (superconscious state). Then he comes to the effect-the manifested universe. Therefore, his utterances are infallible. They are gospel truths. The Srutis of the Upanishads are direct revelations. They are the infallible utterances of the seers or sages. They are beyond questioning, beyond the least shadow of doubt.

When the Yogi attains the knowledge of the Eternal, he acquires the knowledge of all secular sciences as well, because all sciences hang upon Brahma-Vidya. If you have knowledge of clay or thread or gold, you will have knowledge of all the modifications of clay or thread or gold.

Scientists are also Adwaitins or non-dualists. They say:

“There is only one substance in this world. That is electron. The whole world is a mass of energy.” Energy is the God of the scientists. Energy is the God of the Shaktas (a sect in Hinduism) also. Scientists have explored the physical world. They have found out numerous methods to control the physical forces of Nature. Psychologists are experimenting on the mental plane. They are trying to control the mental forces. Psychology is a branch of Raja Yoga which deals with the control of the mind. A close study of the observations and revelations of science brings a man closer to God. Who has framed the laws of Nature? Nature is blind. What is that intelligence which moves Nature? Who is the primum mobile? A study of the physical forces and the physical laws, and an understanding of the mental forces and the mental laws, are not sufficient to make us perfect. We should have a thorough knowledge and realisation of the substratum that lies hidden behind these names and forms and all physical and mental phenomena. Then only will we become perfect masters or full-blown adepts or Arhats or Buddhas.

Can scientific inventions make us really happy? That is the question of questions now. What has science done to us? No doubt it has added a fund of knowledge on the physical plane. But this knowledge is mere husk when compared to the knowledge of the Self-Brahma-Vidya. All sciences are founded on the knowledge of Atman (the Self).

Those who have fallen into the clutches of science dislike Sandhya and prayer. They neglect the study of the Gita, Japa, Kirtan and meditation. Even if there is a study class, a discourse on the Upanishads, common prayer and meditation in an adjacent hall, they will continue their smoking, drinking and card-playing or other game in the next room. They will be busy with their raffle tickets, ranger tickets and worthless talk and gossip. What an unfortunate and deplorable state!

English-educated people are carried away unduly by scientific theories and discoveries. Anything, however stupid it may be, when stamped by the seal of science, is regarded as gospel truth. A theory or doctrine, however fallacious it may be, is accepted as true wisdom for all ages when it is proclaimed in the name of and on the authority of science. Even if some fantastic and ludicrous statements are made with the stamp of science by a Haekel, an Einstein or a Tyndet, people are quite ready to swallow them with great avidity. Such is the fashion of the day! They reject as base superstition the sublime teachings of the ancient Rishis and sages. The brains of these so-called educated and cultured people need a prompt, drastic and thorough flushing for a protracted length of time. The poison has percolated into their very cells and tissues.

I do not mean to condemn the wonderful discoveries and inventions that modem science has contributed to the vast store of knowledge and happiness which the present generation enjoys. The radio, the aeroplane, the microphone and other marvels of science are bound to baffle human intelligence. Scientists have found ways to fertilise an ovum with chemicals, without the aid of semen. It is a stupendous success. Some children are also born. They inject the semen that is obtained from renowned and cultured men of the world in order to improve the race. They are attempting to fix a radio in a match- stick. They are trying to get the necessary nutrition into the body by pressing an electric button so that eating and defecation may be entirely abandoned. They are endeavouring to make the streets move so that there will be no necessity of motor cars and carriages. They are trying to establish a means of communication with the planet Mars. They may succeed in all their attempts. May God bless them with roaring success in all their undertakings! But the question is: can all these comforts and scientific discoveries and inventions give immortality, eternal satisfaction and everlasting peace? Have these material comforts enhanced human happiness? is not man more restless today than ever before? is he not more dissatisfied and discontented despite all these comforts? Life has become more complex and intricate. Luxuries are increasing day by day. Even a rich man finds it difficult to make both ends meet.

