“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
pavitram idam uttamam
su-sukhaṁ kartum avyayam
You’re a parent for the first time. Now everything has changed. No one had to tell you; it’s something inside. You noticed it when you held your child in your arms for the first time. The transformation continued when you drove more carefully than ever while bringing the new family member home. Your focus is suddenly on the future. What do you want for your child? What is more important for them: wealth or wisdom?
Let’s assume the child, who is a son for this example’s sake, becomes a king. They rule over an important area of land. They wield tremendous influence in the world. They are a player on the major stage. They accept tribute from all the citizens. Wherever they go, people bow, including the wealthy. Your son hosts a tennis tournament every year, and the best players attend. Prior to the matches, they turn to the royal box and pay their respects.
The king can do no wrong. There is no one to correct their ways. If your son wants to eat pizza for dinner every night, he can. He has the most beautiful woman in the kingdom for a wife. In due time he will have a worthy successor to the throne ready.
In another outcome, let’s assume the child becomes a learned man. Wisdom is their most valued possession. They don’t necessarily have so much. In fact, because of the high demand for knowledge, they constantly travel. Where they lay their head is home. As a famous song says, under wandering stars they’ve grown. They travel light, but they get a lot of respect. It doesn’t matter where they go. It doesn’t matter to whom they speak. They have something to offer to every single person.
Comparing and contrasting the two lifestyles, the obvious winner is the learned man. The king can lose their wealth at any moment. They have to constantly worry about foreign attack. They must see to the welfare of the citizens. If people are unhappy, the only thing they can do about it is offer material things. By themselves, they can’t improve the consciousness of anyone.
The learned person can help any person, at any time. Though they may not have many possessions, they are worshiped everywhere. This is because every person can use knowledge. The question then becomes, “What is the highest knowledge?” If the child in this example were to become a learned person, what exactly should they learn?
The Bhagavad-gita gives the answer. The speaker, Shri Krishna, says that what is contained within is the king of education, raja-vidya. Within the conversation, He also reveals everything that’s needed to be known. And no, the book is not lengthy in comparison to most books. In fact, it is quite short, nestled inside of a work of epic length known as the Mahabharata.
jñānaṁ te ‘haṁ sa-vijñānam
idaṁ vakṣyāmy aśeṣataḥ
yaj jñātvā neha bhūyo ‘nyaj
“I shall now declare unto you in full this knowledge both phenomenal and noumenal, by knowing which there shall remain nothing further to be known.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.2)
The skeptic living in modern times would argue that being learned doesn’t fill the belly. “Everyone is born into poverty,” they will say. Better to be a king; then at least you can wield some influence. Vedic history not only provides the philosophical basis to debunk this logic, but practical examples as well. There were saintly kings, known as rajarshis. They actually passed on the valuable king of education that is the Bhagavad-gita.
imaṁ rājarṣayo viduḥ
sa kāleneha mahatā
yogo naṣṭaḥ parantapa
“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.2)
As powerful as these kings were, they still deferred to learned people. Vyasadeva, Shukadeva Gosvami, Agastya Rishi, Narada Muni and many others got respect wherever they went. The most pious kings would sit down and listen to their words of wisdom. The Shrimad Bhagavatam, the ripened fruit of Vedic literature, is a transcript of a conversation between a saintly king on the verge of death and the highly learned son of Vyasa.
A learned man is also more advanced in consciousness, which is the real way to happiness. To wish well for someone else is to hope that their consciousness develops to its fullest potential, which is only possible in the human species. The human being is uniquely qualified to learn, understand, and then ultimately worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead. An endeavor which does not yield this highest benefit cannot be considered superior. Knowledge gathering is one pathway towards bhakti, and so the learned person who can deliver it to others is most worshipable.
One path highest wisdom to learn,
In another the most money to earn.
Superior for my child which one?
Way that for misery to be none.
Learned the obvious choice,
To every person a relevant voice.
Deferent even were saintly kings of the past,
Hearing from Shuka to other world Parikshit to pass.