Mercury Day Poetry: “Knowledge and Ignorance”
This week’s poem is from medieval Indian poet, philosopher and mystic Jnanadeva (1275-1296 C.E.), who was an influential figure in the early bhakti movement. Bhakti in Jnanadeva’s world view does not mean the sentiment of “love” as it’s sometimes seen in the West, but instead a revolving of all aspects of one’s life and thought toward God–a strict intellectual and physical discipline. I recognize it as part of an ancient poetical philosophy that attempts to describe the indescribable by indicating what might be like and by what it is not. This translation is by Swami Abhyayananda.
Knowledge and Ignorance
By looking in a mirror, one perceives his own identity;
But that identity was already there.
In the same way, relative knowledge gives the understanding
Of the identity of the world and the Self –
But it is like using a knife
To cut another knife.
Fire, in the process of annihilating camphor,
Annihilates itself as well;
This is exactly what happens to knowledge
In the process of destroying ignorance.
The cresting of a wave is but its fall;
The flash of a bolt of lightning
Is but its fading.
Drinking up the water of ignorance,
Grows so large
That it completely annihilates itself.
This absolute Knowledge is like
The intrinsic fullness of the moon,
Which is unaffected
By its apparent waxing and waning.
Likewise, that which is Consciousness Itself
Does not possess the quality of being conscious,
And is, therefore, not conscious of Itself.
If absolute Knowledge required the aid
Of some other kind of knowledge to know Itself,
It would be nothing but ignorance.
Of course, light is not darkness;
But, to itself, is it even light?
If there is a pot, a pot is perceived,
And if the pot is broken, its brokenness is perceived;
If there is no pot at all,
Is not its absence perceived as well?
It can be seen, therefore,
That he who perceives that there is nothing
Does not himself become nothing.
The Self has this same unique kind of existence,
Beyond both existence and non-existence.
The ultimate Reality
Is neither an object to Itself
Nor is It an object to anyone else.
Should it then be regarded as non-existent?
In a tank the water may be so clear
That it appears non-existent;
Though one who looks into the tank may not see it,
Still it is there.
The ultimate Reality exists in Itself,
And is beyond the conceptions
Of existence or non-existence.
When a jar is placed on the ground,
We have the ground with a jar;
When the jar is taken away,
We have the ground without a jar;
But when neither of these conditions exists,
The ground exists in its unqualified state.
It is in this same way
That the ultimate Reality exists.
Posted by Bobbie