Knowledge, Understanding and Being

I have been very fortunate to have been guided by Swami Ramdularay from 1975 through 1982. He neither taught any meditation techniques nor gave any discourses, but he would speak small sentences, filled with wisdom. One of his sayings was that “to know is one thing, to understand is another, but to be is something totally different”. Before we go further, let us try and understand the difference between knowing and understanding. My guru, Mr Tavaria who taught me the refining practices, always asked me whether I knew that the practices were good for me or if I understood that they were good for me. He also used to say “If you do understand, you won’t miss doing them for a single day”.

Knowing is a function of the mind but understanding is an experience in the heart. Understanding has a tinge or quality of the energy of love. One may have worked the whole day and be very tired by evening, but the moment one’s spouse lovingly suggests going out – say for a movie, the energy of love willingly takes one to the movies, regardless of the fatigue. Mr. Tavaria explained that if one loved the practices, however busy or tired one was, if there were a marriage to attend or someone’s funeral to go to, one would never miss the practices (because now one loved them).

With understanding comes the sensitivity of the energy of love. We live in an age where there is an explosion of information; everyone seems to know everything. We keep on gathering information, albeit with little understanding. This has led to a dearth of the energy of love. We are crammed with information but our hearts have become dry.

Beyond understanding comes being, the art of living what we have understood. Let us take a simple principle – we should not lie; how many of us can really live this truth? There are so many forms of lying; we may feel we are not lying while others might not agree. For instance, whenever we talk of ourselves or our achievements, we always tweak the facts a little to project ourselves in better light.

Let us take an analogy. Say, on reaching the top of a mountain, one’s whole being is drenched in light. The real art comes, though, when one descends from the top; not leaving the light there but bringing it along and then sharing it in every kind of relationship. Seeing the light at the top ignites the lamp of understanding, but doing every small act of one’s life in the glow of this light is being. To go from understanding a truth to actually living it is a small but a revolutionary step.

Sri Krishna, on his way to his kingdom of Dwarka after the great Mahabharata war, decided to visit his friend Uttanka’s hermitage. He had not met Uttanka in fifteen years. During this time, Uttanka was in deep meditation and hence, unaware to the events of the world. After exchanging greetings, Uttanka inquired about the Kauravas and the Pandavas, Krishna’s cousins. Krishna recounted the events of the Great War and how the Kauravas were all killed.

Uttanka was shocked and chided Krishna for allowing such a war to happen, remarking that they were his family and he should have done better. Here, Krishna revealed his divine form to Uttanka. Uttanka fell to his knees and absorbed the rays of Krishna’s divine light. Krishna explained that he had tried his best to stop the war but the Kauravas were drunk with power. Then, Sri Krishna reminded Uttanka that for fifteen years he had lived in meditative peace and he should not allow his mind to be disturbed by events that were destined to happen. Sri Krishna also explained to Uttanka that he had experienced the truth, and that now was the time to go and live it. Uttanka understood and asked Krishna for his blessings. Krishna granted Uttanka a boon. Initially Uttanka refused but when Krishna insisted, Uttanka asked that he finds waters whenever he was thirsty. Krishna granted the boon.

One day, Uttanka was walking though a desert and when he could not find water anywhere he meditated upon Sri Krishna, asking for water. On opening his eyes, he saw a dirty ragged man of a lower caste, surrounded by five mangy dogs, with a pitcher of water in his hands. The man offered Uttanka water but the very thought of a Brahmin accepting drinking water from the hands of a man of lower caste filled him with repulsion. The man insisted but Uttanka was unmoved, grumbled, looked down, and refused the water. When he looked up again, the man had vanished and Sri Krishna was in front of him in his divine form. Sri Krishna taught him an important lesson – one has to learn to see his divine form in every being.

Our being is like a ladder; each moment of our life offers us the choice to either climb up the ladder or descend to lower levels. We can tell someone “Oi, get me that glass of water” in a crass tone or request asking “Would you please give me some water” in a soft loving manner, sharing the light of truth, and also sensing this gesture. The incident is the same but in one we fall and in the other we rise in the level of being. If we can have the awareness to always choose to rise, then we fill our lives with the softness and joy of truth and relate to others with the sensitivity of love.