Worshipping at the Altar of Knowledge

I once had a cassette recording of the Vishnu Sahasranamam. This particular recording also had the famous Bhajagovindam* with an introduction by C. Rajagopalachari (the last Governor-General of India who was also a lawyer, independence activist, politician, writer and statesman). I never tired of listening to his introduction because the substance of it was…..well, substantive. I don’t remember much of it but these words have always stuck with me – knowledge is Bhakti*.

I guess his eloquent words stayed with me because the gathering of knowledge has always been the ray of light that illuminated my life path, guiding my steps at every turn and fork. Thinking on it right now, perhaps the words ‘knowledge is Bhakti’ should be taken seriously if we are to truly appreciate the power of our God given brains and develop this holy weapon to be knowing and wise. Yes, knowledge is Bhakti. And we need to worship at its altar!

Who told you that courage means that you always have to see through what you once resolved to do? It takes much greater courage to be able to admit that you have changed your mind because your resolution was wrong or faulty in the first place! Not the exact words but the impression left by the life lesson Elizabeth was taught in Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl in School.

Mrs. Jackson advising her daughter, Molly that her friend Prudence “knows the meaning of riches and good food, a car, servants and things of that kind, but does she really know the meaning of kindness, loyalty, humility and charity? I don’t think so”. Deep impressions embedded in the pages in my brain by The Family at Red Roofs, a book that is a moving tale of a family’s collective triumph over adversity made possible only by family commitment and solid life values. Enid Blyton again! An author, along with all her bretheren, who practiced edutainment long before the media and marketing pundits invented the term.

“Child” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.” Powerful words by C. S. Lewis in The Horse and His Boy (Book 5 of The Chronicles of Narnia). Page impression? Universal justice is not about relative performance or the satisfaction of seeing someone else get their comeuppance. Rather, it’s about self-development through a deeply personal, one-on-one relationship between the Universe (God) and an individual entity.

“Miss Taggart, do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater than their own—they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal— for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them—while you’d give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don’t know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear” – Robert Stadler to Dagny Taggart in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Words that have reverberated in my brain waves ever since I first read them when I was all of 18 years old. A deep impact on a young, wondering mind that made itself felt each time the same mind later encountered the reactions of mediocrity in professional life to someone else’s greater accomplishment. 

I could go on to list the page impressions left on my mind by many more books, articles, speeches, films but that would fill a book or many volumes thereof. Therefore, I will have to stop at the examples of the page impressions I have listed hoping that they will suffice to illustrate the point I am trying to make through this blog. But before I do, I simply have to acknowledge that I have learnt more about Indian history from Sanjeev Sanyal’s two books – The Indian Renaissance: India’s Rise After a Thousand Years of Decline and Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography – than all the Indian History I was taught in school. Sanyal’s books even inspired a social media campaign we launched on Facebook last year – India Unveiled. The campaign was such a success that we continue to feature ‘India Unveiled’ stories every week on the Sterling Holidays Facebook page!

 

A campaign inspired by reading books
A campaign inspired by reading books

 

Many people from my generation are today bemoaning the loss of the reading habit. I am one of them. Because I wonder how impressionable young minds can be moulded without the guidance of knowledge and the wisdom gained thereof.  My mother used to make my sister and self recite a Tamil prayer, “bhagwane buddhi tarmiyan” (God, please give me intelligence). She also made us religiously place all our books in front of the house deities on the occasion of Vijayadashmi (celebrated on the tenth day of the Indian festival of Dusshera, Vijayadashmi is considered as auspicious for starting formal education). Older and wiser, the significance I choose to read of Vijayadashmi is that the festival raises our consciousness of the need to worship at the altar of knowledge. For, that and that alone will help us navigate all the challenges life throws at us!

Author’s Note: 

*I found the full text of C. Rajagopalachari’s introduction and have pasted it below. It is also available here:

“Adi Sankaracharya wrote a number of Vedantic works for imparting knowledge of the Self and the Universal Spirit. He also composed a number of hymns to foster Bhakti in the hearts of men. One of these hymns is the famous Bhajagovindam. The way of devotion is not different from the way of knowledge or Jnana. When intelligence matures and lodges securely in the mind, it becomes wisdom. When wisdom is integrated with life, and issues out in action, it becomes Bhakti. Knowledge, when it becomes fully mature, is Bhakti. If it does not get transformed into Bhakti, such knowledge is useless tinsel. To believe that Jnana and Bhakti, knowledge and devotion, are different from each other, is ignorance. If Shri Adi Sankara himself who drank the ocean of Jnana as easily as one picks water from the palm of one’s hand, sang in his later years hymns to develop devotion, it is enough to show that Jnana and Bhakti are one and the same. Sri Sankara has packed into the Bhajagovindam song the substance of all Vedanta, and set the oneness of Jnana and Bhakti to melodious music.”

For interested readers, here’s a URL to The Enid Blyton Society.  

 

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