Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Path of Knowledge

Path of knowledge is about knowing and understanding the nature of existence and essence of our own self. It is a gradual dispelling of ignorance. On this path we seek truth. Not only that, we embody this knowledge and apply it in day-to-day life. In this article I will present my understanding of what this path means to me.


If you have a question, and if you can find an experience that answers it, you end up with a knowing or knowledge. That would be a common man's definition of the word knowledge.

A more refined definition would be - experiences leave a footprint, an impression on the mind (aka memory), and this impression constitutes knowledge. So my knowledge of my house is nothing but a collection of memories of my house. If I lose my memory, I will not know which one is my house, I will lose knowledge of it. Similarly, my knowledge of mathematics is my experiences with it that formed memories of it, but not only that, there are memories of skills that enable solving math problems.

One would immediately notice here that, the memory needs to be organized in a hierarchical way instead of haphazard way in order to become useful and only then it can be called as knowledge. So in the case of my house, the experiences of many houses form a foundation of my knowledge about my own house. The word "house" points to a class, an abstraction, based on concrete experiences. Then the idea "my house" is an instantiation of the class house. Not only that, it also points to an actual experience and memories of my house. So in essence, we find relationships are also formed among memories, categorization and abstraction is also performed, and actual experiences are then tagged accordingly.

We not only find that the knowledge is a consequence of a question solved by an experience (answer), it is also memories of experiences, and it is necessarily organized, else it becomes a random collection of data. So in essence knowledge is organized experience.

The last statement must be now familiar to the regular readers of this blog, knowledge has been defined like this, and we found it to be a very useful definition.

Now there are some obvious question about this:

An experience is ephemeral, so how is it possible to organize it?
The device here is memory. Memory is a structure. The structure is metaphysical in nature, which means it is just information, or patterns, or in more precise words - it is local minima of entropy. There is actually no substance to those structures, as they are just changes in nothingness (modulations in consciousness). So all knowledge is necessarily structures.

What organizes the experiences?
Obviously, mind does that. Mind is a collection of Processes. These processes are programs that organize the incoming information. We have seen before that these processes are of self-organizing type, and are also fractal and self replicating. So the organizing process is none other than our familiar Fundamental Process. The mind is a holder of knowledge. Mind is also a holder of ignorance or beliefs, as these are also just structures, albeit organized in a "wrong" fashion or are incomplete and inconsistent.

How do I know all this, and why did I define knowledge as above?
Well, there are no assumptions or theories or working definitions here. Just sit silently and observe - how is experience converted into knowledge? Where does the knowledge reside? What agencies and entities are producing knowledge? When you answer these questions via direct experiences, you will gain knowledge about knowledge.

I put a lot of effort in gaining knowledge, I take great pains to get it, so will it last forever?
The bad news first - all knowledge is structures, and structures are formed out of Change, and that means, like every other structure, the knowledge structures are also impermanent. So all knowledge, however solid and huge it gets, is destroyed in the end. The good news is - you don't really need it to last forever, you just need it until you see your own Self (consciousness), and by "you" I mean nothing other than the Self itself, watching itself via the instrument of mind. So knowledge is nothing but a play of the Self, which is taking a look at itself via the telescope of mind. Once this game is over, there is no need of mind, or of any knowledge. Another good news is - it is very difficult to destroy knowledge, as it is stored in the Universal Mind, some structures reside in human minds, although less permanent. But Universal Mind is also impermanent, and all the knowledge that lies there will be destroyed in the end, which will arrive after almost infinite time (but not really infinite). We have seen that all knowledge is ignorance, a collection of structures which present experiences in a distorted form. When all of the knowledge is destroyed, what remains is nothing but a - pure experience.

Sources of knowledge

What is the source of knowledge? From where does it come?
Obviously, a direct experience is the source. Nothing else. And the source of experiences is consciousness, as there can be no experience without consciousness of it.

Traditionally, there are four sources - Direct experiences, logical deductions, teachers and books (texts or scriptures). However, only direct experiences are reliable source for a seeker, the rest are just pointers or hints, that motivate a seeker to get his own experience. Books are usually just words of teachers, who are hopefully speaking from their own direct experience. And even in a live conversation, a teacher can only inform you about his own experiences and invites you to see it for yourself. So we find that the sources boil down to direct experiences only.

One can argue that since ignorance is so deep, nothing works initially except teachers or books, there is no way a person would know anything without a teacher. Hence, a teacher takes up the highest rank among all beings in all universes. Yes, he is that important.

It is possible that you gain a bit of knowledge by your own efforts and accidental experiences that occur from time to time. However, it will be like reinventing the wheel. Language and communication ability of humans enable transmission of accumulated knowledge, and hence we see that it keep growing with every generation in every field.

Now, not all teachers are created equal. One must use his own experience to evaluate a teacher. Please refer to the article titled "Gurulogy" on this blog for a detailed discussion on this topic. Similarly, all students possess different capabilities for knowledge. Sometimes even the best teacher cannot do much, if the student is not ready. Check out the article on qualities of a student for details. However, we all have potential to experience things directly ... and that's all matters most.

