Questions about Jñāna and its Relation to the Self

Question: I read the article on jñāna on your website and have some questions: What is the difference between self-luminous and self-conscious?

Answer:  Self-luminous means an object which does not need the help of another luminous object to see it or perceive it. For example, a burning candle is self-luminous because you do not need another burning candle or light source to see it. However a book or table is not self-luminous because you need a light source to see it.

A self-conscious object is that which not only does not need another luminous object to know it but is also aware of itself. A burning candle or light bulb is self-luminous, but is not aware of itself. Therefore, it is not self-conscious. An ātmā is aware of itself, therefore it is self-conscious.

Question: What is the meaning of “reveals itself to the self” of vtti-jñāna, and “conscious of itself” of jñātṛtva and of mano-vtti

Answer:  In our conditioned state, we know things through our senses and mind. When one of our senses comes in contact with a suitable sense object, such as our eye with a book, then our mind takes a specific shape corresponding to the sense object, the book. This specific form or state of mind is called a vtti or mano-vtti. This vtti or mano-vtti is the knowledge about the sense object and is known by the self. It reveals itself to the self.

The ātmā has the potential to know. That potential is called jñātṛtva or knowability. This potential however needs mind and senses to manifest itself or function. To give an example, a poet has the ability to write poetry but he needs pen and paper or a computer to write it. Ātmā cannot know by itself. It needs instruments to know objects and even to know itself or become self-aware. In the conditioned state, ātmā knows through material senses and mind. In the liberated state, it knows through the spiritual senses and mind.

Question: How is knowledge related to the self in terms of eternity?

Answer:  Knowledge stays outside the ātmā. Therefore it is not eternal.  However, the word knowledge is also used for the consciousness of the ātmā. In that sense it is the eternal quality of the ātmā and exists in ātmā.

Question: Can we say that only spiritual knowledge makes a permanent impression in our ātmā? If this so, then what is the use of our so much material? Which knowledge that classified as spiritual and which one is material (regarding our conditioned state)?

Are we aware of spiritual knowledge which we have acquired in a previous life?

Answer:  All your questions are related with one thing – ‘what is knowledge?’ If this is understood, your doubts will be removed automatically. First of all, no knowledge, spiritual or material, is impressed in the ātmā. The only thing which gets into ātmā is bhakti at the bhāva stage. In other words, only the internal potency of Krishna has the power to penetrate into ātmā.

All knowledge remains outside and is stored in the citta. In Vedānta, the mano-vṛtti is called knowledge. This I wrote before. Every vṛtti is temporary, so knowledge is also temporary. But vṛtti leaves an impression (saṁskāra) in the citta which becomes the source of memory.

Therefore we get knowledge in two ways  – 1. by experience and 2. by remembrance. Whether it is spiritual knowledge or material, it all creates impressions in the citta.  The knowledge from the past is also lying in your citta but you may not be able to remember it. Remembering means bringing the impression from the citta into the mind, just like when you remember the name of an old friend from your childhood. The name is lying in the citta. You do not know this unless it comes in your mind. When it is lying in the citta, it is called impression (saṁskāra). When it is comes to your mind, it is called knowledge arisen from memory.  I hope this makes things a little more clear.

Question: Thank you, my understanding is much clearer now. If I may ask one more question: Is it proper to say that all knowledge that we have had in so-many-lifetimes is only one purpose, to attracting us to bhakti and inquiry about bhakti? Even though bhakti is independent.

Answer: There are only two purposes of everything.

1. To enjoy materially and get frustrated.
2. After getting frustrated, to think of how to get out of the frustration.
Then one endeavors to attain liberation or takes to devotion. Even if one is not utterly frustrated, at least one understands that material life will not bring peace, happiness and fulfillment. The ultimate purpose of everything is to bring one to this realization.