“Jnana means theoretical knowledge, and vijnana refers to practical knowledge. For instance, a science student has to study theoretical scientific conceptions as well as applied science. Theoretical knowledge alone will not help. One has to be able to also apply this knowledge. Similarly, in yoga one should have not only theoretical knowledge but practical knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Perfection of Yoga, Ch 5)
Friend1: You ever been in a debate on book smarts versus street smarts?
Friend2: I have not. Is that based on an inferiority complex?
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: The people who haven’t gone to college feel inferior to those who have. Therefore they have to try to establish their intelligence in a different way.
Friend1: Yeah, that’s definitely part of it. There was a season of the reality show, The Apprentice, where they divided the teams up that way. There were people who graduated from top business schools and there were others who were successful in the business world without having a formal education.
Friend2: There you go. Pretty much the same debate. Was it decided which side was better?
Friend1: No. Like common sense would lead you to believe, both sides are essentially the same. Book smarts are important, but street smarts can get you far, too.
Friend2: I see.
Friend1: I was thinking, do these correlate to jnana and vijnana?
Friend2: Hmm. That’s interesting. The relationship is close, but vijnana is more than just street smarts. As an example, street smarts don’t have to be tied to book smarts. They are like competitors.
Friend1: So vijnana is related to jnana?
Friend1: How so?
Friend2: Jnana is knowledge. Vijnana is the practical application of that knowledge. The same knowledge is there in both cases.
Friend1: So which one is more important?
Friend1: Oh. So you can have vijnana without jnana?
Friend2: Vijnana includes jnana. You can have jnana without vijnana.
Friend1: An example?
Friend2: Take a doctor. Jnana is the knowledge needed to complete school and pass the licensing examinations.
Friend1: They won’t let you practice medicine without that.
Friend2: Exactly. That’s why jnana is important. Vijnana is being able to practice medicine. Obviously, vijnana is more important. If you’re sick, you don’t want to visit someone who only has jnana. The person you visit – you want assurance that they know how to implement the principles they learned in school. The book smarts should translate to real world application.
Friend1: What about in spiritual life? Can you have vijnana without first acquiring jnana?
Friend2: Jnana is learning the difference between matter and spirit. It is knowing that the body continuously changes, from boyhood to youth to old age, and so on. Jnana is learning that there is an Absolute Truth, a Supreme Being who is like the individual in qualitative makeup but vastly superior in quantitative potency.
Friend1: What is vijnana, then?
Friend2: Realizing those concepts. It’s one thing to know that I am spirit and not matter, but it is another to apply that knowledge to real life. Signs of vijnana are not lamenting at the passing of the soul, seeing the Divine influence everywhere, and having firm faith in the Divine mercy. All good qualities result from vijnana.
Friend1: Listen, you could have someone who knows how to practice medicine without having gone to medical school. Sure it is rare, but the idea is that some people know how to do things without formal training. Is it possible to be spiritually realized without first learning the concepts?
Friend2: Of course. All that detailed knowledge is not necessary. Shri Krishna even says so in the Bhagavad-gita.
“But what need is there, Arjuna, for all this detailed knowledge? With a single fragment of Myself I pervade and support this entire universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.42)
Just know that Krishna is God. He is the Supreme Lord in His original, all-attractive form. Be always conscious of Him. That consciousness is vijnana. Of course, typically there is the need for jnana in order to be convinced. That is why the Vedas are so vast and comprehensive. They are that long because under the illusion of maya the individual needs many reminders of their spiritual nature and what that actually means.
Person to college didn’t go,
Everything from street to know.
Others from books learning,
Degree from university earning.
To jnana and vijnana not entirely the same,
Realized knowledge through implementation came.
That Krishna is God, pervading universe entire,
That alone bhakti practice to inspire.