Path of knowledge

So the path of knowledge is about gaining knowledge via various sources. It is about seeking truth, implementing the knowledge in daily life. Its not merely knowing, it is a life-style. The highest priority of a follower of this path is to know. The rest of his activities are oriented towards this primary goal.

What is achieved when you walk on this path? Well, nothing. You are already perfect and complete, there is nothing more to achieve or gain. What happens is this - knowledge removes the layers of ignorance that hide our essential nature - consciousness, bliss and perfection. Once the ignorance is gone, the true nature is revealed. Happiness and freedom, in context of a human life, are direct consequences of this revelation. So nothing is gained, but the undesired stuff is lost. Walking on the path of knowledge is a subtractive process, not additive. Perhaps that's surprising for many.

If you have read the article on layers of ignorance, you will understand that ignorance is a product of Mind, which is ceaselessly creating structures, and consciousness gets "trapped" in those experiences. However, it is the Mind alone that can take it back to its purity. All one needs to do is - return. Turn back and look at the source. Travel back to it. So, the path of knowledge does not take you anywhere, its a way back home. Again, this can be surprising for many.

Why does it sound so strange and surprising? Because you have too many fancy notions about what knowledge is, and what it does to you. Well, that's ignorance again. When you progress to a point, you will know what I mean by above.

The discussion below is somewhat technical in nature. I will go into the depths of above mentioned words. Some may like to read it, some may want to skip it for now. But it is recommended that you be certain of what's going on with this path before you take it up, or while you are on it.


Truth is a statement. A statement is a language structure, aka information that can be communicated. A true statement has some qualities, it satisfies some mutually agreed upon criteria. But the criteria are not absolute, they are arbitrary, and hence there are necessarily no true statements, and hence no false statements too. Truth satisfies the following criteria according to many people (and myself) -

1. It is self-evident.
2. It is consistent. Does not change.
3. It is logical.
4. It points towards an experience.

Besides these major criteria, the following are often used, depending on need -

5. That experience in #4 above, is repeatable. (But may not be).
6. It can be a logical conclusion of other true statements that point towards an experience ultimately. (But may be also paradoxical).
7. It can be a purely logical conclusion, which points towards a set of assumptions that do not point to any experience except a mental construct. (But it can be argued that a mental construct is an experience).
8. Its converse is always false. (Not if there is a paradox).
9. It is provable. (Not always)
10. It is not unknowable. (Well, how do we know if something is unknowable?)

Any statement that does not satisfy any of the above criterion is False.
As is obvious, truth is subjective. Everyone may not agree on what is true, and hence truth is not something that can be voted into power by the majority vote. It is very personal, everyone needs to find their own truth.


So as you can see, the matter of truth is very messy. And that is why I stay away from labeling things as true or false, unless its needed, or avoid making absolutely true or false statements. This is how a mystic would talk, because he clearly knows that truths are, well, lies.

So what to do? Sometimes we need to evaluate an experience or statement. In practical life, we need to do that very often. So we compute a value based on prioritized criteria. This value is Certainty.

What are prioritized criteria? Take above 10 criteria, add/remove some if you like, and make a priority list as per your liking. This list will be given highest value of certainty at the top and lowest at the bottom. So if a statement satisfies a higher criteria, its certainty is also higher.

Certainty can be expressed in terms of percentage. Percentage of what? If a statement is proven to be true N times using the above list of criteria, out of M times, then the certainty is 100*N/M. For example :
 A = It rains in the month of August here.
If the rain falls for 15 days out of 30 in August, then A is 50% certain. There is some truth in A, but when you quantize it, you see that there is also some falseness in it.

If you are on a path of knowledge, you are after 100% certain statements. The truth you say is so true that there is no chance of it being even slightly uncertain. Now, as you progress, you will encounter truths that are uncertain too. What to do? Just use them in conjunction with their certainty. How will I know the exact certainty? Exactness doesn't matter. If there is a probabilistic statement, it can become false anytime. You can't do much about it, even if you know the certainty to 10 decimal places.

Truth, Experience and Knowledge

Lets take a look at the relation between these words. Truth is a statement, but experiences and knowledge are not statements. So experiences and knowledge are never true or false, only statements can be true or false.

Lets take an example:

A = I experience that a particular content has a particular qualia.
B = I know that its my car and it is red coloured.
C = My car is red.

Whats the difference here?

A is an experience, it is just the current content of consciousness. That's all it is. There is no car, there is no red. The concept of truth doesn't apply here, because nothing gets communicated. The experience is communicated only when it is organized into knowledge, and encoded into information structures.

B is knowledge. Now the content is recognized as a car, and classified and understood. The qualia is recognized as a colour and is named. It all fits with previous knowledge and gets impressed on the memory as a structure. It is still non-communicable.