There is only one remedy for all these ills. You will have to abandon all luxuries and go back to simple, natural living if you want to enjoy real and lasting happiness. Immortality can be attained only by realising the Self through simple living, practice of Yoga, self-control, mental discipline and meditation.

Why do you read many books? it is of no use. The great book is within your heart. Open the pages of this inexhaustible book, the source of all knowledge. You will know everything. What is this knowledge by knowing which you will know everything? This is the knowledge of Brahman or the ultimate Reality. This is Para-Vidya (supreme science). This is Brahma- Vidya. This is the science of sciences. Close your eyes
now. Withdraw your senses. Still the mind. Silence the bubbling thoughts. Make the mind waveless. Merge deep into the Atman, the Self, the Supreme Soul, the Light of lights, the Sun of suns. All knowledge will be revealed to you. You will have divine wisdom. All doubts will vanish. All mental torments will disappear. All hot discussions and heated debates will terminate. Peace, bliss, eternal happiness and knowledge alone will remain.

Brahma-Vidya or the Science of the Self is not a subject that can be understood and realised by mere intellectual study, reasoning or ratiocination, or even by discussions and arguments. Mere scholarly erudition and vast study with a high degree of intelligence alone cannot help one in the practical realisation of the Truth inculcated in this science. It demands perfect discipline, a discipline that is not to be found in our modem universities and colleges. It demands solid Sadhana for the achievement of the goal that is indicated by this Para-Vidya or highest science.

One has to reach a realm where there is neither light nor darkness, neither east nor west, neither gain nor loss-a realm which can never be reached either by the mind or the senses. It is not, my dear brothers, an imaginary region of the Arabian Nights or the Midsummer Night’s Dream. No, certainly not. It is not an illusory or chimerical place of one’s mythological fabrication. It is the one and the only real, everlasting abode of perennial peace and deep, abiding joy, wherein this fluctuating, restless mind can find a permanent rest. Sages like Sankara, Dattatreya, Mansoor, Madalasa, Gargi, Chudalai, Jesus and others reached this destination after strenuous struggle and exertion.

The possibility of reaching the same level is within the reach of all who are ready to struggle hard with patience, perseverance, iron determination and strong will. What one has achieved can be attained by another. This is the grand law of Nature. Prakriti is quite unbiased. A man under normal conditions has to take countless births before he attains perfection or knowledge of the Self. If a man is sincere in his spiritual Sadhana, he can evolve quickly; he can hasten his spiritual progress in a few births which otherwise would take thousands of years. He can cut short the cycle of births and deaths by means of drastic Sadhana, great self-control and determined effort. He can have Self-realisation within the twinkling of an eye in one birth if he is a first-class aspirant with extremely good spiritual impressions.

Stand up, O Prem! Follow me. Enjoy the bliss of Atma. The river of Atmic joy is flowing all round. There is a deluge of the bliss of the Self. Drink this nectar to your heart’s content. Care not for the world. Go thy own way. Let others hoard wealth and become mill-owners and multi-millionaires. They are misers only. Let others become barristers, high court judges and ministers. They are still ignorant men. Mind not a bit. The wealth of the three worlds is nothing, mere straws, before the spiritual wealth, the wealth of Atma-Jnana. The joy of the three worlds is a mere drop when compared to the ocean of bliss of the Self. The knowledge of all, secular sciences is mere husk when compared to the knowledge of the Self. Here are the priceless treasures of Atma for thee. Here is the inexhaustible wealth of Brahma- Jnana. Enjoy these riches. No dacoit or robber can rob thee of this imperishable wealth of divine knowledge. There is no insolvency, no failure of the bank, no bankruptcy here. Take possession of this great spiritual treasure, the splendour of Brahman, and enjoy it for ever and ever. Thou art now a real King of kings, Shah of shahs, Emperor of emperors. The gods, Indra and Brahma, will be jealous of thee now, O Prem! Go and distribute this imperishable wealth of knowledge of the Self far and wide.

Glory unto thee! Peace be with thee for ever and ever!

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