Book smarts versus street smarts. What you learn in theory tested against the practical application. It’s nice to know that two plus two equals four, but even better to realize that if you have two apples in the basket, acquiring two more will place the total at four apples.
There is jnana in a host of subjects in the ever-changing material world, and with every area of interest there is a corresponding field of activity.
1. The hospital
This person claims to be an expert. They have certificates hanging on the wall. They wear the white coat and carry a stethoscope. Everyone addresses them as “doctor,” but what do they really know? Did those many years of training pay off or did the knowledge never sink in?
One way to test is the hospital. The doctor puts their skills to use. Real patients with injuries ranging from trivial to life-threatening. Called to the scene at any moment of the day or night, the proper diagnosis and treatment are necessary. Book learning will only take them so far; they have to know how to apply the principles and theories.
2. The laboratory
Similar to the situation with the doctor, a person trained in other disciplines of science requires a dedicated place to practice, to test the theories. Witness firsthand the chemical reaction resulting from mixing two compounds. Come up with new ideas and see if they materialize. You can’t achieve a certification without the lab component; memorizing and passing written examinations are insufficient for recognition from your peers and mentors.
3. The playing field
Any professional sport suffices for the analysis. A person watches videos on the internet to learn how to serve in tennis. The proper grip, the way to toss the ball, the combined motion of the shoulders and wrist – they study to the point of being able to repeat the same instruction to others.
Yet the true difference is made on the court. If they can take what they have seen and replicate in a match environment, then the knowledge they absorbed has made an impact. Along the way there can be adjustments here and there. Trial and error. See what works and what doesn’t.
4. The courtroom
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada often uses the comparison to doctors and lawyers to explain the bogus foundation of the degraded caste system, as practiced today. We wouldn’t consider someone to be a qualified doctor based on ancestry alone. You could be the son of a lawyer, but that does not automatically make you qualified to argue a case in court.
That courtroom is where the principles are tested. You could have passed the bar exam and be ready to represent clients, but you have to know which case law to apply and which points to stress in the opening arguments. The expert lawyer has to react to the case made by the other side, as well.
5. The concert
You can study music to the point of being able to identify notes written on paper. You can describe the different scales and chord progressions. But the real impact will be made during a performance. Can you actually play the instrument? Are you able to sing in time, in the proper melody? Are you able to listen to the beat and adjust accordingly?
The above analysis provides a nice juxtaposition to the Vedic tradition. The word Veda means “knowledge.” There are different ways to acquire knowledge, and with respect to the Vedas the knowledge passed on is older than anyone can identify. There is no known date of inception.
The knowledge descends in a variety of ways. There are historical accounts of incidents; the Puranas. There is philosophical understanding; the Upanishads. There are Vedic hymns glorifying the Supreme Lord and His closest associates.
One interesting benefit is that the knowledge acquired can be put to use in any area of life. We can use the Bhagavad-gita as an example. This work is also known as the Gitopanishad; it is the essence of all Vedic teachings. Taking a single verse like the one explaining the travels of the conditioned living entity, we have ample opportunity to test:
देहिनो ऽस्मिन् यथा देहे
कौमारं यौवनं जरा
धीरस् तत्र न मुह्यति
dehino ‘smin yathā dehe
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
Birth and death take place everywhere. Living entities are found in every corner of the universe, as well. This is the meaning of sarva-ga. Goswami Tulsidas references this feature in a prayer desiring the proper place of birth.
जल थल नभ गति अमित अति अग जग जीव अनेक |
तुलसी तो से दीन कहँ राम नाम गति एक ||
jala thala nabha gati amita ati aga jaga jīva aneka |
tulasī to se dīna kaham̐ rāma nāma gati eka ||
“There are an infinite number of living beings, both moving and nonmoving, who have many different abodes, with some residing in the earth, some in the sky, and some in the water. But O helpless Tulsi, for you Shri Rama’s holy name is your only home.” (Dohavali, 37)
With every possible circumstance of birth, there is a field of activity, the kshetra. The knower of the field, kshetrajna, can observe and witness. Anyone can apply the teachings to any aspect of life. The entire life experience is like a laboratory setting, and the scrutinizing individual, using the intelligence gifted by nature, can find definitive evidence of both the existence of the soul and the corresponding object of service, Bhagavan.
Knower and also its field,
Tremendous potential to yield.
That every principle to test,
Not forced in darkness to rest.
Like with lawyer and the doctor so,
Ability proven when crisis to throw.
So of God not ignorant remaining,
As scientist in human form training.
Categories: the five