C is a statement. It is a language structure which encodes some knowledge. The knowledge in turn represents an organized experience. So C points to that experience. C can be communicated, and now we can apply the above mentioned criteria to evaluate it. It turns out to be true. It gets a stamp of truth from myself and from many who can experience the car.

Even when I base them on my direct experiences, my statements can be either true or false, because I can make an error in knowing and hence can formulate a false statement out of it. So it is important to note that an experience does not necessarily lead to a true statement.

That looks like a problem, but surely others can evaluate the statement I made using above criteria, and if it turns out to be false, they can point out my error. If I see my error, I can correct my knowledge, and reformulate my statement. Problem solved. So it is important to not only evaluate your own statements, but also to invite others to find flaws in it, and if found false, you should be able to trace out the incorrect knowledge (aka belief) that produced it, and can rectify it. This is essentially the process of gaining knowledge and destroying ignorance. If it leads to truth, it is knowledge, else it is ignorance.

Logical truths

S = If A>B and B>C, then A>C.

S is absolutely true ! Is it not? The only problem is - it lacks a direct experience and corresponding knowledge. I have absolutely no clue what A,B,C point to. But I can experience the sentence itself and I know that the symbols represent quantities, not contents. Quantity is an abstraction, not an experience. So such statements even if very useful, are not truths, they are logical truths. On the path of knowledge we are after truths as per above criteria. We use logical truths as tools, mental constructs that help in evaluation and accumulation of knowledge.

Its a tricky matter and its possible to get entangled into complex nets of logical truths while completely forgetting that they represent nothing at all. Some people would take logical truths as truths if one can make them sufficiently complex. Humans are not very good at logic anyway and they fall very often in the task of evaluating the truth of even simple statements.

For example, S1 = All crows are black. Conclusion = My crow is black.

Here Conclusion is a deduction from S1 and is perfectly true. Now consider:

S2 = My dog is black. Conclusion = All dogs are black.

Well, problem here. The logic is wrong. Why is it wrong? The instance cannot define the category. Category defines the instance. But how many people get it? Very few. So when we see that a person of a particular race commits a crime, we are almost sure that all the individuals in that entire race are criminals. It is socially accepted madness, everyone thinks like that. Why do they do it? Because of evolutionary reasons, the survival is given a greater weight over truths. So when a person sees one instance of a tiger killing another person, the generalization saves his life when he encounters another tiger. This is one of the examples of cognitive biases that we discussed earlier in detail.

Are seekers immune to such biases? Yes and no. When things are simple, a seeker is less likely to fall into error, but make them a bit complex and everyone falls. A seeker needs to be impeccable.

For example: S3 = All unicorns are white. Conclusion= My unicorn is white.

Perfectly logical, but is it true? Even an average student will quickly find the flaw here. The conclusion is not verifiable, not self-evident, and does not point to an experience, even if it is perfectly logical.

S4 = Consciousness arises with the experience of objects and during deep sleep there is no experience of objects.
Conclusion = Consciousness disappears during deep sleep.

Sounds true, but look again. S4 is about appearance and disappearance of objects, its not saying anything about appearance and disappearance of consciousness itself. So S4 is saying that objects are there during waking state of the mind, and objects disappear in the deep sleep state. Secondly, it is saying - consciousness is there in the waking state of the mind. However, it makes no statement about consciousness during deep sleep state. One mistakenly assumes that it is making a statement about consciousness in deep sleep state. So the conclusion is an error, an assumption that is a result of logical error.

So then if there is consciousness during deep sleep what is it doing? Its just a diversion, but an interesting question. The answer is - it is experiencing other things, including itself. The consciousness is one, so when the contents from one mind are lost, the consciousness of contents of other minds is still there. So when you are in deep sleep, you experience nothing, but billions of minds are sending their experiences to the same consciousness, which is getting nothing from your mind, as your mind has entered an inactive state, probably for repairs and more organization.

Mind as an instrument

Mind enables knowledge. So the most important tool for a seeker is his own mind. If it is sharp, it works better. We have already discussed the abilities of the mind, afflictions of it, and how to enhance the abilities and get rid of afflictions.

In essence, the most important qualities of a mind well suited for the path of knowledge are - curiosity and interest, intelligence, critical thinking, logic and reasoning skills, humility, patience, perseverance and a tendency to correct oneself and to take criticism positively.

If you have read the article on states of the mind, you will recall that there are certain states that enable knowledge acquisition most effectively. These are - rational mind, concentrated mind, equanimous mind and absorbed mind. When these states are predominant, a seeker progresses on this path at blinding speed. So a sub goal of the seeker is to gain mental abilities and to abide in conducive mental states as much as possible.

Obviously, nothing goes smoothly and this path has no red carpet laid on it. Things tend to go south. So another sub goal for a seeker is to remove all those hurdles, obstacles and resistances that spring up on the path when they are least expected. An experienced teacher is needed for that most of the time.

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